A Conversation with Panic! At The Disco's Spencer Smith
Mike Ragogna: I caught Panc! at SXSW this year, and it seems like you and Brendon are having a lot of fun.
Spencer Smith: Yeah we are. It feels sort of like a fresh new start for us. It's been quite a while since we released new music, and we've been doing single shows and festivals. But to now get ready to go on tour, it's just really exciting. It's always been a big part of our band, to put on a live show. We've been looking forward to just having a good time on stage.
MR: It really looked like it. The energy was great and the repertoire was wonderful. It's a shame, I wished you had played longer than the mandatory half hour or forty minutes. What are your thoughts about SXSW? This isn't your first time, is it?
SS: It actually is. It's interesting. During all of the press we did, everybody was really surprised. Most bands either play there when they are starting out, or it even doesn't matter where you are in your career, it's a place where a lot of bands seem to play. For us, it just seems to contradict with other tour schedules and recording dates and things like that. So, it was really exciting for us and, actually, all the other bands we talked to had played anywhere from five to ten gigs within four days. We got lucky, we only had to do the one.
MR: Yeah and Stubbs was the best place, I thought, to hear concerts.
SS: Yeah, Stubbs is amazing. To have that vibe that you're playing in the back of a barbecue joint, you don't really get that anywhere else.
MR: New album time. Vices And Virtues feels like you guys are going into new territory. Is that your opinion about this album too?
SS: I think so, yeah. For me and Brendan, the past couple years of writing and recording have sort of been. I guess it came from us being so young and we weren't expecting anybody to hear our first record. It ended up being this big thing that was amazing beyond any expectations we had. It was weird that stuff we were writing as we were getting out of high school be that big. Then, to have eyes on you as you're changing, we just kind of realized we can't be concerned with trying to stick with what people expect. We just had to go through the changes that anybody does at our age and write what we want to. We honed-in exactly what we wanted the band to be. So, I think it feels like a fresh start even though it is still Panic.
MR: So, was there a different approach that you took creatively or in the recording process with Vices And Virtues than Panic's other albums?
SS: Well, I think we are always trying to figure out the best way that we write songs and we never can do that. It always ends up being a mixture of different approaches, whether it starts with a lyric or a musical idea, or somebody has the whole thing start to finish before they show it to the band. I think we really did, in the recording process, mature a little bit. We sort of understand how it works better. We were able to kind of take a page out of some older techniques that were used by some of our favorite bands in the '60s and '70s, but still take advantage of some of the technology that we have nowadays. I think, yeah, in the recording process we became a little more efficient and knew how to get what we wanted easier.
MR: I want to ask you a delicate question. You did have a band line up change. So, coming in with new members, how does that affect the chemistry and creative process?
SS: Yeah it's interesting because that relationship is so unique, especially if you're writing with new people. We always looked at it as having a relationship or a marriage or any strong relationship. Not only do you have to live with these people and spend a lot of time with them, but everybody is trying to get out their ideas, and the more people that are writing, the more compromise it is unless your idea is going to be the one that makes it, so you kind of have to figure out how that's going to work. I think, luckily, we didn't like the idea of just having hired musicians on stage, so we are working with some of our friends that we've known for a few years. That relationship is already started. It's actually kind of got us kickstarted and how we did when we were writing the first record. It feels new, energetic, and a lot of the tension that sort of started before the member change has gone away. I think that's also being shown on stage as well.
MR: There is also that fun of exploring new friendships.
SS: Yeah exactly, and we've only been working with each other for a year, year and a half, so it's still a lot of unknowns. I think as we get on tour, something that we didn't do as much in the past few years, is we'll start writing. We are going to bring out a little homemade demo setup and start working on new music because we don't want there to be another two years before we release another record.
MR: Spencer, Panic! has been described as alternative dance. Is that accurate?
SS: Well, yeah, why not. (laughs) It's always a question that has different words plugged in there. Whether it's rock or alternative or dance or techno or burlesque--I think that's pretty close to this record. Brendon and I wanted to get back to the dance side of it, we kind of went away from that on the second record. We kind of took advantage of some electronic instruments, some electronic drums and some synths for this one. Those are real exciting to get back into, so I guess that's a fair judgment.
