Twenty One Pilots Will Play Until They Pass Out

If you haven’t heard of Twenty One Pilots, chances are you haven’t seen them yet, either. Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun built a following playing energetic secret shows in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio. (See their music video for “Car Radio” above, which has more than 13 million views on YouTube.) Their live presence led the alternative rap/pop duo to sign with Fueled by Ramen, release their breakout album Vessel in 2013, and bring their impressive onstage athleticism worldwide—including a stop at the inaugural Life Is Beautiful Festival. Now returning with a new album—Blurryface, released May 19—we caught up with the duo to discuss the effects of fame, appreciation for their fans, and why their next Life Is Beautiful performance might call for EMTs.

Your last album, Vessel, brought you a lot of new fans. Did that affect the creative process for Blurryface?

Joseph: Everything we had written up until Vessel was written pretty much in a vacuum. We didn’t really know if anyone was ever going to hear it. Being transparent while writing those songs wasn’t very hard. [But with] Blurryface, we knew there was an audience. Also, we were working hard to block out all negative influences. The question we would ask ourselves is “Do we like this?” If we could answer “yes,” then that was all of the confidence we needed to get over that hump of insecurity.

When you address fans about your music, you say “your new video” or “your new album.” Why is that?

Joseph: When Josh and I first started playing music together, we learned a lot from our local scene. A lot of people were involved in the music industry [only] for a personal gain. The language they used just added to who they were like, “Hey, check out my band.” It turned us off the way some bands talked online. We’re not afraid to admit that we need our fans for this to work.

twenty_one_pilots_by_jabari_jacobs_WEBWhat does the neck and hand makeup mean in your recent videos?

Joseph: We like there to be certain types of visual elements that go along with each record. Blurryface is about trying to conquer some insecurities we have as humans. Blurryface is this character we’ve developed to give it a name and address and conquer these insecurities within ourselves. As much as Josh and I take the stage with confidence, you would be surprised with what’s going on internally. “Are we even good? Is this good at all?” That can really suffocate you. I like to manifest a character through that makeup on my hands and neck.

You’re known for your high-energy live shows. Do you feel pressure to always outdo yourselves?

Dun: If we’re not exhausted by the time we walk offstage, it would not be any fun. The goal is to get better at our instruments and better at performing. I’m probably Tyler’s biggest fan. I want to impress him every night.

Joseph: Is this the time when I’m supposed to say the same thing? [Laughs.]

Dun: You don’t have to.

Joseph: It is true. We try to impress each other by doing something different. We want to outdo ourselves as a unit. Playing Las Vegas now is going to be different than the last time we played it. We want to—hopefully—do things that people have never seen before. It’s tough in a city like [Las Vegas] that seems to have seen everything. A lot of bands plateau when they realize they’ve reached a level where they can travel and play the same show every night, play the same set list and say the same things in between songs. Josh and I aren’t there yet. We don’t want to be there.

What do you still hope to achieve?

Joseph: It’s always been a goal to play a show so hard that Josh passes out onstage. [Laughs.]

That hasn’t happened yet?

Dun: It’s almost happened a couple of times. We’re not there yet, though.

Joseph: I’ll tell you what, we’re going to focus our sights on the Life Is Beautiful Festival and, hopefully, Josh passes out. Have the EMTs ready to go!

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