Saturday, November 17, 2018

Let's Dig In: Obsession Part I, At it Again... Not quite an addict with a pen

Before we even get into this, I started working on this months ago (literally months ago). So the beginning dates to this past September. And slowly got worked on a bit at a time. And I know this won't be everyone's cup of tea. This took sooooo much time and effort. There's a lot of links. (all links are to the band's YouTube videos whenever possible) And it's not a funny poop story or roadtrip adventure. Maybe later. Okay, so here it is:

My dad switched up his music playlist a few weeks ago (it's back to his usual again - it was a short lived diversion), and thought I should do the same. Actually I've finally moved on a bit from Thirty Seconds to Mars 24/7 finally anyway. Not sick of them by any means, but thought I should put some variety in there. Started slow with the new Imagine Dragons single, Natural. Then I saw that Muse has a new album dropping in November and pre-ordered it and downloaded the singles they have released so far ahead of the album. (Imagine Dragons and Muse's albums are now out) And while I was scrolling through my itunes where I saw that Muse was releasing new stuff soon, I saw that Twenty One Pilots were as well.







Sweet mother of God, these boys! Just... UUUHHHHHHGGGGGGGGGG
Where do I start? First, lets begin where I first heard them... on the radio. They rose to radio over time and then pretty much saturated the alternative, rock, and pop stations to the point of being over played between 2015-2017 (they even won a Grammy in 2017). I heard them on the radio, liked the songs, and then went into itunes and downloaded the two albums that were getting the radio play: Vessel (2013) and Bluryface (2015). I first saw them on TV in 2015, with their performance at the VMA's (that's when I realized they were just two guys). In 2016 they released a single, Heathens for the Suicide Squad movie. And that was pretty much it for me. I would listen to the albums every once in a while, but never really delved into the duo, or their music videos and such. I understood then that their music and lyrics had substance and meaning (how can you not realize this with songs like Migraine and Car Radio, for Christ sake), but for the most part, I kept my listening superficial. I thought they had spent most of their career (I thought they were much older than they actually are) underground (i.e. purposely away from radio, radio charts, being famous, etc.), had a few radio hits and got mainstream exposure, but preferred to go back underground. (after doing some research when I got obsessed, I learned that they were underground and got pushed into the mainstream, and after the (over)exposure, purposely went silent - I'll explain more later). My first impression of them was that they were these intense kinda angry guys, maybe a bit older than me, who hated being exposed to the mainstream. Booooiiiii was I wrong.

And then... I saw a video interview recommended with Tyler Joseph (the singer/song writer) on YouTube (while I was looking at Thirty Seconds to Mars stuff). Yay for YouTube with their, hey you may like this section. It was 35 minutes long and about their new album coming out on October 5th. Oh my goodness. I went into the interview not knowing anything about the band, Tyler Joseph, or anything about their upcoming album. And after, I was intrigued. Not just intrigued, but full on "I have to know it all, and I have to know it now". And so the deep dive into YouTube everything Twenty One Pilots began. I have yet to come up for air. I even re-watched that initial interview after I learned more about them and caught so much more upon the second viewing (I think I've watched it 5 times now-don't judge me). Here's a link to it if you are so inclined. It's REALLY good.

Seriously these two boys are amazing. I'll try and be as brief as possible in explaining their background. Back in 2007, Tyler Joseph made his first record, No Phun Intended in the basement of his parents house (it was never officially released). He was 17, a senior in high school, and paid to put the songs on itunes (He's since deleted them-but nothing is ever truly gone from the internet). He, with two friends (Chris Salih on drums and Nick Thomas on bass) formed Twenty One Pilots in 2009 and self-released their first album on their own, the self titled Twenty One Pilots. While working on their second album (again self-released), Regional at Best, in 2011, both Salih and Thomas left the band and Josh Dun (drums) joined (who met Tyler after one of their shows and they became fast friends). They got the attention of the music industry by selling out large venues in their home state of Ohio and signed with Fueled by Ramen in 2012 (Tyler successfully negotiated to maintain ownership of their previous songs and albums and all future songs. That's amazing for a 22 year old). They released their "first" studio album (but really their third) Vessel in 2013. Followed by Blurryface in 2015. Followed by the single, Heathens in 2016 for the movie Suicide Squad. Great song, horrible movie. They then went completely silent (stopped touring, no interviews, no social media) for 15 months (the dreaded hiatus). And during that time came up with Trench (released October 5th, 2018). I recommend the video series' the band puts out for their releases and tours, starting with Regional at Best, Blurryface Tour Highlights, Twenty One Pilots Goes East, Emotional Roadshow Tour Highlights, Sleeper Series, and the Bandito Tour Series (which is going on now).

