Don’t Panic talk about their new album Setting Up To Fail and their forthcoming UK tour - Spring 2024
Understand the attraction...
With it’s fast-paced, energetic tempos, it’s absolutely no wonder that American pop punk has amassed huge popularity. Formed in 2009, Pennsylvania residents Don’t Panic are one such band that are the reason the genre has continued to thrive. 2023 was an incredible year for Don’t Panic as they played extensively across the US and even completed a UK tour with their friends The Dollyrots. They also released their stunning new album Setting Up To Fail, a very special record indeed that presents the perfect blend of catchy, hook-laden tracks infused with substance, depth and great songwriting at its heart. With more US shows being booked and another tour of the UK scheduled for March, we catch up with frontman and guitarist Ted Felicetti at his home in The Keystone State to talk about Don’t Panic’s 2023 journey and what a busy year 2024 is shaping up to be…
2024 is a big year for Don’t Panic but first of all let’s take a moment to reflect on what an incredible year 2023 was for the band. It was the year that saw Don’t Panic tour extensively, playing shows across the whole of the United States, with The Spill Canvas, The Ataris, Bowling For Soup, MEST, festivals such as the Four Chord Music Festival and Electric City Music Conference, and a tour of the UK with The Dollyrots. You also released your incredible new album Setting Up To Fail and a number of singles, all of which have had an amazing reception. That is an outstanding year! But what were the highlights for you?
It was a really long year and a really cool one! I would say the UK tour with The Dollyrots was probably the best part of the year for us. It was the first time doing a full band tour of the UK and it was our first time co-headlining. I did an acoustic guitar tour of the UK in 2022. I was just by myself and I was out with Jaret (Reddick) and Rob (Felicetti) from Bowling For Soup. I was supporting them on a short 7 or 8 date acoustic tour and they took me to open. I’d gotten such a good response from the people over there that I wanted to give us a try with the band and see what happens. We are friends with The Dollyrots so we got on the phone with them and said “Let’s give this a try!”. When we got over there it was just wild! It was so much fun! We really made the most of it in the 8 days we were there. We did all the touristy stuff like Abbey Road, Stonehenge and all sorts of cool places. But the coolest part honestly was just being there, playing the shows and having crowds of people singing our songs to us. That was definitely the highlight. But there was a lot of really cool other stuff that we did last year. We filmed the new music video (The Long Way – Ed) which was a ton of fun! We rented a big Airbnb mansion and we did like this pool party video which was a spoof of Weekend At Bernie’s. So that was an absolute blast! Just recording and releasing our record was a big highlight for us. We started recording it in 2022 and really got into it in the spring after we got home from The Dollyrots tour. Just being in the studio with everybody and writing that record and being able to release it was a massive highlight. There’s just a never-ending list of all the things I could be excited about!
Just reflecting on the new music, I do want to talk about the latest album Setting Up To Fail which you released in August. This is an incredible album and what I love about it is that it’s uplifting and a ‘feel good’ album, but it’s also one which in the most infectious way presents the realities of life. For example in the opening track Photographs talking about empty fame in LA and that no one is perfect. And I think another good example is the track Black & Blue & White where you sing “I’ve made mistakes, I’m like a ship lost without a guiding light, I’ll find out a way, I’ll find out how to be a better man”. Overall it just feels like this record has an honesty and an authenticity that people will be able to connect strongly with because you’re singing about things that are real. There’s nothing superficial about this record. To what extent is that a fair thing to say?
Well first, thank you for taking a good deep dive into it and really listening to the lyrics! This one for us, and for me lyrically, was a lot more earnest. I wanted to really write about stuff that was hitting close to home for me at the time. The first record that we did was more of a nostalgia thing. This one was more of an inward journey for myself, looking in and exploring ‘how do I feel about this?’ Some things that were happening in my life, asking how I can express that but still keep it nice and broad so that if you listen to it you can kind of feel what I’m feeling but also apply it to yourself. So that was really important to me and I feel like, based on what you’re saying, at least for you you kind of got that which is awesome! Most of the songs are just things that I was going through or things that I was really thinking about a lot. It was important for me to get them out onto a recording, and the fact that I get to release it and people like it is even better! It’s almost therapeutic for me to make a record like that.
It’s interesting when you describe moments that were ‘hitting close to home’ because building on what we’ve just talked about, when we look at the lyrics to Black & Blue & White, there’s a real vulnerability and you’re really opening your soul. Where did the inspiration for this song come from?
Without getting too personal I had a pretty rough 2021 and 2022 and lyrics kinda say that I fucked up a bunch of times and I was trying to basically reassure myself that I would be able to find a way to do better next time and the year after that. Really what that song is about is just how sometimes when you get stuck and sometimes when you’re alone you feel like you don’t have someone guiding you or it’s up to you to guide yourself. It’s really important to look inward and be like ‘I can push through this, I can be better’. That’s kind of what that song is about.
