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Twenty One Pilots’ ‘Vessel’: A Snapshot Of How A Phenomenon Was Born

Jack Rogers
Jack Rogers 8 January 2021 at 16.16

Twenty One Pilots are without a doubt one of the biggest bands in the world today, but back in 2013 they were still simmering under the radar but ready-made to explode. On the eighth anniversary of the release of their album 'Vessel', we take a look back at how it was clear that they were on to something big. 

Every legend has to start somewhere. Every legacy has a beginning. Every success has a point where everything changed.

What Twenty One Pilots have achieved in the last few years is nothing short of incredible. Growing into a genuine behemoth of the world music, it's difficult to think of a time when Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun weren't sitting comfortably on the throne of alternative music. Though flashback to 2013, and they were still cutting their teeth in a scene that in many ways wasn't ready for what was to come.

First, though, a little background.

Since forming in 2009, Twenty One Pilots had been building up a formidable name for themselves in the Ohio area. From Tyler's mother handing out free tickets outside high schools and Battle Of The Bands appearances, all the way up to sold out hometown shows and online interest peaking throughout the state, the band started from the bottom and ended up further than they had ever envisioned. Through teething issues, line-up changes and two DIY releases, '09's 'Twenty One Pilots' and 2011's 'Regional At Best', Fueled By Ramen pricked up their ears and signed the band. Now rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest bands in the world, Pilots were all of a sudden plonked into the big leagues. Things needed to be stepped up.

Luckily, they had 'Vessel' at their disposal.

Though 'Regional At Best' featured five songs that would later appear on 'Vessel', and three which would become bonus tracks on the UK release of the record, it wasn't until the band were given the tools of Fueled By Ramen that these slices of gold were able to truly come into their own. Sporadic, convulsing and, in some ways, utterly bizarre, the likes of the multifaceted 'Ode To Sleep', brain-numbing 'Migraine' and scathing 'Guns For Hands' were unlike anything anyone else was even attempting to produce. With their mashing together of hip-hop sensibility, pop-like enthusiasm, EDM intensity and the levels of poetic beauty that had made rock and roll such a formidable movement, Tyler and Josh were forging a new sound for a generation that was ready to learn, grow and prosper.

Dig a little deeper and you will find more examples of unmatchable songwriting that showed that Tyler and Josh were a cut above the rest. 'Car Radio' builds patiently before delivering the sort of crescendo of emotion that can't help but send shivers down the spine and the careful patter of 'Screen' explaining that just because you're broken doesn't mean you're any less vital, while 'Semi-Automatic' uses electronic pulses to delve into the psyche and try to take back control of who you are, and the simple but effective delivery of 'House Of Gold' pays homage to the unbridled love and patience of a parent. What made Twenty One Pilots so special even from the beginning was their total transparency when it came to talking about the workings of the human brain. Every insecurity, every niggling anxiety, every moment of weakness or vulnerability or passion was put on show for all to see and to pull energy from. There was no pretense. No hidden meanings. This was songwriting coming straight from the core of what it means to be human. 

The purpose of a vessel is to carry something much more than what appears on the surface. Much like a car is a vessel for transporting us from A to B, our bodies are merely a vessel for transporting us from the elation of birth to the heartbreak of death. Much like the car, it's what's inside of the body that truly matters. The tirade of feelings, thoughts, emotions and those moments of euphoric joy and desolating sadness that make being alive so vibrant and unpredictable. The way that our hearts, souls and heads cope with the bumps in the road that life inevitably deal out and how they use those experiences to adapt and learn. Skin and muscle and blood and bone are the most vital components of the human body, but the things that exist deeper than that are what make us who we are. Those are the things that will live on long after our bodies have decomposed and turned to dust. It's in the things that we do with our hearts and minds where the true legacy of our time on this earth lies.

In the same way, the inner workings of a song and each individual's interpretation of the chords and lyrics that make up those three or so minutes of music are what truly matter. Twenty One Pilots tapped into this mantra in a way that nobody else probably could on 'Vessel' and that is why they have become such a gargantuan force within music. Even with what followed after in the form of 2015's record breaking 'Blurryface' and 2018's utterly triumphant 'Trench', it was on 'Vessel' that Tyler and Josh showed that they were more than just a pair of dudes making music. They were thinking beyond their own lifespans and considering what their music will be remembered for once they are gone. They were about something much more potent. They were here to make us all look into our inner workings and realise that we are special and made for something more than what our bodies tell us that we are. In many ways it was the perfect audio accompaniment for a generation realising they are part of something much bigger than themselves.

Put simply, this was a vessel for something very special indeed. 


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