10 things you probably didn’t know about twenty one pilots’ ‘Blurryface’ era
Not much gets by the Clique, but there was plenty that unfolded during the ‘Blurryface’ era that even the most dedicated twenty one pilots fan could’ve missed.May 17, 2020
You discovered Dema at the end of the Blurryface era and have followed along with Clancy’s letters. And with countless music video theories throughout twenty one pilots’ career, it’s clear not much gets by the Clique. However, with the band’s breakout album turning five, we thought we’d give it a shot.
Plenty has unfolded from the “Fairly Local” kickoff to two years later when the metaphorical eye shut on the era. Head below for some of the things you might’ve missed (and are just worth revisiting) during the Blurryface era.
1. They wrote most of the album while on the road.
TOP weren’t wasting any time preparing for their second major-label release. Still fulfilling touring commitments for Vessel, the duo outfitted the rear lounge of their touring coach as a recording studio. “Every night we were able to start playing two different people—that person who got up on stage every night and then that person who went back in that lounge and started writing songs,” Tyler Joseph told Billboard. “So we were able to ask ourselves every night, ‘What do we wish our set had?’ We look at songwriting very much through the filter of live music, so we wrote whatever we loved and what we felt our live set needed. Looking back on this new record as a whole, you can tell we were really influenced in that way.” The plan was to seek out certain producers who excelled in their chosen genres. To that end, Blurryface features the work of pop-master Ricky Reed (Travis Mills, Meghan Trainor, Jason Derulo), Dr. Dre protege Mike Elizondo (Eminem, Mastodon, Carrie Underwood), Mike Crossey (the 1975, LANY, YUNGBLUD) and Tim Anderson (Billie Eillish, Halsey, Solange Knowles).
2. Blurryface isn’t actually a concept album start to finish
Their first Fueled By Ramen release Vessel clearly propelled TOP into the rock universe. At first glance, it looked like the title Blurryface was a commentary on how fast things were moving in Joseph and Josh Dun’s world. Navigating their art and the demands of the music business was a whole new experience for them. So while it certainly looked and felt like a concept album, it was truly nothing of the sort.
“I wouldn’t say this was a concept album where a story begins with the first song and the last song ends the story” Joseph explained to AltPress in issue 323. “I describe [Blurryface] as a guy I met in a different dimension. This is gonna sound really dramatic, but that’s the way it is: He represents everything I am insecure about.
“For me, there are a lot of different areas I know I’m insecure about but I need to know how to react [to those things],” Joseph continues. “It helps me to give my insecurities a name and a seat at the table I can look across and address. He’s not a good guy, but he’s a guy I intend on conquering. He’s a guy I have to beat every day. The idea of creating something, making a song and having the courage to show someone that song is a form of defeating that insecurity. It helps me focus on areas of my life I don’t like.”
3. And “Lane Boy” is the song where Tyler Joseph broke character
The video for “Lane Boy” is pretty on-brand for the Blurryface era. Joseph has the trademark black paint smeared across his hands and neck, and there are two people in hazmat suits in the white and red aesthetic of the album dancing in the background—a stint the band later took on the road. Despite this, it’s the one song where Joseph stepped away from the overall album concept to speak his mind. “I describe ‘Lane Boy’ as the moment where I broke character,” Joseph told AltPress. “Saying things that weren’t necessarily artistic or beautiful, but exactly what I wanted to say and exactly what I was feeling. I broke character and became a frustrated human. For a moment. I don’t imagine needing to say things like that anymore. I remember showing that song to some people and they said, ‘I don’t think you want to say that…’ And Josh said to me, ‘Let’s say it.’”
4. Tyler Joseph discovered reggae in Amsterdam and was hooked.
Two songs from Blurryface, “Lane Boy” and “Ride,” feature a reggae influence amidst Joseph’s electronic pop stylings. When touring through Europe in support of Vessel, they were playing a club in Amsterdam with multiple stages. After TOP loaded out their gear, Joseph watched a reggae band’s set and became enchanted with the music. He couldn’t tell you who was playing that night, but the experience encouraged him to throw himself into the genre. He discovered bands such as Steel Pulse and thereby expanded his personal musical horizons. “I’ve taken it upon myself to really study reggae and understand it,” Joseph told AltPress in issue 323. “It has a way of moving a track forward that doesn’t seem forced musically. [Hearing reggae] for the first time reminded me of when I first heard the song that made me want to learn to play the piano: the wedding song, Pachelbel’s ‘Canon In D.’ I love the way those notes rub up against each other.”
