TWENTY ONE PILOTS
PART TWO OF OUR GUIDED TOUR OF TRENCH WITH TYLER AND JOSH
There were many days over the course of the last year where Tyler Joseph would stare at the hard drive in his basement recording studio with resentment. On it were the ideas, melodies and lyrics that would form twenty one pilots’ new album, Trench. But, with the band’s diehard fan base waiting keenly to hear something new, it wasn’t always filling up at the rate he’d hoped.
“It was frustrating to work in the studio for eight hours and have literally zero to show for it,” the musician begins. “I’d look at the hard drive earlier that morning, and then look at it again later that night, and nothing was added. I tried so many things, and nothing felt right…”
There’s a song on the record that perfectly sums up the complicated process behind this painstaking creation. Titled The Hype, its meaning is brilliantly multilayered, boasting a level of self-awareness that few others in similar situations would have the capacity to harness. Its maker had been pondering the “external pressure” of writing and recording this material in his Columbus, Ohio home. There he was, attempting to follow up wildly successful predecessor Blurryface, while also crucially eliminating almost everybody around him from the project, save for bandmate Josh Dun and co-producer Paul Meany. No outside influences, be it family, friends or musical advisers, were to hear this work until Tyler
decided the time was right.
“When you don’t have those people around you, it’s much easier to be honest with the idea of whether something’s good or not,” the 29-year-old suggests. “If I did the stereotypical thing of inviting hype men and celebrity friends over so they’d listen and say, ‘This is going to be a hit,’ that’s not a good representation of whether it’s good or not. And that’s something that I’ll always stand by. Get hype men out of there.”
Working this way, Tyler explains, would eventually dictate the most candid, truest music possible. It didn’t make it any easier to unveil his innermost thoughts once a song was ready to present, though.
“There’s this other layer, which is still so important to me,” the frontman continues, detailing the conflicting emotions he felt during the process. “Whether it’s a close friend, my manager, or my brothers, I really do want their opinions on it. And on this particular record, I was so afraid of showing them the idea before it was finished, because I wanted so badly for their reaction to the finished version to be as close to their true reaction as possible. So we had people who in the past have heard ideas from every stage early on, to all of a sudden I felt inclined to say, ‘Please can you just wait.’
“The idea of a song is so fragile,” he adds, thoughtfully. “A single comment can completely change it.”
In the year-long process of assembling the many facets of Trench, Tyler Joseph found himself lyrically inspired by anything and everything. And mixing up his environment – no matter how insignificant it seemed at the time
– proved an incredibly useful tool.
“It would be being outside surrounded by nature at one point, driving my car or doing something mundane, like getting food or gas,” he explains of his accidental quest for the perfect phrase. “In those moments, you feel more receptive to new ideas. Lyrics and certain words kind of spring from nothing when I’m outside of the studio. There were moments where that definitely helped crack a code.”
And this was only the start of twenty one pilots’ code-cracking. Just as the frontman would get “lured back” into his studio after nailing a song or idea, though, soon enough he’d hit a brick wall again. As such, Tyler began trying to find new ways to overcome writer’s block – or “the hump”, as he refers to it. Four or five songs into Trench, absolutely nothing was coming to him. So he changed his approach entirely, and it resulted in Neon Gravestones – the most important song of the duo’s career so far.
“I learned [to] more or less force yourself to write a different style of song than you are attempting,” he explains. “So, let’s say I’m attempting more of an upbeat idea, and it’s just not working. Neon Gravestones was a moment where I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to go for something new, slower, different. Let me just get this idea out of my system, then I can start over.’ That’s really what that song became for me – it was an exercise to get me over the hump. And right when we finished it, I saw clearly
again and wrote three or four more songs.”
As Tyler worked through this amalgamation of rock, hip-hop, pop and everything in between, Josh encouraged his best friend at every step. And even still, he supports the musical direction twenty one pilots have taken with Trench – even if, as Kerrang! Facebook comments will so often decry, it isn’t strictly rock.
“Well, in some ways I would agree, because it’s not just rock music,” the drummer laughs. “But, it’s 2018, and the lines are blurred everywhere, with everything. Like, Netflix shows can be drama and comedy at the same time. With Spotify, you can stream something and hit shuffle, or have a playlist that’s got everything on it. I feel like it’s probably harder to categorise things. But we have elements that are rock, for sure.”
Do those comments affect you at all?
“Personally, I don’t really get bothered by it,” Josh shrugs. “It feels weird to me that there are still people who are very classified, and have one genre they stick to. We never really had such a structure, and it feels like that’s how culture is now.”
When twenty one pilots make music, then, there’s clearly not a single aspect that has been ignored. If Tyler is writing a song, there’s no note, beat or second that’s out of place. When it comes to a record as a whole, each and every moment – from the radio-bothering choruses, to the pauses or transitions between songs – have been considered. And in terms of thinking up an entire new era, twenty one pilots account for all the imagery and new live ideas that will accompany it – just as they have done when they take Trench on the road for their upcoming Bandito world tour.
It’s why, when the tables turn and the frontman suddenly has a question for Kerrang!, it takes us aback slightly.
“Considering the record comes out on October 5…” he says, “and our first show of the
U.S. tour is October 16, do you think that that’s enough time to even play new songs, should we feel inclined to?” Er, yeah, obviously… “Are you sure? It’s a little over a week…” This is just a glimpse into the worried minds of Tyler and Josh. Their success is almost unparalleled, and their fans will be there every step of the way. But there’s always that niggling feeling in the back of their minds that one day, people simply won’t care so much.
“It’s not on them – it’s on us feeling that way,” Josh clarifies. “I realise it could seem like it’s
discrediting the dedication they have. We’re very aware of their dedication, and thankful for it.”
“They have been the most steadfast part of our career,” Tyler agrees. “Honestly, when you spend enough time in the basement you start to lose an internal compass. When I didn’t know which direction I should go, I always put it through the lens of their existence.”
There’s no doubt that twenty one pilots fans will immerse themselves in Trench – after all, they unknowingly helped build it. But until Tyler and Josh see it for themselves, no amount of reassurance will seemingly comfort them.
“This record is the most us that we’ve ever done,” Tyler concludes. “And if it’s lacking, or it just doesn’t land, then it’s like, ‘Okay, we learn our roles and kind of stay where we’re good.’ Maybe we’ll get there and realise that, but then we won’t be ashamed of that. We won’t know until we see how it does…” Time to dig into the trenches and find out.
TRENCH IS OUT NOW ON FUELED BY RAMEN/ atlantic. TWENTY ONE PILOTS TOUR THE UK EARLY NEXT YEAR – SEE THE GIG GUIDE FOR more INFORMATION
No-one showing up for the post-show meet and greet was a surprise and a blow