So of course I’ve talked about how you’re singing about things that are real, that there is honesty here, but there’s also an immense sense of fun, and it’s on that note that I’d like to turn our attention to The Long Way. This is an incredible track and it’s really brought to life by the amazing and hilarious video which as you said has a very ‘Weekend At Bernie’s Flavour’. It’s wonderful and it’s genius! How did the concept for this video come about?
So me and all the guys in the band, we’re all 80s kids, we were all born and grew up in the 80s and 90s. We love all the movies from that time and when we do our music videos – we’ve done a couple, we do at least one per record – the most important thing for us is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously because it’s kind of like a commercial for your song. I’ve never really been like ‘it’s a piece of art’ – it can be but I like to have fun with it. I want people who are watching it to have fun watching it, like you’re watching a TV show or a movie. So I don’t want it just to be us playing in a room or something. I want it to be a story that you can follow and you watch the whole thing. So we were coming up with some random ideas – like I said, we love 80s movies – and we had a list of ideas of spoofs and of fun things we could do. We started to toss around in our group chat the idea of ‘what if originally this song is going to be like we’re playing in a club and a big A&R record label guy is going to come and see us play but I die before the show – what would we do?’ (Laughs!) ‘Oh we could just ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’ it and like prop you up and make you play still because it’s so important!’. We didn’t like the club idea and we felt like ‘If were are going to ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’ it, let’s just ‘Weekend At Bernie’s it’: let’s make it a house party, make it a pool party and the idea is like ‘we’re going to play a big house party that our band’s going to get paid a whole bunch of money for, like $10,000! So we get hired to play this party, then I accidentally get killed but the band’s like ‘We need this money!’ so they ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’ me and we played the show anyway! There’s a bunch of hijinks and fun stuff going on in the video as well. It started off as a little idea but as we were all talking it just took shape. It’s basically just that though: it’s us paying homage to Weekend At Bernie’s. It’s bad and good at the same time because when you watch it you’re like ‘How do people not recognise that this guy is dead?’ It’s so obvious the whole movie! So we wanted to lean into that stuff too, like doing the conga line and people waving ‘hi’. We tried to hit all the beats from the movie too. It was a lot of fun and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We said earlier how lyrically I can go quite deep and introspective about myself, about other people and about things that are going on, but at the same time we are big Foo Fighters fans and a lot of their music videos are like that. That’s kind of where I got that feel too, like Learning Fly, Break Out or Big Me – a lot of their older Foo Fighters videos were the band dressing up in costumes and doing silly stuff. So we’ve kind of taken inspiration from that as well.
And finally where the music is concerned what I also want to say is that we also have something quite empowering. For example, the lyrics in the track Numb: “I’m too close to giving up and too close to wishing I had never tried”. But you keep fighting. Again, so many people will connect strongly with these words. How important is it for you that the fans feel empowered by your music?
I would love that! When I listen to music there are certain bands where some of the songs really get to me, and if I can do that even one time for somebody that would be unbelievable! First and foremost, personally I do this because it’s for me. It’s like if you’re just at home painting or knitting a sweater or making some sort of fun art on your computer, most people aren’t putting that out or selling it or promoting it. They’re just doing those things because they want to do them at home, and that’s where this band starts for me. Like I said earlier, I want to get stuff out and it’s like therapy. And then I want to play it, I want to do that stuff live and I want other people to hear it because I want that to happen for them to, to get that feeling of release or a way to feel better. If one of my songs can do that, like if Numb or any other song can do that for people, that’s unbelievable! That’s like a reward all on its own, it really is.
Let’s talk about the forthcoming UK tour. After playing a few US shows in March you head straight to the UK for 9 dates beginning in Glasgow on the 22nd of March. Last year saw you play 8 UK dates with The Dollyrots. Tell me about your experience of the UK and what it means to be coming back again for a full tour so soon.
Super excited! After the tour in February last year as soon as we got home we were just like ‘we have to go back, as soon as it makes sense’. Like I said, first of all we had a great time. It was just us 4 friends and our buddy Ollie who is our driver and who sells our merch - he’s from Leeds so he was kind of showing us around a little bit. All of us together had an absolutely amazing time. We met so many people who were fans of our band that had never seen us before because we’ve never been there as a band. So it was really cool to meet these people and I recognised names from connections online, and we made all these new fans. Playing these shows where people know our songs and showing up wearing our shirts already. It was like ‘Wow! This is wild!’ We knew we had to come back ASAP so last summer I hit up our booking agent in the UK and said “We’ve got to come back!” and he said “No problem!”. When I got the venue list I was super excited because there are venues that we’ve already played and there are new venues in the towns we’ve played. Like we’re playing at a different place in Manchester this time and at a different place in London but then we’re going back to King Tuts in Glasgow and The Exchange in Bristol. So there’s a bunch of cool spots that we get to go back to as well. I’m just really excited. We get to bring our new record and play for our fans that are there. Hopefully we get to play for some new people, and we’re going to be touring with our buddy Thomas Nicholas. So hopefully some of his fans who come to see him will dig us and that our fans who come to see us will dig him. That’s the idea of the co-headline tour, trying to share each other’s fans. I can’t explain how excited I am to get back there. My brother who has been to the UK a number of times warned me “It’s a lot of fun but the food isn’t great…” (Laughs!) but I tell you what – it was awesome! It really was good! I love the food! I love Nando’s – that place was great – and we all loved Wetherspoons. We went there after almost every show – we grabbed a couple of beers and had some fish and chips. I like a full English breakfast and I became a big fan of scotch egg! I loved it! I had it in Nottingham and it was so good!
