Sitting in Billboard‘s New York offices and grinning like a kid who has got a secret, Panic at the Disco‘s Brendon Urie can hardly contain his excitement. New album Death of a Bachelor (out Jan. 15 on DCD2/Fueled by Ramen) is the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist’s de facto first solo project — Panic’s other remaining co-founder, Spencer Smith, departed in 2014.
“This album feels so much mine,” says Urie, wearing an uncharacteristically casual outfit (a nondescript hoodie and jeans). The 28-year-old fully taking the reins feels somewhat inevitable: Panic first started to evolve from a collaboration of teenaged friends into more and more of Urie’s vision with the 2009 departures of guitarist Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker. “That was my first chance to say, ‘I have two less people telling me I have to compromise,’ ” recalls Urie.
But 11 years and three albums (two of which topped the Top Rock Albums chart) after the Las Vegas act’s double-platinum 2005 debut, the Panic torch is still in good hands. Three new tracks — “LA Devotee,” “Victorious” and “Emperor’s New Clothes” — already have entered the top 10 of Rock Digital Songs; the lattermost and “Hallelujah” have cracked the Billboard Hot 100. Across the album, Urie surprises by mixing his operatic pop-punk with his love of Frank Sinatra — even if it sounds more like Ol’ Blue Eyes rocking a gospel-influenced jock jam at the Super Bowl. But don’t worry, Panic fans: Urie’s not planning on sporting a fedora any time soon.
Artists aren’t talking about Sinatra influences much these days. What gives?
It’s not really a popular consensus to sing Sinatra — which I love! And I just think it’s so cool that he disliked rock’n’roll so much. He thought it was lazy; he couldn’t understand what the singers were saying. To denounce rock is pretty badass. Bold move, Frank.
Where did your love of Frank come from?
Growing up, my earliest memories are listening to Sinatra Christmas albums. Now, I listen to him every day. Either I wake up and listen to him in the shower or I fall asleep listening to him. I wanted to figure out how to use that influence sonically for the first time, to present it in the way that I fell in love with him.
Would you rock a Frank-like fedora?
I have a massive hat collection, which includes many, many fedoras I haven’t worn because of the stigma. I buy them thinking, “I’m going to make people accept fedoras!” But with the way I dress, if I wore a fedora, I’d be in the camp that gives them a bad name.
Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time” samples the famous guitar riff from “Rock Lobster” by The B-52s. How did that come about?
It started from the sample and then I got into the writing, hoping that I wouldn’t have to discuss publishing rights. (Laughs.) I just really lucked out — [B-52s singer] Kate Pierson is friends of my management. She said, “I think it’s really cool,” and signed off on it. I was like, “You should come onstage when we play it live and sing the chorus with me.” She’s like, “Yeah, and you’ll give me 100 percent of the publishing!” No, that’s a joke. She’s such a sweetheart.
Panic was discovered by Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, whose American Beauty/American Psycho was one of 2015’s top-selling rock albums. Do you think Death of a Bachelor is better?
Of course I do! (Laughs.) I hope Pete hears that. On a serious tip, I have to believe I’m doing the greatest thing. It’s like being a rapper — you’ve got to believe 100 percent in what you’re doing or it’s just fake.
Most rock musicians don’t talk that way.
It’s more self-deprecating. There’s more self-loathing, like, “I’m not worthy.” To be honest, I’m the opposite.
You used to be really active on Vine but now you’re more into Periscope. Why?
Most of the people that are big on Vine are god-awful, and I was fed up. I won’t name names. Well, maybe I should. (Laughs.) Periscope is just a live stream, and it’s a cooler way for me to interact with fans. I love the new ways to interact with everybody in this world. It puts people on the same page, like, “Yeah, we’re not so different. We all like watching each other make breakfast.”
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 23 issue of Billboard.