Ok so now that you're sufficiently bored, on to the cool part (it's all cool to me). These two have a very passionate fan base which they named the Skeleton Clique. And with any fan base there is drama and screaming tweens and teenage girls, but we won't dwell on that (because that will just make all our heads hurt). What I think truly makes them unique and powerful are a few things. 1: their genre blending (they do not fit into any category) much like Linkin Park. 2: their lyrical content (very introspective, often very dark, but always hopeful and uplifting [you have to pay attention]), and 3: the two boys themselves.

Point 1: These boys blend and merge genres not just in an album, but in songs. Tyler will rap and play the ukulele at the same time or pound the piano keys in a hard rock or electric synth dance song. A few examples: Ode to Sleep and Heavydirtysoul, both of which opened each album Vessel and Blurryface respectively. Many times song structure is completely thrown out the window, as well as time signatures, tempos, and genre. And somehow it never sounds wrong.

Point 2: There are only a few songs that aren't introspective in some way. Tyler has only written two love songs... both of which are to his wife and both are somewhat twisted (Tear in my Heart and Smithereens). He wrote House of Gold (on Vessel) for his mom, and Legend (on Trench) honoring his late grandfather (who graces the cover of Vessel along with Josh's grandfather). He never writes fluff. No sex, drugs, or money bullshit. Which is why I despise most rap music today. It's usually very personal and about his and Josh's personal demons. Their songs are multi-layered. He almost always writes in metaphors, so that listeners can inform their own meanings. One of my favorites off Vessel is Guns for Hands which basically talks about how he has a hard time going to sleep knowing that there are people out there (fans) who are harming themselves or thinking of killing themselves. He writes:

I know [...] That you all have guns
And you never put the safety on
And you all have plans,
To take it, to take it, don't take it, take it, take it

He then goes on to say to take that negative energy and instead of focusing on yourself, to turn it and project it at him.
We've turned our hands to guns, trade in our thumbs for ammunition
I must forewarn you, of my disorder, or my condition
'Cause when the sun sets, it upsets what's left of my invested interest
Interested in putting my fingers to my head
The solution is, I see a whole room of these mutant kids
Fused at the wrist, I simply tell them they should shoot at this
Simply suggest my chest and this confused music, it's
Obviously best for them to turn their guns to a fist

He talks a lot about depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies. Tyler admits that he suffers with depression (like real dark). Josh admits to suffering from anxiety (crippling). Both are very open about their struggles. And although Tyler has never said in public, we can speculate from his lyrics that his depression has led him to some very dark places where perhaps suicide was contemplated. (he writes in Migraine: Thank God it's Friday cause Fridays will always be better than Sundays' Cause Sundays are my suicide days. And in Car Radio: There's no hiding for me I'm forced to deal with what I feel There is no distraction to mask what is real I could pull the steering wheel. Addict with a Pen: My trial was filed as a crazy suicidal head case.) Some fans go as far to say that he may have even attempted it. But again, that is all speculation. However, he freely admits and is very clear that his music and the creative process of making and performing said music saved his life and continues to do so. He delves into this very subject in the above linked interview.

Car Radio (on Vessel) talks about how dangerous it can be to be left alone with your thoughts when there is no distraction. How it is both frightening and necessary at times. They've also jabbed at the music industry a few times (listen to Holding on to You, Lane Boy, and Levitate). If you watch Holding on to You, then watch the Behind the Scenes of that video, and then watch the music video again... there is a particular scene in the video involving a rope, that Tyler had a very real moment that was caught in the behind the scenes. Two people in the video saw this moment and tried to help him, only one of them succeeded. But if you go back and watch that moment in the music video... he isn't acting. That's just real, raw, and honest emotion.

My current favorites are as follows: Air Catcher (off their self-titled album). It reminded me right away of an old Colplay song, Politik the opener off their second album A Rush of Blood to the Head (which definitely came out first in 2002 when Tyler was still just a wee 13 year old) I listened to this on my drive home from Arcata way up in Humboldt County recently. It was on repeat until I learned the words and then went on repeat some more while I upped the volume and sung along... very loudly. I feel on this song and on this album in particular you can just feel Tyler's frustration and anger at life and the noise in his head and struggling to understand it and handle it.

