Kerrang! (UK) - - Welcome - WORDS: Emily Carter PHO­TOS: Adam El­makias

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.


No-one show­ing up for the post-show meet and greet was a sur­prise and a blow

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