MR: Are loops a big part of what you're doing as well?
SS: We'll use pre-made loops when we are demo-ing. Then, when we actually go in to record the song, we like to create a loop ourselves where we can throw in a few variances every once and a while when we want to change it. We did have a lot of fun, though, layering electronic drums over live drums and getting a nice mix.
MR: You would be the go-to-guy within the band being the drummer, right?
SS: Yeah, that is something that I kind of start, whether it's coming from an idea that Brendon had and I will initially go to what the drum part might be. But the cool thing is that Brendon is actually a good drummer. So, that's how we started getting into music in middle school. He joined and probably played snare drum. I think we, more than some other bands, are really rhythmically approaching it just as much as melody. It's always fun because everybody can throw ideas out there.
MR: In one of your interviews you had evoked Paul Simon as one of your influences and I recently interviewed him for The Huffington Post. Just sayin'.
SS: Yeah, I'm jealous, man. Paul Simon was one of my favorite musicians and songwriters.
MR: He's the reason why I got into music. Who else do feel are great musical influences?
SS: There are certain bands that have remained influences and probably never will leave. That's a lot of stuff that our parents had, just loving late '60s and early '70s bands. There is a lot of Beatles, Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Zombies, stuff like that. It's interesting because we grew up in the '90s where we first got into our own music, but our parents stopped listening to new music after the '70s. because then, you're 30 years old, and you just listen to what you did when you were 20. So, then, there was this whole decade through the '80s that we were unfamiliar with. We only knew it for the big number one hit songs, so it's fun to get into this band XTC and Peter Gabriel--he just had those huge hits. But I loved getting deeper into those records. Then, obviously, there are other great ones like The Smiths and The Cure and stuff. It was fun to get into that and sort of have these new influences that we had never heard before.
MR: By the way, my favorite artsy album of all time is Peter Gabriel 3, the one with "I Don't Remember" and "Biko."
SS: Yeah, "Biko," that song is so great man. We actually potentially thought about covering it, but then you have to get into the whole are you doing the song enough justice thing. Maybe we will work out a cover on tour that will do it justice.
MR: Do you have advice for new artists?
SS: I guess it's sort of fair to ask that, but we still feel like we are starting and have a lot to learn. I think that because everybody was a musician releasing music now or just a music fan, most people are aware just from reading things online that the music industry is changing so much. There is becoming less and less of a need for some of the rolls that were (once) there and necessary. It's much more of a DIY set up now for bands using the internet and everything. So, I just would say stay as true to yourself as you can because if you get into the mindset of writing for what somebody else is telling you to do, those people might not even be necessary in the music business five years from now. Always just stay true to yourself, work on writing the best songs you can. There is no replica for pure practice.
MR: Oh yeah, one last thing. I want to ask you about the song "Sarah Smiles"-- you have to know the Hall & Oates hit "Sarah Smile." Do you care to explain yourself?
SS: Just about the song in general?
MR: Yeah, the title is so close, I figured could give you a little crap for that.
SS: Yeah, I know so many people are like, "Wait is this a cover song?" That was a song that Brendon wrote for his girlfriend. It wasn't even going on the record and then it ended up being a pretty good song, so we decided to do it full band. I don't know how, but it made it through all of the cuttings of all of the other songs and it found its way on the record. It's not the Hall And Oates song though.
MR: I know, just having a little fun. Thank you, Spencer, for your time and all that.
SS: Thank you, thanks for having me.
1. The Ballad Of Mona Lisa
2. Let's Kill Tonight
5. Trade Mistakes
6. Ready to Go (Get Me Out Of My Mind)
8. The Calendar
9. Sarah Smiles
10. Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met...)
Transcribed by Theo Shier
A Conversation with The Los Lonely Boys' Henry Garza
Mike Ragogna: Hello, Henry.
Henry Garza: Yeah, what's going on, brother?
MR: Same stuff. How are you, sir?
HG: We're doing good. I'm on the bus right now, and we're rolling to the next gig.
