Practically everybody thought I was nuts," admits Ryan Ross, recalling the moment he made the decision that baffled all of his showbiz buddies. He and Jon Walker — his co-guitarist in platinum-selling punk-pop combo Panic! At the Disco — were sequestered at his new house in Los Angeles, attempting to compose a third album.
"We just had a conversation, like 'You know, we're trying to force this, and it's making us miserable.' It wasn't even a thought-out thing. We just said 'All right. That's it.' And we knew we were going to quit."
The duo penned a sunny, '60s-jangly ditty called "Change" that very evening — a track that now opens Take a Vacation!, their debut as the retro-hip Young Veins. The move, however, shouldn't surprise fans who've followed Ross's songwriting from Panic's emo-bratty 2005 debut A Fever You Can't Sweat Out to the Dylan/Beatles/Beach-Boys-inspired '08 followup Pretty. Odd. Only 23, but infinitely curious, Ross truly delights in rooting through rock's dusty cellars. Inevitably, he simply outgrew the limited confines of Panic, whose remaining members — vocalist Brendon Urie and drummer Spencer Smith — will soldier on without him.
For the past few weeks, Ross — who now sings lead himself — has been delving into the catalog of the late British producer Joe Meek. While he and Walker were sculpting Vacation, Ross says they were "listening to a lot of '60s girl-groups, Phil Spector productions, Motown and Stax stuff, and all the Nuggets garage bands. Plus a lot of other music that you wouldn't expect, like Henry Mancini. There's so much to discover, and it's the stuff we're drawn to. And it seems new to us, because we've never heard a lot of it.
"But it's not really a choice," he adds. "It just feels natural to me to keep on digging for stuff."
Naturally, now that he's moved from his native Las Vegas to Hollywood, Ross regularly haunts the retail mecca Amoeba Music.
"They've got a great oldies section here, so I can just go in there for hours and find stuff I've never heard of," he says. "And sometimes you get lucky. I recently picked up some old Link Wray recordings. So iTunes is great, but it's still fun to go to a real record store. And that's what people used to do, I guess."
Ross thought his reputation would precede him. He was wrong. Fleshing out the Young Veins with three more like-minded musicians took a long time. Finding a receptive record company took even longer.
"We talked to a bunch of labels, and it was, ahh ... interesting," he says. "I wanted to steer clear of majors, because I didn't want to get lost in the shuffle. But we finally found one that didn't want to change anything about us [One Haven Music]. It's been a lot harder to start a new band than I remember."
Ultimately, Ross is relieved to no longer be in Panic mode. "But it is strange to me that those guys kept the name," he says about his old bandmates. "Because I don't know what there is that's staying except for the name. But I don't wish those guys any ill will. I can only say that for me, music is exciting again. And it's a lot easier to sleep at night, knowing that you're doing what you're supposed to be doing."