Panic! on the stage, in the snow and elsewhere

By Evan Thorne

Once upon a time, four teenagers sent two songs to Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz via his online blog. The next day, they were signed to Wentz’s Decaydance Records and put on tour with Boys Night Out, Motion City Soundtrack, The Starting Line and Fall Out Boy as the opening act on the Nintendo Fusion Tour, playing to 4,000 kids every night for ever and ever. Well, not the next day. And not for ever and ever. But until the day before Thanksgiving, Panic! At The Disco will be living the dream of every kid in high school who ever started a band. Drummer Spencer Smith shared his thoughts with the Weekender on snow, Third Eye Blind and “Saw 2.”

Weekender: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen since you woke up this morning?

Spencer Smith: Since I woke up this morning? Snow. It’s snowing.

WE: It’s snowing?

SS: Yeah, we’re in Des Moines, Iowa. I’ve never been in a city when it’s actually snowing. I mean, I’ve seen snow before, but you know, we’re from Las Vegas and it never snows there. I mean, I’ve seen snow but not really, not like actually-on-the-ground-that-you-can-pick-up-and-make-a-snowball snow. I’ve never driven through snow either.

WE: Are you driving?

SS: Well, no. I’ve never been in a vehicle when it’s been snowing. It’s kind of scary, I’m nervous.

WE: So have you guys been having snowball fights or building snowmen or making snow angels then?

SS: No, we just had to sound check, but we may go outside now and mess around.

WE: Have fun with that.

SS: Yeah.

WE: What is the most horrible thing Pete Wentz has said to you guys so far?

SS: Let me think. The most horrible thing? I don’t know, he doesn’t really say that many horrible things, really. I guess the only thing is like, when we started this tour we knew he was going to give us a lot of [crap], because it was only our second tour ever and we’re playing to 4,000 kids a night and they had to go through four years of touring in vans to play for this many kids every night. Although they are headlining and we’re opening, but still. I don’t know. Just throughout the tour over small little things they’ve been giving us a lot of [crap] all the time. And he can’t say too much now because we’re doing alright. We’re selling some records, so we figure he can’t give us too much [crap].

WE: What was your guys’ first really crazy tour story?

SS: Well, not that it’s really crazy, but on the first day of this tour – our last tour pretty much ran right into this one, we didn’t go home – but on our last tour with [words obscured by banging noises]…hold on, I gotta get out of here, someone’s playing the drums.


(Banging noises continue, door slams, banging noises desist)

SS: So the first show of this tour was in Detroit, so we drive to Detroit and we wake up the first morning to go to the first show and well, the night before when we were driving, one of the trailer tires popped, so we had to stand by side of the road at like three in the morning and it was freezing cold out and we had to wait forever for the guy to come and get something and replace the tire. So then we kept going and when we came out of the hotel the first morning and two of our tires were popped. It was just ridiculous, almost like a joke, just how bad things were going. So we had to get those tires fixed and we wound up being three hours late to the first show of this tour. And with this tour, which is a big production, you don’t really want to be late each day, especially on the first day. We were the opening band too, so it made us look really [bad] because, well, we just looked really bad right then. So we played the first show of this tour on about one hour of sleep.

WE: Did it go alright?

SS: It went OK for what it was, I guess. But definitely the shows have gotten a little better.

WE: On a big tour like the one you guys are on, if something like that happens, the playing order doesn’t change, right?

SS: Yeah, that was something nice about the last tour we were on. There were a couple times where, if we were late, we could go second rather than first, or if we were in our hometown they’d let us go second or third, but it doesn’t really change on this tour.

WE: On your new record [“A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out”], you use a lot of keyboards and drum programming. Was that something you guys had always incorporated into your songs, or did that come more with a record deal and studio time?

SS: Well, it was something that we had just started to try to incorporate about I’d say six months before we got signed, and during the writing of the record it was something that was really new and we didn’t really know. I mean I can sit down and make up a basic drum part because I’ve played drums for five or six years, or we could make up just a guitar, drum and bass song. But using keyboards and piano or a electronic drums was something we’d never done before and it was all kind of new. We didn’t really know how to use all the stuff that we had, like the keyboards or all the programs, so it’s kind of us learning how to do it while learning the part. So that stuff, hopefully, now that we’ve kind of learned how to play piano a little bit better, learned how to play keyboards, we can use that stuff on the newer stuff that we write and it will be a little bit easier. It won’t be us figuring it out, it’ll just be us knowing how to use it.

WE: Right now, how does it feel to be living the dream of every kid in high school who ever started a band?

SS: It’s pretty ridiculous. It’s definitely fun and we’re just trying not to take anything for granted, trying to make the most of the situation, trying to make it last as long as possible. We don’t want to just take this opportunity that we have and just kind of waste it. We’re trying to think as far ahead in the future and make sure we can do this for as long as we can. We talk to kids every night who just say, “That’s crazy, you guys are 18.” It’s pretty crazy.

WE: I’ll bet. When I saw you guys at the Chicago stop on the Nintendo Fusion tour, the keyboard parts were all on a recorded backing track. Do you guys have any plans to bring a live keyboardist into the fold anytime soon?

SS: Definitely. That’s our ultimate goal, to have no pre-recorded stuff going on and to be pretty much, for everything you possibly could play live, have someone there playing it. We just saw Bright Eyes the other night, and he has like seven musicians on-stage. So there’s nothing that’s pre-recorded, but it sounds exactly like the record. So that’s obviously our ultimate goal. Also, Ryan, our guitar player, is learning on this tour actually from Kara [Dupuy] from Boys Night Out, how to play piano. She’s a classical piano teacher, so maybe switching up the instruments on some songs could be something we may do.

