Interview: Panic! At The Disco's Brendon Urie on new album 'Pray For The Wicked'.

In advance of 'Pray For The Wicked', Panic! At The Disco's new album (out now!), Coup De Main caught up with frontman Brendon Urie recently, before its release (and the announcement of their upcoming New Zealand show), to discuss meditating upon self-identity, the importance of failure, and some mystery potatoes...

I can't change into somebody I don't wanna be. That just sucks! And it's really tiring, trying to act like someone you're not. If I had been fake this whole time, I don't think I would have made it past a year or two. It's so exhausting!

COUP DE MAIN: First of all, I just wanted to say that I happened to be in New York last year at the same time as your 'Kinky Boots' run on Broadway, and I really loved your performance in the show. You were amazing!
PANIC! AT THE DISCO - BRENDON URIE:
You got to see it? That's so, so cool! Thanks for going! That's awesome and so cool to hear, I'm so glad you got to go.
CDM: You deserve an EGOT one day.
BRENDON:
Right! Like that's the main goal, right? To get an EGOT!

CDM: So last time we interviewed you in New Zealand, we got you to talk about what inspired some of P!ATD's most iconic lyrics. Do you have any favourite lyrics from your new album ‘Pray For The Wicked’ so far?
BRENDON:
I remember that! "Collar full of chemistry" and "closing the goddamn door," that was great. So lyrics from 'Pray For The Wicked'? There's definitely cool lyrics. Obviously "pray for the wicked" is from 'Say Amen (Saturday Night)', that one just jumped out of me because I was thinking about a couple different possible, tentative album titles. There was one from Lord Byron that was, "Fame is the thirst of youth," and I was like, 'I guess that makes sense, but it's not really what I'm talking about in most of these songs.' And that's the through line. And then I was going through the songs, and that's when I hit it, 'Oh yeah!' There's a lot of religious imagery in it, which I subconsciously put in there, because it's just so much part of my culture. There's a lot of me doing shout-outs to my mama, saying, 'Hey, look, I made it!' There's a lot of, keep your hopes high, build your own religion in your mind, and just be nice to people - that's 'pray for the wicked'. So 'pray for the wicked' for sure is one, and 'it's just cherries on top' - that's a very tongue-in-cheek, 'Hey it's all good, man! / No, it's not.' <laughs> It's really not all good, but we can make it good. 'High Hopes', already, just that lyric, oh man.

CDM: "Dancing’s not a crime, unless you do it without me," is one of my new favourites. That sentiment is so pure. What was running through your mind while writing it?
BRENDON:
I love it. I wrote that song with my friends, because I embarrass my friends every time we go out. I'm always that obnoxious friend that's dancing in public, and they're embarrassed to be around me. So I was like, 'Hey man! Don't leave me out of the loop! I'm here to dance and have a good time. It's not a crime! So if you do it without me, I'm gonna be pissed. So call me and let's hang out, I'm all about the hangs.' So, really it just came from that place where I was fucking with my friends, and being like, 'C'mon, it's all good.' And the whole time in my mind, I was imagining cartoon characters from my childhood dancing to the song, like Care Bears! That would be so good.

CDM: In 'Say Amen (Saturday Night)' you say, "I can't change into a person I don't wanna be," and in '(Fuck A) Silver Lining' you disassociate yourself from an "archetype of television". Why has self-identity been weighing so heavily on your mind with this new album?
BRENDON:
For me, if I don't know myself, how I can tell people how they need to think? A lot of times I get letters from fans where they've told me, 'You've helped me do this,' or, 'You've helped saved my life', 'You've helped me get out of depression, anxiety, ADHD...' So it just helps me feel an affinity to my fans. A deep affinity, like, 'Oh, we're not so different after all. Maybe I shouldn't have hid why I feel the way I do.' So a little inner reflection is okay. But for me that's just meditation. For this record, more often than not, I was meditating and trying to figure out how I felt about certain stuff. I would wake up angry, and be like, 'Why am I angry? I'm gonna meditate upon that.' So that's really what it was. I can't be someone that I'm not. I can't love someone that I don't. You really can't. And I want that to just come across, honest. That's really what it is, it's a very honest line, I can't change into somebody I don't wanna be. That just sucks! And it's really tiring, trying to act like someone you're not. If I had been fake this whole time, I don't think I would have made it past a year or two. It's so exhausting! I watch these people play these characters, and I'm like, 'Man! I can only do this for like five minutes at a time on-stage to perform a song.' I think it's important to know who you are and treat yourself as honestly as possible, because then people will too, they'll reciprocate it if they're honest too.

