Alternative rockers unite. The genre-mixing duo, Twenty One Pilots, have truly defined indie-rock music in the last few years. Ukuleles, rap, balaclavas, heavy drums, poetic lyrics…need I go on?
The Ohio-based band’s musical style has paved the way for the new-age music industry. From their eclectic studio albums to their energetic stage performances, these boys are certainly talented, alright. Their song, ‘Stressed Out’ has been viewed over 1.4 billion times on Youtube and is one of the most recognisable beats on the planet. It’d be remiss not to mention that they won a Grammy for that tune in 2017.
Founded in 2009 by frontman, Tyler Joseph and high-school friends, Nick Thomas and Chris Salih, the band enjoyed a wave of audience interest in their first two years together. During their debut year, they released their first self-titled album which was recorded in the basement of the house they were all living in at the time. Their lyrical honesty put Twenty One Pilots into the spotlight, for sure. In 2011, Thomas and Salih left the group and drummer, Josh Dun joined to form the band we know today. Tyler and Josh’s sound is easy to identify – upbeat, melodic, oh so cool and oh so relatable.
Fast forward to 2018 and they have released four more critically acclaimed albums and won many accolades for their contributions to music. They climbed to the number two spot on the Billboard 100 in 2015, have spent an impressive 173 weeks on numerous charts and have six top 10 hits. Their single, ‘Heathens’ was written for and features in the film, Suicide Squad and enjoyed many weeks in the UK Top 5. Last year, the band went into silence, causing confusion amongst fans. Now they’re back with their new album, Trench which launched in October.
On the back of this highly-anticipated album, Twenty One Pilots started the new Bandito tour on the 16th of October in Nashville, Tennessee to promote their new material. Last in New Zealand in 2017 for their Emotional Roadshow tour, the boys are coming back with the Bandito tour on December 21.
When M2 magazine was offered an interview with these Grammy Award winners, I rose to the challenge and sat down with Twenty One Pilots and talked music, time spent in New Zealand and their latest album.
When was the moment that you realised that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
Tyler: Ooh, good question. I think that that moment happened differently for Josh and I. I think Josh’s was slightly sooner than mine. I was probably 16 or 17 years old – I found the piano and it became a part of my life. I was just drawn to it and realised I could find a song inside of it. I think, at that point, I knew that that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I became slightly obsessed.
How to make that into a job was a complete mystery to me at that point and remained a mystery until around the ages of 22 to 23. But all the while, I never really gave up on it. I do remember the first time Josh and I spoke on the phone and we said ‘Hey, we can quit our jobs right now and do this for real.’ That was a special moment for us, because we never thought it would actually happen.
How did you come up with the band name, Twenty One Pilots?
Tyler: I was studying a play called All My Sons by Arthur Miller when I was at school. A quick run-down of that play: The main character was creating aeroplane parts for the war – he was a manufacturer. He found out that some of those parts were faulty and had a decision to make – does he knowingly send those parts out, or does he recall them? As he didn’t want to lose money and didn’t want to tarnish his reputation, he sent those parts into the field and 21 pilots died as a result. The play, to be honest, ends very sadly.
For us, the message is that there’s a left turn and a right turn in pursuing any career. We have had moments where we’ve questioned whether we were in the middle of the road or the end of the road, but being at the end of the road in our careers would be a cop-out. Ultimately, it’d be us sending out the faulty parts instead of working harder and longer.
What can fans expect from Trench?
Tyler: We kept it pretty close to the vest. We didn’t use a bunch of different producers and songwriters. It was us continually asking ourselves the question, “Do we like this?” and answering it with an affirmative, resounding, “Yes, yes we do…”
It’s hard to describe an album. I’ve been drawn to the bass guitar and you can see that in the making of this last record. My inclination was to find inspiration in that new instrument.
Is telling a good narrative essential for you guys to connect to your audience?
Tyler: Yeah, it’s not just important for us, it’s important for a narrative to be set before writing any song. It’s helpful and comforting knowing that when you set the narrative, every song that is written inside that narrative is right. So it’s always been something that I, as a songwriter, felt was important to establish to tell a story.
What was your favorite song to write from Trench?
Tyler: Man, that’s a tough one. What was your favorite song to listen to?
I really liked ‘Morph’. I thought that was a fantastic track.
Tyler: Ah yeah, that was a fun one to write. Yeah, it’s hard to pick one…but I’m going to go with ‘Morph’ too.
You were last in New Zealand in 2017. Do you enjoy performing to your Kiwi fans?
Josh: Oh yeah. We’ve always enjoyed playing shows there. So many great times.
Have you seen much of New Zealand when over you’re here?
Josh: Yeah, we like New Zealand a lot. It’s always beautiful whenever we’re there so we explore as much as we can.
Tyler: One of our crew members actually bought in a jar of honey [last time they were in NZ] and got arrested or charged and that was funny.
That sounds like a crazy time. Care to explain what happened?
Josh: Well – as you’d expect – at the airport there’s a bunch of signs saying what you can and can’t bring into the country. One of them’s honey.
It was actually from the last country we were in and he grabbed it from the hotel room and took it through customs. He was charged like NZD$400 or something.
That’s hilarious! What can fans expect from the new Bandito Tour?
Tyler: There’ll be some new songs, definitely. Josh and I have always balanced out the idea of showing new stuff that we’re excited about but, at the same time, we don’t want to turn our backs on certain tunes that a lot of people have grown fond of. So we continue to learn, every day, how to balance those two.
So we’ll have a lot of new stuff but then some stuff that people will recognise. We’re really excited to put on the best show.
What next for you guys after the tour?
Tyler: Oh man, so much but nothing at all.
What’s your definition of success?
Tyler: There’s so many aspects to answer that question. I think in one way (for us) it’s the ability to not work day jobs and still actually support ourselves and make a living…that’s one version of success.
Another form of it is allowing people to get positively affected by a song that you wrote. That’s success on a whole other level. We’ve experienced all different kinds of success on the road to getting here and we’re really appreciative of that. At the same time, though, we’re still hungry to grow and get better.