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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