Since releasing their last album, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare To Die!, Panic! at the Disco have gone through some major shifts. The interim period saw the departure of founding member and drummer Spencer Smith while bassist Dallon Weekes swapped a full time roll for tours only, leaving Brendon Urie as the sole recording member of the band. We sat down to talk with Brendon about his latest album Death of a Bachelor and what it’s like to write and record an album by yourself.
First of all, congratulations on the new album! How did you start working on it?
Thanks so much! The first track I wrote was a doll called ‘Hallelujah’. I didn’t have an album written yet, but I showed it to my label and management and they all said “We love this song, we want to put it out in a week so write an album!”.
I was like “Okay!”
That kind of pushed me in that direction which was great because I needed that push to get the ideas out of my head.
Obviously the creative process was quite different for this album as for the first time you wrote and recorded all the parts yourself. How did you find that?
Oh my God, it was so much fun! That’s honestly my dream. When I’m writing these songs I hear the parts in my head separately. I hear them stacked in a certain way so for me to be able to record all this stuff myself was just easier… I knew exactly how I wanted the album to sound, I had the vision for it, and it was much quicker. I am honestly just selfish and I want to play all the instruments, so I did! I went from drums to bass and guitar to backup vocals to lead vocals to all that stuff. It just became like a fun process that I would normally want to do anyway.
So with future albums would you say that it’s your preferred way to write and record?
Oh yeah, definitely. I love writing on my own but also being able to record on my own is a huge step forward. Now I’ve got a studio, I just get the ideas down and know exactly how to record them…I just have the best time ever!
When you’re writing with all these different instruments, do you start with any in particular or is it different for each song?
It’s different for each song. Sometimes I’ll start on piano, like for instance on this album, the title track ‘Death of a Bachelor’ I wrote on piano trying to write a Sinatra-like song. Then I came up with a string arrangement in my head and I thought ‘Oh yeah, I’m gonna do this!’ So I sat down to write the string arrangements but then remembered ‘I don’t know how the fuck to write string arrangements’ so I just stuck with the piano…
Sometimes when I start on a track that I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks, I’ll sit there and just sing a melody or top line over it and it’ll work out that way, or maybe I’ll be looking at lyrics and that sparks a melody idea. It kind of starts from different places, every song started from something different.
Any other songs on the album which you think best demonstrate this writing process?
Yeah, there’s another song ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ which is a really good example of that. I started it by just sitting on my couch playing acoustic guitar, playing like low bar chords and just humming to myself in a lower octave. I didn’t write [the chorus] until later when I had my electric guitar, which was much louder, and I put a drum beat to it. So it kind of pieced together separately…I wrote one piece here and another piece there and then kind of Frankensteined the entire song in that way. I jigsawed them together which was really fun.
How many different parts do you play on the album?
Umm, let’s think. Nothing too crazy, it’s mostly just keyboards, drums, bass, guitar and baritone guitar. I also did a lot of vocal stuff where I was turning vocals into instruments. I would record a melody idea, just sing like “la la la”, and then I would filter it out and make a keyboard synth line. I would just like pitch that up and then use it almost like it was a sample from a weird dance song. They actually ended up being used on a lot of songs, I just kind of tucked them beneath a lot of stuff.
Did you try to push yourself much on the production side with these sorts of tricks?
Yeah, I worked a lot on production. That’s something I’ve gotten into in the past couple of years, more than with previous albums. I’ve actually built a studio for the first time on my property. That was the coolest thing for me, to be able to wake up at 3am and if I have an idea then I can just go out there and record this thing. I have the means to get these ideas out of my head, which is so awesome.
It sounds like a really freeing way to create an album!
Oh yeah, it’s so much fun! Once I get tired of writing on a piano or guitar then I can jump to production and just sit there and work on producing for hours and hours. When I get tired of that I just go back to the instruments and writing the song.
Did you have any favourite instruments to play on the album?
My favourite thing to record is drums. It’s like my happy place. Once I sit down on the throne, I’m just like the happiest kid ever! It brings me back to being 11 years old and having my first drum-kit and teaching myself how to play. That was the most exciting part of my childhood! Honestly I was just infatuated with drums. Hearing them the way I did in my head, I felt so alive and unique – I felt like an individual where I could fully express myself. Any time I sit on the drums that’s exactly how I feel.
When performing this stuff live, you’re joined by three touring musicians. Do you find that this changes the songs much?
Of course, yeah yeah yeah. From album to live performance, [the songs] have to change because the guys I bring out on tour didn’t play on the album. I like to see how they interpret the parts. I give them the stems and I say “alright here’s the drum part for this song, how would you play it?”
It becomes like a new song. It still has the relevance and similarities to the album so that we get the point across, but ultimately I want to see how my friends would play that song. It just makes it more fun too because everybody’s little touch makes it more unique and makes us sound like a live band. That’s very important to me.
So they interpret the songs in ways you don’t necessarily think of?
Definitely! I mean everybody thinks differently, especially creatively. As a musician I think a certain way and [I like] being able to step back and get an objective point of view.
I learn a lot more about how other people would play and then ultimately learn more about myself, thinking ‘hey maybe I should give that a try.’ It just becomes more fun to kind of fiddle around with that idea.
Finally, what were the main influences for this album?
Oh man, it was anyone from Sinatra to Queen to Kendrick Lamar, Dr Dre, Chicago, Journey, Weezer. There are a lot of influences on this album. I was listening to a lot of different stuff and I’m a fan of a lot of different bands. Being able to kind of culminate all of those into one idea is one of the most exciting aspects of being a songwriter. When you can take your favourite bits of music and then make them into one idea, it’s such a cool thing and I really think that this album portrays that very well.