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Twenty One Pilots Stick to Their Guns

Jul. 26, 2016
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Photo by Jabari Jacobs

When Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun of Twenty One Pilots got together with rapper A$AP Rocky to create their performance for the MTV Video Music Awards broadcast last summer, they discovered they weren’t the only ones with a stake in the appearance.

“At first, in the beginning of the day, we had kind of like managers there and people who were kind of looking out for us and guys there looking out for him,” Dun said. “It sort of diluted the creative process in a way.” 

Eventually they decided to tune out all that outside input. 

“And then maybe a couple of hours in, we all three—me, Tyler and Rocky—kind of sat down,” he said. “And we said, ‘You know what, it’s just the three of us on stage. So we need to come up with something that we love and we want to play and we feel solid about.’ That’s when it kind of clicked. And we were all like, absolutely, that’s exactly what we need to do. And from then we started really collaborating and really working, and I think we came up with something that was a real collaboration.”

For Dun, the VMA rehearsal with A$AP Rocky—they drew raves for a medley featuring the Twenty One Pilots songs “Lane Boy” and “Heavydirtysoul” and Rocky’s “L$D”—triggered a sense of déjà vu going back to the making of the recently released second Twenty One Pilots album, Blurryface.

Their first album, 2013’s Vessel, had produced two singles that reached the top 10 alternative singles, helping establish Twenty One Pilots as rising stars on the music scene. Heading into the second album, the duo discovered that following Vessel’s success, suddenly people from various ends of the music business, such as their record label, management and booking agency, had ideas about what kind of follow up Dun and Joseph should make.

According to Dun, he and Joseph discussed the issue of outside input into the second album, and they reached a conclusion that mirrored how they eventually approached collaborating with A$AP Rocky. “At the end of the day it’s like we’ve got to be doing what we want to do and making this music and this album the way we want to do it,” he said.

It seems clear that Dun and Joseph made the right move in taking charge of the record. Blurryface debuted atop Billboard’s album chart upon its release in May and has so far generated four top 10 alternative hits. The successes are continuing what has been a steady ascension for the group, which formed in Columbus, Ohio, in 2009 and self-released two projects before signing with Fueled By Ramen for their major-label debut.

Like its predecessor, Blurryface is a diverse affair, reflecting the wide-ranging musical tastes of Joseph and Dun, as the duo mix multiple genres, not only across the album, but within the same song. For instance, “Heavydirtysoul” moves between funk-tinged rock, hip-hop and epic pop. “Fairly Local” is a measured tune where electronica serves as a backdrop for the song’s hip-hop vocals and “Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh” pop vocal hook. Reggae, soul and hip-hop trade off through sing-songy cadence of “Lane Boy.” It could all sound schizophrenic, except Joseph and Dun have a way with making smooth transitions between the genre-jumping segments within the songs, turning them into fun-filled multi-faceted chunks of ear candy.

The band is in the midst of a busy run of touring that continues right through April of next year in support of Blurryface.  Drummer Dun and singer/multi-instrumentalist Joseph are using pre-recorded tracks to cover the instrumental parts they can’t play themselves.

Interestingly enough, Dun said one main reason the duo opted to use backing tracks rather than bring out additional musicians to complete their live sound was they felt performing as a duo extended a main lyrical theme of Blurryface: recognizing, confronting and overcoming one’s insecurities.

“From the beginning, I think some of the insecurity that we both had is there are only two of us,” Dun said. “I think we both feel a little bit more exposed and a little bit more vulnerable. But there’s something about that that I love and something about that that makes me want to work harder and makes Tyler want to work harder in putting on a show or performing and realizing that every night there’s going to be somebody that’s never seen us before. And the goal is to try and win them over.”

Twenty One Pilots headline the BMO Harris Pavilion with MUTEMATH and Chef’Special on Saturday, July 30 at 7 p.m.

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