Interview: twenty one pilots
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Beginning their muscial experimentations in a basement studio, twenty one pilots have shaken the creation of music well and truly to its core.
Front man, Tyler Joseph, talks to The National Student about working with his bandmate Josh Dun, how embracing technology has revolutionised music and why a songwriter can never been too much of a drama queen.
How did you start out as a band?
I never really had lessons but my mum got me a keyboard for Christmas when I was younger and because I was much more interested in athletics and sports I just put that keyboard in the closet.
Then one year, I decided to pull it out and experiment with it and figure out if I could play it just for fun. Then I became addicted to it, figuring out chords on my own and realising that this little key here and this one here, I press them at the same time and they sound good together. I gathered a basic understanding of the keyboard and the piano. And one of the first songs I ever played on the piano was my own. So, I was very drawn to creating my own songs right away and I started writing right off the bat and trying to get better at it ever since.
So, do you write your lyrics before you start the music, or vice versa?
That’s a very good question. I usually make the music first because now I have a small studio in my basement where I can lay down my thoughts musically when it comes the progression and then I usually come up with a melody and then fit the lyrics to that song.
But, sometimes I also like to write poetry a lot so I’ll create a song musically and then fit the poetry with that. I’m mostly inspired by chord progression and song structure and the lyrics kind of come after that. A lot of the time, the music can inspire the lyrics depending on what the music is saying. I know that sounds all very dramatic but I am a song writer and a dramatic guy!
You push the boundaries of genre. Do you agree that you fit into a self defined genre in a way?
You know, as a song writer, I wouldn’t ever want someone to listen to 30 seconds to one of our songs and then say “oh ok, I get it” and then just turn away. I wouldn’t want to listen and anticipate what happens next, that doesn’t sound interesting to me at all. As much as I understand how some bands and song writers like to stay in one certain genre and try to create different versions of the same music they have been creating for years, for me I would like to catch someone off guard before the song goes. So, yeah I’m influence by so much and a product of a generation of kids that have the ability to get their hands on any style of music. I know it’s hard to put us in a certain genre, but if that means we are starting a new one, then I’m on it.
Your first label-signed album, Vessel, is released in June. What themes are most prevalent on the record?
I write from a very introspective, perspective, which is very much a view inside of what it is that I am going through at the moment. I know that are a lot of people who write songs about love because I feel like music is a catalyst to getting your emotions going and a lot of time humans believe that love is the most powerful emotion there is. I tend to not agree with that and I think that there is another emotion that is equally as powerful, if not a little bit more power; the emotion of fear. I’ve seen a lot of people in love or that love someone or love something that can get psyched out of it because of fear. So, a lot of this album has to do with dealing with fear and the power of fear and trying to find hope, peace and redemption at the end of and inside of that fear.
Again, I know that sounds very dramatic. It’s one of the best feelings because as a songwriter it’s almost like permission to take the first step forward in trying to say something. And then when I pick to emit this message that I’m trying to say and I feel that other people are resonating with what I am trying to say and I feel that message bounce off of them and echo back at me. Sometimes literally, at shows, this happens I get the amazing feeling that I’m not alone and that’s a great feeling to have in a world where there is a lot of fear.
As a band, you are well known for your lively, energetic gigs. How does the transition from the recorded tracks to live tracks happen? Do you have to change the tracks in anyway?
That’s a good question. When you listen to our songs, one might think that I wrote the songs and programmed the songs and was like “oh gosh, I need to figure out how to do this live”. But it is very much the opposite. I think a lot of the time, some of these ideas and the different energy that you find out of the track was born in the live setting. We started the project with the intent of playing live and as much as we try to recreate what the track sounds like on CD for a live performance, at the same time when we are trying to record we want to capture that energy that we’ve always had live. Both aspects of our music are trying to chase after each other and there’s a back and forth of, hopefully, something that has never been seen before.
