Who is the most expressive person you can think of? Jim Carrey? Edvard Munch? Every single person who has been forced to down a pint of liquified fish guts on I'm A Celebrity? No. Wrong. The answer is Brendon Urie. Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco is the most expressive person in the world. And I don't just mean in the sense that he is the lead vocalist in a band that somehow managed to introduce the word "baroque" into popular music lexicon in 2005 and released a video in which he transforms into a mythical beast before our very eyes. No. I mean when Urie meets someone for the first time his eyes light up like Blackpool at Christmas.
Urie has been in the music industry for over a decade, the last remaining original member in a band who have consistently taken something inherently theatrical and turned it into something sincere, accessible, and fucking cool. He is one of the most versatile and enduring artists to emerge from a period in which people genuinely wore a tie and a t-shirt approximately two sizes too small. He delivers personal anecdotes like he's auditioning for a film about his own life, expressing joy in such overt ways that, if it wasn't a completely dehumanising concept, I would start a petition suggesting that everyone feeling weathered and weary of life should be prescribed fifteen minutes with him.
I should say that it is entirely possible – given that we arranged to go whisky tasting at 3pm in a Soho bar only accessible by a literal secret bookcase – that I got drunk on a lethal cocktail of bourbon and excitement and therefore my reading is slightly exaggerated. It's difficult to say. Whatever the case, I had a nice time. Thanks Brendon!
Hi Brendon Urie. Tell me, what's so good about whisky?
I didn't use to be into it, honestly, but about nine years ago I got really into it through friends. You start with Jack Daniels, then Jameson, and you get used to that whisky taste. Then people start telling you about different ones, saying stuff like: "This one's peat-y, this one's vanilla-y." After a while your palate gets used to it and you can actually taste caramel or cherry or nuts or whatever.
I think whiskey is one of those things that people really get into when they get older, like beer-
I'm also into beer.
Well, you just love everything! How do you feel about combining them?
Irish coffee is great. I'll have that sometimes.
In the morning?
Well it used to be a shower beer. I'd wake up and have a beer in the shower, but I feel heavier after that. If I have an Irish coffee – I feel like the caffeine cancels out the alcohol, which it totally doesn't, but that's my justification.
Do you remember the first time you tried alcohol?
I had this pounding headache – I think I was about 12/13 years old. I was just hanging out at my neighbour's house, his mum was in the kitchen on the phone, and I'd mentioned that I had this headache. She poured me a double shot of Crown Royal and said, "Take this." So I shot it down and I was like, "Uuurgh!" I couldn't breathe afterwards! I was coughing. But my headache was gone 30 seconds later.
Is that also the first time you got drunk?
No. That was when I was about 14, on this vodka that came in a plastic jug. It was called Kamchatka vodka, and it's just awful. It's cheap, it's not distilled well, it's gross. I got hammered and passed out at my friend's house. When I came to in the morning, I went home and my parents were furious. That taught me to be smarter about my drinking... I had to learn to sneak out better [laughs].
Did you end up sneaking out a lot?
The first time I snuck out was when I was 15. My friend Eric took me to a hardcore show and I was on the second storey so I'd have to sneak out of my window, jump off the roof, land on the grass and do a tuck and roll. Eric would have his car, this little light Saturn, and he'd pull it down the road in neutral, and I'd jump in and there was this downward slope that left the neighbourhood, so we'd roll down that and then take off!
Sounds like you were a rebellious teenager.
It didn't start until I was about 12 or 13. Until then I was just a good Mormon kid – my friends knew me as "Mormon Brendon". But I started rebelling and smoking weed. I had a friend who was connected to a dealer and I had a BMX bike so he was like, "Hey you can run things for me." So I did that for about eight months. It wasn't every day – three or four times a week at most – but I would have my buddy come over and give me a box or a bag or whatever. I had a list of addresses with the amounts I'd have to pick up, and I'd put it in a backpack and ride around on my BMX. I got paid for it, it was pretty nice! I got like 1% of every sell, so if I sold a dime bag I'd get a dollar and at the time I was like, "Yeah! This is awesome!"
And that's how you accidentally became a 12-year-old Mormon weed dealer.
What's the most amount of trouble you ever got in with your parents?
I got caught with weed at school. I had about a quarter ounce on me and I was so high. We'd snuck up to the football field in between classes – me and my friends Jeremy and Mike. We were at the football bathrooms, and we were smoking in there. Nevada had a zero tolerance law then, so if they caught you with even a leaf of weed you'd get jail time, so I was really nervous.
What happened next?
The police came up on bicycles. I walked out of the bathroom, high out of my gourd, and they were like, "Get on the fucking ground!" I was like, "Oh god!". They told me to sit down. So me, being the dumb, high asshole that I was, turned around and sat on his bike tire, and he pushed me off like, "Get the fuck off my bike, sit on the ground!" Eventually they pulled us into this little interrogation room and told us, "You need to fill out a statement, and if any of your statements don't match up, then you're all going to jail." I was like 14 at the time, it was terrifying.
Basically they told us that if we ratted out the guy who gave us the weed then they'd let us go, so I was like, "I'm not that fucking stupid." I gave them a fake name, we all somehow gave this fake name, and they just let us go. So it worked out pretty great. But they gave me three days of rehab class. When my mum picked me up she was furious. All the way home she was bawling her eyes out and was like, "I'm so disappointed in you." I was like, "Mum, it's not that bad. I'm calm as shit right now, it helps my anxiety..." But she wasn't having it.
That's pretty intense.
Yeah it kind of sucked, but it's better than jail time.
Yeah it could have been worse. Okay, so, describe the kind of date you'd take someone on if you were trying to impress them.
