While they haven't fully comprehended the success that has greeted them, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun are returning to Ohio this weekend as champions.
Known collectively as the modern pop, dance and beat-savvy duo Twenty One Pilots, the two will help close out this year's Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati — a skip down the interstate from their hometown of Columbus.
What makes this quasi-homecoming so momentous is the Herculean task Joseph and Dun pulled off. Last week, the band's newest album, an indie record of wildly varied pop called Blurryface, entered the Billboard 200 chart at No. 1. By selling more than 146,000 units in its first week of sales, the album edged out the Pitch Perfect 2 soundtrack and the seemingly unsinkable Taylor Swift for the top spot.
"To be totally honest, I had no idea what that meant," drummer Dun said by phone this week. "Part of me didn't really want to know, just because I like going onstage and playing my drums. I never wanted to get too focused on all the other stuff going on. I was like, 'Hey, as long as you're telling me things are going well, I'm good with that.'
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"But what I've really taken from this is somehow this crazy number of people have decided to buy into what we're doing and want to be a part of it. To me, the most powerful marketing tool is word of mouth. That's why this is really an honor, to have people really resonating with this."
Blurryface is like an exploding scrapbook of pop references from the instant the album-opening Heavydirtysoul uses hip-hop verses to mask a lyrical unrest ("this is not rap, this is not hip hop; just another attempt to make the voices stop") that explodes with a Pet Shop Boys-like chorus that probably will bounce around in your brain for weeks.
At the other extreme of a record dominated by Joseph's cinematic keyboards and Dun's roaring percussion is perhaps the most unexpected instrumental voice of any dance-pop hit this year: ukulele. Its sound saddles up alongside the pounding Dun drum intro of We Don't Believe What's on TV without diffusing the song's underlying agitation.
"I'm a fan of my own band," Dun confessed. "I know that sounds weird. I think sometimes even talking about art can be weird.
"Everything we've ever done we've approached with the idea of the live show. Tyler and I were picturing ourselves onstage playing these songs while recording them. There's nothing more exciting than that.
"We've been able to do a couple of festivals and a couple of small shows in the UK so far. But with Bunbury coming up and having it so close to home for us, we're excited to bring this music to life for friends and family in an atmosphere that feels like home."
While the sound of Blurryface is, for all its stylistic variance, huge, don't expect any kind of expanded lineup of the band to take the stage at Bunbury. Twenty One Pilots is the creation of just two people.
"It's just us," Dun said. "I play drums, and Tyler sings and plays piano, a little ukulele and some synth stuff. We rely on electronic technology for some of our sound.
"Since the beginning, when we decided on just having two of us in the band, we both realized a bit of an insecurity. We were feeling like a duo might not be entertaining enough. So to go out onstage every night and battle that insecurity, that sort of fear, is good for us. I don't know if I would ever want to be at a place where I go onstage and have nothing to conquer. There are mental, emotional and maybe even spiritual things happening that potentially need to be defeated. That's part of playing live. It's such an addicting feeling."