Shirley Halperin
December 07, 2007 AT 05:00 AM EST

It’s one in the afternoon, and Panic! At the Disco have convened at a studio deep within Las Vegas’ Palms Casino Resort to work on a follow-up to their million-selling debut, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. To stoke creativity, first-time producer Rob Mathis — a string arranger on Jay-Z’s American Gangster — rattles off a few verses from Dr. Seuss (today’s selection: On Beyond Zebra!). Unconventional, sure, but it can’t hurt. Did we mention this is the band’s second stab at a second album?

Emboldened by having a few more bucks to hang out in the studio longer, the group originally set out to record a concept CD. ”We had this elaborate, weird story,” notes bassist Jon Walker, 22, unable to explain the…concept. Suffice it to say, they scrapped it. Lesson learned: Keep it simple. ”We were, what, 17 when we made the first record?” remarks singer Brendon Urie, 20. ”We got kicked out of our houses, lost our jobs — those are the songs that came out. Now we’re in a good place. What can we do but rejoice?”

So with attempt two, they’re embracing their newly charmed lives. (Like, that snare used by Spencer Smith, 20? It’s a $1,400 drum made of wood fished from the bottom of Lake Superior.) To demo what this privileged frame of mind sounds like, the band cue up a new track, the tentatively titled ”Nine in the Afternoon,” a cheery cut with ”Penny Lane”-type horns. They admire their work, sitting in the same cushy studio rented by Celine Dion and the Killers. ”Our growth is like a tumor,” snickers Urie about the slow, sometimes painful gestation of their sophomore effort. Adds guitarist Ryan Ross, 21: ”It’s benign [now], but check back with us in six months.”

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