Everyone has been dealing with the pandemic differently. Some feel trapped in their own homes, others may be grateful for the break, still some make use of their sudden free time by baking, making and creating. For Twenty One Pilots, they’ve taken their experiences and translated it to song.
Things haven’t been all bad for the two members of the band as they’ve hit some meaningful milestones in their lives. Frontman Tyler Joseph became a father just last year while drummer Josh Dun married in 2019 on New Year’s Eve. And although the lockdown inadvertently shut down their touring aspect of the job, they’ve clearly utilised the Covid downtime to be productive.
Recently, the duo have debuted two new singles, “Shy Away” and “Choker” which are from their latest album, “Scaled and Icy”. This is Twenty One Pilots’ first album since “Trench” in 2018. As always, the two have spun a story and this apparently follows where “Blurryface” and “Trench” have left off.
Their latest album is a product of long-distance virtual sessions that find “the duo processing their upended routines along with the prevailing emotions of 2020 – anxiety, loneliness, boredom and doubt”. However, contrary to the overtly negative emotions felt, they’ve channeled it into something more positive. With a “more imaginative and bold approach” to songwriting, “Scaled and Icy” is “a collection of songs that push forward through setbacks and focus on the possibilities worth remembering”.
While “Trench” drew inspiration from the brain’s negative thoughts, their latest album cherishes creativity and imagination. It has yet to be fully released but it is certainly achieving that with the fans. The album’s cover art, a large blue dragon, has been sending them wild with theories about how it relates to everything. Many are also working on figuring out how “Scaled and Icy” ties in with “Trench”.
We got the opportunity to interview Twenty One Pilots to learn more about the idea behind “Scaled and Icy”, the making of “Shy Away” and some of the group’s favourite things.
1. We heard from Tyler’s interview with BBC that you recorded “Shy Away” with Josh being across the country, would you elaborate on that?
Tyler: Yeah, so, Josh was living in LA and I am currently in Columbus, Ohio, where we’re both from. And when we were working on the record, Josh lived all the way over there, and yet we still figured out a way to collaborate using video conferencing and screen sharing.
Sometimes it was tough, but other times it made things very smooth and we’ll always wonder what the songs would have sounded like if we didn’t collaborate in that way. But I think that they turned out really well.
2. In your latest single “Shy Away”, it starts with a cooing noise courtesy of your baby daughter. Has fatherhood changed how you view music? Would you want to incorporate more of your children in music making in the future?
Tyler: It’s a good question. So, like mentioned in the background of “Shy Away”, in the beginning you hear a noise and that’s actually my daughter. She’s a little over one years old, and I don’t know… I guess it’s changed the way I view music and the way in (which) I like to look for opportunities to add meaning to songs, and the simple fact that she, my daughter, Rosie makes a noise in the background and it’s a part of the song. In that sense, it’s made the song more important to me. And so yeah, in that way, it’s changed.
3. Your latest single is more upbeat with synth riffs than your previous works, why move towards this change of sound?
Tyler: (jokingly) Because why not? No, it’s a good question. I don’t know… I think that obviously, things are really tough, you know, on a global level, as far as the pandemic and, you know, at times very dismal and we recognise that it didn’t feel quite right to write a record that mirrored that reality. It felt more compelling and inspiring to write something that combated it and was the opposite of (it). And so, that’s why the record is very imaginative, it’s very colourful and very hopeful, and I think that it helped me get through this past year, and I hope that it can help some others as well.
4. What is the driving force behind the sound of Twenty One Pilots? I hear the connection between the new songs and your previous hits, but there’s an evolution in them as well. What makes for this evolving sound that stays true to your core?
Tyler: Oh man, that’s a tough one. I would say Josh and I grew up playing music on a local level with so many different types of bands. And so we were just greatly influenced by a lot of bands, not just bands we listened to, but bands we played with even when we first started. And I think the question that Josh and I always ask each other when making music is “Do we like this? Do you like this? Do I like this?” It’s really it.
Sometimes the evolution of what we do next is purely decided on whether or not we answer that question with, “Yes, we do like this, we enjoy this,”. And I think that you’d be surprised how many artists and bands out there don’t necessarily enjoy their own style of music. It’s just what it is that they do, but they kind of maybe listen to something else. That’s not the case for us, we make music that we like.
