Twenty One Pilots’ Joshua Dun and Tyler Joseph are stifling laughter backstage in a lounge at Auckland’s Spark Arena, as they work individually on their handwritten contributions to their Coup De Main zine - Dun’s, a captioned look into his beloved Golden Retriever Jim’s thoughts, and Joseph’s, a list of qualities that he admires in Dun.
They manage about a minute in silence, concocting witty remarks via their pens, before they’re exchanging notes like high schoolers cheating in a test - Dun cackles when he reads Joseph’s fourth point, “Doesn’t get nearly as pissed as I do when people spell his name with two 'N's.” He confirms, “It’s true!!”
It’s the band’s third time headlining Spark Arena in the space of the last three years, and their ongoing return to what is often considered the other side of the world for some touring artists, is not only testament to their hardworking ethic but also the universality of the songs they create.
On their latest release ‘Trench’ (which debuted at #1 in the New Zealand and Australian charts), Tyler Joseph invites listeners into the innermost thoughts of his brain more than ever before through the world of Trench - with songs like ‘Smithereens’ and ‘Legend’ honouring two very important people in his life, to songs like ’Neon Gravestones’, which reflects upon on the glorification of suicide in today’s world.
Over the course of the fourteen-track album, the journey through this world is tumultuous, there’s ups and downs, but as he realises in the closing track ‘Leave The City’, “In Trench I’m not alone,” and he’s not alone, but joined by Josh Dun, every step of the way.
Coup De Main spoke to Twenty One Pilots in London last year, as well as in New Zealand on the final leg of the Bandito World Tour before Christmas. What follows below is a truncated combination of both conversations for ease of reading...
[Click here to order a Coup De Main x Twenty One Pilots limited-edition physical print zine.]
COUP DE MAIN: Very important first question - did you watch the music video starring Jason Statham in cheetah print briefs (a la ‘Pet Cheetah’) that we told you about back in October?
TWENTY ONE PILOTS - TYLER JOSEPH: No, I’ve seen screenshots of it though. It’s incredible, I can’t believe that that’s a thing.
CDM: Tyler, you told someone in an interview last week that one place you really wanted to visit is Rivendell. You’re in Middle Earth now, so did you make it happen?
TYLER: Well, Rivendell isn’t here [in Auckland], but we did go to Hobbiton a few years ago and it was one of the coolest things that we were able to do ever on tour. It was one of my favourite off days of all time.
CDM: You’re also in a land where your latest album ‘Trench’ went #1! To celebrate, we made you a commemorative certificate.
TWENTY ONE PILOTS - JOSH DUN: Oh, yes! <laughs>
TYLER: This is awesome. You didn’t sign it, though?
JOSH: It’s not signed?
CDM: We were gonna get someone from your label to sign it, to make it legitimate, but ran out of time to ask them.
TYLER + JOSH: <laughs>
TYLER: It seems pretty legit.
CDM: When we talked last, you were explaining how it’s hard for you to answer the question, ‘What’s your favourite song to play live?’, because of the way that fans inject their meaning and involvement in songs after a record is released. What has that experience been like, especially bringing the new songs to life at the live shows?
TYLER: A few songs stick out to me, and it’s hard not to lean towards new songs, but we never want to lose sight of older songs being important to people and important to us. Just because we want to freshen up the set and play new stuff, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s best for the set. We understand that. We’ve been to shows where we’re disappointed that they didn’t play certain things, and we get it, we understand. But at the same time, we see the other side of it as people trying to please everyone who comes to a show. It’s really hard to find that perfect order, and there’s a lot of reasons for picking certain songs that maybe some people don’t understand - whether it’s that those two songs make sense together, or a transition, or aligning with production. I mean, every song has a certain colour palette and production, and we know that there are certain songs that have certain colour palettes and we don’t want to put two songs with the same colour palette next to each other for the production. There’s a lot of aspects of why songs are where they are in the set-list. We’ve now learned that we’re putting on a show, and we have to consider… For me, songs like ‘Morph’ and ‘My Blood’ that we’re playing that are newer, one of the reasons why I really enjoy them now is because they’re the hardest to pull off. For me, and Josh actually, the song ‘My Blood’ is a very technical song. Musically, you have to be focused on being able to execute your part, and then also trying to perform, and grab people’s attention at the same time. It’s very difficult to do those two things at once. Now that we have the hang of it, we get excited that we’re able to pull it off. A song like ‘Morph’ for me, I’m not playing any instruments, which can be a bit uncomfortable for me as a lead singer - especially in a band with only two guys, to not play an instrument, Josh playing the drums, I feel like it’s just me, hopefully putting on a show. There’s definitely aspects of feeling like, “Is this good enough?” And feeling a little uncomfortable in certain songs. Those become my favourite songs to perform live because it’s something I’ve overcome or conquered. To treat a live show in that way always gives us extra incentive, and certain songs mean more to us because of that.
CDM: Side-note, your fans are very unhappy that ‘Bandito’ has been taken off the set-list for this leg of the tour.
TYLER: I think we noticed that. It’s hard to fit everything in. I’ve been going back and forth from being a little sick, too, so it’s which songs make sense with what. I never like to be open about when I’m sick and when I’m not, because I don’t think that it’s fair to any audience to think that they’re getting a lesser version of the show. I never want to say it from the stage, or even talk about it online when I am feeling under the weather, because it’s up to us to make sure that we put on the best show we can, and having people feel bad for us for some other reason isn’t fair. A song like ‘Bandito’ is really hard to perform, because that song, we designed it around a specific moment on the B-stage that we had in the United States.
