In the Studio: Panic! at the Disco (With Bonus Pete Wentz Video Interview)

November 16, 2007 12:56 PM ET

Panic! at the Disco guitarist-lyricist Ryan Ross is tired of computer-tuned vocals and software-tweaked drums. "People have taken technology so far, to the point where music is almost sterile these days," he says from the studio in Las Vegas' Palms Hotel, taking a break from recording sessions for the band's second album. "With all those old rock & roll records, you can really feel there's a character to them, because it was played by real people. I feel like a lot of that's missing now." It's a common argument these days, but Ross is an odd person to be making it: His own band's platinum debut, the Fall Out Boy-plus-synth-style A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, was a prime offender, overflowing with maxed-out pitch-correction and baroque Pro Tools trickery. "That's a valid point," Ross says. "That record is basically programmed to a T. I mean, everything is lined up and perfect."

For their second album, everything is different: The band is writing songs on acoustic guitars, not on computers. And even though the group members have a far higher budget at their disposal than the $10,000 they spent on the first one, they're recording the album live in the studio. "We do take after take until we get it right," Ross says. "It's a lot harder, but it's making us play better." They were still in high school when they recorded Fever, and it seems like they're faintly embarrassed by it: "I think that everybody kind of changes a lot between the time they're seventeen and when they're twenty-one or twenty-two," says Ross.

The growing process hasn't been easy. The band discarded ten or so songs for what would have been an entirely different version of the album, recorded in a cabin forty-five minutes outside Vegas. "It had a lot of cinematic instrumentation, and it felt more like a side project," Ross says.

The group cemented its current direction with a song called "Nine in the Afternoon." "It's influenced by the music our parents listened to: the Beach Boys, the Kinks, the Beatles," says Ross. "Our new songs are more like classic rock than modern rock. We got older and started listening to different music -- and this seems like the natural thing to do right now."

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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