By Poppy Tohill
During their fleeting visit to New Zealand, I was lucky enough to catch up with the talented Tyler Joseph (vocals, keys) and Josh Dun (drummer) of popular 'Schizoid Pop' duo Twenty One Pilots, just hours ahead of their sold out show at Auckland's Powerstation.
Relaxing on the couch discussing why dark chocolate is better than white chocolate, as we broke off more pieces of the (white) chocolate bar sitting in front of us, we soon got down to business talking about all things music, Twenty One Pilots and their latest record 'Blurryface.'
So... you guys made your start in Ohio playing small shows to your friends and family, to playing sold out shows internationally just years later, what was that initial change and leap like for you guys, did you ever expect the band to become so hugely popular?
JOSH: Yeah it was interesting because we kind of just started out playing for nobody, (laughs).
I remember the moment it started to feel a little bit different though. It was the 4th of July in the States and I was riding my bike to go meet up with some friends to watch the fireworks and I thought I'd call them when I get there, but then my phone doesn't work because there's so many people there so I just ended up watching the fireworks by myself, with my bike, feeling like a total loser as people looked at me. Anyway, the local radio station always puts together a playlist that goes along with the fireworks and our song 'Holding Onto You,' was right in the middle. So when it came on people started to recognise who I was and as I'm riding my bike home all these people who I'd never met before came up to me and said, "Hey Josh! What's up man, that song was awesome." That had never really happened to me before either, so that was the first time where I started to think, 'woah, this is starting to get a little bit different now.' But it's cool! I think we both have a lot of appreciation for people, especially those who just come up and say hey or want to grab a picture."
TYLER: Yeah it was the initial aim. We can talk about being surprised and grateful which is all true, as we're very honoured to be in this position, but we would not be here if we had listened to the lies that people told us about it being possible to become an internationally acclaimed band. But Josh and I got together. I remember one of the first times we ever hung out we talked about what we wanted to do and what our dreams and aspirations were and even those are embarrassing to look back on now because they were so huge. Even with what we've accomplished already, what we were talking about back then would still seem impossible now. We've never been ashamed about our dream and what we want to accomplish though, so I guess it's a combination of both because we knew we wanted to play music because of what it did to help us but at the same time we went into it with a confidence that we have something to say and that can really give you a lot of fuel.
You've had a pretty incredible musical journey thus far, what would you say is your proudest achievement to date in terms of your careers?
JOSH: Yeah I think there will be multiple things that exist forever in our minds and along the way. All of the milestones and different steps you make on your way up don't disappear as far as our memories and the goal is to just keep getting to the next one. For me I think one thing that I'llprobably just never forget is selling out a venue in our home town. We grew up going there and watching artists perform there, so selling it out definitely caught us by surprise, because we started out not having any idea how many people, if anybody was going to come to a show, so that was a pretty big moment and milestone for us that I think I'll always remember.
TYLER: I think those moments span in both time and different emotions, they're just all so different. For example, a big moment for us that some people would look at like a big moment in our career was having a number one record in the States when we released out latest album '(Blurryface)'. But then for me what's even more important and more emotional than that was the first time I played for a crowd of people who stood up. I'd been playing in front of people who would sit down at bars, in coffee shops and what not, so when people were standing and then at one point actually jumping around and dancing to our music, that was a big moment for me.
Lets talk about your latest record, 'Blurryface.' Can you give us a little insight into what or who 'Blurryface is to you?
TYLER: Blurryface is a character that we kind of came up with. It represents insecurities. From our personal insecurities to our insecurities collectively as a band. There's certain things together we know we don't like about ourselves and we're very aware of what those things might be but when our self awareness begins to fade is how those insecurities can effect us everyday. But we can compensate for those insecurities, so this character helped us focus on what they were and ultimately wether it's through songwriting, creating a record, recording the record or all the way through to playing it on stage, that creation was meant to help us overcome that stuff.
Would you say your sound has evolved and developed on this new record at all / if so how and were there any major differences in the writing and recording process of 'Blurryface' in comparison to your previous releases?
JOSH: I would just say that we're always trying to get better. The main difference is that for Vessel it was all pretty much written in Tyler's basement and for this record [Blurryface] it was all written in a bus and hotel rooms just because we were touring so much and there was no other time. Other than that I think the process was still kind of the same. When I say that we're trying to get better that doesn't necessarily mean lets change everything, because we still want to be creating music that is true to what it is and who we are. There's been band's especially one's that we've loved who we've seen put out an album that we think is amazing and then their next record is totally different and I don't know if I see the point of that. So I don't think our intention is to totally change exactly what it is we do, but things will of course be changing within it and hopefully getting better like I said.
