Q&A: Panic! Frontman Talks Westboro Protest: 'It Was Pathetic'
Brendon Urie Invites WBC To 'Gay Picnic,' Opens Up About Lapsed Mormonism
By Chris Azzopardi
Originally printed 7/29/2014 (Issue 2230 - Between The Lines News)
Panic! at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie is on the Westboro Baptist Church's shit list - who isn't? - and he couldn't be happier about it.
Laughing off the recent protest that took place during a Kansas City stop on the band's "Gospel Tour," Urie, who revealed in our interview late last year that he's a "straight dabbler," high fives me as I greet him. Backstage, hours before the trio relays a message of love and unity to a Detroit crowd, I mention the tweet the troll-y "church" sent out, condemning both of us for our "fag sins."
"We fucking did it!" he says, elated that his outspokenness regarding LGBT issues - and his own sexuality - has reached far enough to get a rise out of the WBC. "Whatever gets them pissed off, I love."
Just wait till they read what he has to say about having the hots for Ryan Gosling.
How did you hear that Westboro was going to picket your Kansas City show?
We saw a couple (of tweets). For a couple of weeks before the Kansas City show they were threatening us. I mean, they've come to shows before but have never been that present.
Not that present? Only 13 people showed up outside your Kansas City show. You mean to tell me there were less than that at other protests?
Yeah. Seriously - there were like five people or something.
You haven't made a statement regarding this protest...
And I know some celebrities have confronted them...
... which is great. Foo Fighters did. The whole band got on the back of a semi-truck and played some country songs, which was brilliant.
How did you guys decide you'd respond to them by donating $20 to the Human Rights Campaign for each protester that came to your show?
When I heard that they were showing up, I mean, I can't lie - I was instantly a little upset. I was like, "Oh, man, I don't like these people," but then I started to be like, "I don't wanna be in that mood anymore. I don't wanna feel that way. I don't want them to have that kind of control, so we'll try to turn it around." Because what would make them more mad than being a part of something charitable? And I thought we were gonna make a huge donation! But 13 people showed up for 20 minutes, and then they left. That was weak. It was pathetic. So, we're gonna throw in a little more (money), because that was stupid. (Panic! at the Disco has pledged to donate a total of $1,000 to HRC.)
What if they show up at more shows?
If they do, we'll just donate way more! (Laughs)
Does that kind of hate galvanize you to fight harder for gay rights?
It shows me a world that I am blind to all the time. Living in L.A., everybody's open to everything, which is awesome, so I'm kind of living in a paradise of open-mindedness all the time. You go out on the road and visit different cities and you see that that's not how it is everywhere; there are smaller, concentrated groups of people who love to hate. It makes me wanna fight harder for the things I believe in.
Having grown up Mormon, this condemnation of your beliefs must feel familiar. You left the Mormon Church at a young age, right?
Yeah, I thought, "I don't believe in any of this," when I was 12. I remember looking around the church - it was during sacrament meeting on Sunday - and I was like, "Oh my god, I don't think I believe in this." I started doubting. Within a year I was a full-on atheist. It was so liberating, and it really just made me feel more honest, more like myself. And I love that.
But yeah, I've definitely been in a world where I was doing things that were seen as complete evil by the church that I was a part of. It just made me so upset for the longest time. I was really angry when I first left the church at 17. I was totally an angry atheist, but then I just got tired of being that.
Last time we chatted, you opened up about same-sex experiences you had early in your life. Did those experiences have anything to do with why you left the church?
That was definitely part of it. Most of it was about the doctrine. After a while I realized if I'm going to believe in a god, I don't want him to hate people that I love. I don't want him to hate his children. If he's saying that black people can't have the priesthood till 1978, that doesn't make sense to me; if being gay is an evil thing, that doesn't make sense to me. All of these things didn't add up. If that's the club that I have to be in to feel exclusive and important, I don't wanna be a part of it. So that was really it. It just didn't coincide with the things that I believed in, and it was as simple as that.
I still consider myself spiritual, and it's a weird thing too. I know for a lot of people God is a great answer to a lot of things, and that's totally fair. To me, I believe it's bigger than that. To me, the universe is greater than it just being on one bearded man in the clouds who "maybe" created everything. I think it's cheapening the experience. I've done countless trips - psychedelic trips - and that has opened up my mind, and I don't think I know that much. And the more I experience, the less that I know that I know.
