When Twenty One Pilots got tattooed on stage during a show in Columbus, Ohio two years ago in honour of their hometown fans, it was clear that Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun are guys who remember their roots.
They’re a band who got themselves a sizeable fan base before a major label record took notice and signed them up. First formed in 2009 by Joseph and two college friends, the duo only took shape in 2011 after Dun joined and the friends left because of busy schedules.
That same year, they self-released the band’s second album, Regional at Best, which contains the first versions of their bigger hits, including Car Radio, Holding on to You and Guns for Hands.
With Joseph’s powerful vocals and Dun on the drums, their music is highly energetic, combining catchy melodies and introspective lyrics influenced by their Christian faith. Months after the album’s release, they played a sold-out show to 1,700 people at Columbus’ Newport Music Hall and labels were scrambling to get them on board.
Just a year before that, though, they were only doing backyard shows for college kids.
Speaking to Young Post over the phone, Dun, 27, recalls his first performance with Joseph: “Tyler was like, hey can you play this show this weekend. It was very last minute. And I’m like, I think I can do it. I have to work - but I can just quit my job.” Dun says he knew he wanted to make music with Joseph the instance they met.
The first time the guys hung out, they stayed up all night talking about their musical visions. “When you’re talking about huge dreams it’s kind of a vulnerable and uncomfortable thing, especially with a stranger,” Dun says. “We’re on the same page about these things and I knew it was something I really wanna invest in.”
So Dun quit his job in order to play a backyard gig with Joseph. He had another performance in Wisconsin the day before, and had to drive through the night without sleep just to make it to the venue on time. “We set up all our gear in the corner of the backyard and it was probably 20 or 30 college kids,” says Dun. “One kid I almost got into a fist fight with because he almost peed on my drums three or four times.”
They were the last band to perform that night, and after one song the owner of the house told them to stop because the police complained of the noise.
Not discouraged, they continued touring in Joseph’s 18-passenger van, taking turns to drive and sleeping on the mattress in the back. Eventually, they moved on to bigger stages and could afford to stay in hotels. They’ve been featured on the line-ups of popular music festivals, such as Lollapalooza and the MTV Movie Awards last year, and recently performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Playing in big venues made Dun realise just how much he misses the smaller ones. “They’re unique and special because it’s a lot closer and personal. It’s just more about music and not so much kind of a bunch of lights and production,” he says.
It’s also in these smaller venues where they get the more rewarding experiences of hearing how their music inspired people. At an acoustic gig in a new music store, one kid came up to them and said they had inspired him to tell his best friend that he was gay.
In May, they released their fourth record, Blurryface, which tackles Joseph’s insecurities by manifesting them as a physical character. It also contains Tear in My Heart, a rare love song dedicated to Joseph’s wife, who he married in March this year.
For their last record Vessels, they put their grandfathers on the album cover. This time, they featured their parents and siblings in the music video for Stressed Out, which was shot in their childhood homes. “You look back on to when you are a kid, and all we had was our family,” says Dun.
“Wish we could turn back time to the good ol’ days/When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out,” sings Joseph in the song. However far they go, you know the guys will always have their hearts at home.
Twenty One Pilots will perform in Soundbox Hong Kong, at Kitec on July 21.
If you had to represent your insecurities as a physical character, what would it be like? Send your answer along with your name, age, school, address and phone number to [email protected] and you could win a pair of tickets to see Twenty One Pilots at their Hong Kong gig.