Interview: Panic at the Disco
Tue, 30 Dec 2008 10:56:59
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For Panic at the Disco drummer Spencer Smith, Las Vegas will always be home. "It's not a bad place to be in December, but it's not t-shirt weather," he laughs. "Right now, the tourism's mellowed out because of the economy. The winters tend to be pretty popular, since it's a vacation destination that won't get snowed in. You don't have to worry about missing your plane because the airport's shutdown. There will always be people who want to gamble too, so Vegas is pretty good."
It's been good to the platinum-selling rockers as well, constantly offering a foundation for them to return to after a slew of energized and incendiary shows. One of those particular shows is captured vividly in the band's recent CD/DVD combo release, Live In Chicago. It's bombastic and vibrant, just like Panic is. Spencer sat down with ARTISTdirect.com to discuss his band's latest release, touring and much more in this exclusive interview.
Live In Chicago really captures the immediacy of a Panic at the Disco show. It's very in-the-moment.
We put a lot of effort into trying to make it that way. From watching other bands' DVDs, we developed a style for this. One of our best friends, Shane, was filming everything on tour, and he was the head of filming in Chicago. He was out in the crowd shooting with a digital camera that had a 35mm adaptor on it. It really looks like film. Being in the crowd with that, he really made sure that the footage wasn't super slick. It's the opposite of what I'd expect a current Madonna DVD to be like. Audio-wise, we went back and forth with the mixes. Our touring sound guy, Jason, mixed it. He had his little Pro-Tools rig hooked up. We'd come in backstage before we played and adjust the mixes with him. I'm glad it came out as well as it did. If it sounds to you like it's real, then that's the best thing for it.
Live records can be difficult because fans often expect them to sound exactly like the band does in the studio. There's a certain balance between maintaining your sound and having that raw, live edge.
When they started doing live show recordings, there was a big question: "Is it cool to go back and add things after the show?" The general consensus was, "Yeah, everybody does it," but they don't really say anything about it. Then you do hear some live records where it's amazing how "produced" they sound. It sounds like the band could've just been in some big, empty room in a studio recording it. For us, we never have a show where nobody messes up or nobody's off-key. We figured leaving some of that stuff in and not trying to make it perfect helps separate the songs from the way the recorded versions sound. It's another vibe and style.
Was the show in Chicago specifically significant for you?
Yeah, luckily, the Chicago date was a few weeks into a tour. We were playing these new songs, but we were trying to figure out what order to put them in the set list. We were also trying to figure out how to mix the old songs and the new songs. It definitely takes the first week of the tour to get everything right. By the time we got to Chicago, we felt really comfortable with the show. Once you're not always staring at the set list trying to remember what you have to do, you start getting more comfortable, and you can just have fun.
Which songs tend to get the biggest crowd response?
It's a weird thing live. Any song you've made a video for, or any song that was a single, you're going to get a somewhat difference response to. The cool thing about our band is—and I think that it comes across on the DVD—there are not that many people at the shows who know only one or two songs. I think people either love us, and they end up knowing every song, or they just completely hate us so they're never going to go to the show anyway. It's a good thing because everybody there is singing along. We close the show with "Mad as Rabbits," and that's one of the most fun songs for us to play. It was the last song we recorded, so that's a fun one. "Lying" always gets a decent crowd response, I'll tell you that [Laughs]. We just try to create these different moments throughout the show, and also, we like to take some of the older songs we've played a few hundred times and then change them up a little bit—just for us and for the people as well that have maybe been to a couple shows before. We just always try to have fun with the set.
There's a cinematic quality to the band with the cohesion between your aesthetic and the sound. Would you say there's a movie element to the live show?
I think it's great you took that away from it. It's something that we've all wanted the band to have. We wanted Live In Chicago to have that feeling of a friend in the room with a camera, so it didn't feel like there was this weirdness ever, and we could be natural. At the same time, we wanted to get that 35mm film look and make the DVD not look like a super-streamlined digital thing. At the same time, it was the first tour we'd ever used video content behind us while we were playing. That was something that we really got into when we were playing the tour. We figured out what we wanted to do and made these little music videos for songs we'd never done videos for. It was a cool idea for us, and we worked with these guys and filmed some stuff ourselves. I think that helped for the people in the audience because it was something we'd never done before. The cinematic quality that a lot of the DVD has is something that we were really excited about, and we tried to capture that. You just don't know how it's going to sound or look until the end. It was a fun project, but once you've watched your own show ten times, it's just numbing at that point.
“People either love us, and they end up knowing every song, or they just completely hate us so they're never going to go to the show anyway.”
What's the story behind the tour documentary on the DVD?
Shane did our tour documentary. He lives with Brendon [Urie, Vocals]. We've known him for a couple of years, and that's one of the things that we were pretty excited about. It wasn't like when we're doing a video interview with MTV or something, and we didn't really know the people there. With Shane, we've known him for so long. He's done things for us, and his work just felt natural. We didn't feel like we were on the spot. That lended to it coming off naturally. We didn't want it to come off as fake at all.
The alternate song versions included on the CD also stand out.
Those are different mixes that we did while we were at Abbey Road in London. We were lucky enough to mix the record there. After we were done, we knew that we wanted to do a few alternate mixes where we went in and completely took out some of the instruments that were normally the driving force and picked up some of the stuff that was less prevalent on the first mixes, so we just had fun with that, and I think it's something that obviously fans of the band would be into. It's a cool bonus thing. It's just another take on it.
What's next for Panic at the Disco?
We've been on tour for about nine-and-a-half months. We're just chilling out now. At the beginning of the year, we're going to start writing more and demoing songs, so we can get them closer to how we hear them in our heads. From there, I hope this leads to figuring out how we're going to record, but nothing final has been figured out.
Does the road ever get to you?
It's tough to complain when you're on tour. There are some little, frustrating things like living out of a suitcase and doing all this stuff, but overall it's a pretty amazing thing to be a part of. We got along well with so many bands on the tour. Phantom Planet and The Hush Sound are some of our best friends so throughout the day being around your friends and working on music, there's really nothing to complain about. It's pretty easy to be in a good mood when you're on tour, as long as you don't get sick because it's so hard to get better. I guess that's why we're not touring in the winter because if you get a cold, it just won't go away.
The songs seem like they were tailor-made to the live experience.
It was something that was more in our heads when we were writing this record than on the first record because we hadn't played that many shows, and we hadn't been on tour when we were writing and recording the first album. It took us some time to figure out how to play and pull off the songs live. On the second record, as we were writing certain songs, we knew that we were going to have a lot of fun playing them. There were some songs that we weren't really sure how we were going to do it. It was a fun thing because it ends up being a slightly different version of the song that becomes the live version. It's a little different than what we did in the studio. Those songs attracted some new people we'd never seen before at our shows, and it was all good.