Panic at the Disco dropped the exclamation point at the end of its name between its first and second albums. “We actually hadn’t wanted it there for awhile,” notes guitarist and chief songwriter Ryan Ross.
But that doesn’t mean the Las Vegas rock quartet is any less excited about its music. In fact, with the new “Pretty. Odd.,” Panic’s members are even more excited than they were with their 2005 debut, “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.”
That’s a good thing, because “Pretty. Odd.” is a significantly different creature than its double-platinum predecessor. It strides away from the sonic vaudeville of “A Fever ...” and embraces a slew of new influences from the classic rock realm, a more spacious sonic landscape that directly references the ’60s Britpop of the Beatles and Kinks and the California country rock scene of that same period.
It’s a bold move for an allimportant sophomore album, but Ross, 21, says he and his mates have no misgivings about forging a new direction.
“I think if everyone in the band wasn’t so excited about it then, yeah, we might be (worried),” explains the guitarist, who co-founded the band in 2004 with frontman Brendon Urie and drummer Spencer Smith. Bassist Jon Walker joined in 2006.
“We tend to side with each other on things. I guess we were just really excited about what it was, and we weren’t gonna let whatever people said change our feelings about what we did.”
Fortunately the response so far has been good. “Pretty. Odd.” debuted at No. 2 on both the Billboard 200 and the U.K. album charts in March — “Always a bridesmaid,” Ross cracks about missing the No. 1 slot. The album has sold nearly 500,000 copies so far, while the first single, “Nine in the Afternoon,” was a Top 10 hit on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart. “
“Pretty. Odd.” also represents a change from what Panic initially set out to do, however. After touring to promote “A Fever ...,” the group set to work on a more conceptual piece that Ross refers to as “some kind of musical.” But about six songs in, the band wasn’t feeling engaged by the project.
“I think it was just sounding forced,” Ross says. “I think we all realize it was a little too much to take on right now. And once we stopped thinking so much about it and just let ourselves write music, we realized we could still do whatever we wanted, and we got excited again.”
Part of that excitement was tapping into those new sources. Ross acknowledges that he “grew up not really being exposed” to a great deal of classic rock and began picking up on it while traveling the world and also thanks to Walker.
“He’s a huge fan of Bob Dylan and the Beatles,” Ross says. “Just being around that, you start to get more and more into that kind of music. Me hearing the (Beatles’) white album and (the Beach Boys’) ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile’ and all that for the first time definitely had a huge effect on me.
“I knew those bands were classic, but I didn’t know why. And then hearing it and being blown away by it was definitely inspirational. It just kind of gets soaked in; you pick up the guitar and you start playing it a little differently than you used to.”
Ross says that “Nine in the Afternoon,” in fact, was the first track to come along and reflect those new influences — and help convince Panic to experiment even further in that direction.
“We wrote that and ‘That Green Gentleman’ and ‘Do You Know What I’m Seeing’... in about a week and a half,” Ross recalls. “After that, we started saying, ‘Maybe we should just go with that and put aside the other stuff we’d been working on. And we never looked back.”
Panic is only looking forward these days. After its stint headlining the Honda Civic Tour the group plans to hit festivals in Europe and also play in Japan, Australia and Asia, with another swing through North America likely. And even though “Pretty. Odd.” has only been out less than two months, Ross says Panic is already eyeballing its next album.
“We’ve written a bunch of songs since” recording “Pretty. Odd.,” he says. “We’ve probably got about nine or 10 new songs going right now. So I hope that after our tour and all that, we can do another record and just keep going, which is all we want to do.”
Panic at the Disco, Motion City Soundtrack, the Hush Sound and Phantom Planet perform on the Honda Civic Tour at 7 p.m. Tuesday (May 20) at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $35. Call (313) 961-5450 or visit www.livenation.com.
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