The mid-aughts are often looked at as the golden age of pop-punk and its darker sister, emo. The world was just coming around to bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy, and in their small corner of Tennessee, a group called Paramore was just forming. Most of these acts hailed from suburbs all around the country, all of them sharing in a mutual distaste for their hometown. Panic! at the Disco, the odd men of the bunch, were from Las Vegas, good Mormon boys obsessed with vaudevillian theatrics. For a moment, they were the biggest thing, and it all starts at the beginning: A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, their debut LP.
The record was released on September 27, 2005, making this its 10-year anniversary. We sat down with the devilishly charismatic frontman Brendon Urie for an intimate look back on the record that would launch them into superstardom.
Congratulations on 10 years of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out! It’s got to be weird answering all these questions about something you made as a teenager.
Ha, no, it’s awesome! I don’t hate it.
Set the scene: You’re a kid in Las Vegas and you’re just starting to make music. What are you listening to?
Keane had just come out with an album with "Everybody’s Changing." My friends and I thought that was the greatest pop album. We were listening to bands that were cool in the scene, too. There was a band called Main Taken that we were listening to quite a bit. Anyone from the Smiths, Queen and the Beatles, who we were really, really getting into at that time, even on the first record. That’s why we did two different sounds on the album where the first half is electronic. It's all over the place. We were spontanetously listening to whatever was available.
Looking back, A Fever still feels like a really ambitious album. Bands tend to play it safe on their first album and get weird later down the line. You guys really went for it.
That was the goal from the beginning. We just wanted to do whatever we wanted. We didn't really understand anything about the music industry. We just spent all this time writing. One of us grew up only listening to country, one of us grew up listening to just Beatles, another one of us grew up listening to just Journey and arena rock. We took all of those biggest influences, listening to them from our parents and mashed them together. At the time, we did not think it would leave the impression that it did. At all! We were writing it for us, trying to beat each other in terms of songwriting and ideas, trying to win out against all the other bands…it was such a bizarre time, looking back, especially now. Back then, it just seemed like what we needed to do. What we wanted to do.
It's one of those albums that the people who grew up with it tend to revisit, but it also finds itself in the hands of kids now. What about the album gives it that resonance?
It's so strange but it's also the coolest thing ever. For me, when we play live shows, I get the biggest smile on my face when I see a broad range of people, age-wise, just different walks of life. It's daunting to see kids gripping onto this album that we did 10 years ago. It doesn't seem too weird because the record doesn't feel too distant from me. It's not this far removed memory. It's pretty fresh in my mind. I remember where we were when we recorded it, the smells, the sights, everything. The tension, the anxiety…I remember everything very clearly. I'm always excited when people are excited about it.
You still live with those songs, you still perform them live. When Panic! started, you were signed to Fueled by Ramen, you’re working closely with Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, but your band never felt like the prototypical pop-punk band. How did you manage to craft this specific, unique personality?
We stole from a bunch of different people. When we signed to Fueled by Ramen, all these people had their own thing: Travie [McCoy] had his own thing with Gym Class Heroes, Fall Out Boy had their own thing…it was still pop-punk, but you hear a Fall Out Boy song you know it's a Fall Out Boy song. A lot of that has to do with the lyrics and Patrick Stump’s voice. That taught us early on that we needed to have a voice, we needed to have confidence behind it, we needed to fully believe in what we’re doing, we needed to make it original. We all grew up middle class but we all had different musical taste from our parents, so I think that was always bound to find its way in in some eclectic fashion throughout the songwriting process. With everything else, the fashion and stuff, we were just really into modernizing retro-futuristic clothing. We thought it would be so cool to bring back all the romantic parts of history, not the ignorant racism and all that stuff. Just the romance.
Do you revisit the album?
I haven't in a while. It's so weird…this is me at 17, 18. It's so weird to think about at that age. I didn't know what I was doing. I had only been a singer for a few months. I was still trying to figure out how the hell to sing. I rarely go back but when I do, it's a special occasion, to listen with intent to who I used to be.
And you're not embarrassed by it!
I know! It’s tough [for me] to listen to myself all the time. I say I have John Lennon syndrome, it's what I call it. I don’t like the sound of my voice when I hear myself recorded but I think I gotta deal with that. I can't complain too much.
Were there any moments in the writing and recording of A Fever that stand out to you?
When we were working on splitting the album into two different parts we had five songs written for the album and we still wanted to write six more. We wrote these five, we got into the studio and we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. I was the greenest dude ever in the situation. The other guys had been in studios before a couple times. This was my first soiree, jumping in the studio. We were trying to figure out what the sound was and it ended up being split down the middle. We wanted to figure out transitions for half the record so we started writing a couple little things. I remember Spencer [Smith] and Ryan [Ross] coming up with this cool little techno beat that we all threw in a couple things on this loop machine. We all had a little piece in transitioning from the first half of the record to the second. That was a really cool moment, an instance where I felt that I was a part of something great. I felt that I was a part of this amazing, musical love that I’d never felt before.
“I remember where we were when we recorded it. The smells, the sights, the tension, the anxiety…I remember everything.”
I remember the apartment that we stayed in. It was this one room, basement studio apartment where our swamp cooler flooded and in order to fall asleep at night we had to jump from bed to bed. We'd kick our shoes off at the door and just jump until we found our respective beds. It's crazy.
That's really wild. Are there anythings you know now that you wish you would’ve known then?
You know what, no. The things I would say I wish I knew then really just come with time. What we do in this band, what I've been able to accomplish with this band, just happens over time. It wasn't something that I think about because it would’ve changed the course of this journey entirely if I were to know certain things. We had a lot of help from label mates. Pete [Wentz] definitely helped us out a lot…all the Fall Out Boy guys. They were able to tell us stories of just the two years they had ahead of us with touring and all that stuff. It was really nice to have people take us under their wing and give us options—big brother types.
Maybe one thing I would say is don’t be such an asshole, meeting people. I was such an awkward teenager which just manifested in being an awkward asshole. You live and learn.