WE: You went to see Bright Eyes last night?

SS: Not last night, three nights ago. Actually, it was in Omaha, which was ridiculous because that’s where he’s from.

WE: Who’s he playing with these days? He was playing with the Faint as his backing band, right?

SS: Yeah and I wish I would have seen it, because he said that was the only time he was going to play a bunch of songs from “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn,” because it was the only time he could. We actually had to go after our show in Omaha, and he was playing with Spoon and someone else opened the show. But we missed the first band and I was pretty upset about that.

WE: Is Spoon his backing band right now?

SS: No, they were just playing. He has a set of like six other musicians. It’s crazy. They have a harp. Like, a real harp, a girl. And they had 45-minute set changes, because they have to set up so much stuff. They have two drummers, a harp and Mike Mogis, the producer who did all his records, plays steel guitar and electric guitar. And I forget the guy’s name, but the drummer from the Faint was one of the drummers, and he also plays clarinet at one point. It was just ridiculous. Everybody in his band plays seven different instruments.

WE: What would your top five “desert island” CDs be right now?

SS: Right now or of all time?

WE: Either or.

SS: Okay. I would take Third Eye Blind, “Blue.” I would take the Beach Boys, “Pet Sounds.” I would take the Beatles, “1969-1970 [Anthology].” I would take Counting Crows, “August and Everything After.” And I would take Queen, “A Night at the Opera.”

WE: Third Eye Blind’s “Blue” was pretty much the first rock CD I ever got.

SS: That’s my favorite record of all time.

WE: It’s a really good one.

SS: Do you have their other records too?

WE: I’ve got the other two, yeah.

SS: I don’t think there’s a bad song on any of their records. I honestly like every song on all of their records.

WE: They do a good job, but I saw them live and it wasn’t the best thing in the world.

SS: That’s what everybody says, but I never saw them live and I don’t want to, because I don’t want to ruin it. I don’t know. But his melodies, they’re just ridiculous.

WE: My favorite song by them right now would be “Faster,” the first song from the new album.

SS: Yeah, that guitar part at the beginning is just insane and the bridge is just sick. The melody, the way it just keeps running on into itself is just awesome.

WE: Have you guys had any time to stop off and see movies while you’ve been on tour?

SS: Yeah, we haven’t had a ton of time, but the last movie we saw was in Seattle when we had a day off. We saw “Jarhead,” and we saw “Saw 2” in San Francisco. At one point in the tour we saw “Flightplan.” That was just ridiculous. That’s about it.

WE: “Saw” or “Saw 2,” which one was better?

SS: Okay, here’s the thing. We saw “Saw,” and the twist at the end is [really] good. Like, did you see it?

WE: Not yet.

SS: All right, well I don’t know what kind of person you are, but me, I don’t like it when I see movies and there’s [bad] acting. That just kind of ruins it for me. Most romantic comedies are like that. But in “Saw” and “Saw 2,” the acting is horrible, like it’s almost laughable how bad it is. But the story is actually not even bad. And they both have twist endings, and they’re actually good twist endings that you wouldn’t really think of. I don’t know one person who actually saw what happens coming. So they’re good for that, but you kind of have to watch them knowing that the acting is [bad] and just kind of let that go. Did you see “Jarhead?”

WE: No, I didn’t.

SS: That’s pretty good, too. It’s not as good as “American Beauty” though. It’s directed by the same dude who directed “American Beauty,” but definitely not as good.

WE: I will definitely check that out. With the year drawing to a close, do you have any New Years resolutions at this point?

SS: No, I haven’t even thought about it. Maybe I want to try to do the vegetarian thing, but it’s kind of hard to do on tour. I’ll try to do that for as long as I can.

WE: What is the food situation like on tour for you guys?

SS: This tour it’s actually great, because a lot of times there’s catering at the venue where they’ll fix you stuff, and they actually fix you really good food. Other times there are what’s called “buy-outs,” which is where they’ll just give each person in the band a certain amount of money and you have to go somewhere. That’s when we leave the show at 12 a.m. and have to find an IHOP because that’s the only place that’s open. But no matter what it’s always eating fast food all the time. If you go to McDonald’s or Wendy’s, you gotta get the grilled chicken sandwiches because they’re the only thing that aren’t so bad for you. If you get the hamburgers all the time, you don’t feel very good.

WE: That makes sense.

SS: Oh yeah.

WE: One more question for you: Where are you guys going to be for Thanksgiving this year?

SS: Toms River, New Jersey. Well no, probably not, probably Pennsylvania. Probably Philadelphia, because the tour ends the day before Thanksgiving in Toms River, New Jersey and we are not going to be able to be home for Thanksgiving, so we’re probably going to go to Philadelphia.

WE: What are you going to miss most about Thanksgiving dinner at home?

SS: Well, I’ve got to be honest, the food you get at Thanksgiving is okay, but it’s not my favorite. Some people say it’s their favorite meal of the year, but I think it’s okay. I mean, it’s not that great. I mean, turkey? I like mashed potatoes and gravy. But anyway, the food’s not a big deal, but we haven’t been home and we haven’t seen our families in a couple months anyway, so then not being home for Thanksgiving is gonna kind of suck. But the cool thing is, even though we aren’t going to be there on Thanksgiving, we’re going to be there a couple days after. So we’re going to celebrate a couple days late.