With so many bands touring this summer it can be hard to decide on which ones you should check out. While it’s rare to find an artist who doesn’t do all they can to get the audience involved, it can be just as rare to find bands that take their performance one step further, where Twenty One Pilots do just that with their live shows. Imagine a drummer crowd surfing with his drum kit while he plays. Imagine a singer standing while held up by fans and not missing a single word or note and you’ll just begin to understand the type of next level entertainment Josh Dun and Tyler Joseph have in store for audiences.
Their new album Blurryface, released May 17 2015, debuted at number one on Billboard top 200 marking a huge success for the duo. Staying true to what fans love about Vessel, which was the band’s first full length album, Twenty One Pilots step beyond the confines of a specific genre and open up in their lyrics with an authentic honesty. This year at Sasquatch Music Festival Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun sat down with EARMILK for an exclusive interview.
EARMILK: What's the story behind the name Twenty One Pilots?
Tyler Joseph: I was studying a play in college at the time called All My Sons. The main gist of that play was; there was the main character and he was in charge of supplying air plane parts for the current war that was going on and he found out that those parts were faulty. He had a decision to make – does he send the parts out or does he recall the parts? To make money he ended up sending out those parts and 21 pilots died because of that. The play didn’t end well for him but the way I apply that story to us as individuals and as a band is, there’s the easy way of doing things and there's shortcuts. A lot of times the quickest way from point A to point B is not the right way of doing things so the band name is a reminder for us as a band to make sure that we’re we’re going about it the right way. Never copping out.
EM: Your music videos are extremely creative and fit the songs so well, where do the concepts come from?
TJ: It really has to do with the song. From the very beginning we’ve collaborated with a guy named Mark (Mark C. Eshleman) who was my roommate for a long time so for all of our videos, or most of our videos, the idea and the execution is very much in house. A lot of bands hire directors and producers from outside that don’t really know the narrative or the story of the band. That’s why a lot of times music videos can seem a little disconnected from the band or what the songs trying to say. It's really helped to work with someone we’ve known for a really long time. We’ve been big believers in the importance of content online and we had videos up before we had gotten signed or anything so it’s a big reason why we’re here today.
EM: Is there a video that you enjoyed filming the most or were especially happy with the end result?
Josh Dun: Yeah, I think one that we just recently did called "Stressed Out" was my favorite. It that yours too Tyler?
JD: We had the houses that we both grew up in. If you watch the video, the first house's living room was my parent’s actual living room that I grew up in and the second one was the bedroom that he grew up in with his brother. We were able to have our whole families in the video too. It was really fun to shoot and it was also kind of funny as well. My dad was super nervous. He didn’t even really do anything but he’s never done anything like that before. It was just funny to have all of our families there, interacting and hanging out. It was a good time, it was fun.
EM: One thing that stands out about Twenty One Pilots is your clever and sometimes deeply philosophical lyrics. When you write, where does the inspiration for the ideas behind your lyrics come from?
TJ: Well, when we first started writing songs we weren't writing knowing people were going to listen or hear it so from the beginning it was very transparent. It was more of a journal or a diary than anything. When people started listening and paying attention there was a moment of feeling a little naked and exposed because all of a sudden all these people are listening to the deepest things that you could struggle with as a person but it was accepted on such a level that I realized that that’s what music should be about; opening up about things that you really can’t have a conversation about, or talking about those things in just a normal setting. Music allows that and it gives you the freedom to talk about some of those tougher things so, we’re always trying to do that now.
EM: Do you have any favorite writers or bands whose lyrics resonate with you?
TJ: Lyrically? I would say Death Cab (For Cutie) is probably one of my favorite bands lyrically — then Sigur Rós. They're singing a different language that I don’t understand yet, for some reason I love that.
JD: Those are literally the two. Right when you asked that I was like..Death Cab and Sigur Rós.
EM: You just released a new album, Blurryface, but looking back to Vessel, are there songs that still resonate with you or songs you feel differently about now than when you first recorded them?
JD: Well for me I think recording is a weird thing because that’s something you’re kind of setting in stone that will stay that way forever. Even from the album we just released playing them live, I play them a little bit different than how they were recorded. We were even talking about hearing something that’s already been recorded; I always think 'I wish I would have done this a different way or done something else a little bit different.' At the same time there’s something that's so cool about where you were at exactly when you recorded that and why you recorded it that way. It's cool to just to kind of leave it in that place. So when I still look back at Vessel of course I hear things and I’m like 'oh, we do this different now' or 'I wish we would have recorded it this way instead'. At the same time, I love what it is.
TJ: Yeah, but at the same time because we think the live set is so important, our goal is to play music live. Those songs kind of morph with us. We bring those songs with us instead of looking back on a record and going 'hey remember when we wrote that song?' When you talk about songs off of Vessel they’re still very much alive. Even the message of what they’re saying, we get to live that out every night. A lot of people may think that they’re older songs but they're changing every day for us. They (still) mean what they meant for us, in the set or personally. Because of live music we get to let those things reincarnate in real cool ways.
EM: Is there a song on Blurryface that you're most excited for fans to hear?
TJ: I guess live I’m really excited to play "Heavy Dirty Soul" because we’re gonna open up with that. Our opening song for a long time was a song called "Ode To Sleep". We’ve always been intentional about which song we start with. We want to set the tone for the rest of the set so it’s probably one of the ones that comes to mind for me.
JD: Yeah I think there always is a difference between live and CD to me. I think for both of us it's "Heavy Dirty Soul" live because it’s so fun. CD I don't know, I really like "The Judge". It’s probably one of my favorites on the album.
EM: While touring with Vessel you had a recording studio on your bus, how much of what you created on that tour ended up on Blurryface?
TJ: Pretty much all of it. We went right from touring to going in the studio and maybe other than a few changes here and there, a few tweaks that happened inside the studio, most of the record was completely written, which is cool because you can really sense how much we are influenced by touring and by live crowds in the record. I’m proud of that, how it creeped into the sound.
EM: Both of your albums bring in elements from many different genres, how did you develop your sound?
TJ: It was never intentional to make something that was like rebellious or genre defying. It's not what we set out to do but because we come from a generation of kids that have access to every type of music, we're going to make music that we enjoy and we enjoy so many types of music. I think it just happens, it's just the way that it ends up. I mean you ask us to write another record and it's going to be all over the place again. It's just the way we were gonna do it.
EM: There have been a lot of fans that say your music has helped them through really dark times, was that a goal you had when you started playing together?
JD: Well I do think music has been pretty powerful to both of us in our lives in the past. I know personally whether it’s a circumstantial thing in my life or just feeling depression or anxiety or sometimes just weird things that happen in the brain, I can just put on my headphones, listen to music and it actually will really help. Even scientifically music helps to heal or helps you through things. We've both been really affected by music and I think we have, at the very least a small part of us that would really hope that something that we do and put out there can at least help a person with something that they’re dealing with. Whether that’s physical or emotional or mental.
EM: Are there any bands you're going to try and catch here at Sasquatch?
TJ: We just missed our friends Hunter Hunted. We toured with them for a while they're really cool. Wish we could've seen them play.
JD: Our tour manager loves Modest Mouse so we’ll probably go watch them and our production manager loves Father John Misty so we might watch.
EM: What music are you into right now?
TJ: Mostly just our own music.
JD: I’ve been listening to a bunch of stuff but it’s just all over the place.
Twenty One Pilots