The visitor’s locker room is like home to Panic at the Disco. It’s their dressing room at the Staples Center arena in Los Angeles, and there is the usual spread of chips, salsa and a big jug of Johnny Walker Red, all to help with the idle hours before showtime as Christmas lights blink in the corner. But the band is thinking about making music again. Panic bassist Jon Walker sits on a miniature amp with an electric guitar and begins strumming John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Guitarist Ryan Ross sits next to him in a pink tie and purple blazer, chewing on a bagel, but he soon moves to a small drum kit to tap out an anxious beat. “It’s funny how when you’re on tour you don’t really play music that much,” says Walker, “so we’re trying to make that happen again.” (Click above for exclusive backstage footage of Panic at the Disco).
The October 10 date in L.A. is only the fourth night of a tour with Dashboard Confessional, Plain White T’s and the Cab, the first live road trip sponsored by the Rock Band video game. And Panic is keeping miniature amps, a little jazzman’s drum kit and a couple of guitars in their dressing room to work on songs for the next album, a follow-up to this year’s classic rock and pop-influenced Pretty. Odd. Another crucial bit of equipment are the burning the candles they bring to every arena locker room, says Walker. “Candles are a big must in arenas when the night before there were 40 Detroit Red Wings in the dressing room sweating it out.”
Singer Brendon Urie sips a beer and drummer Spencer Smith is fresh from the shower. The band spent the last few weeks back and forth between their home base of Las Vegas and California — rehearsing at home, then out to L.A. to shoot a video for “Northern Downpour,” a few days of rehearsal and a show in San Diego, L.A. again for Last Call with Carson Daly, back to Vegas, Phoenix, Vegas and now in downtown L.A. In a few hours would be the tour’s first show to include Panic’s big video wall. “We’re going to film the show so that we can watch it like the sports teams do,” says Ross, who is also the band’s main songwriter. “To go over the plays and stuff.”
On tour, Panic perform five songs from the new album during a 50-minute set, and even do a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” The result has been a wider range of fans, they say, and noticeably less crowd-surfing. “We knew it was going to be a big change, and we weren’t sure who was going to like it and who wasn’t going to like it, but we’re having a lot more fun playing live and writing new stuff,” says Ross. “It’s hard when people are expecting things from you, and all you’re trying to do is write songs that you like for yourself.”
Panic at the Disco expect to make more music backstage on their practice instruments, and maybe work up songs for an album they hope to begin when the tour ends November 13, but there is still time to kill. Walker climbs onto an exercise bike. He looks happy there. “This runs the amps,” jokes Walker, pedaling with a grin. “It’s all part of our green campaign. If we drive this for two hours a day, we can power the whole show.”