I just realize I am so ignorant to what's possibly out there, so I don't want to limit myself to believing in one singular God. I'd like to think that it's greater than that, that there is some mystery out there that I haven't solved yet, and maybe never will. But I love pursuing that. That's what "spiritual" is to me. Just being spiritual makes me feel deep, and I just love the way it warms me up.
What did you and the rest of the band think when you heard Westboro's remake of your song, "I Write Sins Not Tragedies," which they rewrote as a gay-bashing anthem called "You Love Sin What a Tragedy"?
Here was my first thought: "Man, couldn't they have gotten a guy who can actually sing?" (Laughs) That made me mad. I was 17 when I recorded that and I didn't consider myself a great singer, but if you're gonna parody something, at least get a guy who can sing. Like, what a terrible voice.
Right? If anything's a sin, it's the Auto-Tune on the track.
(Laughs) That was my exact thought. It's such a bad version. Honestly, we were dying. We were laughing. We thought it was hilarious. We actually thought about changing a couple of the lyrics to what they had for one of our songs, but I was like, "Ah, that gives them too much credit." We thought it was funny.
I look at them as a joke. To me, they're harmless. I realize they're trying to hurt people's feelings, and they do harm when they show up at, like, a dead gay soldier's funeral. That's really fucked up. That's crossing a line.
What do you think of the new name they've given you: "fag pimp"?
How great is that? Hey, so, if anyone's looking for money...
How long do you think it took them to find that photo of you pointing to your crotch?
(Laughs) Not long. It might've been the first thing on Google.
What's been your most fag pimpin' moment on stage?
More pimpin' than gay. (Laughs) Honestly, I'm constantly running around the stage humping the air, humping my bandmates - so yeah, it gets a little sexy.
I watched a montage of you humping stuff the other day. It really says something when there's enough material for a whole gay montage.
It's so funny, when we had our first lineup I used to do it to the other guys in the band, and sometimes it would make then uncomfortable. I was like, "Oh, this is gonna be so much fun." I love pushing buttons.
Have you ever felt like you crossed the line?
Umm... I don't think I've gone too far. I mean, in my opinion. But I don't know. I've never really asked them! (Laughs)
You've kissed bandmates...
Oh, sure. I haven't done it lately. I've just been locked in my own sweaty world. I think I feel bad putting my sweat on somebody else. I'm way too gross now. (Laughs)
Peace and love from Brendon Urie and writer Chris Azzopardi
How do you feel people responded to your "coming out"?
I don't think that mine necessarily was a coming out because I never had a problem (admitting it) if anyone would ask, but nobody ever asked me if I had ever made out with a guy. To me, it doesn't really matter who you love or what you do with your personal life, but it made me happy to see that reflected in people's comments and reactions to it - that most people who are smart and wise and open-minded can realize that, yeah, that doesn't matter.
At the time, you told me it was a big deal for you to come out.
Because I had never been asked. I had never talked about it. It really was. I don't ever wanna feel ashamed to be honest. I don't ever wanna feel ashamed to just tell people who I am. It only helps to be honest because you can take example from people and realize, "Oh, I can totally be myself and just be proud of who I am."
Do you and your wife, Sarah, have the same taste in men?
God, I just honestly find some dudes straight up attractive. So yeah, we talk about Ryan Gosling. We talk about Charlie Hunnam, because he's a beautiful man. And I'm into old school too. I used to watch movies and be like, "That's a good looking dude." I can just appreciate when a dude is attractive. Paul Newman is just a good looking dude. I mean, "Cool Hand Luke"!
What is it about Ryan Gosling?
The attitude. When I was trying to have sex with all these girls in high school, I would watch "The Notebook" just to be like, "All right, let's watch this movie ... so we can have sex. So we can make out during this entire movie!" In "Crazy, Stupid, Love" when he ripped his shirt off I was like, "That dude is ripped." I want the Ken body! If only I could get his body on my body...
Is he someone you would commit a "fag sin" for?
(Laughs) You were just waiting to pull that shit out. You know, it's so funny, because, honestly, when I was younger I was just curious. I wanted to try everything. I was 13, 14 and I wanted to try it. I was like, "I wonder, am I gay? I don't know." Between 13 and 15 - that was a big experimental time for me. I lost my virginity when I was 13.
To a girl?