I’m really impressed that you have embraced what it really means to enjoy the UK. We can talk about Stonehenge and Abbey Road all day but Wetherspoons is where it’s at!
Wetherspoons and Naked Attraction – that’s the real UK! (Laughs!)
We’ll pick up on Naked Attraction in a moment but let’s talk about how, as you say, this is a co-headlining tour with the Thomas Nicholas Band. Two very different bands but highly complimentary. I think it’s an ingenious pairing – and you’re clearly great friends – and you’ve played lots of shows together already. How did this pairing come together and what does it mean to be out with the Thomas Nicholas Band?
I met Tom two years ago. We were on tour in the States with Less Than Jake and Bowling For Soup. They were doing a big co-headline tour in the US and they asked us to open. Tom is friends with Jaret (Reddick), Bowling For Soup’s singer, and he came out to one of the shows and was hanging out and I met him. I was like “Oh, I know you!” I used to like the movie Rookie Of The Year, which is like a baseball movie. I know it’s less popular in England than American Pie is, which is the other bigger movie he was in, but I recognised him from Rookie Of The Year more. And I was like “That’s so cool! I used to watch that movie when I was a kid, it’s nice to meet you!”. So we became friends and we exchanged phone numbers. I would always text him, for almost a year straight, little games and little GIF videos of the movie Mac and Me. That’s all I would do. I wouldn’t talk to him, I would just send him a GIF! When we were preparing to go on tour with The Dollyrots in England in February, he texted me in the January and said “Hey, I saw you are going to the UK with The Dollyrots. I go to the UK a lot on tour and I do a lot of conventions. Is there any space for me to come and open?”. I said “Sorry, the tour’s already booked but next time we go, let’s do it together” and he said “Alright, cool!”. So as soon as we got back and we started to plan, the first person I texted was him saying “Hey, we’re planning on going back to the UK. Do you wanna come and do it together?” and he was like “Hell yeah!” and that’s kind of how it happened.
Finally, it’s with some trepidation that I feel we have to address… Naked Attraction. The UK tour flyer is very Naked Attraction-esque. Is this a show that the US doesn’t have the ‘privilege’ of?
Well on behalf of the UK can I hold my head in shame!
(Laughs!) Everyone says that! While we were on the tour last year we stayed at all the Travelodges every night. Because we are poor we decided to stay at the cheaper spots. This one night we decided to stay in and we were flicking through all the channels when all of a sudden this guy’s wiener shows up on the screen! We were like “What the…!??” and the person was judging the guy by the his genitals and they’d be like “Number two can go, I don’t like his wiener!“. We were crying laughing because we just thought ‘What is this show!?’ And then when they dismiss this guy they zoomed in on his butt as he walked away! Everything about it we were just crying laughing. So for the rest of the tour, on stage I just kept asking people “What is the show guys? What is wrong with you people?”. Everyone would laugh but after the show when we would be at the merch stand people would come over and do what you did and say “We are so embarrassed! We apologise!”. “Well, you didn’t make the show, it’s okay… but you watch it I bet!”. So we’d never watched it but in the last two months it’s just been put on HBO in the States, so you can watch it if you want! So when we were coming up for ideas for the tour poster and stuff, it was just an idea I had: “What if we did a Naked Attraction tour, call it “‘The Naked AttracTour’ or something and the poster would just be us behind the coloured glass walls or something. And everyone was like “Yeah! We have to do that!”. Tom had never heard of it but my band was on board. Tom asked “What is it?”. I sent him a video and he replied “What the hell is this!?” (Laughs). He was like “Yes! Make it the poster! They will love it!”. So we made it the poster!
As our conversation draws to a close we reflect on what a truly special album Setting Up To Fail really is. The Don’t Panic co-headline tour with the Thomas Nicholas Band also promises to be something very special indeed, and it’s with the highest of recommendations that we invite you to grab a ticket. To find out more, head over to www.dontpanicofficial.com and in the meantime enjoy the video for The Long Way below.