This was supposed to be a quiet month for Twenty One Pilots. After three years of touring at a psychotic pace, the two-man band finally had a solid four-week break that kicked off shortly before Christmas. The plan was for singer Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun to go home to their families in Columbus, Ohio, relax and prepare for this year's 85-date world tour, headed for sold-out arenas all over America and culminating with a two-night stand at New York's Madison Square Garden.
They never thought this would be the month that their single "Stressed Out," which came out last April, would absolutely explode on pop radio. Just one month ago, the song was at Number 57 on the Billboard Hot 100, but today it sits at Number Four, lodged between Drake's "Hotline Bling" and Selena Gomez's "Same Old Love." The video has been viewed over 50 million times on YouTube, and tickets for the upcoming tour are increasingly hard to get, even in the nosebleeds. "The one time we take a break is the moment it happens to explode," says Joseph. "I have no idea why all this is happening right now. It's a weird feeling."
Late last month, we headed down to Columbus to spend the day with Dun and Joseph for an extensive profile about their rise to the top. But there was a ton we simply didn't have room to fit into the piece. Here are 13 other things we learned about Twenty One Pilots while reporting the story.
They're open to the idea of adding additional members
When Josh Dun joined the band about four years ago, original bassist Nick Thomas was still around, and they gigged around Central Ohio as a trio. But when Thomas left the band to attend college, the group decided to carry on as a two-piece. The lineup shift forced them to use extensive backing tapes in their live show to flesh out their sound, a practice they'll continue all through the year. But when the tour wraps, they might change things around.
"We come from a sensory-overload culture, and so we wonder if one guy on drums and one guy dancing around is enough," says Joseph. "Adding guys was something we always were curious about. We decided for this run specifically to stay a two-piece. In the future, we definitely could add members. When Josh and I play at the same time, I don’t want to be too dramatic, but something magical happens. You’re in sync with somebody. To add people to that would only make that feeling even more potent."
That doesn't mean these additional musicians would be legit members of the group. "I think it’ll always be Josh and I as the band," says Joseph. "It would get a little disingenuous if we would be cycling guys in and out, but we really want to preserve the fact it's just the two of us. I don't know how it would exactly work."
Josh Dun says he isn't dating Halsey
Contrary to widespread internet rumors, Dun says he is not dating Halsey. "She's a good friend," he says. "I'm in a place right now where I just want to enjoy being single. As I've told Tyler, there's not a really easy place between being single and being married for us now. We're just so busy that the logistics of our career make dating impossible. I think I'll find a girl at some point that makes all of the extra work and effort that needs to be put into it worth it. But for right now, I just date my drums."
Their mothers used to go to the same hairdresser
About four years ago, Josh's mother Laura went to Great Clips Hair Salon in Columbus for a haircut. "It's a really cheap place," she says. "This was before the sold-out show at Newport [in the summer of 2012], so they weren't making any money. But I did manage to segue into the conversation that my son was in Twenty One Pilots. She goes, 'Did I just cut your hair?' I said, 'No.' And she said, 'I cut somebody's mom's hair who said their son was in Twenty One Pilots.' I just laughed and said, 'That must have been Tyler's mom because there's only two of them in the band.' Josh told that story when they played Newport and Tyler was like, 'Well, I think we've made it big enough now that we can get our moms out of Great Clips.'"
Their free Hoverboards quickly led to a broken bone
Shortly before the group performed on The Tonight Show, the guys were each given a Hoverboard to congratulate them on their amazing year. "These are not cheap," Joseph said as he peeled off the wrapping paper. "I can't wait to get my mom on this!" About a week later, he got his wish. "She broke her wrist," he said with a sigh. "It came out from under her. I was near her, but she went down so fast. I took her to the ER and sat down with her all day as she got X-rays and a cast. That Hoverboard isn’t allowed in any of our houses anymore. I’m no longer a fan of those things."
Tyler's wife, Jenna, will join them on the road this year
About 10 months ago, Tyler married his longtime girlfriend, Jenna Black. "How we met isn't a great story or anything," he says. "She was the sister in-law of a guy I went to school with. We live together now in a house in Columbus. I've heard it's really important to be together a lot during the first year of marriage. It's been fun getting to know each other even better while traveling the world. I like the idea she’s going to be around for this craziness that’s happening. Josh, you do a good job of keeping me grounded too. It's just that sometimes I have other desires."
