Photo: Brad Heaton

Twenty One Pilots On The Meaning Behind New Album ‘Trench’ & Blurryface’s Real Name

Ohio duo Twenty One Pilots (Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun) have just released their hotly anticipated album Trench. Out today, the record is the first full-length effort from the pair since 2015’s wildly successful Blurryface, which was the first album in history to receive Gold certification or above for every. single. track.

Blurryface itself is three times multi-Platinum, and contains singles such as ‘Ride’ and ‘Stressed Out’ (the latter of which won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance in 2017, and has amassed almost 100 million Spotify streams).

With many of the band’s songs tackling difficult topics such as anxiety and self-doubt, and the natural chemistry between Joseph and Dun, Twenty One Pilots have amassed a range of dedicated fans. While Blurryface largely deals with the theme of insecurity, Tyler says Trench represents feeling “the need to escape” and “being in between two places”.

We caught up with Josh and Tyler ahead of their Australian tour this December, to chat about the lore of Trench, the writing process for the album and the true identity of Blurryface.

Music Feeds: How did you guys approach writing Trench?

Tyler Joseph: It was written down in my studio, in my basement, so it was all at home. It was very close to the chest and I think that was important for us in following up. Instead of it being a broader project involving a bunch of people, keeping it very intimate and sticking to the way we’ve always done it which is asking ourselves ‘do we like this?’ and that’s it.

I was very inclined to reach for the bass guitar while writing each of these songs. In the past, as I would teach myself how to play the piano, I found that same sense of excitement and inspiration in a new instrument in the bass guitar on this record, and I think that if you go into it thinking about that or realising that then you can see evidence of that.

MF: Is there an overarching storyline or theme for the record?

TJ: Yeah, no, there definitely is. The record is called Trench, and Trench is a world, this place that’s mostly made of trees and rocks and uncharted territory and wild terrain, and at the very bottom of the world is a city called Dema. Dema is the city that in this record, in this narrative, I’m from and I feel the need to escape, to leave, and more than anything the record represents that feeling.

When you’re travelling inside of Trench it’s similar to really being in between two places, whether that’s in between jobs or in between school or in between seasons of life; something that I think a lot of people can relate to. So, the narrative is really to try to describe some of those emotions that some people could come to feel as they travel through their own journey.

MF: Did that come from a place you were experiencing at the time? Like, were you feeling in between things?

TJ: Yeah, absolutely. I think that definitely I’ve felt that in the past, but more importantly I was feeing it currently as I was writing the record – this idea of being in between the last record and what is this new record. In between songs. It definitely felt scary, a little wild.

I think that when you watch the music videos and you see how we depicted this world of Trench, it definitely is a representation of how we were feeling when going into needing to write a new record.

MF: The name Nico is mentioned in ‘Morph’ and then again in ‘Nico and the Niners’, is that a reoccurring character on the album?

TJ: Yes, Nico is a very important character on the record. Nico is one of the nine bishops that govern the city of Dema – now stay with me here – his real name is Nicholas Bourbaki and basically this record is a continuation of the story of Blurryface.

Last record, Blurryface was a character that represented insecurity, and the more you learn about those insecurities and the more you learn about that character, the more control that you can have over things like that in your mental game of war. With this record being a continuation of that, one of the things that I knew I wanted to do was to figure out Blurryface’s real name, and Blurryface’s real name is Nicholas Bourbaki.

MF: That’s really cool! I read that you filmed the music video for ‘Nico and the Niners’ in Ukraine? Why was that?

TJ: The director of the music video had already scouted that place out at one point, and as we were describing to him the narrative and the setting for Dema, it was just a place that he thought of immediately with the type of architecture and everything, and we felt like it really did a great job of depicting what was in my head as I was creating these worlds, so it just made sense.

Also, they don’t take lunch breaks. They eat while they work which means that we could get a lot more out of them.

MF: Really?

TJ: Nah, I just made that up!

MF: Were any of the songs on the album particularly hard to write?

TJ: Um, I mean, in a way they all completely destroyed me. The song called ‘Legend’ towards the end of the record, I wrote that about my grandfather who passed away this year and I was writing it while he was sick and as he was starting to turn for the worst, and by the time I got to the last verse he’d already passed. So, you can kind of feel that chronologically happen in the writing of that song, which will always be special to me.

MF: Which songs from Trench are you most looking forward to playing live or getting out into the world?

Josh Dun: Hi, this is Josh! Tyler said I can answer a question, so I’ll answer this one.

TJ: [in background] Do it, but make it quick!

JD: ‘Morph’.

TJ: [laughing in the background]

JD: I think… It’s hard because I like all of our songs, and I enjoy playing them all, so I’m excited to play a lot of them. But I think ‘Morph’ will be a challenge. It’s slightly different than anything that we’ve done, especially drum-wise. I think that one will be really fun to kind of figure out how to play live.

MF: What artists are you listening to at the moment?

TJ: I’m listening to the new Death Cab For Cutie record.

JD: I don’t think I’m listening to anything in particular… Or, Trench.

TJ: You’re listening to our record?

JD: I’m listening to Trench. I go through phases sometimes where like, I’ll be stuck on an album, then sometimes don’t really listen to much, then I listen to a bunch of music. Right now I’m like, not listening to much.

MF: Do you consume other kinds of media during those times?

JD: Yeah, I think so. Sometimes I’ll just like, listen to podcasts or listen to nothing at all.

TJ: Can you listen to nothing?

JD: Oh man, that’s a good question.

TJ: Can you touch a hole?

JD: You can’t touch a hole.

TJ: Hm, these are the things that keep us up at night.

JD: I think you cannot listen to nothing, actually. That’s a good point.

MF: Do you have any podcast recommendations?

JD: There’s a podcast called ‘Lore’ that’s really cool. It’s like, folklore, and it’s nice to listen to on a drive or something.

TJ: Then there’s like hard-rock lore, r’n’b lore, all kinds of genres.

JD: [laughs]

Twenty One Pilots will perform in arenas across Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane this December. ‘Trench’ is out now.

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