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In its purest form music acts as a conduit of self-expression that’s free from the conventions of society and that spirit of fearlessness lies at the core of twenty one pilots, a group whose musical vision is completely their own. Over the past few years the duo of front man Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun have built a hardcore following that seems primed to reach a fever pitch with the release of their Fueled By Ramen debut Vessel.
“The first song I ever played on the piano was my own. I never took any lessons,” Joseph responds when asked about his musical background. “I looked at the piano and realized that music was a way of being able to say something; the phrase I always use is that ‘music is a vessel’ and that’s where the album title comes from.” Before long Joseph was writing and recording his own demos in his basement and twenty | one | pilots was born.
The Columbus, Ohio-based band started out like most acts but instead of aimlessly touring they concentrated on their hometown base and before long they were selling out huge local venues like Newport Music Hall despite the fact they only had two self-recorded releases available. “Every show we play our hearts out because where we come from you have to grab people's attention and make sure that they never forget you,” Joseph says. “In our case we were able to build up a fan base- one that walked with us to grab the attention of the music industry outside of our hometown eventually opening up the doors that have led to so many opportunities to take our music around the world on what is an amazing journey.”
The duo’s ability to build up this local base was confirmed when the band sold out the 2,300-capacity LC Pavilion last April to announce that they were signing to Fueled By Ramen, after being courted by over a dozen labels. That’s right, there was no fancy marketing or gimmickry that lead to twenty one pilots’ rise, it was based solely on the organic relationship they cultivated with their fans via their music, live performances and online content. “To our fans we say we never got our big break, you created our big break. Thank you,” Joseph says.
For Vessel the band entered a real studio for the first time ever with Grammy nominated producer Greg Wells (Weezer, Adele) to craft an album which merges elements of hiphop, indie rock and punk in a way that’s so seamless that you’ll be rapping along one minute and caught up in a lush orchestral line on a song like “Car Radio” in the next minute. “We’re not trying to consciously do something different but we’ve just never emulated any other bands” Joseph explains. “We’ve never fit into any particular scene so we figured we would just make our own.”
From the impossibly catchy groove of “Semi-Automatic” to the high-energy hip-hop of “Holding On To You” and the ambient electronic experimentation of “Trees,” Vessel is a complex collection of songs that shows why twenty one pilots are the latest addition to Fueled By Ramen’s extremely selective roster. “‘Ode To Sleep’ is a song I'm really proud of because it’s really odd when it comes to structure; it challenges the listener,” Joseph explains. “Ultimately I think those are the types of moments that make our fans really connect to our music.”
Sounding so unique was never an obstacle for twenty one pilots early on; in fact it has been a trait that has endeared them to their fans. “I don't think there are a lot of bands that can play a hardcore show one night or a hip-hop show the next night and know that it will work,” Dun explains, adding that the band’s live performances have always been integral to the act. “We want our fans to leave all of their problems at the door and immerse themselves in the music, the moment, when we perform live,” he adds. “In the end it’s a giant release for everybody.”
“We went from not having a glimmer of hope to all of the sudden having the opportunity to leaveColumbusand make a record and that’s something that we’re never going to take for granted,” Joseph summarizes. “The songs on Vessel represent who we are and now we get to take this collection of songs, this body of work, to the world,” he continues. “It is not a short term thing for us, we’re planning on being around for a long time.”