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Brendon Urie On Panic! At The Disco's New Album, Drummer's Drug Addiction And Growing Up

09/12/2013 01:57 pm ET | Updated Sep 12, 2013
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Panic! At the Disco is currently opening for Fall Out Boy on a nation-wide arena tour, but it's been a strange, meandering journey since they released "A Fever You Can't Sweat Out" (and smash hit "I Write Sin Not Tragedies") and, well, went ahead and sweated it out.

Over the intervening eight years, the band has shed multiple founding members, lead singer Brendon Urie turned from a "snot-nosed kid" into a man and, most recently, drummer Spencer Smith took a hiatus from the band to seek treatment for drug addiction.

"I guess I never thought [drug abuse] would ever really be a 'thing.' Ever," Urie wrote in an open letter posted earlier this year. "I figured if we ever got into drugs or partying that we would phase out just as quickly. And for a while, we seemed to do just that. Phase in and out of consciousness without worrying about future consequences; or, 'future tripping.'" If Urie's sentiment seems a bit flip, that's because the now 26-year-old got drugs in -- and out -- of his system at an early age.

"The first time I had a drink of alcohol, I was 12," Urie said in an interview with HuffPost Entertainment. "The first time I smoked weed I was 13. Then I started delivering weed to people, like a middle man. It was part of my life pretty early on."

When Smith's battle with drugs removed him from the creative process, Urie didn't really flinch. "I was having more fun writing alone anyways," he said. "Even on the last record, I would write alone and then I would bring it to the rest of the guys and be like, 'Hey, I have this idea,' but not until it was a two-minute full idea."

The result of two-minute ideas is "Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die" (Oct. 8, Decaydence/Fueled by Ramen) the band's fourth studio album and the one that's most closely aligned with Urie -- and only Urie's state of mind. It's a laudable effort, with a back half that's particularly spunky.

Ahead, read a transcript of our conversation with Urie, who dishes on what it's like to be caught up in a wave of nostalgia, whether or not rock is dead and how making an album is different when you're no longer a teenager.

Is it weird to be caught up in a nostalgia movement so soon?
It's nice to get some feedback, because you get locked up in your own world for so long, it's nice to get even criticism. I'm just glad that Fall Out Boy decided to do another record, because I missed them making music and touring with them. It feels like a summer camp sort of -- hanging out with your friends and playing football during the day, doing shows at night.

You already posted a very lengthy, intense letter about Spencer's battle with addiction, but how did that affect the music?
I wanted to step up and be a better songwriter and producer. With Spencer battling his addiction, I had the opportunity. It's hard to watch your friend go through something like that, but at the same time, we both knew what was best for the band. I wanted to focus on making the best record possible, and I think we did that. I'm very proud of this record, especially after everything that Spencer is going through. It's been great to show what I'm capable of, not only as a friend and a fan, but also as a band pushing forward.

I just love making music, and I wouldn't want to stop. And neither would Spencer. As tough as it may seem, he's a strong dude and has our support.

At what point in the album process did he leave to get help?
It was kind of throughout. I was having more fun writing alone anyways. Even on the last record, I would write alone and then I would bring it to the rest of the guys and be like, "Hey, I have this idea," but not until it was a two-minute full idea. Almost a whole song really. It's hard to get a good, objective opinion from an outside source until you have something that is almost finished. I just took it upon myself -- I really enjoy working on stuff. It's an obsession.

You wrote that you were surprised Spencer needed help because you assumed that the band was just dabbling in drugs and the rock star life. Was there ever a time period where you personally felt you were getting in too deep, with drugs?
No. For everybody it's different, which I know is a cliche thing to say, but everyone has a different way of going about experimenting with drugs. I had my fair share, but I did it pretty early on actually. The first time I had a drink of alcohol, I was 12. The first time I smoked weed I was 13. Then I started delivering weed to people, like a middle man. It was part of my life pretty early on.

