twenty one pilots aren’t ready to be a band who don’t play shows
Anybody who has ever attended a twenty one pilots show knows the score. Frontman/instrumentalist Tyler Joseph and drummer/programmer Josh Dun are all about making their gigs downright spectacles. Brimming with massive projections, flaming cars, multiple stages and multiple crowd excursions, the twenty one pilots live experience is a joyous celebration.
But when the planet became inundated with coronavirus, the first thing that screeched to a halt was live shows. Obviously, performing and touring are what keep bands and artists solvent. For Joseph and Dun, separating them from the world’s live stages is positively soul-destroying. Considering how much of their live concert involves connectivity (psychic, physical, other), choices need to be made. They must now take into consideration the safety of their fans, crew members and themselves.
The good news is that twenty one pilots are thinking about it. Hard. Both TOP stans and AP readers know Joseph has made constant rumination a keystone of his band. The duo have redressed a lot of accepted conventions regarding their career. Now they are facing the largest one yet. It’s uncertain whether Joseph and Dun are genuinely freaking out or moving fearlessly into the future. Because of everything they’ve accomplished so far, we’re going to go with the latter.
“Josh and I have definitely talked about it,” Joseph says. “How are we going to keep playing shows when it’s such an important fabric to this band? What does that look like now? It’s hard for me to even imagine playing a show at this point, which really bums me out.
“There are certain things that Josh and I hold very close. One of those is the album—the idea of a group of songs being released together. And who knows? Maybe that’ll become extinct. Then there’s also the idea of experiencing a live show with a bunch of people. What can be accomplished with a concert? I guess we haven’t really landed on how we feel about it, but it feels like it’s really hard to replicate the magic that could happen in a live show in any other way other than being at a show.”
The duo admit that the livestreaming-in-lockdown mode artists are taking is good for maintaining fan service. However, the energy of a crowd is paramount to twenty one pilots’ live grandeur.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling of a concert,” Joseph continues. “It’s not hard to describe a livestream of a concert. I don’t know the nuances of a live show: If we can’t even describe it, how do we tell that to a production team that’s going to help us accomplish that?
"We’ve talked about it. And right now it feels like it’s really hard to come up with an off-brand version of a concert.”
“I think there is definitely a desire and an intention to stand out a little bit, particularly within live performances,” Dun says. “There is this importance of adapting and looking at each situation a little bit isolated and trying to then figure out that situation for what it is. A lot of times it’s through the lens of, ‘What would we want to see if we were the spectator?’
“This is definitely a curveball that nobody saw coming in the world,” Dun resigns. “And we don’t really know when shows are going to come back and what that’s going to look like. But I think we both definitely want to take advantage of whatever we can to make sure that it’s still the best experience we think it can be.”
Joseph has wondered aloud if twenty one pilots can’t play shows, are they even a band? The duo are always making forays into the audience. Consider Joseph’s Where’s Waldo pop-ups in arenas to the drum duo during the nightly closer, “Trees.” How can they invite people in and still make them feel like they’re participating in it?
“I wonder,” Joseph says in a near-solemn tone. “Looking back, did we put those parts into our show to show them, ‘You’re here, and we’re going to use you to help us put on this show’? Or did we implement those parts of the show to assure that if no one is there, we can’t do our show anymore? Maybe it’s been our stopgap all along. Maybe that’s where our morality is on whether or not we should put on a show. I don’t know.”
It’s been suggested that the duo rent an airplane hangar and set up their show in it for a livestream performance. Joseph is not convinced it’s honest enough. Hence, the morality issue.
“Rehearsal’s the weird thing,” he begins. “There are certain things that as a performer, you need to be ready for. Josh has seen me pretend to talk to a crowd many times during rehearsal. So there are certain things you rehearse to try to get a feel for the length of the show, for the flow of a show.
“But then there are other things where I feel [like] you can’t replicate it,” he continues. “Sometimes I’m more tired and sore after a rehearsed set than I am for a real set. And I don’t know why that is. I wonder if it’s like the energy is contrived during the rehearsal, so it requires more of me. There’s something about when you’re in front of people providing that energy, that ultimately it’s siphoned to you in some weird way. Everything I know about putting on a concert, that room for people is so important.”
While they navigate the world of live performances, twenty one pilots are also wondering what their next record will sound like. “Level Of Concern” was a brisk feel-good pop number written in a very uncertain time. That uncertainty is still hanging over us. But Joseph isn’t interested in reacting to it.
“I’m not really sure which direction we’re gonna go yet,” Joseph admits. There are two very different records, in my opinion, to be written. One being right now and the other one being after that. I don’t know which one I’m going to do first. I have an idea of what I think is next, sonically. It’s just whether or not it’s too big of a risk, I guess.”
That seems like an odd comment when you consider that twenty one pilots’ whole career was based on a series of risks.
“We have more to risk at every step,” Joseph says. “So it’s still got some weight to it. Each time we make a decision to risk something, we’ve got more to lose. But screw it. That’s what Josh and I always say. [Laughs.]”
Dun laughs. “Our motto.”
See the entire interview in the new issue of Alternative Press available here!