Guns for Hands
Which I've already talked about above.
He says: While you're doing fine, there's some people and I
Who have a really tough time getting through this life
So excuse us while we sing to the sky



Cut My Lip

Critics have often said of them that their songs and lyrics celebrate or glorify depression and suicide. They couldn't be farther from the truth. They weren't paying close enough attention. Listen to Neon Gravestones off their latest album. This is one of the only times he doesn't write in metaphors. Yes Tyler writes about his demons. He writes about depression, self harm, anxiety, doubt, and suicide. But you have to pay attention. In every song I've mentioned so far, each is a story, a narrative, and each have a solution or conclusion that ends in victory.... not death. Migraine: And I will say that we should take a day to break away From all the pain our brain has made, the game is not played alone And I will say that we should take a moment and hold it And keep it frozen and know that life has a hopeful undertone

Truce: Now the night is coming to an end The sun will rise and we will try again Stay alive, stay alive for me
He's always offering solutions. Options that have helped him. Whether that be their music, any music, creating something, creating any form of art, faith in a higher power, or reaching out to family or friends. Kitchen Sink (Regional at Best) is a perfect example.

Okay on to point 3: because I can ramble on and on about song lyrics. These two boys are just pure joy. Geniuses. Precious smol beans that must be protected. They really do just radiate positivity.  They are goofy goobers. Complete and utter dorks. They have an amazing bromance. They really are best friends. And they feed off each other and rely on each other. I honestly don't think they would be the young men that they are today or be the musicians they are today without each other. I was trying to find a video or interview that best encapsulates them but there just isn't just one. There are so many little gems and inside jokes and really good interviews (why Taco Bell is sacred, why they are called smol beans, their aversion to bananas, the fact that they make up a new story of how they met any time they are asked). I'll just say if you choose to go digging, here are my suggestions. For good interviews check out the ones by Stryker from KROQ, Donny Fandago from 105.7 the Point, and the "press conference" where fans got to ask questions by ALT 98.7 FM, The Woody Show from 2015. And just because it is freaking hilarious, this 4 minute video of Josh and Tyler's conversation while playing Happy Wheels Adventure (video game) where they coined the term "Use your glutes".

So I said I'd dive into their genius a bit, and I've touched on it slightly already, but if you choose to dig into their music, you notice themes and concepts and an evolution right from the very beginning. Now whether or not they planned this all out from the beginning, I doubt, but because of how Tyler writes and the way they construct their music and live shows and music videos, it allows them the add on meaning and new interpretations onto their older material and continue stories and themes that were started way back in the very beginning. The Blurryface album was about a character named Blurryface and was introduced in the song Stressed Out. A character that represents Tyler's insecurities. And by the end of the album, Blurryface is defeated (Blurryface is manifested visually by the black paint Tyler smears on his hands and neck in music videos and live performances). In the latest album, Trench, and if you clicked and watched that first interview, you know that it is a "concept" album and expands what they created in the previous album. Artist don't really make concept albums anymore. It's quite risky, they risk alienating radio and mainstream media consumers (which they don't care if they do). I can only think of three other bands that have done/do this recently. The American Idiot album by Green Day, Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance, and what the Gorillaz do with all their albums. So part of their genius is that you don't have to know any of the story to enjoy the album(s). You may not understand some of the lyrics, but it doesn't take away any of the surface enjoyment of the songs and there is meaning to each song that isn't tied to the concept. There are layers. But for those who like digging and stories and mysteries.... you can go down to the bottom, underneath the insane asylum and get lost in the world they have created. Some examples without going way nerdy on you (since you've stuck around this far):

The Jumpsuit video (Trench) is a continuation of the last video they made Heavydirtysoul from Blurryface. They actually knew and started planning Trench when they made that video. You can see that Tyler isn't wearing red (used as a theme on Blurryface) and Josh's hair color is yellow (Trench's color). The hooded figure driving the car is a Bishop (whom we don't get introduced to until Trench).
The three part story they made in the singles they released in their music video form: Jumpsuit : Nico and the Niners : Levitate are a call back to the song A Car, A Torch, A Death from their self-titled album (the videos tell a story even though they are track 1, 9, and 2 on the album). The song Car Radio (from Vessel) is mentioned in Levitate. The song My Blood has a call back to the lions den reference in Migraine (Vessel). The Nico and the Niners video has call backs to the music videos Stressed Out and Ride. And the car from the Heavydirtysoul video is in the Jumpsuit video as well as Levitate and is used in their live shows on the new tour.  Hype isn't, to my knowledge, a call back to any of their previous work but it just reminds me of my good old days. Very reminiscent of late 90's Oasis or early 00's Blink 182.