MR: Has it been fun, your being on the road?
HG: Oh yeah, it's always a blast, man. It's rough, last night we got caught up in a freak snowstorm up in Southeastern Kansas, and we were kind of stuck at a truck stop there.
MR: Not a lot of snow in Texas, huh.
HG: No, not that much, sometimes there is, though.
MR: I bring up Texas just to remind those few people out there that don't know that you're based out of there.
HG: That's right, we're three brothers from San Angelo, Texas. We've been playing music all of our lives, we're still doing it, thank the good Lord above, and we're going to keep doing it. With the new record Rockpango out, we're hoping that a lot of people listen to it. This record has a lot of music in there for different colors, different ages--it's just for the human spirit, you know? We were ready to put a new record out there, and it just came out, so we're out promoting it, and doing the Spring and Summer tour, man.
MR: Very cool. To me, this is the rockiest, bluesiest...well, no, blues isn't really the right word, but...
HG: ...oh, don't worry about it man, we've got all of it in there. We tried to put all of it in there.
MR: My favorite song on this album is "Love In My Veins."
HG: Right on, man. That song was just born during the making of the studio record. We were just in there messing around, jamming, and we recorded it, and it made the album.
MR: It feels like a jam from The House of Eric Clapton in some ways.
HG: Yeah, man, all of that, brother. Those are all our teachers, man, from Stevie Ray to Clapton to Hendrix--you can name as many as you can, man.
MR: Henry, before we dive right into the album, let's give a little background on you guys for our readers. There's a Nashville story to Los Lonely Boys' career, right?
HG: Yeah, that's right. Our dad grew up really inspired by Willie, Waylon, and those cats. He always loved Nashville--Music City, USA--he actually went there before we were even born. Then, when we were born and started playing music with our dad, he said, "Hey, let's move to Nashville." So, we tried to be the first Mexican-American family country band (laughs). It was a big learning experience for us, as musicians, and as a family, but Nashville ain't nice to nobody--the music business ain't nice to nobody, and it doesn't care. We just didn't give up. We kept playing music, went back home to Texas, and it was born there. We went to Austin, and the music of Los Lonely Boys was heard, thanks to Willie. He kind of took us under his wing--he's kind of like Yoda--he knows the force, and it's strong with Willie.
MR: (laughs) Now, Yoda Nelson was instrumental in getting your first album recorded.
HG: Yeah, we recorded it in his studio in Austin, Texas, and we just became good buddies, man. It's a blessing just to say we know the guy. When we were first starting, we were one of his favorite bands for a while, so that's pretty cool, you know?
MR: Like you were saying before, you guys have such a wonderful hybrid of all these styles, and his music also has been over the years. Everybody tries to classify him as country, but he's not pure country.
HG: No, he ain't, man. Willie's out there. He plays music for what it is, and what it really stands for, and that's just music itself.
MR: Yeah, it's pure feel as opposed to pure country.
HG: Exactly. You can see that even to this day when you see and hear him play. Even if it's the same song you're used to hearing, it's never played the same way twice. That's the beauty of music, and I think, real musicians. We're trying to make sure that continues on, you know.
MR: I want to ask you about the first track on Rockpango, "American Idle." I know the Garzas were being wiseguys with the spelling of that title.
HG: Actually, my brothers Jojo and Ringo and I came to the decision together. It's just a song that has to do with social awareness. We're not really political dudes or anything like that, man. We just write what we feel and what we see going on in our own personal lives as well as what we see and feel going on in the world today as we travel around. You turn on the radio and you hear things, see things. We're all human, and this song is just talking about sitting on idle, not being able to make a change, and putting love on a shelf because that's what we always seem to do. We think that's just really important, to make sure that love comes first. We write our songs to speak to whoever, whenever, and whatever. How people listen to a song can speak to anyone in their own way, however they can relate to the song. We just write what comes straight from our hearts. "American Idle," or even a song like "Porn Star" or "16 Monkeys" is just to show another side of us to the fans. There is a fun, crazy side to Los Lonely Boys, and there's even a deluxe version of our album with an outtakes track that is like twenty minutes of us goofing around, being brothers, and having fun doing what we do. You have to do that with whatever it is that you love, whether you're a lawyer or a plumber or whatever.
