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Interview: Twenty One Pilots

Michelle Fong catches up with Josh Dun, drummer of the American alt-pop band, about their insecurities, inspirations and ideal collabs

Photo: Jabari Jacobs

'The way I explain it is that there’s just two people in the band – I play the drums, Tyler [Joseph] plays the piano – and one of the challenges is for just the two of us to put on a show that people want to watch.'

Celine Dion’s a strange name to hear when we ask Josh Dun with whom he’d most love to collaborate. Titanic jokes aside, the drummer of Twenty One Pilots believes the Canadian chanteuse would make a good fit with the duo’s unique brand of alt-pop. We’re not too sure about that, but then again the band never were content with playing it safe.

Blurryface, their recently released fourth studio album, is an expansion of their piano-and-drum repertoire – it sees the pair work with four (count ’em) producers to carve out a schizoid pop niche that includes influences from hip hop and reggae all the way to emo and dance music. Dun tells us more.

Your sound is always evolving, so how would you describe it?

Honestly, people ask me all the time and I still don’t know. The way I explain it is that there’s just two people in the band – I play the drums, Tyler [Joseph] plays the piano – and one of the challenges is for just the two of us to put on a show that people want to watch.

Tell us about the creative process behind Blurryface.

Blurryface is a fictional character and a reference to insecurities, which I think all people have. We wanted the songs on the album to [inspire people] to overcome these insecurities.

Did you face any challenges in making this album?

Yeah, definitely. If it isn’t challenging in recording, an album is not what it is. The problem is, for your first album, nobody has really heard of you. But it’s different now – there are people looking at you. They have expectations and this idea of what the album should sound like.

It’s hard to be in the limelight and write songs that cater to fans that have expectations of you. We just want to write songs that we love, but all the different people with different ideas coming in make it difficult. We have to ask ourselves if we’re writing for the most important people: the fans. 

Blurryface seems more reggae and techno-inspired, as compared to earlier albums like Vessel, which was more rap-heavy. Is it an indication of a change in style?

I think we’re influenced by a whole range of things – you don’t really know what might inspire you, or when. Some time back, we were watching a show in Amsterdam, and I don’t even remember the name of [the band], but we loved it. In that room watching them perform their reggae set, that was inspiring for us. We grew up surrounded by all kinds of different music, and we try to make our own sound [from all of it]. That’s our goal.

If you could collaborate with any other artiste, who would you choose?

If it’s not Tyler Joseph, it’ll probably be Celine Dion, because she’s a great musician and performer.

This being your first visit to Singapore, what are you most looking forward to?

Part of the excitement is coming to a part of the world that I’ve never been to. I’m just excited to talk to people, walk around, experience a different culture, and try local coffee and restaurants.

Now that you’ve got four albums to your name, what can we expect from you guys in the future?

We’re always trying to outdo ourselves, trying to do better, trying to write better songs. I think we want to inspire other people as well, so that’s what we’ll try to do through future songs. 

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