Panic! At The Disco’s new album, Vices and Virtues is in stores today, so it’s a perfect time to catch up with frontman Brendon Urie, who dishes on the band breakup, Mona Lisa being revealed as a man, his biggest vice and virtue, and living through tough times to get to rock heaven.
The Las Vegas group first caught my ear in 2006 with their song I Write Sins Not Tragedies, but that was then, and this is now. Since that time, they released 2008’s Pretty. Odd. and Brendon and drummer Spencer Smith parted ways with bandmates Ryan Ross and Jon Walker, which influenced their third album.
“We lost a couple buddies, so for a couple months, it was a little weird, but writing all this stuff was therapeutic,” Brendon, 23, tells me as he’s driving home to Santa Monica after a business meeting. “Writing all this stuff down and how it made us feel and how we could mask that in lyrics … those things had to be talked about. We wanted to talk about that stuff.”
Their song The Calendar touches on that emotion.
“At certain moments feeling helpless, but ultimately the choice to get over it and move forward. That was a huge step for us. Not having talked about it would’ve been weird, and almost suppressing all those feelings. It was good for us to be able to talk about that. That’s one of those songs where it would seem like it was about a girl, but it was about the intimate relationship we had with each other, because being in a band is intimate, it’s like a family – like a marriage, almost. It was deep.”
Although weirdness existed for a few months, things are fine now.
“For all four of us, it was a musical decision,” he says. “We decided that Spencer and I want to do this, and you guys want to do this, so why don’t you just go do that? That would be totally fine. we realized pretty quickly that we don’t need to stop talking to each other – we’re still friends. We just wanted to go different music directions. That was a big growing point.”
Still, it’s not all about breakups … he also wrote a song for his girlfriend called Sarah Smiles.
“That was my championing moment, my triumph … I was able to win the girl over with a song. I was proud.”
Not much can sway Brendon, not even the fact that Mona Lisa was recently exposed as a man just around the time their first single, The Ballad of Mona Lisa, hit the airwaves.
“Doesn’t bother me. Man or woman. We’re all human either way.”
“That whole thing with Mona Lisa was the idea that there is this character. For us, you look at the painting, and you can’t tell what this person is thinking. Not showing too much emotion, there’s this Mona Lisa smile masking what’s going on in that person’s head. The song is about a battle in yourself … an inner struggle in oneself. The duality in nature, where you see yourself as a bad person, and the good person trying to correct your bad habits. That’s what it was about. We thought that would be an easy way to describe how we were masking our own emotions and trying to figure out how we can solve the bad choices we make.”
Mona Lisa is a fitting inspiration for the band that pulls their style from the nostalgic romanticism of the Elizabethan and Victorian eras.
When it comes to his personal Vices and Virtues, Brendon favors drinking and smoking.
“it’s not that crazy,” he explains. “I’m not a pack-a-day smoker. You don’t drink every time you smoke, why would you smoke every time you drink? I’m one of those ‘smoke when I drink out’ – social drinker, and then take a drag from somebody else’s pack. I’m lucky in that sense. I’m not a smoker per se, but everybody needs vices that are therapeutic in a sense. You have a glass of whiskey – it’s a poison, but it ultimately ends up calming you down, calming the nerves. That’s a more physical thing, but for us, even procrastination is a vice. We definitely put things off until the last minute, and that’s something that affects us all. We started getting a little better at that, but it’s something we fall into all the time.”
“Ambition is a prevalent one for our band,” he says. “We pride ourselves on our goals, and we do stay steadfast and headstrong in our choices. We have courage behind our convictions.”
Although Brendon works hard recording, touring and promoting Panic! At The Disco’s music, he finds time to relax.
He cops to listening to Arcade Fire nonstop – and has a soft spot for Katy Perry’s music.
“A couple of her songs had my head bopping,” he says. “They’re catchy. My girlfriend’s been playing her record, and I hear it every now and then. When don’t you hear a Gaga or a Katy Perry song? Teenage Dream’s great, but California Girls is catchy. That one is at the top. But I don’t feel guilty for liking it. It catches my ear.”
He considers his favorite vacation spot to be Hawaii.
“I love to surf. Hawaii has some of the best waves in the world, and the most consistent as well. That’s always fun. We got into surfing two years ago when we moved out to California, so that’s something I haven’t done in a few months that I want to get back to when this rain lets up.”
Best surfing adventure?
“I’d only been surfing for four or five months, and we went out to the beach. It was rainy, a little stormier, and as we were surfing, there were three seals that come up next to Spencer, and they came up and nudged his board into his hip. He was like ‘who just pushed me?’ He looked over, and there’s a seal four feet away from him. They kicked his board away. That’s surreal. He was sitting on the water, and you don’t think about it when you’re out there, you’re like ‘OK, I’ve gotta catch this wave.’ But there’s all the marine life that’s under you and it’s an abundance. It’s amazing. That’s one of those cool little moments. At first, you’re like ‘oh God, what’s going to happen?’ But it was peaceful. It was nice.”
For now, Brendon is pleased he’s moved beyond singing for tips at Tropical Smoothie.
“I worked there for year-and-a-half to get through high school and pay rent for our practice space,” he says. “That was an interesting job. I had fun making smoothies for people. There were a lot of housewives with their little Chihuahuas coming in, and asking for a little Chocolate Chiller smoothie. It was relaxing. They let me sing during work, so that was nice of them.“
Hm, what would he sing?
“I would sing anything I was listening to at the time, but I was down to take requests. I remember singing some Scorpions songs, some W.A.S.P. 80s anthems are usually good for tips. It was a huge range of stuff. I’m glad they let me sing, and they didn’t fire me because I would sing everywhere – while I was doing dishes, I would sing while I was making the smoothies. I was ‘that guy.’ Some people liked it, and some people didn’t. I had to respect other people’s wishes, but I had a couple people come in who would ask me to sing for a tip. That’s always fun.”
He still has a soft spot for the Beach Bum smoothie.
“Strawberry, banana, yogurt and chocolate … Ghiradelli dark chocolate,” he recalls. “That was a tasty little beverage.”
And he’s pleased he’s no longer working for minimum wage.
“Money makes things easier to access, especially for us when we want to do something on tour and make a big production. It’s nice to have money that we can throw into it. That way, we’re happy with the show. In that sense, it’s awesome.”
And, he no longer has to do the chores he despises.
“I haven’t mowed a lawn in quite a while, but I remember hating that when I was growing up,” he says. “To please dad, you have to get it right and that’s the thing. You have to please dad.”
He’s also pleased he’s no longer in high school, where he describes himself as a ”spazz.”
“There was a kid that used to pick on me…he used to drop my food, and beat me up in little corners,” he says. “Nothing serious, but tease me. I remember knocking his food out of his hand one time when he in the middle of explaining something to his friends, and they all laughed, so I thought that was pretty nice. ‘Well, there you go buddy.’ I was able to get instant karma. [laughs]“
Aside from a #1 album, Brendon hopes his future holds a trip to Belize.
“I’ve never been there. I heard it through the grapevine that it’s an amazing place. I looked at pictures, and it does look amazing. I want to stay in one of those little huts for the weekend that are sitting on the water. That would be cool.”
Pick up the OK! out now for an entertainment feature on Panic At The Disco’s Brendon Urie. The cover line is “Kardashian Exclusive: Kim’s Dream Wedding.” And, check out Panic! At The Disco’s new album, Vices and Virtues, which is in stores now.