Then the way they announced their break (the dreaded hiatus) and the content for this world they created was so cool. There are whole websites and YouTube channels dedicated to it all. I just can't explain it here.

But if you so choose: The site they created is again genius (you have to start at the bottom of the page). Every couple days or weeks they would post something new to the site over the summer. And you can spend hours, days, weeks picking it apart or you can do what I did after solving just one mystery, go to the subreddit where everyone else already decoded stuff and posted their theories. I can't find the one I read now, but here's someone's synopsis of what went on to the lead up of the release of Trench. It's old now, and some of the theories (one in particular that Tyler is Clancy) have been proven incorrect now. But it's fun to get a glimpse of how fans were decoding things as they were happening. FPE (part of their iconography and tattooed on many a body, from the song Fairly Local, the Few, the Proud, the Emotional) now has another meaning in the world of DEMA (Failed Perimeter Escape) which if you are well versed in the world means so much more than just what the words are. They love doing things like this. Filling words that normally don't mean anything with meaning. Jumpsuit, East is Up, Bandito, Sahlo Folina. Say what now? That last one. There are layers upon layers to that one. Unscramble the letter and it spells out "all Ohio fans". "Sahlo" means to enable in Somali and the name of Folina has a meaning of "happiest when you are expressing in some creative, artistic way, and not conforming to strict routine" so it means "to enable expressive creations". Then in a Reddit Q&A, Tyler responded saying that, it's their cry for help when they're in trench. And then there's this theory, which I like a lot (you can skip to .56 to skip past the ad) Sahlo Folina.

Here is a list of YouTuber's who have really good content and explanations and theories about the new album and stuff. If you're lazy like me and want everyone else to do the work for you:

Pop Song Professor's theories and explanations on the new album Trench (he also does some really good song lyric analysis)
Dema for Dummies Part I click here
Dema for Dummies Part II click here
Dema for Dummies Part III click here

Gingersheep: If Tyler and Josh are smol beans, then Gingersheep is the smol bean of the fandom and must be protected. I'll just link to his YouTube home page because he has too many really good videos. But he is a good source for all things Dema and Towers of Silence, and Vialism, and the website. The link above about Sahlo Folina is his.

Nalbis did a three part series. He's an aspiring film maker. A bit weird and hokie at times, but really good.
The Dema Universe click here
Who is Clancy click here
Welcome to Trench click here

Wheatmaker: I just found her, she deserves many more followers and views, in my opinion. She's a physicist. I like her because unlike the Pop Song Professor, who can sometimes come off as over emphasizing how religious each song is, she comes at them with the more analytical side of the mind. Yes you can interpret many of the songs to be about god, praying to god, reaching out to god, god, god, god, etc.,  but that's not the one and only way. I think the majority of the Clique is christian (the boys themselves identify as christian), and so that interpretation of the music is most prevalent when looking at YouTube content. However, part of their genius is that you don't have to be a religious person to find meaning in their songs. And Wheatmaker, I think, brings a much needed discussion that the religious leaning Pop Song Professor does not, that the new album is saying there are problems with blind faith/organized religion and there are problems with only relying on science. Both have issues, yet one can't rely on just one or the either. So songs like Morph discuss that juxtaposition.

Some honorable mentions:
Pillow Pilots: who started out as a fan animation page and morphed into all things fun and silly to
entertain the fans during the so called hiatus.
CrankThatFrank: a self professed Emo God, who's reactions to the band coming out of the dreaded hiatus and their music video's is just fun to watch because he is so genuine. His reactions to the video trilogy: Jumpsuit : Nico and the Niners : Levitate