CDM: About 'High Hopes' you said today, "I spent too long not setting my expectations high enough, worried about how it felt to fail. I hit a point when I realised I had to aim high and fail, fail, fail in order to keep growing." Is failure an important part of character development?
BRENDON:
Absolutely. If you don't fail, how can you build character? I think, in the end, that's maybe the only way to do it. I'm gonna steal from Will Smith, he says, 'Fail early, fail often, fail forward.' So, just fail! Immediately! Jump into it, headfirst. And then do that very often. But do it forward, knowing that you're going to make a change, knowing that you failed and you will rectify something to have a different outcome. If you don't, that's the literal definition of insanity. So you're either insane, or your successful, and maybe you can be a little bit of both, just riding that weird line, but honestly, I just like failing. It became a thing where I wasn't like, pursuing failure, but it would just happen naturally. Where I was pursuing the thing that I wanted out of a song, and if I'd fail I'd be like, 'Okay cool, I learnt from that, let's jump into this direction then, and see where this takes us.'

CDM: Sadly, there's such a societal stigma surrounding failure, and especially in the music industry, where people are quick to call you a 'flop' if your new releases achieve anything less than previous releases. Do you think that stigma around failure is one of the main contributing factors to the mental health problems of the music industry?
BRENDON:
I could see it possibly being that. But I think a lot of it comes from taking into account too many people's opinions. When you start giving weight and currency to other people's opinions other than your own, maybe you fail in the wrong way, you're failing backward. I think that you can sting yourself a little bit, you've stunted your growth by saying, 'This person's words matters more to me than my own.' You have to know. Like I said, the inner reflections. You need to know where you stand, you need to know where you're coming from, and the things you want to accomplish. And if you're not an ambitious person, if you don't have goals, just figure out what makes you happy. Because by the end of that road, you'll probably figure out what makes you most passionate, or what you're most passionate about, or what makes you the happiest. So yeah, a lot of people put too much currency into other people's thoughts and into other people's words. If you actually took everything Donald Trump said to heart, then we'd probably be dead by now. But we go, 'Oh, what a clown. We're still going to fight for this, because we're not racist, we're not Nazis. So let's still fight for human rights because we're all a part of this humanity.' I think that's important to know, that maybe people put a lot of time and effort into things they shouldn't. But that's just my opinion! It could be wrong, it could be right. That's just how I feel.

CDM: You reference advice from your mother a lot on this album. Is she an important port of call for you when making big decisions?
BRENDON:
Oh yeah! I don't have to call her physically every day just to be like, 'Hey mom, what should I do?' I have friends who do that, and it sounds miserable. My mom would be like, 'Stop fucking calling me!' <laughs> But my mom instilled in me at a very young age some very cool things to learn - self-assurance, and 'know who you are', and that just means, do the things that make you happiest. If there's something you do that makes you sad, stop doing that thing, it's probably bad. So I had to learn at a very young age that helping people made me feel good, and making other people feel good made me feel very good, so that just became this altruistic philanthropist kind of mentality, where it became second-nature to me - I feel good because other people are having a good time. And maybe that snowballed into a momentous effect. But my mom has always instilled in me some very deep lessons, most of which was self-assurance. She stole from 'The Lion King' - anytime she dropped me off to Elementary School she'd say, 'Remember who you are!' I'd be like, 'All right! All right. I'll remember who the fuck I am.' I thought that was really cool.

CDM: In ‘Hey Look Ma, I Made It’ you sing,“I’m a hooker selling songs and my pimp’s a record label,” which is quite an honest reflection on the music industry as the "garden of evil". What do you think is the biggest misconception about the music industry?
BRENDON:
That's an interesting question. Maybe the biggest misconception is that all these people who you think have all the answers, they definitely don't. Trust me when I say that all these people that seem like they know what's going on, they really have no clue. We're all flying by the seat of our pants, just trying to do what makes us feel good. And some people are doing it for different reasons, but those of us that I see that are happiest, are doing it for the right reasons. We're doing it because we have a passion for it, but I think a lot of times people misconstrue that for desperation. A lot of times I'm called desperate, because I'm so passionate, and so fucking happy to be doing things, I'm like, <screams> 'OH MY GOD! I get to do this! This is so cool!' So people go, 'Man, you're so desperate.' I'm like, 'No, I'm just fucking excited.' I've been called a desperate spazz, my whole life. But yeah, I think that could be a big misconception.

CDM: It's so weird that enthusiasm is frowned upon.
BRENDON:
Right?!

