A duo causing a stir through their energetic live sets, twenty one pilots are heading out on the road… again. Having done the indie thing and released their first two albums on their own, the band’s teamed up with Atlantic Records subsidiary Fueled by Ramen.
Now surrounded by a group of professionals, who think the same way they do, the vision the band had for their music has been taken and developed into a real proposition. They’ve even found friends amongst the label’s staff.
With the weight of a major label behind it, new album Vessel is grabbing considerable international recognition. “OK, we’ve done this before, so we know some of what’s going to happen,” Josh Dun, 50% of the band and 100% of its drummers, tells me. “But in the past year we’ve been able to travel all over the world. It’s been incredible to see it all grow.”
He’s holed up in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, during an increasingly rare break from the international live circuit. He’s also gently mocking my reaction to the cold snap surging across the UK. Apparently it’s -16°C outside his window, so he’s currently wearing “a lot of clothing.”
Dun’s been playing drums since 12, using kits in a local music shop for as long as its staff would tolerate. His parents, recognising his passion, bought him his own set, which he’d play in his basement for hours on end. After graduating, he wasn’t sure how to get into the music business. So, he got a job in a local music store, seeing this as a way to network with Columbus’ musicians. By 2011 he’d joined twenty one pilots, the group singer Tyler Joseph formed with two college friends, filling the vacuum created by their departure. This new line-up saw the new duo playing sold-out shows in their area, and release the band’s second self-promoted album, a work that drew in a gaggle of labels eager to sign the band. Fueled by Ramen seemed like a natural fit, and that’s where it gets really interesting.
Released in January, Vessel is an exercise in up-beat good-time music. It’s a fun listen, a slightly esoteric one occasionally, but it’ never becomes boring. Recorded with Greg Wells, who’s turned out hits for Kid Cudi, Aerosmith, OneRepublic and Mika, It’s a finely polished pop gem.
So now twenty one pilots, and their fiery live show, are very much in demand. Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, the UK, even places in the US they’d only dreamed of getting to, are all getting to witness the band in full flow. All this travelling, and exposure to experiences more exotic than small town America can offer, has altered the bands view of the world. Dun maintains all the travel will make him a better-rounded person, saying he wants to learn about people and how they think, either individually or collectively.
The bands suddenly increased touring schedule means the touring is starting to get exhausting now. But Dun and Joseph still find it enjoyable.to be travelling vast distances with the same people. “Sometimes, when I get caught up in the everything, I have to step back and realise this is exactly what I wanted since I was 12 years old, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything”
Dun’s under no illusion that being able to travel the world, especially at such a young age, is rare. So he wants to use the process to help him grow as a person. Both he and Joseph have found themselves discussing if these experiences will change them. “I think the answer is yes, but it is something you can control.“
He finds the concept that one song can influence a person’s whole day incredibly beguiling. He recalls memories from his childhood, of repeatedly being told the music he listened to would affect him and those around him. Like any normal petulant kid would, he rejected this notion. But years later, older and better informed, he’s less flippant about what the kids are listening to. “As a musician, it is frustrating to turn on the radio and hear what comes out. I get a bit worried by where the next generation might be headed, just by the lyrical content of these songs.”
One small bone of contention surrounding the band is what convenient category to lump them in with. Aurally their songs are an eclectic mix of piano, keyboard and drums, layered with vocals that are part rapping, part singing. Ostensibly every song doesn’t… “sound the same”. There’s been a fair amount of trouble in the media with actually tethering to a specific music genre to describe them. Many fans seem to fall back on the label “Schizoid Pop” when pressed. Hardly a catchy or attractive tag, unlike the music it labours to describe. When asked about his band’s sound, he’s reluctant to place it into words, preferring to paraphrase Louis Armstrong. “There’s good time for music, and bad time for music. We’re the good time!”
twenty one pilots play Brighton’s The Haunt on Mon 17 Feb 2014.
The album, Vessel, is out now on Fueled by Ramen.
Watch the video for twenty one pilots’ single – Holding On To You