5. Tyler and Jenna practiced the “Tear In My Heart” fight scene
The bridge in “Tear In My Heart” (“You fell asleep in my car/I drove the whole time…”) was based on Tyler driving long hours back to Columbus from a family vacation trip while his future wife Jenna slept, leaving him to deal with all the madness of traffic. Fittingly, Jenna also appears in the song’s video cleaning her husband’s clock. Director Marc Klasfeld gave the Josephs a 30-second choreographed clip of the fight scene and had them re-enact it. “It was really late at night when we got it,” Jenna remembers in AltPress issue 329. “I’m sure the people around our hotel were like, ‘What are they doing in there?’” At the actual shoot, Tyler told her not to worry and just go for it. “The very first time I had to fake-throw him, he just took it. There were definitely moments where I could feel that I hit him so hard. He definitely got bruised that day.”
6. They made a video and got paid to hang out with their families
Upon Blurryface’s release, the band were touring extensively. When it came time to create the video for massive hit “Stressed Out,” the duo had been feeling the homesickness. (Consider that lyric from “Polarize”: “I wanted to be a better brother, better son/Wanted to be a better adversary to the evil I have done/I have none to show to the one I love.”) The band and creative director Mark Eshleman scheduled a window of time to return to Columbus to shoot the video, but more importantly, to be with their loved ones. “What’s sad is that right before this tour, our bus came and picked us up at my parents’ house,” Joseph told AltPress in 2015. “My mom said to me right before I got on the bus, ‘You can call me sometime if you want to.’ And I’m like, ‘Mom! You can call me!’ And she says, ‘I don’t want to bother you.’” The moment was not lost on Joseph.
7. The album packaging is meant to represent the many layers of Blurryface
In an age of streaming, physical media is often tossed to the wayside. However, if you were one of the few, the proud and the emotional who shelled out for a Blurryface CD or vinyl, then you probably already know this one. twenty one pilots recruited graphic artist Brandon Rike to bring their vision to life for the album’s packaging. Shortly after its release, Rike explained the inspiration behind it, which stemmed from conversations with Joseph. Rike got into the mind of Blurryface by way of Joseph’s descriptions and developed a multi-layered package. “You may buy the album in the store that looks seemingly simple, but as you explore it, you soon find out how conflicted and complicated it all is,” he explains. The artist also gave their Vessel era logo a revamp and kept the Skeleton Clique in mind, calling it “a simple ode to a dedicated fanbase.” Instead of the thick, connected bars, Blurryface ushered in thinner lines so fans could easily recreate it online: I-/.
8. The band weren’t originally supposed to perform with A$AP Rocky at the VMAs
The one thing that all award shows have in common is “the get.” Who is the elusive superstar to come out of hiding? Who can you get to reunite? The most common get is the collaboration of artists you would’ve never considered. Producers invited TOP to perform at the 2015 Video Music Awards with a big-shot artist who was the new hotness at the time. The duo weren’t feeling the producers’ choice and respectfully declined. “There was an artist they mentioned, and we said ‘Thank you, but we’re going to pass. It doesn’t make sense for us for a number of reasons,’” Joseph told AltPress in issue 329. “And we thought that was it: We had blown our chance to play the VMAs—and it’s gone forever. But it was a good decision and it made sense.”
Decisions like this have been known to impact careers. The producers probably weren’t used to that kind of stance, so they went back to TOP suggesting A$AP Rocky. “I started diving into what he’s all about, and although it’s very different from what we’re coming from, there was a like-mindedness,” Joseph continues. “It was one of the favorite moments of my career. Not because of what everyone saw, but just the learning process of working with another artist and working with the politics of what it means to work on a stage that big.” What could’ve turned out as career suicide ended up being one of the most high-spirited performances of that night’s event.
9. There could have been a twenty one pilots “big band.”
While touring during the Blurryface era, Joseph revealed to AltPress that he once considered putting together an expanded version of twenty one pilots with some of his favorite musicians. The idea obviously didn’t come to fruition. However, fans got a glimpse of the possibilities when they collaborated with Mute Math on the TOP X MM project. The moments of deconstruction the two bands created gave way to a six-piece band-blast version of “Heavydirtysoul.” This project may have influenced Joseph to explore his personal deconstructed versions of songs from Trench. Mute Math frontman Paul Meany adds another important reason for the collaboration. “Historically, both of our bands build shows on backing tracks,’” he told AltPress in issue 367. “The only caveat going into this—and it was quite liberating—was that there were no backing tracks for any of us. As a six-piece band, we were able to pull this off and make it sound as good as we could.”
10. It’s the first album to have every song certified by the RIAA and became the best-selling rock album of the decade
twenty one pilots aren’t exactly the Eagles (Tyler and Josh are so much cooler than that). But all the songs on Blurryface have been audited by the Recording Industry Association Of America to have achieved gold, platinum and/or multi-platinum status. The final certification of “Hometown” meant they were the first artist to achieve the coveted status, and then the Clique helped them do it again by getting every track off Vessel at least a Gold certification by July 2019. With more than 100 million streams on each Blurryface track on Spotify, they’re also the first group to do that. Blurryface has sold more than six million copies making it the best-selling rock album of the decade. To quote the band’s pantsless Grammy’s acceptance speech: “Anyone from anywhere can do anything.”