Mass Attack: Interview with twenty one pilots

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twenty one pilots at the House of Blues, Anaheim, CA

On Sunday, while Miley Cyrus smoked a joint and twerked with a dwarf on stage in Amsterdam at the EMAs (the European equivalent of the VMAs), twenty one pilots was no where to be seen in the room. Even though the Columbus-based rock band - known for their frenetic, unhinged live performances - were up for an award at the show, the band was on the other side of the world, prepping for a headlining show at the House of Blues in Anaheim, California.

For Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, both self-taught musicians, being present for their organically grown fan-base was a much more important gig than showing face at a network that named them PUSH artist of the month in September.

“Before we had help from anybody, we really wanted the band to be something where the marketing was done by people who’d seen the show - and for the idea to spread based on seeing something different and experiencing something different and gets the crowd rolling,” drummer Josh Dun told Ones To Watch backstage before the show.

As a result, the band has grown its following by incessantly fueling their live shows with as much shock value as possible. Backflips (“I decided a year and a half ago that I wanted to do that in a show. Most of the rehearsal was spent nailing that backflip”), drumming in the middle of the crowd (“it depends on the crowd - I won’t do it if it’s a bunch of 16-year-old girls”) and ski masks (no association with Russian punk-rock activists Pussy Riot) are all part of a normal night’s work on stage. 

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“People think that how we are on stage is how we are in real life, but I’d probably be dead by now if I was like that all the time,” says Dun. “But it’s on both of our bucket lists to pass out during one of our shows.”

At the heart of this necessity to excite the masses is a deeper vision: of connecting to the friendless and reaching youth and adults who’ve slipped through the cracks, an issue that became apparent to the performers early on at local shows in Ohio.

“People would come up to us after shows and feel very open and talk about their struggles they were going through,” says Dun.

It’s the real reason for those masks you see. For Dun, who says he ha been fortunate enough to have a support group to turn to in times of depression or loneliness, tearing down the divide between stage and crowd that exists with so many other bands is essential to twenty one pilots.

“I always wanted to kind of tear down that wall and not have that “rock god” mentality,” he says. “We want people to leave the show and feel as if they’d just shared an experience, and felt like they were one group of people.”

It helps that both performers retain strong connections to the songs off their latest album, Vessel. “Every night we think about an ex-girlfriend or someone we cared about - so that’s really helpful,” said Dun.

Twenty one pilots is currently on their Ones To Watch Presents: tripforconcerts autumn’13 tour. Watch their live performance of “House of Gold” live from The LC, below. 

[Photos: @_vector, Instagram]

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