5. Is there any story behind the album cover’s artwork ? How does it relate to your music?
Tyler: What does it mean? This record represents creativity, and that’s why the songs and the artwork in the album cover and the colours— it’s a lot more colourful. We wanted to make sure that even though we felt confined to one space, you know, a lot of times we’re writing songs while travelling, while touring, and that wasn’t the case this time, we were kind of like most of the world, confined to one space. And I just wanted to make sure that Josh and I didn’t feel confined musically, and so we may be overcompensated and just to push those walls out.
We wrote something that was more colourful and more imaginative and this dragon really does represent that imagination. You know, to me, it was flying around the room, about to disintegrate me at any moment while I was making these songs. Something that intense can absolutely influence and keep you on your toes, in a reality that’s otherwise maybe a little bit dull. And so this dragon— his name is Trash— he was equal parts inspiration, equal parts fear, (and) in equal parts, magical. And I think that I wanted to tie the songs to something as powerful as that and that’s why it’s on the record.
6. Why did you choose the dragon to symbolise imagination in particular with this new era? Does it have something to do with your love for fantasy like “Lord Of The Rings” or “Game of Thrones”?
Tyler: Yeah, Josh and I, we love stories. I don’t know, I’m a sucker for stories. The word ‘scaled’ and ‘icy’ actually stands for ‘scale back’ and ‘isolated’, which is kind of how we all found ourselves this past year— scaled back and isolated. And so I took those two words that were very, I dunno, negative. And I tried to put a spin on it that was the opposite of (it), and when I thought of ‘scaled and icy’, which is shortened versions of the word scaled back and isolated, I just immediately thought of this dragon. And so he really brings home why we named the record “Scaled and Icy” and I think that when you listen to the full record, it’ll start to make sense.
7. Your album “Blurryface” was considered as the band’s breakthrough album. With your new album “Scaled and Icy” slated to come out this month, do you feel a certain pressure to match or even surpass the achievements achieved by “Blurryface” with the new one?
Josh: Yeah, I think you’re right. I mean, you know, we’ve technically been a band longer since before “Blurryface”, but you’re right. I think there were so many new people listening to that album and discovering our band through that album. And I think Tyler and I both know and understand that there’s really nothing that compares to when you first discover a band; that kind of feeling that you have and the tie emotionally. And so understanding that, I think, (can) already make it pretty difficult, and definitely put pressure on anything that you release after that because those people who have discovered you (are) invested kind of emotionally on that level.
Anything you put out after that is going to be judged a lot more critically, and I know that from experience, being on the other end. (I’ve seen) some of my favourite bands that I fall in love with, with an album, and then albums that they put out after that— I’m always just like, it just that first album was just something really incredible. But those bands that Tyler and I have always loved, that continue to put out music— You can just tell that they love music, love creating, and they love putting together an album and telling stories. Those albums; the more that we listen to them, the more we fall in love with those as well.
To go on a journey with a band is something really special. So while I do think that there is some pressure, because we understand that special connection with people’s first time listening to our band, it’s exciting to go on a journey of our own, and it’s exciting for us to try and grow musically and continue to try to outdo ourselves. You know with albums and concerts— I think this upcoming album is probably my favourite one of ours so far. And so I think that’s always a good sign, you know. I hope it’s you guys’ favourite too. But, we’ll find that out (shortly) I guess.
8. How do you think this latest album differs from your previous work musically?
Tyler: So, the last three records, including this one, was “Blurryface” and then “Trench” and now “Scaled and Icy”. As I look back on it, I realised how special “Blurryface” was for us as a record that we saw a lot of our success (from) during that album cycle. I think that (for) “Trench”, I wrote that record in a reaction to “Blurryface”. I wanted to prove something and Josh and I needed to, I guess, re-explain who we were, because of the story of “Blurryface” and how many people started to listen to it. It became a lot different than what we always envisioned so “Trench” was kind of a course correction, trying to compensate for how large “Blurryface” got.