CDM: I’m sad we don’t have the bridge here, it looked so cool.
TYLER: We had every intention to try and bring as much as we could over here, but we actually couldn’t afford it. It was also a weight thing - there’s only a certain amount of weight you can put on ships and planes, and so there was this miscalculation where we tried to get it all over the place, and we had to make some decisions on purely logistical weight reasons. It’s obviously not an excuse that cures the issue, but we wish we could do everything over here.
JOSH: It sucks for us too. It’s not a relief for us that we can’t bring these really cool things that we love.
CDM: In ‘Bandito’, you question if fear is a rival or a close relative to truth, which is an interesting thought and kinda reminded me of a quote that Oprah Winfrey once said: “The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free.” Do you agree or disagree with Oprah’s statement?
TYLER: What you just said seems to make sense to me. But then, also, fear can protect you too. I think there’s types of fear. I think the definition of fear has a broader spectrum than sometimes we give it credit for. There’s certain fear that can protect you from things - having a healthy fear of some things can be good - and that’s what I was trying to figure out in that song, is that sometimes fear can feel like it’s right around the corner, or something that I’m looking off to in the future, and because it can take multiple forms it’s hard to pin down exactly what it is, but I know that it’s important to try to understand. I haven’t quite figured it out, I just know that it has multiple definitions.
CDM: “I created this world / to feel some control,” you also sing in ‘Bandito’. Do you feel a power over the world you created, and the feelings and parts of yourself that live there now? Did writing the album give you the control?
TYLER: Yeah, I guess. The lyric by itself kind of feels a little cocky or confident, but really, inside of the song, it’s a moment where, if anything, it’s admitting that the majority of the time you feel like there is no control. I think that’s something special inside of creating art, and writing songs, is that you do have control of that - and that has, in a sense, filled me with a sense of purpose. And it’s been very helpful for me, and in a way was encouraging other people to do their own version of that, because I’ve found a lot of strength in building something that is mine, that I have control of in a positive way.
CDM: At a recent press conference, you explained that you kind of treat your own psyche like a map - knowing certain areas where you should/shouldn’t go, and areas you want to head towards. Do you think that the human psyche is ever-changing, and that the map is changing?
TYLER: That’s a good question. I’d like to believe that it’s changing. I think that as you experience things and as you go through life, you get more data, and you understand more about yourself. Going back to your psyche being like a house with many rooms in it, or a country with different directions and different properties and everything, you can extend out further in either direction and learn more about it. I guess a lot of what this record is talking about is that as you get older, you learn more about the different jurisdictions that certain fears and certain struggles can have over you when you’re in certain areas of your brain, and you can know to tape that off, and know, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t go over there.’ You know it exists, you don’t want to necessarily deny that it’s a part of who you are, but you also don’t have to go and visit that all the time. So trying to balance that out is the best way for me, and at the time when I was trying to work through my own stuff, I was seeing it as a map and as an actual geographic location.
CDM: Tyler, can we please take a moment to appreciate Josh’s drumming on ‘The Hype’ - it’s just SO good. How often are you just in awe of Josh’s talent?
TYLER: Uhhh, the only time I’m not in awe of Josh’s drumming is when I’m eating, because I’m solely focused on that. So in between every meal is mostly when I become in awe of Josh’s drumming.
CDM: So there’s just a small gap in the awe-ness?
TYLER: Yeah a very small gap.
CDM: The bridge in ‘The Hype’ is huge-sounding. What inspired the production behind that?
TYLER: I think that song in particular, I wanted to go back to-- When I was a bit younger, maybe even in grade school, just some of the production of that song reminded me of that. But also, lyrically addressing who I was when I was a bit younger, and what I wish I would’ve heard. That song particularly is kind of talking about the difference between an internal pressure and an external pressure. A lot of the things that I write about come from wrestling with an internal pressure, but there are those external pressures of the world around us that can be addressed as well, and that song particularly addresses those in a way that-- Just an encouragement to keep going, to let things roll off your back that deserve to be put aside.
CDM: I love the line, “It might take some friends and a warmer shirt / But you don’t get thick skin without getting burnt,” in ‘The Hype’. What other aids do you recommend for protecting one’s self from getting caught up in the hype machine?
TYLER: That’s a good question. But man, hearing you say those lyrics back, those are some really good lyrics. <laughs>
JOSH: I’m personally in awe of the lyrics.
TYLER: Yeah! Why haven’t you asked Josh how much in awe he is of me? Come on.
CDM: That’s my last question, just so you know.
TYLER: Okay, we’ll hold onto it then. But I don’t know, I’d have to think about it, I feel like I have to follow up [the question] with something super poetic. I think the community in which a live show is set, or a fanbase, kind of feels like that [aid]. That place is a good place to be, especially when it’s safe and accepting, which I think that our fans are pretty incredible at creating - a safe and accepting space for people to enjoy the art that we’re making. I’m really proud of them, and look up to them in that way.
CDM: As promised, the last question is for you Josh. How often in awe of Tyler are you?
JOSH: That’s a great question. I would say it’s pretty often whenever I’m eating, I’m pretty in awe of Tyler. But I’m eating more than I'm not eating, so pretty much all the time.
TYLER: So every time I’m not eating, you’re eating?
CDM: Do you guys just have one communal food bowl, that you pass between yourselves?
TYLER: It’s a trough. <laughs> Our new record, ‘Trough’. <laughs>
Watch Twenty One Pilots’ music video for ‘Chlorine’ below…