Twenty One Pilots continues to soar with latest tour, album

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Looking over a list of Twenty One Pilots’ accomplishments in the past twelve months is staggering. The genre-bending duo, which uniquely blends hip-hop, electropop, punk, alt rock and reggae, started 2016 with a Rolling Stone cover story heralding them as “the biggest band of the year.” By Dec. 31, Forbes claimed singer-keyboardist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun had “changed rock history in a major way.” Neither publication was exaggerating.

TWENTY ONE PILOTS When: 7 p.m. Jan. 28 Where: United Center, 1901 W. Madison Tickets: Sold out Info:

Though the Midwest musicians have been building a steady following since releasing their self-titled debut (as a quartet) in 2009, it’s the mammoth album “Blurryface” that’s changed everything. In 2016, the record surpassed a million sales (an anomaly with the obstacles of streaming) and garnered five Grammy nominations, a billion views for a series of music videos and two simultaneous Billboard Top 5 hits — only the third rock act in history to do so behind Elvis and The Beatles.

“It was a crazy year, certainly one of the craziest I’ve ever experienced,” says Dun during a break from rehearsals as he and Joseph get set to bring their super-sold-out Emotional Roadshow World Tour back to arenas, including United Center on Jan. 28. “We’ve had really big dreams from the beginning, when we were sitting on a couch in Ohio talking about putting a band together. And I think this is the year where we saw what could be possible.”

Dun is quick to give credit to the five producers, including Eminem cohort Mike Elizondo and Arctic Monkeys engineer Mike Crossey, who helped them break barriers on “Blurryface” — and the fans that dutifully spread the word. “There’s been so many people who would listen to our music and go tell their friends and bring them to a show, and that’s how this whole thing really happened in my opinion,” Dun says.

The relatively young disciples (who call themselves the Skeleton Clique, inspired by imagery from the band’s astute branding and performance fashion) have found kinship within the band’s lyrics, often written in poetry-slam style by Joseph. They’ve clung to messages in songs like “Stressed Out,” which yearns for “the good old days, when our momma sang us to sleep.” One Facebook follower recently commented, “I’m 62 years old, [a] parent of two millennials. This music and its message is what we all need right now.” It’s a shared thought that has turned the song into a mantra for Generation Anxiety.



“Being an adult can suck sometimes. … Tyler and I talk about it all the time, and what we realized is that there’s a lot of people [who] identify with it,” says Dun, who furthers that being honest in songwriting is really the only hard-fast rule the duo has. “A lot of people in bands can try to be somebody they’re not, we also struggle with that, but it’s important to try and portray yourself the way you really are and say what you really mean.”

That humility and authenticity has helped make Twenty One Pilots so relatable, and the attitude continues to dictate their decisions in a number of ways. As one example, the band has continued to stick with the team at Fueled By Ramen, the indie pop punk label they signed with in 2012, even in spite of increasing interest.

One of the benefits early on was a key placement on a tour with Fueled by Ramen alumni and Chicago’s own Fall Out Boy. “That was our first real tour we ever did, and we’ll always be grateful for it,” recalls Dun. “Those guys really taught us a whole lot about touring and how to put on the best show we could.”

Since then, live performances have become a hallmark of Twenty One Pilots. Concerts offer intense visuals that are matched only by incredible physicality, including backflips off pianos, walking across the upheld hands of the crowd and the micro-speed in which both vocals and beats are delivered. In fact, the band’s main stage performance at Lollapalooza 2015 was one of those turning points that’s still discussed two years later.

“Tyler and I have always loved festivals, and I remember the feeling of that show because it was so different from when we had played the side stage a few years prior. [‘Blurryface’] had just come out and people already knew the words. I’ll never forget that,” says Dun.

In April, the band will head home and begin the long, hard road to a follow-up album that can match the intensity.

“I definitely feel the pressure,” Dun admits. “But we are going to try to shut that out and progress by exploring other genres and sounds and elements of making music while keeping the integrity of what we’ve done in the past. I don’t know what that looks like yet but we’re excited to get into it and carve out different ideas and see where it goes.”

Selena Fragassi is a freelance music writer.

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