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Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie: “There’s So Much I Want To Do Still…”

Rock Sound
Rock Sound 16 March 2018 at 14.39

With Panic! At The Disco being cryptic about whatever they're announcing tomorrow, we take a look back on what the last era was all about.

Take even a brief stroll around West Hollywood and you will sense it instantly.

From the paving stones that bear the names of myriad superstars on the renowned Walk Of Fame, to the drop-top SUVs that rattle along every five minutes, boasting the chance to drive voyeuristically past celebrity mansions, one philosophy is palpably written into the manifesto of Hollywood and indeed the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles as a whole: it is a place built entirely on the allure and ethereal possibility – for the thousands of dream-chasing people drawn to the City Of Angels every year – of becoming a star.

But not all stars are to be found clustered in constellations with the rest, stamped into the side of dusty, tourist-trampled sidewalks.

Drive half an hour or so away from the Walk Of Fame’s garish hustle and bustle and you will find the home of one of rock’s most well-loved modern heroes. A man who rose to fame as the frontman of a mid-noughties monolith and who has, against the odds, maintained and even exceeded that popularity despite his status as the last remaining original member.

And it is for him and no other that Rock Sound are here today in the sweltering Californian heat – to get to know that man a little better and find out how he lives, works, plays and dreams.

We are here to go through the keyhole with, and into the home of, one of our brightest stars; Panic! At The Disco’s last man standing, Mr Brendon Urie…

Welcome! Come in! Please, make yourself at home,” grins our host, foisting out a paw for a warm handshake.

“Would you like a drink? A beer? Sure!”

It’s almost impossible not to be dazzled by Brendon Urie on first impression. If his toothy, infectious smile doesn’t put you immediately at ease then the utterly carefree air with which he instantly starts cracking jokes will. The kind of easygoing, fun-loving guy you immediately want to make your best friend and drive down to Venice Beach with.

“I can’t wait to show you around,” beams the singer. “I thought we’d start in my studio.”

Diving back out of Brendon’s front door, across his yard and past his pool (more of that later) we come to what looks, from the outside at least, like… well… a garden shed. 

“Okay, okay, I get that it’s not much to look at from the outside but it gets better, I promise!” he laughs.

He’s right. Inside, away from the blazing L.A. sunshine is a dimly lit L-shaped bunker with a leather sofa at one end, and a compact-but-impressive studio desk, flanked by a neon sign glaring the chuckle-inducing portmanteau ‘Urielectric’ set up at the other. Around the corner lurks a matte-black drum kit while the walls are lined with guitars, basses and microphones – a testament to the multi-instrumental talent Brendon has become over the years.

“I wrote pretty much all of ‘Death Of a Bachelor’ here,” he offers, grabbing his usual chair in front of the soundboard.

“The number of hours I spend here going over and over things is pretty insane,” he continues with his trademark giggle. “But this is my sanctuary, my man cave, it’s the place in the house I always gravitate to. There will be nights I’m here ’til the small hours working on things and going stir crazy. I can be a bit obsessional. I watch endless YouTube tutorials on how to get everything just right, then I’ll end up getting a text message from Sarah at about 4am going, ‘Are you coming to bed or what?!’”

Sarah is Brendon’s wife and it is with her (and of course his two dogs, Bogart and Penny Lane) that he moved to the house some 18 months ago. Their former residence in Santa Monica was, by Brendon’s own admission “much smaller” than this three-bedroomed pad, and for the singer at least the more built up areas of L.A. were becoming a little distracting.

“I moved to [trendy beach neighbourhood] Santa Monica for work initially because a few of the producers I know lived around there,” shrugs the frontman. “But it’s super cramped there. People think because I grew up in Vegas I was raised on the strip partying it up in casinos, or that I’m obsessed with the bright lights of the city. But actually everything that’s not on that one main street is basically suburbs, so it fits in more with my sensibilities to be in the area we are in now – especially as I get older.

“I wanted the comforts, I wanted the down time and I wanted to feel less hectic,” he continues. “If I’m honest, there were definitely clear signs that I was jumping into a new chapter in my life, moving out of the centre of the city was a big part of that. I was looking out over my pool while I was making ‘…Bachelor’, we were having people over for parties and me and Sarah were chilling in watching Netflix. I’m a great believer in that [legendary Talking Heads frontman] David Byrne theory that geography and architecture dictates the direction of your art,” he finishes with a demonstrative swoop of his hand. “Let me show you around the rest of the place so you see what I mean…”

If you had any doubts about Brendon Urie’s raw talent then watching him play the 1964 Yamaha piano that sits against the wall in the far end of his living room will smash them into a million pieces.