CDM: You go on to sing, “If you never know who you can trust, then trust me you’ll be lonely.” Is that a life-lesson that just has to be learnt the hard way though?
BRENDON:
Possibly. I don't think anyone should take what I say as gospel, I don't think they should listen to the song and look at the lyrics and be like, 'Oh that's totally true.' Yes, there is a certain personal aspect to it, a personal experience that needs to incur before you have adopted that ideology, but I do feel that. I know that I've been fucked over by old friends that I did trust, and the fact that they didn't trust me. I see them now and I can be like, 'Hey did you ever hear of this guy?' And they'd be like, 'Yeah, it's not good.' Usually they end up in a place where they're so alone, because they feel lonely. So, hate begets hate, love begets love, loneliness begets loneliness. If you treat people like an alien, and you want to alienate people, then you will probably be estranged from everybody. But if you include people and you want to have the most passionate, exuberant, beautiful time, you're probably a beautiful exuberant person.

CDM: We spoke to Pete Wentz when Fall Out Boy were in New Zealand earlier this year about his favourite songs from every artist on his label, and he leaked to us ‘(Fuck A) Silver Lining’ before you'd announced the song.
BRENDON:
<yells> THAT'S SO AWESOME! THAT'S WHY I LOVE PETE! HE'S THE FUCKING BEST, RIGHT?
CDM: We had to send a message to your management to ask, like, 'Do you want us not to release this?'
BRENDON:
<chuckles> That's so cool that you guys checked though, honestly.
CDM: What’s it been like, working with him and Spencer at DCD2 Records on this new album campaign?
BRENDON:
Oh my god, I love it so much. You know what's so cool? Just where we end up as adults. We all kind of go through our journeys together, and then where we've all landed now, is so cool. And I'm curious to see where we all end up five years from now too, how our journey progresses. But it's so cool. It's so cool having two of my best friends in the world to work with. It's kinda spoiling. I don't think I'm deserving of all of that. Man, I have the best label! My two A&R guys are my best friends. They, literally, just come over and hang out and we shoot the shit. It's never too business-y. Because that can change a vibe, honestly. If it gets too business-y and it's not enough friendship and getting along, obviously you want to keeps things a little professional at a certain point, but when I'm creating stuff I like to keep it very friendly. And yeah, Spence and Pete are the best. They're so fun. They're just smart guys.

 

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CDM: Okay, real talk. Were you sending mystery potatoes to fans?
BRENDON:
Hell yeah, we were! You know this. Or maybe not. <chuckles>
CDM: Why?!
BRENDON:
It's just fun. The potato thing, became such a thing. When we saw the comments and reactions to the Saturday night video, when people were like, 'Why'd you have to mistreat the potato?' We were like, well now we have to run to mysterypotato.com, like, obviously we're gonna do this. You can use that website to send potatoes to people! I was like, 'Fuck yeah! We're gonna do that.' It just made sense. I was so excited to send potatoes to fans.

CDM: Lastly, a very important question, do you have plans to return to New Zealand with the new album?
BRENDON:
I do. I do! I told my booking agent, I was like, 'Dude, so here's the plan: When we go this year to Australia or New Zealand, we need at least three days beforehand, or three days after the trip to hang out, because WE NEVER GET TIME.' And I think the last time we talked, I was like, 'Man I would love to get some time to actually go hit the spots that we talked about last time - like the best restaurants, the best bar.' I actually want to go around and try some of the local cuisine and all that stuff. Man, New Zealand has the best white wine! Oh god! We were talking to this guy about Sauvignon Blanc the other day, so I'm just getting ready on wine now. <chuckles> I don't know if you guys like white wine, but I definitely have plans this year - whether or not they confirm, they haven't told me. It's not confirmed yet but I am talking about it and I wanna spend a little longer there, so it's not just an in and out. And I'm trying to make it multiple times a year instead of just once every, like, five years.

[ Editor's note: Panic! At The Disco have since announced a New Zealand tour date for October 2018! Click here for more information. ]

CDM: I'm happy to hear that you have New Zealand on your mind! We're going to try make it to your Staples Centre show in August. We are excited to see ‘Dying In LA’ live in Los Angeles!
BRENDON:
Awesome! OH MY GOD I have some fun stuff planned for that too. I can't wait for you guys to see that, that's gonna be fun. Oh! Man!

Panic! At The Disco's new album 'Pray For The Wicked' is out now! Click here to purchase it via iTunes or here to stream it via Spotify.

Watch the 'Hey Look Ma, I Made It' music video below...