To a girl. I was just attracted to girls, but after messing around, I was just curious. I'm like, "I don't know what I am or who I am yet. I wanna see what I'm into." I didn't really know. I spent a year or two seeing what works - a couple of tries (with guys) seeing what I like, what I don't - and then after a while I realized, "Yeah, I'm straight. I like girls. But I can find a dude attractive." I didn't really know. I'm just a horny individual.
I was seriously 6 years old when I tried making out with a girl for the first time just because I saw it in movies and I was like, "I wanna do that. That looks awesome." I was just really into girls, and it was a forbidden thing in my house that you can't date until you're 16, so I would sneak out and go to parties. That made me want to try everything out even more. The restrictions made me want to try stuff. Maybe I wouldn't have experimented so much if the world was open to me and it wasn't so strict, but I don't regret it at all. I definitely think that was my path. If I need to know something, I need to experience it for myself. And I'm still 16 up here (points to head). The hormones are still there; the horniness is still there.
Sinead O'Connor recently told me in regards to her sexuality, "It's not about what gets my dick hard."
That's great. Well, it's not about what gets my pussy wet... (Laughs)
So, considering how "busy" you were, did you ever see "The Notebook" in full?
(Laughs) Oh yeah, of course. That's just a good movie. You know what's funny, I was like, (deepens voice) "Oh, no way, that's so stupid, that's so girly," but now I'm like, "That movie's awesome." I love romantic comedies. "Love Actually" is one of my favorite movies.
Are you a crier?
Oh yeah. "The Notebook" definitely got me. At the end when she forgets the husband again when they're older - shit, that's beautiful and tragic. That kind of stuff just gets to me. It pierces my heart. How he stuck by her - that's a cool message.
What does the cover of your latest album, "Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!," represent?
For this last record, "Too Weird to Live," it really was just about times I had growing up in Vegas. I wanted to create that character. The person I am on the cover is not who I am. Even the smoking cigarettes - I've quit since then. But when I was a kid, that was the guy who ran around Vegas and owned it. He had a Liberace jacket and he was smoking a cigarette. He was owning the desert, he didn't give a fuck, and the smoke was colored - that to me was the quintessential Vegas guy.
Is that you living out a childhood fantasy?
I wanted to be what I couldn't have. What was forbidden. To me, the Strip was forbidden. Living there, there's a huge Mormon community, but it's mostly just trying to convert everybody. And most of it is just business-minded - I mean, Mormons are just businessmen, straight up, which is kind of crazy. But yeah, it was out of my curiosity as a kid. I really saw Vegas as this debaucherous gangster town, and I loved that fantastical view of thinking, "Who runs this city?"
You'd hear rumors of the mob owning it, all these mafia ties, and it was like, "I wanna be in that world. I wanna have those ties. I wanna be a "goodfella." I wanna be the Ray Liotta to the fucking Paul Sorvino." I always wanted to be in that world, and now I have it in the music world. I've got my closest friends. We've got a gang.
This fantasy you had as kid, where you imagined yourself as a hotshot - was it because you weren't one as a kid? Were you bullied?
So you idealized yourself as something bigger than you felt?
Oh, sure. It came somewhat from the bullying, but the bullying - I never let them take it too far. I couldn't stop them from kicking the shit out of me, which would happen once in a while. I think having people around me that were stronger and more supportive just helped me overcome that essentially ... because fuck a bully!
How do you respond to bullies now, like Westboro, compared to when you were a kid?
Honestly, I do get that initial anger. I've gotten a lot better as time has gone on and as I've gotten older. I used to just lash out when I was a kid. I'd go home and hit the punching bag till my knuckles were bloody and be like, "I hate my life." But then I realized I don't have it that bad. I'm getting beat up because there's something wrong with them. I didn't do anything wrong. And it's not easy, but in time you realize it's not your fault. It's definitely their problem and it just makes more sense to be a better example. That's such a better victory. It's more selfish, too, for me, because I'm like, "I wanna be the victor right now."
With Westboro, maybe it could change their mind. I just think it would be a good idea to include Westboro, you know? Bring them into the picnic. We're gonna go to the gay picnic and have some cake. You guys want some cake?
In support of their latest album, "Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!," Panic! at the Disco is currently on tour. For dates, visit http://panicatthedisco.com/tour.
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at http://www.chris-azzopardi.com.
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