How old were you when you were running weed?
I was just a little guy, like 13 or 14. I'd get on my bicycle and ride to people and hang out and smoke. It was a whole thing. I did it pretty early on and it lasted for quite a while but I was pretty honest with everybody around me. I didn't want to hide it from anyone, and it never became a problem. I just wanted to make sure that everyone was OK. When I joined the band, we were too young to even drink or do anything like that. I wanted to respect their wishes, so I held back and stopped doing it around them. I didn't want to be a problem.

But then, when we finished our first record cycle, we locked ourselves in a cabin outside of Las Vegas. I'm not saying we lost our minds, but we needed some time to understand what we had just experienced over the previous two years. There was some experimenting and some people were trying things for the first time, but if I had ever seen it was a problem, I would have wanted to help. I never wanted to be a hinderance on anyone's progress.

There's always the problem of a sophomore album for a band --
Oh, wow. I don't think we thought about it that true, but it's totally true.

But that was in the middle of a great deal of MTV hysteria. Has anything seemed less chaotic this time around?
I don't know, when I was watching MTV growing up, it wasn't really all music either. There were a lot of shows, and maybe incorporating a 30-second chorus into "TRL" or something. But it is weird how social networking has all wrapped up together. You can't just be a musician, you have to be an entertainer and perform and act just to hit the bar.

A lot of the people who are interviewing you may be much closer to your age than they were when Panic started. I've spoken to members of Fall Out Boy who say the band was held at a sort of distance by music journalists when the first album came out. Have you noticed that changing this cycle?
The age thing is kind of funny, because when we started out we were just little spoiled brats. But at the same time, if I was in the position of writers, I probably would have been saying the same thing. [Laughs.] I don't know if I would have taken the higher ground. It's shocking that that time period even happened. The shift is fairly evident though. I'm not 26, and that puts you in this, "Oh, so you made it past 25 and you're not a snot-nosed kid" kind of light.

A lot of the songs on the back end of this album, like "Far Too Young to Die" and "Collar Full" are particularly strong. At what point in the process did those come together?
Actually, a lot of the one on the back half were written first. "Collar Full of Chemistry" was the second one that we wrote, "Far Too Young to Die" was an idea that Dallon [Weekes] had. It was just a chorus and a verse, and it had a weird vibe, so I really wanted to make it work. It was the third one that we wrote I think.

What are some of the priority shifts that you've taken on as you've moved through four studio albums and even more years?
I've never been asked that before. Shit. Well. I think for me, one of the biggest things that I struggle with is keeping the excitement up when writing a song. A lot of times, I'll get pretty frustrated early on. My attention span comes into play and I'll be like, "Dammit!" because I can't get this thing that's in my head out. It will drive me crazy, but I've gotten better with it as time as gone on. That's probably because that's what I do all the time -- I love making music and I'm always making voice memos of melodies and lyrics. One of the most frustrating parts about songwriting for me is production, but it makes me want to get better at it and ends up being one of the most rewarding parts of it. I struggle so much with hearing a song in my head and trying to get it out or mimic it in a program that I will usually either figure it out or find myself in a place I didn't think I could be -- a whole different vibe.

So you'll hear something more clearly in your head.
Oh man, things sound fucking amazing in my head. But a lot of times, it's the mistakes -- I'll be like, "Oh shit, I'm glad that happened."

This is plenty vague, but as a rock band touring arenas, what do you think of the idea that rock is dead or not a part of the main media consciousness? Is it a myth?
I love that. I think it's awesome. To me, when people start losing interest in something or seem less excited about a genre, I want to accept that challenge. I feel a similar vibe, but I haven't given up on rock -- I just think it's shifting. It's just open to a lot of different shit. There are bands like Imagine Dragon, Grouplove and fun. who have come along and shifted the way that rock can sound. I don't listen to a ton of rock music. For this album, I was listening to a lot of hip-hop because to me, it has taken the role of being a genre that doesn't follow rules. They just do whatever the hell they want, whether it's with lyrics or production, and I think that's a good mock-up for how rock can move along.

That happened in the '50s and '60s, when soul and gospel music shifted into rock which became something entirely different. Then disco moved in and everything kept shifting. I think it's a very exciting time for both hip-hop and rock and roll.

FALL MUSIC PREVIEW 2013
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