Josh Dun of Twenty One Pilots: ‘I love getting together with people and letting music unify us’

Twenty One Pilots

Twenty One Pilots

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In their homeland of America, musical duo Twenty One Pilots are officially A Big Deal.

Their second official album, Blurryface, hit the top of the Billboard charts on its release and, helped by the success of singles like Tear In My Heart and Stressed Out, it has so far sold more than half-a-million copies in America.

Their idiosyncratic style, which refuses to be pinned down to a single genre, has been dubbed ‘schizoid pop’.

And this summer they will embark on their biggest US trek to date – a 58-date arena tour of the US, many of which are already sold out, including two nights at the tour’s finale in the prestigious Madison Square Gardens in New York.

On this side of the pond they may not be as big, but things aren’t looking too shabby here either. They’re currently in the UK on a six date tour which has included two sold-out nights at Brixton Academy and finishes at Portsmouth Guildhall on Monday.

The duo, comprised of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, have come a long way since their beginnings in Columbus, Ohio – some distance from any of America’s traditional music business hubs.

Speaking to WOW247 from Columbus, Josh explains how, in the early days of the band, their naivety about the music industry probably worked in their favour.

‘In the Midwest, there’s a little bit of a lull – we had no idea though, we were a little bit ignorant of that.

‘When we started we thought we had just as much chance as anybody else of making it in the music business. I didn’t know how we’re going to do it, but our own ignorance has kind of played to our advantage there.

‘After a little while of calling bars and clubs and booking ourselves, we ended up having a friend who was an aspiring booking agent.

We’d never been the band who would stay in the dressing room the whole time or backstage while everyone else was playing. We’re always watching, digesting and learning and we still try to do that as much as possible

Josh Dun of Twenty One Pilots

‘We were like, help us book some shows, but even our friend had no idea what shows to put us on, because stylistically we’re kind of all over the place. We would play on a hardcore (punk) bill or underground hip-hop bill, we’d play anything and everything.’

As they honed their act with numerous gigs around Columbus, they also put out a pair of self-released albums that brought them to the attention of the major-label subsidiary Fueled By Ramen.

But it was that eclectic booking practice that proved to be formative for the young act.

‘It definitely helped shape our style and helped shape our live shows in a lot of ways. We’d play with a lot of styles and types of artists or bands and musicians. We’d learn a lot from every show.

‘We’d never been the band who would stay in the dressing room the whole time or backstage while everyone else was playing. We’re always watching, digesting and learning and we still try to do that as much as possible.

‘I think we found ourselves using and blending all of those things in together.’

The pair are also renowned for putting on a proper show when they play live, as Josh explains: ‘We both have always kind of been interested in and drawn to theatrics and what happens on stage, so introducing some quote-unquote theatrics is what we do.

‘We take some elements from theatre, and with just two of us on stage we naturally feel like we need something more than just a drum kit and a piano up there. Trying to add different elements to it is a goal of ours.’

While the pair don’t play Christian music per se, the two were both brought up in religious households and still keep their faith. In Dun’s home video games were banned, as was most rock and rap music, which led the drummer to act out in his teens.

When he talked about this in other interviews, it was a measure of how unlike your stereotypical rockstar Dun is that he called his parents to explain.

‘Yeah, I actually called my parents after some articles came out – I never wanted for them to be painted in a bad light.

‘I’m so thankful for the way that I was raised. Ultimately, the idea of parents being strict or having rules, looking back, I did have a really rebellious phase and did whatever I could to do the opposite of what they wanted.

‘That’s all on me. For them, I think they were trying to do their best to raise me as best they could. They were trying to make the best decisions for me, and looking back I can see they were the right decisions.

‘As I look at the rules I had, I wasn’t allowed to play video games or watch TV, so I went outside and made up games with my neighbourhood friends or built dirt ramps and rode our bikes over them.

‘I would be out from morning to night. I look at that, and I can’t imagine it if my parents had let me sit in and watch TV all day – I’d be a different person to who I am today, it’s thanks to them saying ‘‘get out and go do something’’.’

Although Columbus is still very much the Pilots’ base, Josh actually moved out to LA a couple of years ago in pursuit of more sunshine while Tyler remained there.

However, he says it hasn’t made them working together any more difficult.

‘I’m equally in Columbus as much as I am there. We discussed this a lot before I moved out there.

‘I always feared talking about us being in different places because I think that can be confusing to people from an outside standpoint - like are you guys still friends? Are you still in the band? We had so many conversation about logistics, but first of all, we’re together more than we’re not together over the course of a year.

‘We’re on the phone every day and with technology, it’s so easy to get things done.’

Now that they are starting to enjoy the trappings of their success, Josh displays a characteristic mix of humility and self-belief in what they have achieved.

‘On one hand we’re both very grateful and sort of humbled by what this has turned into. We sometimes look at each other and say: “I can’t believe that we’re playing in arenas in the US”, and even the size of the venues in the UK.

‘And the other side of it is that from day one when Tyler and I sat down in his house in Columbus, when we first met and talked about playing music together, there was this belief that both of us had, not necessarily in ourselves, but this thing that’s bigger than ourselves.

‘The goal and the vision was more to get put in front of as many people as possible, not to try and be like rockstars, but because we believe in the music and what it stands for.

‘I believe that it can happen and that anybody as an artist or in a band should believe that it can happen because it’s your dream and you should have big dreams.’

And how have they found coping with the fame?

‘There’s a weird psychology involved. It’s weird thinking at first about the potential of it happening, and if and when it does happen you’re reminded it’s possible for things to shift a little bit. I was always kind of worried that if we did see success, I would start hating what I do or it would start feeling like a job.

‘But I’ve always wanted to play drums and now I’m able to do that pretty much on a nightly basis. That’s what I love the most, getting together with people in a room and letting music unify us – I know that sounds really dramatic but it’s a really cool experience and something that I won’t get tired of for a while yet.’

n Twenty One Pilots are at Portsmouth Guildhall on Monday. Doors 7pm.

Tickets £18.15. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk

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