"A year ago we were just sitting around in our practice space," says Panic! at the Disco drummer Spencer Smith, 18. Now these Las Vegas boys — at nineteen, guitarist Ryan Ross is the oldest member — are making girls squeal while opening for Fall Out Boy on the Nintendo Fusion Tour. Their debut, A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, drops electronic drums, barrelhouse piano and synth stabs amid speedy, stutter-stepping grooves and the sweet-and-sour vocals of emo pinup Brendon Urie, 18, which touch on girls, religion and being "a wet dream for the Webzines."
In late 2004, Panic! recorded two songs — "Time to Dance" and "Nails for Breakfast, Tacks for Snacks" — on a laptop and sent them to Fall Out Boy singer (and Decay-dance Records head) Pete Wentz via his blog. Wentz was blown away: "I thought, 'There's no way I'm going to be able to sign this band. Other labels have to be all over them.'"
In fact, Panic! had written only three songs. After Wentz signed the teens and told them he wanted to release a record by the end of the year, Panic! began writing new tunes around Ross' lyrics, drawing on their pop influences — Fleetwood Mac and Third Eye Blind in particular — and trying to distance themselves from the sound-alike punk bands around their Vegas suburb.
The expansive sound Panic! worked up on Fever is a long way from the band's roots. At twelve, Smith got a drum set for Christmas and began playing Blink-182 songs with his neighborhood buddy Ross. After they added bassist Brent Wilson, 18, and played pop-punk shows around their respective high schools, Wilson met and recruited Urie, a Mormon kid who was forbidden from drinking caffeine but fell in love with his parents' classic-rock records. The band soon changed its name from the Summer League to Panic! at the Disco (a reference to the Smiths' 1986 single "Panic"), but because of the dearth of welcoming rock venues in Vegas, they never played a show until they had been signed.
Now, Panic! are trying to live like normal teenagers, eschewing the beer their dressing rooms are mistakenly stocked with, playing Xbox and splitting the driving of their van, which they sheepishly park next to their tourmates' buses each night. "I remember buying Fall Out Boy records not too long ago," Smith says. "We get to talk to them every day now. That's really weird, but it's awesome at the same time."
This story is from the November 17, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone.