It is 6:30 in the evening and two Columbus, Ohio natives are hanging out inside an inconspicuous-looking tour bus, hours before their headlining show in Vancouver. They are Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun of Twenty One Pilots. Unbeknownst to fans, their bus sits only a block away and around the corner from the venue at which they are set to play later in the evening. Although their set is a couple of hours away, a line up of eager concertgoers has begun to snake from the venue entrance – a testament to their newfound popularity.
Inside the tour bus is spacious and remarkably neat. Tyler is dressed in dark layers, while Josh is in a bright red tee and backwards baseball cap. The duo both look calm and comfortable – a nice glimpse outside of their electrifying stage personalities. The twosome released their third album, Vessel early this year and have kept up quite the busy lifestyle from opening for Fall Out Boy’s arena tour, performing on late night TV, making music videos, and of course, headlining their own tour. Thankfully, even with the busy schedule, Tyler and Josh made some time for Pop Counter//Culture to tell us all about their new partnership, being in the way of a headlining act, and why songs could be bad for you.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. What were the first words that came to mind when you saw the picture that ended up being the Vessel album cover?
Tyler: I’ve never seen a couple of grandfather’s on the cover of a CD. It goes well with the name of the album. We like that it’s a bit odd.
Josh: We kind of laughed because it was perfect and also because I guess, knowing that we were going to release this body of work with our grandfathers on the cover was kind of perfect. It was a fun experience. We were there for the photo shoot. We had our dads go pick up their dads and bring them over to this place. It was a funny ordeal.
What’s been the most notable change releasing an album through a label, rather than self-releasing?
Tyler: Getting signed to a label is a partnership. A lot of people think of the bad things about being on a label. Honestly, to us, when we think of record labels, we think of individuals who we have relationships with, that believe in what we’re doing and what we’re putting out there. Before you work with a label, you don’t have that, you don’t have a partnership of people who want to work with you – to want to accomplish the ultimate goal of trying to get as many people as possible to be aware of the music. The biggest thing was just getting people on board that have the knowledge and experience of what’s the best way of getting this out there. The most important thing is, what we’re doing creatively, is not changed at all. That’s one thing I think a lot of people fear when involving a label.
Vessel is such a rollercoaster of an album to listen to. There are so many genres blended in. Why was it important for you to structure the album this way?
Tyler: The way that the album is structured is the way we want to approach a live show. We’re about to play a show tonight and it’s not in perfect sequence, but the order of the album was our original set list that we were doing. We were playing these songs live, long before we released them. The album opens up with the song, “Ode To Sleep” and that’s the song we would usually open up with in front of people who don’t know who we are – kind of cleanse their palette.
Speaking of “cleansing palettes”, being somewhat more well-known, is there more pressure playing in front of people who know your work rather than just being an opening band?
Tyler: Playing live is all about exceeding an expectation. The expectation of a crowd that knows who you are has a very high expectation, but we know what it is and it’s easy to take that expectation and exceed it. The issue with playing in front of an audience that doesn’t know who you are is that their expectation isn’t zero. They’re expecting you of being in the way of the band they came to see. That expectation is harder to overcome because to fulfill their expectation, you have to get their attention in a different way. So I would say, playing in front of people who don’t know who you are is much more difficult, but we’ve been doing it for awhile and it gives us a whole other high when we play.
The song “Car Radio” brings up the notion of silence. Do you feel that there is an absence of silence in the world we live in today?
Tyler: Not only our world, but my world specifically. I think we all try to fill our time with distraction. We don’t even know what it is we’re distracting ourselves from, but for me, I live on this bus. I’m never alone, which is tough sometimes. Sometimes, the most I feel alone is when I’m on stage experiencing the music that we’re playing. And I need that. On the other hand, a lot of us are afraid to be alone with our own thoughts. The very thing that we’re doing for a living, music, can be a distraction. The inspiration behind “Car Radio” was a sick way of putting it – writing a song about how songs could be bad for you to listen to.
Music is very emotional and we need something to help us obtain those emotions that we are looking for – that high. When you are so used to that stimulation, you forget what it’s like to have nothing and let true emotion happen without having something prodding you. Sometimes those are the most clear moments of just you.
When you write a song, as a rule, should you always have something to say?
Tyler: Absolutely. For me, song writing was a way of saying something that I didn’t think I was allowed to say, even with my closest friends, my family, and my siblings. There was never really a social context that makes sense to sit down and talk about some of the things I was going through. Song writing was a way I was able to say those things. I didn’t think I would really show anybody. I was very hesitant to show my parents. It was weird. It was so revealing. For me, I would never write a song just to write a cool song if it isn’t saying something that I think we could relive every night and enjoy anew. It would just get so old and pointless. I hate pointless things.
There’s a theory in which what’s familiar is what becomes popular and what becomes popular is then what becomes familiar. Putting music to that theory, do you see any truth in it?
Josh: I can see why that theory would make sense. At the same time, there is a yearning and a desire for something different, that everybody has. If you could find a good combination…some people ask about creating music and if we just think of the weirdest thing we could think of and I think that that’s not smart because there are bands that try to do that and want to be way off in left field and they kind of miss because there is a direction of familiarity that people want. The majority of people aren’t going to gravitate toward the left field. It’s finding a balance between something that is a bit different and a little bit off, but still familiar enough for people to relate to and gravitate towards.
It’s known that the band name was inspired by a story of moral dilemma. When was the last time you experienced some sort of moral dilemma?
Josh: It depends on what level because decisions are made everyday, but there are different levels of decisions. It’s not necessarily just a moral dilemma, but spiritual decisions, physical decisions, emotional decisions that just come at you everyday. The outcomes of those, you just don’t know. It could happen instantly, it could happen a week down the road, or even a couple years down the road. I know that there have been times where decisions had to be made and we looked at each other referencing the band name. Without that, we might not be exactly where we are right now. Some decisions we’ve based off that principle of this is going to affect something down the road.