MR: Let's talk about the title track, "Rockpango." Where'd you get that awesome title?
HG: "Rockpango," first off, the word is kind of something we made up. It kind of comes from the word "huapango," which is a traditional Mexican rhythm, and then there is the word, "fandango," which means, like, celebration. We kind of took it from the beat, huapango, and turned it into "Rockpango" because the song on the record is an actual huapango beat. So, we just kind of electrified it, Texican style. That's what that song is about, man. It's just a fun song, and like I said, the lyrics can mean whatever you want them to mean.
MR: But there's more of a story to this song, isn't there?
HG: Yeah, man. It's kind of talking about having a free spirit. It's talking about somebody going through life and figuring out that life isn't always fair and not being mad about it, so to speak. What I really enjoyed about this one is just being able to rock and throw down on this song. It's very fun to play, and we got to play it on The Tonight Show, which was fun, and a lot of people got to see that. It's just a really fun song to play, man.
MR: How was playing The Tonight Show this time out?
HG: Well, of course, we've done it a couple of times already, but to be back with this new record just felt all brand new again. We were up there with that guy, Russell Brand, the English guy. We got up there, and everybody kind of knows us already on the production crew, so they made us feel right at home, man. They were really happy that we got to rock out too because normally, we have to play some other songs, but they specifically asked for "Rockpango," so we were happy about that.
MR: It's definitely a cool song, and a great album title.
HG: Well, we think all of them are cool, man, it's just a cool name.
MR: Do you have a story about Jay (Leno)?
HG: Well, every time he sees us, he's always asking about our dad. He's always saying (imitating Jay Leno), "Say 'hi' to your dad for me."
MR: (laughs) Nice impression. I'm looking at your track list for this new album, and I've got to know about "16 Monkeys." Why is it 16, not 14?
HG: (laughs) Actually, it was really just a crazy moment, where we came up with this crazy song and decided to record it. We were in the studio messing around, and it's actually on the outtakes from the deluxe edition, but we were playing around with it, and our manager was in there like, "Hey, you guys have to record that!" So, we just had fun recording it, and we collaborated with a friend of ours who we call "The Word Man," and that was just one of the songs that we had fun on.
MR: Now, you also have this song called "Porn Star." And it's called "Porn Star."
HG: (laughs) Well, it's really just talking about love. It really mentions that only once in the song, but the story is there. It's your basic, average, American dude, who's growing up, and experiencing human sexuality--we go through that, growing up, you know?
MR: We do?
HG: (laughs) Well, I hope so, brother! It's just a song where we had a fun tune and then the story came about. It's no different from watching a movie on TV--you see some pretty weird stuff on there. It's just us having fun, and it really puts into perspective if somebody really is like that and they really love somebody? It's got one of those beats that goes with it, and we have a friend rapping on it, so it's actually got a little hip-hop flavor in there. Like I said, when we create music, we don't create a specific kind. We create what comes out of us and we try to have fun with it, and this is just another part of that.
MR: And that's the story of, um, "Porn Star."
HG: (laughs) Why do you feel weird saying that? That's just weird.
MR: (laughs) I'm just playing.
HG: It's in our faces every day, where you don't even want to see it.
MR: I know. It's like when you go on the internet and Google something innocent, there's your porn site listed in a scroll with Wiki and Merriam Webster.
HG: You can be on the computer and something pops up...
MR: ...so to speak...
HG: ...and didn't even want it to. It's like, "What is that?" I just think if you guide it in the right way, with parenting and talking, it can be a very controlled thing, as it is when people make decisions on everything out there, man.
MR: (laughs) Can you talk about "Smile"? It's my favorite on the album.
HG: Sure man. This song, "Smile," is actually my personal favorite. We all go through tragic experiences, and I went through one very tragic time, when my son died from SIDS when I was eighteen years old. As soon as Jojo showed me this track--because he kind of put this together--I just could not stop shedding tears because I started listening to the words, and really realizing how powerful a smile is, you know? The song just captures that for me, and if you've lost someone that you love and you miss them, you can just remember their smile, and it does a lot for you. Even if you're mad at them, just try to remember that smile, and you might feel a little different. This song is that for me, man, and that's why I like it.