Tyler created the character of Blurryface to address his own insecurities
The group's newest LP is largely a concept album about a character called Blurryface, essentially the physical manifestation of Joseph's raging insecurities. "I don’t love the way I look," he says. "Nobody does, and if they do, I don’t want to be that person’s friend. But we all know what we’re insecure about. The question I had as I was writing was, 'How are these things affecting the way I live? How am I compensating because I don’t like this about myself? What do I do to cover it up?'"
He continues: "A lot of things you do to cover up insecurities can be just as harmful to you as anything else. This character helped me understand my insecurities and why I have them and how I compensate for them. I give it a name and a seat at the table so I could really stare at it and analyze from that perspective."
Blurryface will probably vanish after this next tour
Onstage every night, Joseph essentially becomes Blurryface by smearing black makeup over his neck and hands. It represents the suffocating insecurities felt by the character. But don't expect it to live beyond this tour. "When Josh and I are recording a record, we’re very mindful of how the music will manifest itself live," Tyler says. "That’s where we have to live everyday. When we tour for the next record, I imagine there will be a new story to tell and we'll introduce new characters."
Travel got a little gnarly in the early days
In late 2012, the group toured the country in a BandWagon RV. "It looks like a bus," says Dun. "But it's a semi-truck with a box on it. It doesn't have the same suspension as a bus, so it was always really bumpy. But you don't need a bus driver, so your buddies can drive it. This is so illegal, but we would pull off on the side of the road and empty the tank that holds everything from the bathroom. We would get off an exit in the middle of the night and empty it. The first time we emptied it, I almost threw up."
Tyler's mom really wanted them to meet Will Ferrell
Will Ferrell was the first guest on Jimmy Fallon the night that Twenty One Pilots performed. "You never answer my texts," Joseph's mother texted him before they went on. "I’m not a fan girl, dammit. OK, so there’s really only four people I care about meeting: Ellen DeGeneres, Barbra Streisand, Will Ferrell and Tom Jones. If you do see [Ferrell], say the [Talladega Nights quote] 'I don’t know what to do with my hands.'" They did get to say a quick hello after Ferrell walked off, but there was no time to share any movie quotes.
They don't feel reliant on radio hits
"Stressed Out" may be inescapable on Top 40 radio right now, but the band was selling out enormous arenas before it broke, and they feel they'll still have a huge following should the day come when the hits dry up. "Radio is a hungry monster that eats very fast," says Joseph. "But we’ve created this thing that will catch us when there’s not radio. We've been able to play in front of a lot of people just because of word of mouth. We'll just have to continue to surprise them and bring them something they haven't seen before."
They can imagine themselves still in the group 40 years from now
"I'm looking forward to Josh being 60 years old doing a backflip off the piano," says Joseph. "I think that once we get older, we'll have so much fun making fun of the fact that we're too old. Where our show might lose energy, we would interject comedy. I just can't wait to grow old with our fans."
Tyler has no interest in a solo career
Back in 2008, Joseph recorded the solo album No Phun Intended in his basement. Don't expect a follow-up anytime soon. "I have no ambition to do a solo album," he says. "I think a lot of bands have people going off and doing their own thing because they feel restricted or confined, or just frustrated with the creative process of involving other people. I mean, obviously I can't see what the future holds exactly, but I don't anticipate that being an issue, just because of the way Josh and I work together. We have so much energy and chemistry together."
Josh agrees, for the most part. "I'm thinking about starting a solo project," he says with a laugh. "But it will feature Tyler on all the songs. We'll call it something like 'Two Music Boys.'"
They avoid Twenty One Pilots fan fiction
The world of Twenty One Pilots fan fiction is vast and very, very weird. The website Archive of Our Own hosts more than 2,100 wild stories from devoted fans. Plots range from Josh discovering he's a werewolf ("He found himself lying naked in the middle of the woods, the taste of carcass in his mouth and blood under his fingernails") to the guys entering the world of Pokemon ("I'm not a Pokemon." Josh let out quietly as the realization dawned on him. "At least, I'm not supposed to be.") It takes Dun a minute to process all this. "I'm a vampire and I'm in Pokemon?" he says. "I guess I'm multi-talented."
A great deal of the stories are extremely sexual, and they often revolve around Tyler and Josh discovering a hidden love for each other and acting on it in every way possible. "When you start reading stuff like that, it does something weird to your mind," Dun says. "I worry if I read those stories it would change our friendship, so I don't look at them anymore."
The couple name given to Tyler and Dun in the world of Twenty One Pilots fan fiction is Joshler. "Personally," says Tyler, "I think it should be Tysh."