"Joseph used to drive door-to-door hand-delivering tickets for club shows. When that grew too time-consuming, he and drummer Josh Dun would have fans meet them at a table outside the Chick-Fil-A in the Polaris mall's food court. On show days, Joseph's mom would stand outside the club and try to hawk tickets to passing Ohio State students. 'She'd be like, 'Come see my son play music,'' recalls Joseph, who's 27 but could pass for a teenager, with a puppyish, Joseph Gordon-Levitt vibe that turns into something stranger and more intense onstage."
Things were extremely strict in Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun's respective households, but apparently it was Dun who had the hardest time:
"Things were even stricter at the Dun household. Video games and most rock or hip-hop albums were banned. 'I'd hide albums like Green Day's Dookie under my bed,' Dun says. 'Sometimes they'd find them and get real mad. They'd find a Christian alternative, like Relient K, and make me listen to that.' For a while, the only movies allowed in the house came from CleanFlicks, a Christian company that took Hollywood movies and edited out all the profanity, sexuality and violence. For a young Dun, it made watching movies like The Terminator quite confusing. 'Some scenes they'd remove entirely,' he says. 'Watching those movies was an absolutely awful experience.'
By the time he was a teenager, Dun was rebelling hard. 'I just had this aggression,' he says, noting that his parents nearly kicked him out when he was 14. 'They almost sent me to a military school. They didn't know what to do with me, and I was always in detention. I never got into drugs or alcohol, but I would yell at my parents and just treat them terribly. Everything was an argument. Looking back, they were trying their best.'"
It's hard to explain to someone what Twenty One Pilots sound like, and Tyler will be the first to tell you: On paper, it doesn't sound that appealing.
"'There was a lot of pressure to find a genre and stick to it,' says Joseph. 'People would tell me all the time, 'You can't be all things to everyone.' I would say, 'I'm not trying to be! I'm being what I want to be for myself.''"
Hours before their Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon appearance, Joseph was messing around in the studio's halls. Their whole thing has always been about fun:
"...Joseph is doing his best to live like a kid again, gleefully flying down the quiet halls on his brand-new hoverboard, past uniformed NBC pages and frowning security guards. 'How do I go forward?' he asks. 'I just push my wiener out? I guess it just reads the ween!'"
Twenty One Pilots' onstage ensembles differ deeply from their normal day-to-day attire, and that's largely because who they become onstage reflect their darkest and deepest thoughts:
"As showtime approaches, Joseph begins to transform, slathering black grease paint all over his neck and arms and trading his T-shirt and jeans for a stylish long black coat and dark pants. He stands up from the couch and begins pacing back and forth. 'This makeup forces me to recognize what I'm trying to say on this stage with this song,' he says. 'I'm anxious to get up there and get this over with.'
They play the album track "Heavydirtysoul": Like most songs on their newest album, Blurryface, it delves deep into Joseph's insecurities. 'There's an infestation in my mind's imagination,' he speed-raps. Fallon is sitting in darkness at his desk, but he's banging his head along to the beat; Questlove is also impressed..."
She raised him to be overly disciplined:
"Joseph and Dun were both raised in conservative, religious households. Joseph's father was the principal of a Christian high school that Tyler attended; before that, he was home-schooled by his mother. 'I told her I wanted to be a basketball player, and she made me take 500 shots every single day in the backyard,' he says. 'If I got closer to the basket and made lay-ups, she didn't count them. She'd knock on the back window near the kitchen and point to the three-point line. I had to be done before dinner, and if I wasn't, I wasn't allowed to eat.'"
Keep up to date with the latest news by subscribing to our newsletter.*required