MR: So, let's take a little trip down memory lane. You guys are Grammy-nominated, and have actually won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals back in '05.
HG: Yeah, that's right.
MR: Also, you performed the song "I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love" with Carlos Santana, on his All That I Am album.
HG: Yeah, that was cool, getting to collaborate with him. All of the stuff we've done, the places we've gotten to play, and the people we've gotten to meet and play music with has been a tremendous blessing from above, man.
MR: I know that you guys have been traveling a lot and recording. Do you have any specific causes or something you're focused on, besides music, that has your attention?
HG: Oh, well number one is our families, man. Our children and our wives are number one for us. That's really where every other (bit of) time or piece of mind goes, you know? As far as Los Lonely Boys as a group, we always play for charities, benefits, and things to help communities all across America. That's just something that we feel we're supposed to do because with this talent, we've got to give back to the world and help as much as we can. When you're put in a position where a lot of people see and hear you, you've got to try to inspire them for good, you know? We do all those kinds of things, but like I said, being daddy is the most important thing for me, and I'm sure my brothers. Any fathers out there know that you just want to raise your children to be loving and caring people.
MR: Beautiful. You were also on Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign To Save Darfur, and you guys did a sweet version of "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" on that project.
HG: Thanks brother, I appreciate that.
MR: And there are other causes you've helped with. Los Lonely Boys definitely does its part.
HG: That's cool, we do so many, it's hard. We just did a benefit for a cancer foundation in L.A. to try to help them raise money to donate to children and their families who are going through cancer treatment, and just going through the whole sickness itself. We're always wanting to help, man, that's just who we are. That's how momma and daddy brought us up, and in our hearts, that's the way we feel. Every time we write a new album or write a song and are able to share it, that's just a tremendous gift and a blessing. We're just trying to be the best of who we are, and not trying to change what we've been our whole lives--and that's three brothers that love to play music and spread love and joy. We're just trying to be hard working dudes that put food on the table and pay for the light bill (laughs).
MR: What advice might you have for new artists?
HG: My advice for any new artist out there is to never give up, never stop believing, and don't let anybody ever change who you are in your heart. If you write a song about "Spam and Eggs," write it, and don't let anybody tell you it's stupid because if it comes out of you, then it's never stupid.
MR: Very nice. You know, you're going to get "cards and letters" for that one.
HG: (laughs) That's just what we believe, man. Our dad always taught us to just give us what we got, you know?
MR: No, actually, not cards and letters...emails and texts.
HG: There are still cards and letters out there. We don't ask for nothing, though, we're just thankful to be able to give the music back, and still be able to breath. Right now, we're on our way to New Mexico, and we don't know if we're going to make it. Right now it's going to be by the skin of our teeth.
MR: Well thank you for talking to me today. Thank you for your honesty, your time, and your heartfelt stories. It was really great.
HG: Right on, we're just being who we are, brother. When we get up to your neck of the woods, get ready for some Texican rock 'n' roll.
MR: (laughs) We're ready, bring it.
1. American Idle
2. Fly Away
3. Love In My Veins
4. Road To Nowhere
5. 16 Monkeys
8. Baby Girl
9. Change The World
10. Porn Star
12. Judgment Day
13. Smile 2
15. Free Spirit (video)
16. Coke In Chicago (video)
17. Boxing (video)
18. Warm Up (video)
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
ATTACK OF THE BELLE BRIGADE!
Well, you read the HuffPost interview with The Belle Brigade, you bought the album, and you made them the superstars they will surely be next week. Or the week after at the latest. But here's a little taste for the three or four people whose lives Ethan and Barbara Gruska still have not changed. And for all you winners out there, The Belle Brigade's video "Losers" makes its stunning, penultimate debut (since AOL got it first) here on, you guessed it, HuffPost. An exciting, almost exclusive just for you. Cheers.
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