TYLER: The writing process is something that hasn't actually changed. I'll kind of disappear for a while and then demo some ideas and what's great about the way we do this is there's no one from the outside involved in the songwriting process. There was definitely a lot of opportunities and a lot of pressure from people to come in and help us write these songs and people who are hired to write the right radio songs and stuff, but Josh and I kept it closed and that's what I'm most proud of.
We did it our own way. So like Josh said, the environment was different and we were writing an album for people who were actually waiting for us to create something where as with Vessels we created it not knowing if people were actually going to listen to it.
Is there a track on the record that you think sums up the whole album, or one that you're most proud of?
JOSH: I guess the one that comes to mind for me would be 'Stressed Out.'
TYLER: Oh really? I thought you were going to say 'The Judge.' That's the one I'll say then.
With a large emphasis being placed on singles, more so than full albums these days, what did it mean to you both when 'Blurryface' hit #1?
JOSH: Yeah it was a really good feeling! Initially we just had no clue what that even meant but once it kind of finally started to sink in and we got that realisation and engaged the importance of what it actually meant, it was really cool and kind of encouraging too that people are still listening to full albums.
Do you feel that this places any pressure on you now in terms of your releases that will follow?
TYLER: There is a massive amount of pressure and not all of that is being put on us from the outside. It's ourselves too. We started in a local scene playing shows where we had to out do ourselves every time we played because we were playing in front of relatively the same people, which I think taught us a lot. So to end with 'Blurryface' being recorded, submitted and us going okay, that's the best we can do, and to have released that no that long ago and then be asked the question about the next one, that's so much pressure absolutely! It's just wether or not we're going to break to that pressure and I think this build up of pressure is only going to create something special, so we're looking forward to continuing to create music.
When it comes to songwriting, your lyrics are very personal, emotional and deep. Is that honesty in your writing something you consider very important?
TYLER: I think the lyrics are kind of the fingerprint an artist puts on a song, you know, because there's that stamp of authenticity on it that shows people exactly where it's coming from. When you get to know a songwriter, you know there's certain ways they say things and one of the first things you can probably smell on a new record when its written by someone else and the band have just recorded it, performed it and claimed it as their own is the lyrics- you know they wouldn't say that or stand for that. Those lyrics are forced or contrived. So for us lyrics are definitely one of the most important parts of a song because that's where the honesty and soul of that song comes from, so yeah, it's always going to be an important aspect of what it is that we do.
You guys spend a crazy amount of time on the road, touring each year. Do you have any touring survival skills or techniques that help you keep sane on the road or not get sick of each other?
TYLER: We don't think about the amount of touring we really do, because it was always what we wanted to do. I remember going to shows and watching other bands and looking at them thinking - oh man, they have to do that again tomorrow?! I can't believe they have to play another show tomorrow! (laughs).
JOSH: I don't think it could be for everybody because there's definitely very challenging parts about it and you kind of have to be a very certain type of person, and sometimes I'm not that type of person which is when it might start to get tough. But I think you really just have to mentally prepare yourself to be somewhere new everyday and meet new people everyday. I also think it's important to have some kind of things that you personally do to make yourself not go crazy. Like if we find a restaurant place that we love in a city somewhere, we'll go out of our way to go back there next time we visit, just for a taste of home or something like that.
TYLER: We're not sick of each other either. It's a question we get asked a lot, because people would think that because of the amount of time we spend together but we're just not! (laughs).
JOSH: Italian (pasta is delicious)
TYLER: My favourite specific dish would be a pad thai
Hat or beanie?
JOSH: Hat for me, but I like both. I'm not good with hats either but I wear them all the time.
TYLER: I'm a beanie guy, not because I like beanies, just because I can't do hats. I'm not good with them and I don't know why (laughs).
Beer or Wine?
JOSH: If i had to choose, I guess wine
TYLER: I don't really drink, so neither.
Dogs or cats?
TYLER: I'm going to go with cats but I prefer humans (laughs)
If you had to chose from being blind or deaf, which would you be?
TYLER: Blind and I can argue with anyone who disagrees with that.