First there were four sets of footprints in the sand, then three, then two, until there was just one. Brendon Urie has carried Panic! At The Disco since he was a teenager, from a band literally playing in the garage to an arena-filling solo project. He's acutely aware of the public perspective that he’s held some sort of fascist dictatorship over the moniker, picking off people one by one until a sole survivor remained. If there's anything Urie wants to make clear, though, it's this: He's not the enemy. He never was.
“I'm so grateful for every friendship I've ever made through people being in this band,” he says. “Imagine spending years of your life – years – with someone, working together on something you're both so incredibly proud of and showing that to thousands of people a night. People you've known since college – since high school. A lot of people from that time in your life end up moving away, getting married, starting a new life. Just because they've done that, it doesn't mean you now want to fuck them over. It just means you grew apart. Shit, people do that every day. The difference was that we were in the spotlight, and people held such a connotation to it.”
On the eve of the release of Pray for the Wicked – Panic! At The Disco's sixth album, and second with Urie solely at the helm – the singer and multi-instrumentalist holds no ill will towards those that have outgrown his music, holding on to the memories of 2005's A Fever You Can't Sweat Out. A relationship with music can be as complicated as a relationship with another human, and it can grow and develop and even go in different directions. “I can understand why it makes people upset,” Urie says.
“No-one knows what happens in the background – and nor should they. Your connection should be to the art, I understand that. It's hard to try and explain that I never wanted to write my friends off, never wanted to write any of our fans off. I know what went down, and I know it wasn't as crazy as people assume. If people knew the truth, it would just be so boring. Fuck it, if people want to create myths then I'm going to let them. If people want to pontificate on that, then I implore them to.”
Much like its predecessor, 2016's Death of a Bachelor, the musical direction of Wicked is pushed into the slickest, poppiest corner of the Panic! spectrum. With Urie overseeing all arrangements, instrumentation and even production, the Las Vegas native feels it's a role he's properly grown into. “If anything, it's a lot like the way that I started out making music in the first place,” he says. “When I was a kid, I had a four-track recorder. I'd put a blank tape in and I'd record myself playing over and over again. I'd start out with the drums and a harmony, then bass, guitars, vocals... it became like second nature to me. To be able to go back to that felt like the most honest thing I could do. To do it any other way wouldn't do the songs justice.”
While Pray for the Wicked was written in solitude, the finished product is a result of Urie reaching out to the outside world. Inviting friends over for parties, Urie would show friends works in progress in order to ascertain what was working. “If you have a friend that isn't willing to criticise you, then they're not a true friend,” reasons Urie.
“I didn't have any greater agenda by doing this – I wanted to create a space where everyone was free to voice their opinion. Come over, smoke some weed, have a few beers, see what happens. If we're stoked on an idea, we can head right into my home studio, which is next to the pool. The whole process could easily change my mind on a song, which was a really positive thing to have. I'm only as good as the people I surround myself with.”
For all of Panic!'s increased success in the solo era, it's also come with a degree of toxicity among the fanbase. Live shows have faced delays due to crushing against the crowd barrier, often causing serious injuries. Meanwhile, Urie has been ambushed at airports and at the stage door for Kinky Boots on Broadway, where he was a part of the cast for a season. While thankful for the ongoing success, Urie is the first to admit that it hasn't entirely been smooth sailing. “You take it in your stride, man. You just have to do the best you can,” he says.
“It's one thing for things to be crazy at the live show – that can be kind of exciting, in a way. When it's in those other situations, though, you've gotta be clear. I always say, 'If you guys can't hang, then I'm gonna fucking run.' It's always that mob mentality – a person can be smart, but people are fucking stupid, man. For my sanity, for my health and for their safety, I have to remove myself from those situations.”
It's been suggested that Urie has gotten older, but Panic! fans have stayed the same age. Urie appreciates the reference: “What can I say, man?” he laughs. “Alright, alright, alright.”
Pray For The Wicked is out Friday June 22 via Fueled By Ramen/Warner Music.