We utilise technology; in today’s age, if a kid came up to me and asked me any advice when it comes to starting a band or project, 1. Less numbers. The fewer bands members the fewer fallouts. And 2. Utilise the technology that’s given to you to hone in so that you can create that perfect experience live. For us, sometimes, it means that using computers and different ways in filling out our sound so it frees me up as a front man to conduct the crowd and allow them to be part of it. Hopefully, by the time the show ends, they’ve completely forgotten there is a computer aiding us in our pursuit of giving them the best experience they’ve ever since. They quickly forget about that because they realise that us as a band, as just two people, it’s an invitation for them to be part of the show and part of the band with us. We would really be nothing without their participation.
How did your first gig in the UK go and how have you found breaking the industry here?
Honestly, whenever I do interviews in the States, I come across very cocky and full of myself because in one aspect I truly believe that we are good enough to be where we are. But when I come over here and I’m just this giddy little fan boy because I’ve always dreamt of playing a show here and I grew up watching videos and listening to other bands that have come out of the UK and thinking ‘man if I can just play music over there’ and not even assuming that anyone would like my music, but if I could just get over there and play! For us to get here and see that there was a room full of people who knew every word to every song on the album that hasn’t even really been released yet over here, it was an amazing feeling. Honestly, I’m not even lying when I say this, but I’ll never forget it.
Looking at the YouTube video for 'Holding On To You', and many viewers are debating the likeliness of your voice to Eminem. I was just wondering how you feel about this?
I don’t really listen to him and I never really have, which is interesting. I look at it this way; I think there are a lot of people that consider themselves rappers or hip hop artists or whatever they want to call themselves. I feel like it really comes from a rap from an angle of wanting to prove something. You see a lot of the hip hop culture is these rappers trying to prove something. I’m not really trying to prove anything. I’m just trying to say something. I feel like that gives it a little bit of different twist. Honestly, I don’t even consider myself a rapper; what happened was that I was writing so much poetry, I had so many words and I wanted to put it into one song. I don’t know if you’ve ever opened up a pamphlet inside of a CD and look at the lyrics of one of your favourite songs and realised “wow, there’s only like a paragraph of lyrics” and see how little the amount of words are in a full song, because it’s being sung and words are being drawn out.
So, when I wrote a full page of poetry, I was like “ok, here are the lyrics to the song that I want to write” and found it was way too many words. I found myself just saying the poetry, obviously in tempo and realizing that I was then doing what it is what they call rapping. I never set out to be a rapper and I found the art form of rap is the most effective way of trying to say something and trying to do this with my music is very important to me. So, I’m a white guy that is saying words very fast and I apparently sound like Eminem. In one way, it’s a compliment but in another sense, I think there are people that truly understand why we are making music and kind of hopefully doesn’t make a lot of sense by comparing me to him.
Who inspires you and who inspires the band’s music?
I’ve always found that if I was to answer that question with just three bands or people, it just sounds like I accredit all of my influence to those three. It kind of narrows the scape of everything. I have so many influences and I’m not really influenced by one particular band or artist, especially not his or her full body of work. I’m influenced by certain melodies, songs, music videos, live performances and the list goes on and on. My parents are both teachers and they teach in high school. They ask the students who they are listening to these days and truly the question is overwhelming because if you look at the device in which people listen, whether it’s an iPod or a phone, there is no three people that they are listening to, it goes all over the place and I would definitely consider myself as one of them that’s just so all over the place that I wouldn’t even be able to spit out a few.
What’s the target for the band for the rest of this year? Will you be coming back to the UK?
Absolutely. I think that we are coming back this year and I am making sure that we do early summer. I’ve told my manager, the label and booking agents I’ve managed to meet over here, that “listen, I want to give you guys everything you need for us to be able to come back over here and get our feet wet in the market”. There’s this sense of legitimacy to gaining a following over here. If that would happen to us, again this sounds very dramatic, but if England and the UK would have us, I want to be their band. I’m very much wanting them to accept that and we are going to work so hard for it.
Vessel is out 3rd June 2013.