A few more thoughts. I swear I'll finish this soon. I had a few observations on my deep dive into all things Twenty One Pilots. I was never nervous playing in an orchestra or band. Only once in the MLJ's (HSU Marching Lumberjacks) was I unable to play. Which was when I was the only bone player and a song on the set list had a bone solo. I played second parts, not first and couldn’t play the bone solo. So I told the axe major I couldn't do it. We still played the song, but I handed my trombone to a trumpet player (who is an amazing trombone player) just for the solo. Something happens when you put the uniform on. Whether it was the crazy MLJ gold t-shirt or the slick black of orchestra attire. I'm not shy or reserved in a group performance or when in disguise (which is one reason why the boys wear masks sometimes). Individual performances were a whole different story. I would get nervous and anxious to the point of crippling performance anxiety. I puked my guts out after a violin competition. It got worse as I got older, to where I couldn't even get up on the stage. To the point where I quit playing all together. I stopped taking piano and violin lessons, in a way so that I wouldn't have to perform anymore. Tyler and Josh can’t do it solo either. They need each other. Somehow knowing that you’re not alone in the performing or experience allows me to not experience the sometimes crippling effects of anxiety. Tyler has said many times that he would never do a solo project or "go solo". Both of them say that they couldn't get up on those huge stages night after night, show after show, if the other wasn't there. Having that support, the "you're not in this alone" is so vital to people like me and them.

I still can’t listen to Linkin Park (I swear this isn't some random tangent). At least not entire albums. If a song comes on a playlist or radio, it's fine, but I still can't just seek them out and play their entire discography. Especially their last album. I'm not the biggest fan of pop (which their last album sort of was) but also because the band catered to Chester on that last album. His vocal range to be specific. They wrote the lyrics first and then arranged the songs and created them in key signatures that best fit his range. They usually wrote lyrics last. And the lyrics are so spot on to him and his demons. They were hopeful but then in the end he lost his war, which still makes me sad and angry at the same time. Maybe it will change with more time. I didn’t care for The Hunting Party album when it came out. It was too hard sounding. But now it’s my favorite album of theirs. Mike has released his first solo work after Chester's death and is touring and sharing about his time with Chester. He said, I think at an awards show, how after Chester died, Tyler from Twenty One Pilots called him and reached out.

ALL of THAT to say, this band, these two boys and their latest album Trench got me to a state where I was able to write this blog post. The album was released the night before. I listened to it twice all the way through not an hour after it was released at midnight on the 5th. I listened to that quiet one and listened to Vessel in the car while I drove to the park. When I got to the bench, I pumped Trench into my earholes, and that blog post just gushed like flood gates were released. It's rare that that happens to me, where my hand can barely keep up with my brain (unlike this blog post that I've struggled with for almost three months). I wrote so fast, for fear of loosing any of the thoughts that were pouring out. So thank you Tyler and Josh. Thank you Twenty One Pilots for being that first handhold, that first step on my way out of my hole. Because before I was just down there at the bottom looking up at the light, hopeless. The journey out of a deep depression is long I am finding. Which is normal, so I'm told. Also thank you to those of you who read that post and wrote me or reached out. Thank you. Knowing you're not alone and that other people who you know personally have some of the same difficulties you do is affirming. I'm still in the hole, but I'm not standing at the bottom anymore. There are good days. There are bad days. I saw my primary care doctor who referred me to a therapist, who I saw last week. I'm back on birth control pills. And I'm slowly getting back into exercising. Due to the extremely bad hazardous air however, I'm just using the rowing machine in my garage. But I'm learning that small victories are victories. Small steps in the right direction are still steps in the right direction.

And finally, I bought tickets to their show in Oakland, that was on the 11th. The concert was sold out, so I had to buy scalped tickets which were way over original price, but I felt it was worth it. And boooooiiiiiiii was it. I took my BFF (who when she agreed to go with me didn't know who they were) who is now completely obsessed with them. She texts me randomly saying, "damn you, I now listen to them in the car, while working, and at the gym". I'm like a proud mom. We talked and talked about how both of us just needed that night. How special it was. And just the simple thing of looking forward to going to a concert with a friend can literally save your life. She's so obsessed now that she called me the other day and said "So keep May 12th open in your calendar." Uh, why? I ask. "Because Twenty One Pilots will be playing in Vancouver Canada that night and we should go." Well hot diggity. After I got off the phone with her, I went to their website and looked up the tickets. She called me back, and I told her what I was doing and I said I can buy them now. So I did. So BFF, her daughter, and I will be flying to Canada in May for yet another amazing weekend. And I'll get a stamp in my new passport... finally! And that's one more thing to look forward to. That's one more handhold, one more step in the right direction. East is Up.

Let's Dig In Series links: Depression Part I      Religion Part I