‘I’m the ice cream, he’s the cake. You get the whole thing with us’: an interview with Twenty One Pilots

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I caught up with Twenty One Pilots, a duo that have sky rocketed to fame over the past year. I chatted to Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun about touring, Michael Jackson and dessert.

This is the penultimate night of your UK dates, how has it been so far?

Josh [drums]: It’s been really fun. We’ve been over to the UK three or four times and it’s cool to be able to come back and see more people than the last time. I feel like that’s always a good sign! Not only are people a little bit more invested but some people – well a lot of people – are singing the words with us and wanting to be a part of it which always makes it a lot more enjoyable.

You have a very strong fan base; what does that mean to you?

Josh: What’s cool, and what we see, is people talking a lot online or just with their friends or family and after they leave, they go and share, whether it’s them tweeting or posting photos from it or telling their friends. I think that’s the most powerful way of marketing; sharing something is to have people talking about it. So to see that I think is really cool. It’s cool and exciting for us to come back and see new people as well as to see the same people that were here the first time!

You guys nearly constantly tour, do you feel nervous before you go out on stage anymore?

Josh: There’s a little bit of nervousness before every show. But I think a lot of it has to do with if our technology’s going to work or not. It’s always the hardest part because I think we’ve played these songs so many times and we know them, so I think it’s going to be fine but we’ve got computers and other things up on stage that fail constantly or are very prone to fail more than we are so I get nervous for that. I get nervous for the technology.

For those who unfortunately haven’t managed to see you live , what can we expect from your live shows?

Josh: People screaming weird things… Well for somebody who’s never seen us before it’s hard to describe. But there just two of us; it’s Tyler and I. I play drums, he plays a piano and sings and raps and runs around and looks really cool. I think that from the very beginning when we started, just him and I, we were very self conscious about the fact that there is just two of us on stage and a lot of times you see bands that have four to sometimes seven or eight guys on stage so you think when you narrow it down to just two people you wonder if that maybe sometimes sucks out the energy a little bit.

We’ve tried since the very beginning to be as energetic as we possibly can because I don’t think that a group of people are going to try and be more energetic than you are – so if we can be as energetic as possible then that will encourage people to join in. If we’re just going nuts by ourselves that’s fine; we’ll do that. I think that people want to feel like they’re part of something and I think ten years ago it was really cool to just go see a band that was just really cool and they just stood there and played their instruments and you watched them do that, but now more kids are kind of ADD. And with social media, where you feel more connected with people or bands, I think people expect to be a little bit more a part of something and feel involved. We’re still trying to figure out how to do that best.

You already do it amazingly well! Looking to the future; there have been rumours about a new album. Can you tell us anything about it?

Josh: Well… it’s sweet.

Tyler [vocals, piano]: We’re always working on stuff so there’s nothing we’re really able to talk about right now. I think it’s still in the conceptual stages but I’m really glad we didn’t start out doing a specific style of music because then it kind of frees us up to do whatever we want. I hope everyone who’s supporting us now will continue supporting us in the changes; it wont be one of those like dramatic, over-the-top, forceful changes, it’ll make sense with our growth I think.

2013 was quite a big year for you; you released Vessel globally, toured internationally and supported major bands like Fall Out Boy on tour. How was it for you?

Josh: Well it was cool. I mean I would say that we learned a lot in 2013, whether it’s headlining our own tours – which we did – or opening up for bands. Both are very interesting and there’s a lot to be learned and to try and perfect, I guess. On a headline tour, from night to night every show’s different, you notice different people and different types of crowds and these are definitely drastically different from shows where we go and open for a band. You learn a lot through that. It was really cool to have the opportunity to both open for bands that are a bit further along in their careers than us – that’s a cool experience – and it’s fun to be able to have our own shows where we can kind of be in control of everything that’s happening on stage and what things look like, how much time we have and all those things.

You get interviewed a lot; what is the most common, and most irritating question you get asked in interviews?

Tyler: Err… that one? [laughter]
Josh: I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question.
Tyler: Yeah I think that’s the first.

I mean I know you get asked about the band name a lot?

Tyler: The band name… we get the band name a lot.
Josh: I think when people ask who our inspiration is, or what music we grew up listening to, just because it’s so hard to answer that question; we grew up listening to so much stuff.
Tyler: She folds her paper up because she has those questions written down next. [laughter]Yeah, I absolutely hate that question.
Josh: Yeah it’s hard. And then I think that we’ve talked about it before and I think that when people ask that question I think that they’re kind of really searching for…
Tyler: People to credit.
Josh: Yeah.
Tyler: It’s not like we’re above giving people some credit for influencing us but the amount of time that you have in an interview – to just crank out like three names real quick just to give all the credit…
Josh: If I told you I grew up listening to Michael Jackson then people would listen to the album and be like ‘yeah this is heavily influenced by Michael Jackson’ just because I said that. That’s not really what we’re trying to go for so… I don’t know; that one’s tough to answer. Also, just because we really grew up listening to so many different artists or bands.
Tyler: You’d be surprised how many interviews start with ‘so tell me about yourselves’ or ‘who are you?’; how do you answer that? [laughter]

So you guys are on Spotify. Do you find it helpful or harmful? I know there’s a lot of debate going on about money going to bands and money going to Spotify; do you guys agree with it?

Tyler: I would say we’re pretty big advocates of Spotify; we’ve partnered with them a few times, like playing shows that they’ve promoted. Josh is doing a few blogs for them.

Josh: Well, I put together some playlists for them. I think we’ve kind of created like a relationship with them. I actually pay the ten dollars a month for it because I think what’s cool is that it’s such a good resource for people to find new music now and test it out; you’re not committed to going and buying something.

I know you can go on iTunes and click to hear a preview of each song and you get like a minute or you get a pretty long preview but it’s not really enough. I like to go and listen to the whole thing and then probably buy it on iTunes if I really like it and then it’s on my phone and my computer, so I think it’s really cool. We’ve never really focused too much on how much money’s coming in on album sales and things like that. For us, it’s more about just getting people to listen to it.

Tyler: We want people to know the songs for the shows. So protesting the way that cultures consume music is such a waste of time. It’s just the way that it is. To have an opinion on it is just a waste of breath. As long as music is still out there and alive.

So, I asked on Tumblr if any fans had any questions they’d like me to ask you, I got a number of different responses; do you prefer to eat ice cream or cake?

Tyler: CAKE!
Josh: I would go ice cream, I think.
Tyler: Yeah that’s why we’re a band together.
Josh: I’m the ice cream, he’s the cake. You get the whole thing with us.

Josh, I had various people ask what you had on your tattoo sleeve; does it have a meaning behind it?

Josh: Yeah it does. It represents what I believe. I can tell you but all the tattoos we have are really quite a conversation piece. I could write a blog.
Tyler: We don’t really like to answer it in interviews because it’s meant to be more one-on-one.
Josh: But it’s not necessarily really a direct answer, it’s more of a conversation. It makes more sense face to face.
Tyler: So if you would turn your phone off we’d be happy to answer it.

I better turn it off then! Thank you so much for your time and good luck tonight!

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Head of Events for The Edge magazine. Keen concert goer and angry feminist. Shared recycled oxygen on a 12 hour flight with Foals.

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