The Inquisition: Panic at the Disco’s Ryan Ross
We ask Panic's guitarist about the exclamation point, the Beatles, and how he really feels about singer Brendon Urie.
In 2005, Panic at the Disco’s debut, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, arrived overflowing with logorrheic song titles, histrionic hooks, and teenage angst. It earned them a platinum record, but also scores of skeptics — among them the band’s own guitarist/lyricist Ryan Ross (okay, almost). “I can’t knock that album too much,” says Ross. “For a bunch of 17-year-old kids, we did the best we could with what we knew about music then.” Now, after discovering what Ross casually refers to as “the whole British ’60s rock’n’roll thing,” the Las Vegas quartet have recorded Pretty. Odd., which reveals a surprisingly different sound that might strike fans as…well, you know.
What happened to your exclamation point?
It was never that big of a deal to us. When we started getting ready to do the new record, we were asked if we wanted to keep it, and we just said no. I hope we made some copy editor’s life a little bit easier.
Why did you scrap most of the material you were originally working on for this album?
I had wanted to write a musical and maybe stage it in New York or L.A. It was a love story set in this animated, fantastical world. But we got halfway through some demos and I couldn’t figure out how to finish it, so we decided to do a rock’n’roll album instead.
The album was mixed at Abbey Road and is reminiscent of Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles. Is the homage intentional?
Well, we mixed it there because our producer [Rob Mathes] said it was the best-sounding room in the world. But I started listening to the Beatles on my own toward the end of making the last album. I was partly drawn to them because they weren’t afraid of doing any kind of song. That was something we were trying to figure out: Are we allowed to do a jazz song? Are we allowed to do cabaret? Just from hearing the Beatles, it was like, “Well, they did it. It’s okay to write something other than a standard rock song.”
Against Me! have a song on their most recent album called “Piss and Vinegar,” which was inspired by your band and includes the line “I don’t think you’re bad people / I just think that your aesthetic is horrible.” What do you say to that?
I can’t get mad. I can’t expect everybody to appreciate what we do. Our stage shows especially have been kind of polarizing. Either you went with it or you didn’t, and you thought we were being pretentious. Personally, I think it’s kind of boring when I watch a band that doesn’t do anything to make it their own.
Speaking of live shows, you and singer Brendon Urie are pretty playful with one another onstage. Are you toying with the idea of bisexuality?
There was never a point where we were going for that or trying to make a statement. Brendon just likes to make a scene sometimes. I’m sure it’s gotten some weird looks from some of the guys in the audience, but we’re just having fun.
Who is the average Panic at the Disco groupie?
We’ve got a younger fan base — and their parents. One day when we were at Abbey Road, an entire family was outside waiting for us — like, a nine-year-old, a 16-year-old, and their mother. They can agree on liking us for whatever reason. It’s kind of strange.
You’ve said that you’d never had a sip of alcohol, a decision due in part to your father’s drinking problem and his subsequent death. Now that you’re 21, is that still the case?
Well, it was illegal before, you know. We all indulge a little bit these days.
You and labelmates Fall Out Boy share a penchant for long-winded song titles that often don’t have anything to do with the lyrics. What’s up with that?
On the first album, I was just reading a lot at the time, and I was on this kick where I wanted to use quotations from some of my favorite books and movies. But they did end up being pretty long in some cases. We didn’t even call the songs by their full names.
This album is a lot less anguished than the last one. There are songs about love and the sun and summer.
We were all in pretty good places, and I just had this thought that if somebody puts on our album after an eight-hour workday, they’re not going to want to hear something that depresses them. I think that a lot of bands these days dwell on the negative.
So, who’s better at applying eye makeup: you or your girlfriend?
It got to the point where I was better, and then I just gave her all my makeup as a consolation, so she wouldn’t be mad. I haven’t done it in a while, because I kind of ran out of ideas. On the next tour, it’s just going to be my face, unfortunately.