When I was a teenager I'd just do the Mormon thing, which mostly involves lots of activities that are cheap. I didn't have a lot of money at that time... because I'd stopped selling drugs [laughs]. What I used to do is go ice blocking, which is when you literally buy a block of ice, wet the top, throw a towel on it so the fibres stick, and slide down a hill. There were so many parks in Vegas and the hills are just 50 feet and you just go so fast it's amazing. I took a bunch of dates out doing that, then I'd take them back home and we'd do arts and crafts, draw, play music, maybe go to a bonfire. It varied. But ice-blocking was my favourite.
If someone took me on that date now I would be psyched.
Trust me, it is so fun.
Real talk. What's your biggest vice?
Alcohol and weed are my everyday. Weed is different because I don't feel like "druggy" about it – sometimes if I'm too anxious I'll smoke, so it's a way to self medicate. Alcohol gets a little rough sometimes. I've gotten better as time has gone on, but it used to be really bad. I got really good with coffee because I'm supposed to not have more that one cup a day - I was up to seven cups a day, making three fresh pots. Caffeine is one of the worst drugs!
Some of the lyrics and track titles from A Fever You Can't Sweat Out are references from Chuck Palahniuk novels. Survivor, Diary, Invisible Monsters… What did you like about his work?
I didn't know about [those books] until I joined the band. Ryan and Spencer were both reading them. Ryan gave me his copies of Invisible Monsters and Survivor and I thought it was some of the best writing I'd ever read. It was so funny and sarcastic and dark… just really off the wall. I fell in love with them.
You've described the song "Death of a Bachelor" as something akin to Sinatra and Beyonce writing a song together. Tell me a bit about your fixation with Sinatra.
The first time I heard Sinatra was on a Christmas album. And the first time I had a visual to go with the voice was in that movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where he's a cartoon sword, singing "Witchcraft!" As a vocalist he's so technically good, so naturally gifted. That was something I aspired to be – that kind of crooner. Crooning was always a thing that I really loved because my parents did, even the joke stuff like in Little Rascals when you have Alfalfa learning to croon. I love Sinatra's voice and look and what he stood for, but he was an asshole at the same time – he would fly off the handle, yell at people, get what he wanted. I mean, anyone who makes a song like "My Way" is a fucking asshole!
You have a tattoo of him too right? What other tattoos do you have?
Yeah, I got that about four years ago. I also have the artwork for Every Time I Die's New Junk Aesthetic on the top of my arm. That's one of my favourite albums. Keith is so talented. He can scream, he can sing. I've seen him do karaoke and it's phenomenal. One of his favourite bands is Counting Crows and he does Adam Duritz almost better than Adam Duritz. So everyone was doing hyped ass songs like Bon Jovi and Queen, and Keith got up and did "Colorblind". It was awesome.
Damn. Someone needs to organise a hardcore karaoke night.
Oh my god. Just screaming? I'd be so down for that. I'd do any Every Time I Die Song.
You wrote and recorded Death of a Bachelor yourself. In a Facebook post you compared the process to being a kid and trying your hand at loads of different instruments. Is that how it felt – kind of free and childlike in a way?
That's exactly what it was. I hadn't fully done that in such a long time I always wrote on my own and I'd bring it to the guys and we'd work on it together – or not, if we didn't like it. After a while it became second nature to go back to what I used to do, how I taught myself to play this and that. I have a really short attention span when I write so if I get bored doing a certain thing I'll jump to another instrument. It helps the process snowball so it doesn't ever lose momentum. This time around I'd finally built a studio in my house and I spent so much time in there. Like Dr. Dre says, "Wake up in the AM, compose a beat, I bring the fire til you're soaking in your seat."
Did you record a lot of the album naked? I think I read that somewhere... That's an awkward question if I just made it up.
I did! Around my house I'm seriously just naked half the time. My wife thinks it's hilarious. I'd get an idea and just run to the studio and sit at my computer, so you don't wanna sit in my seat cuz my ass has been there.
Not an artistic decision, then?
[Laughs] Nah. There was no point where I was like, "This song has to be written naked!"
What are your parents like?
They're awesome. I'm very much like my mum – she's extroverted. She's a performer, an organist for the church, a piano player, a piano teacher, she speaks all the time in public forums, she sings beautifully – it's where I got my soprano. She's phenomenally musically talented. My dad is too. He played guitar in high school and was in a few rock bands. He's one of the kindest hearted people I've ever met. It's tough though, because when we started the band I was only 17 and really dropped a bomb on them. But I was always honest. Maybe six months to a year would go by and I'd just sit them down and let everything out, like: so in the last year I've had sex, I've been drinking, I've done this and that...
Like, "Ok guys, it's time for my annual debrief of sins!"
I just felt so guilty keeping stuff from my parents! And then I'd be grounded for a few months. But that honesty was important to me.
You're going to be 30 soon. I recently turned 27 and I'm having a bit of a crisis. As soon as you tip over into the upper 20s you basically start thinking WELL I'm 30 now, it's all over! Have you ever had a moment where you become super aware of your age and you start thinking about weird shit like what your funeral song might be?
I thought about dying and my funeral when I was like 10. I wasn't a dark child at all, I had dark moments, but turning 30 excites me. I'm only five months away, and I have a sense that when that happens I'll feel even more like myself, like I'm going to fall into line with who I've always been and be more comfortable. I think I'll give less of a fuck, even less than I give now. I look at my parents and they just keep getting better with age, like really good wine. They get funnier, sometimes more aggressive but in a funny way… I think 30 is going to be fun.
I'm starting to think that the whole "twenties are the best years of your life!" thing is a huge myth.
Yeah, you act like you know everything when really you don't know anything. Nothing at all!
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Photography by Chris Bethell.