When Twenty One Pilots’ first major label effort via Fueled By Ramen was released in 2013, there was regional excitement surrounding them, but few predicted that the duo of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun would became one of the more popular emerging bands. That first major album (and third overall) Vessel, ended up selling 300,000 copies in addition to over a million singles.
Initially a quartet, Joseph and Dun have kept a tireless schedule since the release of that debut and in the process have managed to hone themselves into an arena-ready outfit. With a new record, Blurryface, recently released, we caught up with Joseph to hear about the new album, the rigors of the road and the pressure to produce a dynamic follow-up.
PureVolume: It seems like there’s been little time off since the last album hit.
Tyler Joseph: Yeah, we wanted to make that transition from album-to-album as quick as possible. A lot of bands take time in between records to make sure that it’s right, not that we rushed anything as far as the songwriting and recording process goes, but we knew this is the time in our lives where we were able to start tracking and go as quickly as we could, and to make it seem like we’ve never left.
PV: But you were on tour for the better part of the last year though, right?
TJ: We toured for the better part of the past two years and it got more intense towards the end before we had to stop because we needed to write more songs. We could have kept going but we were ready to get all of these new ideas that we got from writing on the road and get them out there.
PV: When did you have time to sit down and actually record?
TJ: It became this routine where I had this traveling case that had a portable studio in it and I went everywhere with it. If I was in a hotel lobby for 20 minutes and I had a melody in my head, I could get it down. Having the technology around really helped a lot to get down everything we came to. It’s really weird that album is written and we’re getting ready to take off to start traveling and I’m so used to packing this thing that I’m looking forward to traveling without having the pressure to write a record.
PV: Is that a good thing?
TJ: Oh yeah. This first trip we’re heading over to Europe and I may take some time and go see the sites for the first time ever. But I’m sure I’ll get that out of my system this trip and I’ll always have my rig with me.
PV: How does Blurryface reflect what you and Josh have been doing and where you want to go sonically?
TJ: There’s several different ways that it’s a continuation. Our last record, Vessel, was written in a way where we didn’t know if anyone would ever hear it. There wasn’t any pressure from outside and it was a very transparent, open and unfiltered record that were very proud of. With Blurryface, you can feel that I understood the importance of getting back to that mindset, but I had some things in my way getting to that place. Whether that’s outside pressure, expectations or there’s an audience that’s going to listen to this record. The biggest thing that I feel on this record that differentiates itself from the last is there’s an awareness of who we are and who we’re talking to and how things will affect people all while trying to maintain that transparency and authenticity that we had when we wrote the last one. I honestly feel like we’ve gotten better and it’s something that Josh and I work on and we’re not satisfied where we are now and want to be even better at what do. Whether that’s songwriting or playing shows or at my instrument or even phone interviews.
PV: How much pressure was there to write a big follow-up?
TJ: Definitely from outside sources, but they knew the last record was successful without any sort of outside influence. They knew the best way of going about it was to let us do what we want to do again. We were given the green light to do what we want, which was exciting and scary too knowing that we had no limitations with the recording—where and who we wanted to record with. At the same time, we would hear the murmurs that if we didn’t write the right record, it could all crumble. I don’t know if that’s actually people saying that or my own head telling me that, but it’s what it felt like. That fear created interesting songs.
PV: In what way?
TJ: Fear is such a powerful thing. On this record, I wrote about love for the first time because I found my wife and that was a first for me to write from a mindset of something that’s very positive. If anything, it just became even more dynamic when I dove into the other side of things. I think you can feel—when I listen back to it—how we’re struggling to figure out what the record should sound like and we never quite land on what it should sound like and it just sends. I really like that its a snapshot that you can feel where we’re struggling and where we should write something that’s commercial and can fit into the mainstream and whether it’s in radio or commercials. Now is the first time we’ve ever been aware of what makes a song able to be commercial. Now that we understand that, it can be another mind game when it came to writing the record.
PV: When did you realize that the band was having not only attainable success, but potentially sustainable success?
TJ: There were a lot of points where that I remember specifically. The earliest one was when we sold out a venue in our hometown before we got signed. When that happened, it was the promised land of Columbus local music called Newport Music Hall. We cramped 1,800 people into the 1,300 person room before they closed the doors. I remember waking up that morning and hearing it sold out and thinking there was something wrong. Our career up to that point was hoping and praying that people would show up. That was the moment where we thought if it happened here then what can we do to have it happen in other places. The other time was when I took my in-airs out and could hear the crowd singing. People who come to our shows listen to our whole album and not just a song. There are a lot of concerts where people know two or three songs and that’s it. I’m proud of our fans for investing themselves in the entire record and that seems like it can be a longer thing.