Now I think while looking back on “Trench”, “Scaled and Icy” is a reaction to “Trench”, almost like we keep on going back and forth. And so I think each record builds on the other, not just with the story, but with (our) intention on how are we going to compensate for what it is we released previous. I think that our records greatly influence each other. And so, I don’t know exactly how it differs. I know that it did. It influences it, the last record. And I think as time goes by, I have distance between when you release songs, you can see that clearer. And so, I might have a different answer for that question several years from now, but for now, I just know that it’s still very fresh, and I know that in some way, it is influenced by our previous record for sure.
9. What are you trying to achieve with this album?
Josh: Honestly, the more that we continue to create music and put out albums, the more we can tour. So ultimately, that’s, you know, I feel that at least one of the goals with every record that we write is to be able to tour and play the shows, and hopefully, play them with you guys. So, one of the things that we hope from this record is that we can eventually tour and play them live but, we’ll see.
10. Your album’s title is an anagram of “Clancy is dead”, a reference to the protagonist of your previous album, “Trench”. How do you get ideas for working on this album that is related to your previous album? What is the biggest challenge you faced during the creative process?
Tyler: So, we’ve always loved writing a story inside of the music. We felt like it was really (a) exciting and inspiring thing to do, and some people would say that, because we have a narrative and a story in a world that we’ve created. The music communicates. Would that be tough to be able to write a certain type of song? Do you have to stay confined inside of that story?
I actually found that Josh and I have more freedom inside of it because it is our story and we can tell it any way that we want. And so it has been way (better) than bad when it comes to being able to tap into a story and a narrative to become inspired, and to write. Because we all know that sometimes the place that we truly are (at) may be a little bland and uninspiring so to let your imagination, your creativity, completely run free is very liberating and that’s why we’ve always written a story inside of all the songs.
11. Can you share any experiences of you playing live in any unforgettable place/event?
Tyler: What’s the place that we never forgot? Josh? I mean we… I think that… man.
Josh: Columbus, Ohio. That’s one.
Tyler: Yeah, I mean, we have travelled all over the world and instead of one particular country or culture or city that’s shocked (us) more than anything else, I think that the one thing that stands out is how similar the way people react to music is all over the world. It is truly a testament to how powerful music is. And we’ve played so many places. I think the one thing that we’ve walked away from when it comes to our touring career so far, is how we’ve been blown away by how powerful music can be. It doesn’t matter the culture, it doesn’t matter the country or the language. And I do remember going playing Fuji Rock. It was one of the first festivals that we played actually. If you can imagine, travelling all the way over there, from Ohio, and we played. I think we played Fuji Rock before any festival in the States too. It was like one of our first times really. So, we learned a lot from that experience.
12. When you released “Car Radio,” you’ve mentioned that silence stresses you out and causes anxiety if the radio is missing in the car. So, if you can steal one car radio from any artists you know, who would that be and why?
Tyler: Well, if I knew where it was, I’d steal my car radio back from from the jerk who stole it from me. He probably has it installed. It’s probably old at this point, but I still think that I should. He deserves me taking it back. If I couldn’t find out who that was, I guess… I don’t know— Josh, do you have a celebrity? I mean, maybe The Rock.
Josh: He’s got to have a good one.
Tyler: It would just be very exciting, knowing that if he found you, you would die. (It’s) very exciting and the adrenaline would be pumping while stealing The Rock’s car radio for sure.
Josh: Such a thrill.
13. How did you get the idea for the “Level of Concern” never-ending music video project on YouTube?
Tyler: Oh man. You know, I think that before us, the world record holder for (the) ‘never-ending music video’ was Pharrell with the song, “Happy”. He did a music video for like, 72 hours or something like that. And then we ended up beating it by, like, a half of a year. So, we set the bar pretty high, and I don’t know, it’s really cool. We got a Guinness Book of World Records for it, and it did end, so technically it’s not ‘never-ending’ but it’s the longest that’s ever happened.
I don’t know, we (were) looking for an opportunity for our fans to submit their own artwork. And we’re always looking for ways to highlight them and their talents because they’re such a talented group of people. And (for) this video, every time a song would end, a new version of it would happen and it would be new artwork, and new ways for the fans to see their stuff showcased. It just made sense for us and so that’s kind of how it came about.
