At this moment in time, they're undisputedly the biggest band in the world. Only two gentlemen make up the insanity of sound that is Twenty One Pilots, and to this day, people can't truly classify their genre. Maybe it's meant to be that way, though. Just one listen to either of their Fueled By Ramen releases, Vessel or Blurryface, and you will be greeted with a cluster of sounds that, while all completely different, work eerily well together on the same CD.
Twenty One Pilots is a band that has never oversaturated themselves, either: they're in the limelight just enough, but not so much that we get sick of them. Drummer Josh Dun and vocalist/instrumentalist Tyler Joseph commandeer any stage (all of which are only getting bigger and bigger for the duo) with a ridiculous mix of energy, emotion, and power. The band are currently on the biggest headlining tour of their career thus far, dubbed The Emotional Roadshow. The tour will be making a two-night stop in Berkeley, CA at the legendary Greek Theater beginning this Thursday. If you're trying to buy tickets, StubHub will be your best bet: tickets have been sold out since last fall. But if you have the time, try and find a way into the show. I can write about their discography and the diversity of their songwriting and lyrical abilities, but Twenty One Pilots is an act that must be seen, not just heard.
Let's take a look back at their four album discography.
Twenty One Pilots
Release Date: December 29, 2009
Tyler Joseph - lead vocals/piano/synthesizers
Nick Thomas - bass guitar, keyboards
Chris Salih - drums
Believe it or not, Twenty One Pilots had two albums prior to the releases of Vessel and Blurryface. Both of these albums were completely self-released by the band, and drummer Dun wasn't even a member of the band when they released their first, self-titled album. The album is a good introduction into what we can expect from the band in the future, but it's relatively tamer than what we're used to hearing now. It's far more band and piano-driven, and doesn't rely as heavily on synths as the duo do in their more recent work. In 2011, Thomas and Salih ended up leaving the band, paving a way for then-House of Heroes drummer Joshua Dun to fill the vacancy. A new era of the band was about to begin, and one that would change their lives in a way they couldn't even imagine.
Regional at Best
Release Date: July 8, 2011
Tyler Joseph - lead vocals, piano, keyboards. ukulele, synthesizers, bass, guitar, percussion
Josh Dun - drums, percussion, backing vocals
Arguably, it could be said that Regional at Best was the record that started the career that Twenty One Pilots currently have. The band's last self-released record featured several tracks that made their way onto Vessel. They weren't quite demos; the songs were well-refined, and then re-recorded with slightly different production once signed to Fueled By Ramen. The duo's style was becoming slightly more refined; while each song still maintained its own identity, more hip-hop and rap influences flooded their way into the eardrums of listeners, more so than on the former album.
This was the first lineup to consist solely of Joseph and Dun, and heavy support of the album, including one completely sold-out show at Columbus, OH's Newport Music Hall, would soon attract the attention of dozens of record label executives. In the end, the band signed with Atlantic Records' subsidiary, Fueled By Ramen, ushering the beginning of a new era for the group.
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Label: Fueled By Ramen
Producer: Greg Wells
Tyler Joseph - vocals, programming, piano, keys, ukulele
Josh Dun - drums, percussion
This was it: the major label debut, and the beginning of the continuous upward trajectory that is Twenty One Pilots. With a major label record deal inked and in hand, the duo set out to record their third album. In addition to a plethora of new material, the band re-recorded several tracks from Regional at Best: "Ode To Sleep", "Holding On to You", "Car Radio", "Guns For Hands", "House of Gold", and "Trees". Their combination of rap, indie rock, pop, and a number of other genres had come together better than ever before. No two songs on Vessel sound exactly alike, and that's the beauty of it: they all exist in harmony within the same CD. Joseph even went as far as to say that he composed the music for the album as if he wasn't sure if anyone would ever hear it. Maybe this speaks to the diversity and a lot of the artist risks that you can hear taken stylistically throughout the album. The awesome thing is that it worked.
The band recorded the album at Rocket Carousel Studios in Los Angeles, CA with producer Greg Wells, who also provided mixing, additional synths, keyboards, and programming for the record.
Upon release, the album was a critical and fanbase success, landing the duo a spot opening up for Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco on the "Save Rock And Roll" arena tour later that year. I was in the audience for that tour. I could easily tell that, based on the fact that many fans in attendance showed up well before doors opened, adorned with face masks, so that they could get a chance to see Joseph and Dun play for a mere thirty minutes, they were going to be big and on-par with the artists they were opening for that evening.
Release Date: May 17, 2015
Label: Fueled By Ramen
Producers: Ricky Reed, Mike Elizondo, Mike Crossey, Tim Anderson, Tyler Joseph
Introducing: Blurryface, a character created by the members of Twenty One Pilots to represent the inner fear, anxiety, and insecurities we all face. Joseph even began adorning his arms and neck with black body paint, as a physical way to represent Blurryface and subsequently, human insecurities.
This makes up a lot of the lyrical content on Blurryface, making it the most ambitious, thought-provoking, and memorable record that the band have released to date. After the monumental success of Vessel and the extensive touring surrounding it, the band started hitting several studios, working with a variety of producers, to bring their second record to life. A large portion of the songs were recorded with producer Ricky Reed (Wallpaper.) at Serenity West Recording in Los Angeles, Sonic Lounge Studios in Grove City, OH, and Paramount Recording Studios in Hollywood. A number of other tracks, including "Stressed Out" and "Hometown", were recorded with Mike Elizondo at Can Am in Tarzana, CA. The biggest outlier was "The Judge", which ended up being recorded in London with producer Mike Crossey.
The hip-hop stylings of Joseph are explored on Blurryface far more than on any Twenty One Pilots album, but this album exemplifies some of the best lyrical verses that Joseph has ever brought to the forefront of the band. There's some deep material on here, and it causes you to think for a minute or two upon hearing a verse. Dun's drum production and performances are top-notch, making this a stylistic achievement for the band both musically and lyrically.
The mixing for Blurryface, it should be noted, was done by Neal Avron. Ever heard of him? Well if you're reading this, you've probably heard From Under The Cork Tree and Infinity on High, two of Fall Out Boy's most successful and highly revered albums. He mixed and produced those. The crisp clarity of each track production on Blurryface is something I feel can be accredited to Neal Avron. The man knows how to mix a great record.
Since the release of Blurryface, the band have embarked on two completely sold-out headlining tours around the world, with dates selling out sometimes a year in advance. The album has since gone Platinum in the United States, and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.
The next leg of the Emotional Roadshow will have them headlining arenas, something that is practically unheard of for any rising band in this day and age. They're a band that are proven to make you think about yourself, and their music lies on the border between easily digestible Top 40 and lyrics that make you go, "holy shit, I didn't even realize that about myself". It's a crazy cocktail of a band, but it works unbelievably well. Twenty One Pilots deserve your attention, if they haven't gotten it already.
Twenty One Pilots
This has been another Shameless Promotion.