Photo by Lindsey Byrnes
Last Friday, the duo of Josh Dun and Tyler Joseph—known to the world as twenty one pilots—had quite the magnificent homecoming when they sold out the Schottenstein Center, located on the Ohio State University campus in Columbus, Ohio. The duo were flanked by two LED screens (each topped with a banner reading WELCØME HØME) and shored up with what could be best described as quick-cut “video sculpture,” giving the 14,000-strong crowd a performance that synergized the exuberance of a full-on rock ’n’ roll show with the celebration and abandon of the ultimate EDM event. Many of the “skeleton clique” faithful showed up with their hands and throats covered in Blurryface black, in homage to the name Joseph gave both his new album and his new anxieties. The very fact that twenty one pilots sold out an arena show the same night the Planet’s Biggest Pop Star was playing across town (rhymes with Whaler Drift), is more than enough evidence to convey the duo’s love for their hometown, and the city’s massive, reciprocal admiration.
Post-show, Dun and Joseph got lost in a celebratory revelry of family, close friends, fans and business associates before heading off to the next night’s show in Detroit. Jason Pettigrew was fortunate to get a smidgen of face time with them in their dressing room to get their take on nothing less than the biggest headlining show of their career—thus far…
So how are you feeling now? Spent? Pumped? Reaching catharsis?
JOSH DUN: [exhaling deeply.] A combination of all of those things. It’s weird: When we start a tour, the first show of every tour is in Columbus for some reason. And that’s terrifying, because we’ll add new things and switch things up, and to test them out in our hometown is scary for us.
TYLER JOSEPH: This has been the first time we’ve been able to play a [Columbus] show deeper into the tour and we’ve felt more ready than we’ve ever been for a hometown show. Before the set, Josh and I were talking. We know every venue in this city and we’ve done them. [Tonight’s show] doesn’t really make sense, when you zoom out and look at the trajectory. Josh and I just looked at each other [onstage] and it was like, “There are two guys onstage playing these songs and it’s crazy that there are this many people who got behind it, believed it and made those songs mean something to them.” Without being disrespectful about it, it just doesn’t seem to make sense. Right after that thought, we’re lucky to be in this spot. Then after that, we’re glad to know we have what it takes. [Laughs.]
DUN: I realize that Tyler is the greatest frontman of all time. [Joseph laughs.] So it made sense to me why we’re ready.
JOSEPH: And I realized that Josh has the greatest frontman of all time in his band. [Dun laughs.]
DUN: But it was also very emotional. I like connecting with people. I try to look at one person [in the crowd] every night. Just look at him in the eyes and try to think about their story or life or whatever. But I don’t know them. And the difference with that—and tonight—is that there are people in the room that I do know very well. So when people ask if we get nervous for shows, I tell them, “I don’t, really, unless my parents are there.” And I’ve got musician friends here, too. Not that I would ever do this, but it would be very easy to look at a group and be like, “I don’t know any of these people.” At the end of the night, I feel like I do know everybody, [but tonight I was walking into a room where I know people and I know the expectations they have.] And every time, my parents are like, “What do you have planned new this time? What’s gonna be sweet? Is it gonna be sweeter than last time or should I just stay home?” [Laughter.]
Your parents are as brutal as critics!
JOSEPH: I would say that one of the defining moments for me was about midway through the set, I will walk down into the audience and drop down into the pit. Every town, every city we play in, there’s always a different response each time I approach them. In Asia, when you approach an audience, they back up, [as if to ask] “Are you trying to get somewhere?” They are respectful in that regard. Then there are places where kids are fighting each other and hitting each other to get to the spot. I appreciate that intensity of the moment. Tonight was different than any other night: When I went down there, everyone knew I was going to walk towards them and stand on top of them. They were ready, arm-in-arm. There was this one kid I know I have stood on seven times now here in Columbus, and he was still in the middle of that pit, right there…
JOSEPH: Beachmaverick82: I only know him from his Instagram. Beach was there! When we were playing small venues to 10 or 20 people, he discovered us and he’s been going to shows ever since. That was a cool moment for me: To sit down, approach the pit and see how they weren’t going to let us fall. Whatever it was we had planned, [the crowd] was going to make it happen. That is something I will always remember about this show.
DUN: This was the most fun night of my life. And then 10 minutes after we finished it, we said, “Let’s go to Detroit tomorrow and do it again!” [Laughs.] In a way, even though we’ve been doing this nonstop for the past four or five years now, it sunk into us: This is what we get to do every night. And there’s something special about the hometown show, but I get to look forward to the next couple of months of being able to do this again.
JOSEPH: When Josh and I first interacted, we talked [about playing the Schottenstein Center. It represents a place where people are doing great things.] I don’t know how else to describe it: When you grow up around here, that’s the place. Going back to the first time Josh and I talked, I can confidently say what happened tonight was a dream of ours and we accomplished it.
You actually talked about it in the legendary first conversation you had that lasted until 6 the next morning?
JOSEPH: Yes. That conversation. I don’t know what happens after that. It’s a little bit scary. But at the same time, Josh and I step off the stage, we were like, “That was an amazing moment. But we can get better than this. Next time we’re in this position, we can do this better and transition it this way…” A lot of people will tell us it can never be perfect, but Josh and I are striving to get better. Even after playing our dream show, we’re thinking about next time we do a show like that, what will we do different? We thought we reached the pinnacle, but there’s always room to get better.
You guys. It won’t ever stop for you, will it?
DUN AND JOSEPH: [in unison] Hope not. alt