RR: On the new Panic studio album, Dirty Side Down, there is definitely a sense of that “comfort zone.” But there is also the feeling that the band wants to make a really solid piece of work that has the live energy of a show, albeit one that was created in the studio. After two trips to the Bahamas to record albums, Panic returned to Athens. What was the thought process involved in that decision?

JB: Well, mostly, like you mentioned, we wanted to stick close to home. We did a lot of hip stuff with Terry [Manning, producer] in the Bahamas with horns and strings and extra vocals. With Dirty Side Down, we took a little bit more of an old-timey garage band approach to it. That’s basically what we were aiming for. The only other thing that was different in the process was that we pretty much tackled the songs one at a time. Each song was about 70-80% finished before we moved on to the next one. A lot of times—whoever we would record with—we’d get more into an assembly line mode where you’d go in and record all your guitar parts, and then go in and overdub all your vocals in the end. This time, we tried to focus on each song, and that kept everybody around in the studio, at the same, too, so there was a nice dash of camaraderie occurring there.

RR: I noticed that. The songs have an overall band feel, as opposed to a layering of sounds put down by a group of musicians. That comes through in the performances. How much time was spent on the material before going into the studio?

JB: I’d say 60% of it. We had a pretty good idea, but we tweak right down to the end. When we do the original tracking, we’ll get in there, and mess with the arrangement, and different keys, and probably play the thing though, oh, maybe five or six times before we say: “O.K.—that’s the arrangement. That’s the way we’re going to approach it, and, now, let’s go for the basic track.” I don’t know. We were kind of working at a song every day-and-a-half clip, something like that.

RR: And the band would lay down the basic track, and then work until all of the parts of that song were nearly completed?

JB: We’d work pretty much until a song was completed.

RR: Any live vocals from the basic tracks make it on to any of the final songs?

JB: Naw. Couldn’t really get away with that because we cut the basic track in the same room, and, also, I tend to change the lyrics up to the very end, even while I’m singing the track. Something will pop in my head, and I’ll go, “We have to do it that way. We have to change those words around” because some whole new image will open up, and, all of a sudden: “cool—the song has a lot more meaning now.” (laughs)

RR: The opening track, “Saint Ex,” pulled me right in because of the lyrics, and the multiple layers of musical textures with a rich, confident feel. Was there a message in that song that you wanted to deliver at the beginning of Dirty Side Down ?

JB: It is taken from the story that hit the news a couple of years ago. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry of Paris, the author of The Little Prince, was a French World War II pilot who got shot down towards the end of the war. They never really recovered anything of evidence until a couple of years ago. Something came up—I think it was actually one of his medals with his name on it; pretty freaky—from the ocean. Then that hit the news wires. And this really old German pilot read the story, put everything together—where he was at the time—and realized that he was the guy that shot him down. They weren’t really engaged in battle, right then. They were just planes crossing the same air space, and Saint Ex got caught by surprise. The ironic thing is that Saint Ex was a little older than the other pilots, and he was the favorite author of this German pilot growing up. He said, “If I had known that was Saint Ex, I wouldn’t have done it.” That’s kind of freaky. And, then, you know, it makes you think that if we all knew each other as well, there would probably be a little more thought involved with just killing each other, willy-nilly.

RR: “North” follows that track on Dirty Side Down. The other day, at the Wanee Music Festival, Warren Haynes sat in with Panic on a live version of that song.

JB: Oh, yeah. It’s funny. I was sitting there, and we were about to go on stage, and I hadn’t seen Warren yet, and I was going to make him a CD real quick, but I thought, “Oh, crap. Can’t really make a CD of the track because we’re trying not to let it out.” (laughter) That kind of stuff, you know, can just fall by the wayside when you’re backstage in a situation like that. It’s a good strong song, and we knew that we might end the night with it. We wanted Warren to sit in. There wasn’t anything special to it, except that we were pretty sure that Warren could just kill it. (laughs) The song was written by Jerry Joseph a long time ago, probably when we first met him, around 16 years ago.

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