“This is where I wrote the title track to ‘Death Of A Bachelor’ and also ‘An Impossible Year’,” he notes before taking to the ivories and serenading us with a note-perfect, chocolate-smooth rendition of the former. Across the other three edges of the room sit a ludicrously comfortable sofa, a delightfully large flat screen television and a wide-open set of French doors. His coffee table is littered with photobooks from high-end menswear designers like Tom Ford and the general decor is best described as comfortably functional yet extremely classy – just like the man himself.

To all the world, here in front of his ’64 Jo’anna, Brendon looks like a frontman totally in his element and wholly content with himself.

But it wasn’t always so.

“It’s funny,” he half smiles, “for years I was such a recluse. Seven years ago I wouldn’t even leave the house, I’d stay inside and smoke weed all day, being a lazy piece of shit. Over the past two years it’s gotten a lot better. I had to realise that I do like people, I like going out and interacting.

"I definitely used to drink to feel less nervous and be able to be a bit more sociable, but it was also because I was trying to do things in my early twenties that I don’t care about any more: I was trying to get laid, I was trying to network with people, and that’s changed over time. I’ve managed to alter how I interact, I don’t have to down five shots just to start a conversation these days! Am I glad I’m not that person any more? Oh absolutely. I was an asshole.”

It’s a startling admission, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. After all, this is a man who found celebrity at the age of just 17, has had to live his formative years in the public glare and is only now, a decade down the line, finding confidence in himself and, truthfully, his art.

It’s a confidence that shows in just how readily he wears his diverse influences on his sleeve now.

“This signed picture of Frank Sinatra was given to me as a gift on what would have been his 100th birthday,” he beams, leaping up from the piano and leaning on a wall near the entrance to a generously appointed open-plan kitchen. “It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever received. I actually cried when it was given to me – I’m obsessed with Sinatra.”

It’s certainly true that the sultry croon of Ol’ Blue Eyes is stamped across several tracks on ‘Death Of A Bachelor’, and judging from the glinting bottles of expensive Scotch that litter the top of the ’64 Yamaha that he enjoys some of the Rat Pack’s other specialities.

“I’ve always wanted to be a crooner and I love that swagger period. I just find it fun to fuck around with ideas from a wide variety of musical styles,” shrugs Brendon when asked about his breadth of influences.

Does he feel more able to bring those points of reference to bear on Panic!’s output now he is the only full-time member as opposed to, say, 10 years ago when he was starting out?

“It’s a more freeing process now,” he admits. “I’ve done the band thing and that was fun, but now it’s all under my control and I’m kind of a dictator… I’m Sadam! When I was a kid all I wanted to do was record everything myself and play all the instruments. That’s what I’ve come back to in recent times and I feel really pleased about that. Really pleased.”

So you feel happy now, Brendon?

“I’ve always been a pretty happy guy…” he flashes that pearly grin again. “But look around you, how could I not be happy here?”

And with that, we head poolside.

Wandering barefoot around the edge of Brendon’s swimming pool – the very one which appears on the ‘…Bachelor’ front cover no less – it is easy to see why this neighborhood of L.A. would appeal to a young couple. There is a restful quiet that pervades the yard and as Brendon dips his toes and hands in the water to splash around it’s hard not to feel the weights of the regular world lifting from your shoulders.

And with his band’s success, or should we say his success, at an all time high, it would be very easy for the bequiffed frontman to comfortably look back on a period of remarkable achievement and rest comfortably on his laurels. With his singular vision firmly behind the wheel for the first time, ‘Death Of A Bachelor’ debuted on the Billboard 200 chart in the no.1 spot, selling 190,000 copies in its first week. To put that into some context, Twenty One Pilots registered 147,000 with ‘Blurryface’ and All Time Low managed 75,000 with ‘Future Hearts’. Time to put the feet up and celebrate creating what is essentially the biggest hit record in alternative music in the last five years?

Fat chance.

“There’s so much I want to do still,” he muses. “So much. In the period of my life I’m coming into now, I’m excited to see where I can step out and see how far I can step out. I want to move into arenas that I haven’t explored yet. I’m interested in doing theatre, musical film, something in those worlds. I’m curious to see how far I can take it and who will let me take it there. If I fail I fail but I’d rather try. I played in a jazz group doing some songs as part of an interactive play in New York recently and I loved it. I’ve certainly thought about doing more of those style of performances, with orchestras and similar with my music. I think it would be loads of fun.”

