Panic! At The Disco’s roots coming of age in Las Vegas loom large on the band’s fourth album Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!. From its glittery synth-based, drum-heavy sound, to its playful, celebratory subject matter, to the Rat Pack-inspired imagery on the cover, to the title itself (a line from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas author Hunter S. Thompson), the album finds the band, for the first time in its nearly 10-year career, owning up to loving their hometown.
“Before I started demoing any of the songs on the album, I was in Vegas and went to a club,” says the band’s frontman and songwriter Brendon Urie. “I was listening to the driving beats and watching all these people dance and have a good time. And I thought, ‘I want to make music like this. These people are celebrating life.’ It made me stop being cynical and see how beautiful it actually was. We left Vegas when we were 17, because at that age, Vegas sucks. You’re not 21. You can’t go anywhere; you can’t play in bars. We never played live shows. So we were really bitter for a lot of years. But this last time I realized that people go there to drop their guard and let loose, and that inspired me. It was a real moment of clarity. Now I’m in love with Vegas. I even wrote an anthem about it, ‘Vegas Lights.’”
Urie’s inspiration is reflected in the sound of the new album, which was recorded largely on a collection of Arturia and Moog synthesizers that he and drummer Spencer Smith had collected over the years. “I hadn’t really delved into it all because I didn’t know how to use the technology,” Urie says. “A huge part of the process for me is that I wanted to be a producer. I had the sounds in my head, I just had to figure out how to get them out. Our producer Butch Walker [who co-produced Panic! At The Disco’s 2011 album Vices & Virtues] and engineer Jake Sinclair were both mentors and taught me how to use the computer. I would explain what I was hearing and they’d say, ‘Well, this is how you do it.’ It was validating to get positive feedback from Butch, but I still wanted more. So I just kept writing, writing, and writing.” Eventually Urie came up with the album’s anthemic core: “Vegas Lights,” “This Is Gospel,” “Nicotine,” “Girls/Girls/Boys,” and the new single “Miss Jackson.” “We had all these songs and I was like, ‘This is it; this is the record I want to make,’” Urie says. “I knew it would happen, but finally it’s here.”
The lyrics sprang from Urie wanting to tell his own story. Though he sometimes masked the ideas in a fictional way, his overall goal was to be as honest as possible. “This album is more confessional than anything I’ve done before,” he says. He found himself writing about his relationships. He describes the final song on the album, “The End of All Things,” as the most revealing in terms of opening his heart. “When I was writing it, I was tearing up because I was feeling a lot of emotion.”
Urie strikes a more playful note on “Girls/Girls/Boys” — a racy song about women who like girls and guys. Along similar lines is “Nicotine,” which compares a girl to a bad habit you just can’t kick. Says Urie: “She calls you for a booty call. You think, ‘I’m not going to see this girl; it’s not going to happen. Twenty minutes later you’re at her house. I’ve been through it; where you know it’s so stupid and that nothing good can come of it.”
Too Weird To Live, Too Rare to Die! takes a darker lyrical turn on the first single “Miss Jackson,” for which Urie drew on the personal experience of being cheated on years ago. “It was very cathartic to write,” he says. “I had been through something where I had slept with a girl one night and then her friend the next, but nothing like that had ever been done to me. When it did, it flipped it around for me. Once I felt how it felt, it made me change. Taking something so serious and putting a fun melody to it made me feel less dark and that I’d really overcome it.”
Panic! At The Disco is now looking forward to a bright rest of the year. This Fall, they hit the road with their friends Fall Out Boy for The Save Rock and Roll Arena Tour. Urie promises their upcoming tours will be as big a spectacle as the tours they’ve launched for their previous albums, 2005’s double-platinum A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, 2008’s Pretty. Odd. (which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Album chart), and Vices & Virtues, which debuted at No. 7 and racked up critical accolades. “I want our show to be a steady stream of continuous music,” Urie says. “I want to create that club feel where the music doesn’t let up and the beat never stops. You came to a show. I’m going to tire you out. I’m going to make you work for it. I want to create an environment that doesn’t feel like an arena. I want the audience to actually forget where they are. Then an hour later, they’re like, ‘Wow, what just happened?’”