Panic at the Discos sophomore album, Pretty. Odd., was an ambitious and serious play for grown-up music cred from a group of flamboyant young guys previously known for accidentally conquering MySpace and MTV on their way to platinum-selling status. The band spent this spring and summer on the road with the Honda Civic Tour, a rocking and energetic series of shows now captured on CD and DVD in Live in Chicago.
Drummer Spencer Smith, 21, rarely talks on stage, and lends his dry, sardonic voice only occasionally to group interviews. But speaking by phone from his Las Vegas home, he had plenty to say to Out about politics, getting life advice from Snoop Dogg, and just what Pete Wentz meant when he called his pet prodigies totally gay.
Out: We spoke in January at the Honda Civic Tour launch. How did you end up being the designated gay spokesperson for Panic at the Disco?
Spencer Smith: [Laughs] Well, from my deep respect and love for the gay community.
Well, of course.
And I feel that it is bullshit that it got re-voted against in California to not be able to get married. Bullshit!
Your friends in Fall Out Boy were very vocal about that fight, but Panic hasnt talked much publicly about politics.
No, no we have not.
Do you see the band taking it on more?
Its a weird thing. Being in somewhat of the public eye, we always are aware that [anything we say] can make it into every blog. When it comes to things that are non-music related that were still passionate about, now we are a little more comfortable just coming out and saying exactly how we feel. And this is one topic that Im just sort of -- I just completely disagree with any of the laws that keep everybody from being equal. Id rather use the fact that Im doing this interview to at least say what I think than take some weird vague view on things.
This was the first election you were able to vote in, right?
It was. I was 17 the last time, so I just missed it. This time it was the first for me and [singer] Brendon [Urie].
It was exciting to see Nevada go Democrat.
I know, I couldnt believe it. Here and some of the other Southwest states -- obviously not Arizona, but New Mexico and Colorado. We were in Atlanta playing a show and by the time we came off stage, theyd already figured out that there was no chance of it turning around. It was a great night.
It seems like the crowds at your concerts have changed over the last couple years. There are still a lot of girls and gay guys, but there are also a lot of stoned college dudes.
We have observed it. We think its awesome. Its something we kind of hoped for -- not specifically stoner college guys, but trying to get a more broad audience. We definitely have noticed people in the audience who only know our first album [2005s A Fever You Cant Sweat Out], which is totally expected. But theres also people that know every word to every song off the new record, and arent as familiar with the old stuff.
The most popular items at your merch booth seem to be a t-shirt and bag that say Reinvent Love, which is such a strong, inclusive message. Tell me about how that became the band slogan.
It started out as a lyric in Mad as Rabbits. It was the last song we were recording for the album, and as we figured out how to fit it into the end of the song, it took on some more anthem-style cheer. As we went on tour, me and Ryan [Ross, Panics guitarist] talked about making a Reinvent Love shirt. At first it was just going to be on the Fueled By Ramen web store, just a limited edition thing because it didnt have our band name on the front, and we didnt know how many people would want to wear that. It ended up being a lot more popular than we thought it would. We were ending all of the concerts with that song, so that was the last thing that people were hearing. We wouldnt want to be a part of anything that wasnt that kind of that message. If theres going to be some saying associated with our band, thats a pretty good one. It goes along with everything we want to represent and the way that we feel.
Whats your favorite memory from this tour thats not anywhere in the live DVD?
There was a really good vibe among all the bands. Wed already toured with the Hush Sound and Motion City Soundtrack. We hadnt toured with Phantom Planet, but we instantly got along with those guys. It was a really musical environment where every band was working on songs, even though everybody had just put out records. That kind of camaraderie wed never been a part of, and it was something we really missed when the tour was over.
The band seems extremely natural and comfortable in the documentary on the DVD.
That definitely has to do with the fact that our friend Shane filmed it. Hes Brendons roommate [now] but we met him a couple years ago, when Atlantic hired him to film us getting ready for one of the tours off our first album. We ended up becoming really good friends and [he came along] when we went into the studio and then went on tour. It was awesome, because there was no weirdness whatsoever. At the same time, being so comfortable, then youre like, Man, what did I even say today? I hope he didnt get something that I shouldnt have been talking about. Youre kind of paranoid when youre [usually] around cameras from MTV, always watching what youre saying.
You performed with Snoop Dogg on FNMTV. On a scale of one to Snoop Dogg, how stoned were you for that entire tour?
Well I dont know. I mean, the thing is that Theres just so much down time! And then youre sitting there, and its like three in the afternoon, and youre already tired because, you know, you smoked a couple joints. And you get that paranoid feeling that youre that burnout guy in high school, and you kind of forget that youre even in a band, and start imagining what youd be doing if youre not on a tour bus. Like, God, Id be the guy in the one-bedroom apartment whos just getting fucked up every day. But then that kind of steers you back to -- I think it was Snoop Dogg that said you cant smoke every day. So I would say probably halfway between one and Snoop Dogg.
If youre not going to get stoned every day, what will you do now that youre no longer on tour and not yet recording?
That is a good question. Its been about nine months since we had any time off, but it only takes a few days of having nothing to do to get really bored. Shane has written a script for a movie that we think is really great. I personally want to be a part of making it.
What kind of part? Acting?
Definitely not acting, I can tell you that. Anything I can be a part of with the production of it, or even just being on set to get the experience of what its like being on the other side.
Do you have any sense of the sound of the next album?
We dont really have a good idea, but a lot of the difference between the first and second albums came from not writing for the first year. If you take that big long break, its really hard to even get a record out every two years. It will probably be a little more similar to our last record. But at the same time, were still getting into other things. Music, not -- other things. [Laughs] Were working on things that we had started writing while on tour, and well be starting to do demos now that we are back home and have time. I dont think well have any sort of rigorous schedule the first month or so. We want to put out a record next year, so have to get our shit together to be able to do that.
If you could give one album that you love to everyone you know, what would it be?
Let me go over to my iTunes here. Ill give two answers. One album that Ive been listening to a lot lately is the new Killers record. Just like both of the first records, it took a few listens. With Sams Town, I did like the single, but then all of a sudden, two months later, I was like, Fuck, this shit is so good. How did I not know that from the first time? For the other one, Ill choose Dr. Dogs Fate, which is really good. Theyre a current band from Philadelphia we found out about from Ryland in Cobra Starship. Judging from the music we probably share a lot of the same love of music from the 60s and 70s.
When I talked to Pete Wentz about how your sound and look have changed, he said, Theyre more gay in a totally other way. What do you think he meant?
[Laughs] He sounds so smart, you know... Let me try to dissect what that could possibly mean. Its definitely true that were totally gay, and thats the first point that should be made. When we came out with the first record, there was a very specific style and look that we had for that. Then a lot of people thought that it was really strange that we werent just going to perform under a circus top forever. So I think that what hes trying to say is that the first album, people thought we were gay, especially Brendon -- which may be true. Undetermined at this point. He doesnt have a wife, so And on the second album, they thought we were gay, but like gay hippies with beards. And so it is a whole other kind of gay. Its still there, its just presented a little bit differently. But maybe thats completely bullshit. Maybe even Pete couldnt figure out what he meant.
Live in Chicago (Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen) is available now at panicatthedisco.com.