And perhaps that famous black quiff of his might be coming in handy soon too.

“I auditioned to be Danny Zuko in a musical version of Grease a while ago!” he laughs, seemingly still half amazed at the thought himself as a T-Bird.

“They kept calling me back a bunch of times and in the end I had to go, ‘Guys, you have to make your mind up’ because I was still trying to finish ‘…Bachelor’ at that point. I’d loved to have done it though, everyone was so incredible in the final production.”

Certainly, if there’s anyone from the world of rock who could cut it on Broadway and West End stages it’s a man with an imperious falsetto range regularly found covering Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ while delivering perfectly timed backflips off speaker stacks.

But if ‘…Bachelor’ has firmly signalled the embrace of Brendon’s sequin-jacketed, all-singing all-dancing persona, does he see himself as able to maintain a presence in the Warped Tour-and-fringes where he found initial glory?

“I mean, I grew up listening to punk rock like NOFX and metal bands like Converge and Unearth,” he scoffs, in playfully unconcerned yet far from arrogant fashion. “I think Panic! have always been a bit hated and if kids were going to turn on me, I think they probably would have done it by now! I love rock music, I always have and I always will, but that won’t prevent me from exploring every aspect of my creativity now. If I spent all my time focussing on how I was perceived, I would freak out and end up not being myself. I couldn’t live like that.”

As the shadows elongate across the garden we dip back across the pool, through the double doors of the living room, past a beautiful framed drawing of Bill Murray in his Ghostbusters Peter Venkman persona (“I love Bill Murray, he’s a hero of mine”) and finally into the living quarters of the house.

Here there are three bedrooms: one that Brendon and Sarah share (when he isn’t in the studio until 4am, that is), one that used to be a home studio (before Brendon completed the one he is now often in until 4am) and a third which acts as a spare room for visiting guests.

But as Rock Sound look at this airy, neatly decorated space, it’s not hard to imagine Brendon and his wife – both in their late twenties – thinking about the double bed making room for a cot and pram some day soon. Is Brendon’s mind on starting a family, in what does feel distinctly like a family home, and would that represent the ultimate death of a bachelor that his latest record seemingly foretold?

“In terms of having kids…” Brendon pauses to consider his answer. “No, I have no want right now. But maybe that will come in time? There was a time when I was telling myself, ‘Oh, I’ll never get married’ so I can’t really speak in definitives because that is dangerous. But I’m not really thinking about it right now. I have friends in Alcoholics Anonymous who talk to me about not living life too much in the future because you forget to enjoy the present. I don’t even know how long we’ll stay in this house for or if it will be forever, but I’m enjoying myself so much right now I just want to focus on that.”

And so, not matter how you might want to read in to the title, it seems that the only death Brendon’s last album mourns is that of the young man who didn’t have the confidence this dazzling virtuoso talent – now approaching his 30s – has finally discovered within himself.

And while death might normally be construed as the end of an era, in this instance it makes more sense to read it as the start of a new, incredibly exciting one for Panic! and their one remaining helmsman. 

The time is approaching for us to take our leave, but not before we head back into the kitchen to share one last beer and some final anecdotes (Brendon has an Every Time I Die ‘New Junk Aesthetic’ tattoo on his left arm and lauds it as one of his “favourite albums of all time”. The most famous person in his phone book is Pitch Perfect actress Anna Kendrick who is “A fucking blast”).

Eventually we head to the door where Brendon offers hugs and thanks for coming – a consummate host to the very end. Walking us down the garden path he jokes that the neighborhood has a few high-profile celebrities living near by, something he didn’t realise when he moved in. As we reach the gate in the throes of farewell, an unsuspecting charity canvasser accosts us.

“Excuse me Sir, are you the man of the house?”

“Why yes I am,” smiles Brendon, with obvious pride.

“And I suppose you’re some kind of rock superstar or something?” jokes the canvasser, making light of some of the area's more famous residents.

“Oh I wish,” laughs Brendon, trying to remain incognito. “No, I’m just a regular guy who really, really loves his job.”

‘Death Of A Bachelor’ is out now on Fueled By Ramen.

Words by Tomas Doyle.

This feature is taken from Issue 213 of Rock Sound.

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