14. What is your favourite form of ‘fan content’? For example, fan art, fan fiction, covers of your songs, etc.
Josh: I mean, like Tyler said, I think that fans of this band— I mean, bands say it but I really think that ours are the best and the most creative and talented. I mean, every day in some form, I think just going on social media and seeing artists on there just showcasing their work. And (there’s) so much artwork that’s themed to this band and are in this music. It’s so cool. And, we’ll get our art at our shows, sometimes. I actually have some artwork hanging up in my house from a fan that I got one time, and it’s just really cool.
I think that art (is) such an incredible thing because, you know, (there’s) me and Tyler playing music. But then, there’s people who (come and) there’s people (who) dance, people who do videos. And everyone has a different interpretation of (art) and different outlets, and I just respect how different that can all be. And all of that together— it’s just such a really, really cool thing. Yeah, I mean I think that our community (is) the best.
Tyler: My favourite is when I see someone pick up the ukulele for the first time because of our songs. It’s one thing to write something, or draw something or even, you know, maybe cover one of our songs, but to start a brand new instrument just because of us is really cool and so I always love seeing that.
15. With K-pop being so big around the world right now and more and more mainstream artistes lining up to work with them, would you guys consider collaborating with a K-pop act in the future? If yes, who?
Tyler: Oh man. I mean, first off, yes. If they would want to, I mean. Man that genre is kind of like king of the world right now, and that’s really exciting. I remember thinking when we went over to Japan and Korea, and (there was) just a lot of the Asian culture right away. Like I said before, that was the first places that we went outside of our country. Most bands would maybe go to, I don’t know Canada, or maybe Mexico and maybe Europe, or the UK, but for some reason our journey led us into Asian culture and it was something that greatly impacted us right from the beginning. And so, I remember when K-pop first started happening, Josh and I would nudge each other like, “Hey, we saw (like) pieces of this when we went over to Korea!” We saw it kind of happening before it really became the global hit that it was because we found ourselves going over there right at the beginning stages of it.
And yeah, we have a lot of respect for the genre, obviously. BTS is the biggest one that I know of; I know that there’s probably many other bands and groups from that genre, and, really, we would be down to work with any of them. I just think that it would need to be organic. It would need to feel natural, and hopefully if that were to happen, then it would end up with some sort of collaboration, but I never want to force anything. Josh and I, we usually don’t collaborate with artists. It’s usually our default because we really want to start a relationship and a friendship with that person and connect before writing songs, because writing music is such an intimate thing. But, if it were to happen with a K-pop band or a group, that would be fantastic.
16. Tyler, it sounds like you’re trying to coach your brother as he navigates the music industry. What are the pitfalls you’ve warned him about?
Tyler: Josh and I, we’re still very connected to our hometown. There’s a lot of people we rub shoulders with that are asking, “I want to start music. How do I do that, how do I get into (it)?” Sometimes, it’s hard to explain exactly how to recreate your own path. And so it’s very difficult to lay (it) out in (an) equation: ‘do this, this and this, and you’ll find success’.
I don’t know, I think that Josh and I, whenever we meet people who are interested in pursuing music, the only real thing we know to tell them is that they have to work hard. You have to work very hard, it’s a grind, it’s something you have to, you know, you have to eat music, drink music, sleep (while) listening (to) music— It just has to be everything about you in order to do it. That’s the only advice we really have.
17. Any message for your fans? We are celebrating Ramadan, which is a big festival here similar to New Year. It’d be great if you can say Happy Ramadan to them!
Josh: Hi from Tyler and I, Twenty One Pilots. We wanna say “Happy Ramadan” and we really hope to see you guys soon, and hope you’re doing well and staying safe.
Checkout the full album of “Scaled and Icy” when it drops on 21st May. If you’d like to listen to their music live, Twenty One Pilots will be holding their first ever-global streaming event on the same date at 8:00pm ET. In the meantime, keep jamming to “Shy Away” and “Choker”!
We’d like to warmly thank Warner Music Malaysia for giving us the chance to meet the duo virtually. We’re definitely looking forward to 21st May!