Ohio native, Twenty One Pilots, are achieving the impossible: becoming mainstream whilst still drawing inspiration from smaller pools of music.
These genre evasive, musical rugrats who kind of revel in the fact you might not like them are, for some reason, fitting in. But with a sound strange enough to overcome the noise of the general rush, they’ve remained distinctive. For a band who’s fans deem themselves a ‘clique’, it’s somewhat baffling how they’ve managed to climb the charts so fast.
Twenty One Pilots are like this transparent oil flowing effortlessly through the mug of the main channels. They refuse to mix and ignore much of the industry around them, resenting it almost, yet radio stations are still playing their songs. And, it’s purely about the music with them.
To highlight this, the band recently released what they’re calling ‘reimagined’ tracks and they did so for free. This was refreshing and what every Twenty One Pilots fan has been waiting for, I think.
Basically, the duo allowed supporting act MUTEMATH to remix 5 of their most popular songs. This live session, entitled ‘the MUTEMATH sessions’, was filmed and uploaded to the band’s YouTube channel. A session which, like most Twenty One Pilots’ video content – and that’s including most music videos – was directed by long time friend Real Bear Media.
It’s important to note that this is the first time Twenty One Pilots have ever collaborated with another band, aside from a short performance with ASAP Rocky at the VMAs in 2015. Never one for inauthenticity, Twenty One Pilots clearly have a lot of faith in their relationship with MUTEMATH. It takes a lot of trust to willingly hand over a piece of finished work and say, ‘Here, I trust you’ll do whatever you want with this and I’m positive I’ll love it.’
Embracing the concept that art is never truly finished, these reimagined tracks come together to form an album all on their own. And, it’s an orchestration of risks.
Credit goes to entirely to MUTEMATH for the music production and the band’s frontman, Paul Meany, who mixed and mastered everything. Alone, MUTEMATH sound dreamy where Twenty One Pilots prefer dark tones. Together, it’s like listening to two duelling dragons, except the dragons are more fond of one another than they are afraid. The two bands are merely challenging each other and both rise to the occasion with majesty. It’s a nice example of what happens when one quirk complements another, creating something totally unique.
Admittedly, as a long-time fan of the band, I did not like Heathens – or the poorly edited nightmare that was Suicide Squad. However, upon listening to MUTEMATH’s version, I honestly fell in love with the song that originally made me feel a little discouraged. And, I think this is exactly what Twenty One Pilots wanted to happen.
Heathens was clearly created within limits. You can hear the music almost choking on itself as it repeats, and repeats and repeats. It’s also stupidly overplayed at this point. By adding MUTEMATH’s Roy Mitchell-Cardenas on bass at the beginning and pressing and pulling more emotional peaks and troughs out of the backing track, the song fulfils the potential that it’s been dying to.
My personal theory is that, as lead signer Tyler Joseph hates the idea of putting out meaningless content, Heathens is actually about much more than Suicide Squad. I’m almost certain it’s the bands way of voicing their concerns for the current state of the world: the rising rates of terrorism, inequality, sexism, racism and xenophobia. The sadder and more reflective tone at the beginning of this version of Heathens only highlighted such to me.
Twenty One pilots played the Bataclan theatre just one night before the Paris attacks in November, 2015 that left 129 music lovers dead. This led to them cancelling the rest of their European tour, concerned for the safety of their fans, their crew and their families who were on the road with them. The event clearly shook them and when I first heard Heathens I was convinced that this was their response. They’re clever; they knew the song would be heard by millions across the world. I just can’t imagine them not using such an opportunity and the platform it provided their ideas.
But I digress. I felt that MUTEMATH’s remix of Heathens was finally the beautifully lucid version that I’d been listening hard for.
The second track was Heavydirtysoul. This was originally a poem written and performed by Tyler Joseph, which actually marks the conception of ‘Blurryface’.
Though MUTEMATH’s version doesn’t veer far from the original, it is a fantastic example of why Twenty One Pilots are a band that you need to see live in order to fully get it. Hearing Tyler Joseph’s vocals is one thing, but seeing him perform is another. Heavydirtysoul really showcases Tyler’s vocal versatility not to mention his poetic flare. From rapping to singing to screaming, the song from beginning to end is a myriad of sounds and emotions.
Ride has been a popular choice for radio stations over the summer due to it’s relevant faux reggae beats. Here however, MUTEMATH introduce newly synthesised tones that I can only describe as ‘bubbly’. The music fluctuates, rises and pops, falling only to inflates again. The song reminds me of gas escaping a cracked coke can and it is a song about release, so in a way that makes sense. This eases listeners into a calming ebb in the overall soundtrack, following the harsher sounds of Heathens and Heavydirtysoul.
The next ‘reimaging’ is quite possibly my favourite. Tear In My Heart activates dancing Tyler – a sight for all eyes. When speaking about the original song, Tyler explained that he had never felt the need to write a love song. He knew that any love song that he wrote before he met his wife would be futile and fleeting and so avoided investing any emotional energy in that area of music. However, upon happily marrying in 2015, he decided it was time to write Tear In My Heart for his wife Jenna Joseph. Lyrically it’s a strange song that depicts love as a double-edged knife, an decisive ambiguity, as well as the only concrete thing in Tyler’s life.
MUTEMATH’s rendition calls forth a trumpet playing Josh Dunn and jazzed up vibe. The dreamy vocal style of MUTEMATH rings like angels throughout the song and works incredibly well to bring a softer element to the original, somewhat aggressive, composition. It’s as if he’s so relieved to be so uncontrollably in love, but at the same time he’s a little bit mad about it because it’s supplied him with something he could never give himself.
As Tyler sings in Lane Boy ‘My creativity’s only free when I’m playing shows’ and I think that perfectly sums up this live session. If you love live music and you’ve never been to a Twenty One Pilots gig before, I highly recommend you do next time their in town. Just watching this recording made me wish I was in that room soaking up all the spontaneity in the air. It’s very evident the passion these two bands have for their art and it’s such an overwhelming experience to be in their presence and feel that intense drive to express and perform. Twenty One Pilots write songs that are meant to be performed; that’s their approach to music.
MUTEMATH are somewhat similar, but I can’t help but feel they got a little more caught up in the unpredictable nature of live music because they were performing songs which are already designed to evolve. I think that’s something Twenty One Pilots are particularly good at capturing in pre-recorded sound – multiple possibilities.
The drum battle between Twenty One pilots’ Josh Dunn and MUTEMATH’s Darren King is phenomenal and sets the pace for the finale where everyone is on an instrument and everything is racing towards an exhilarating climax. It’s amazing! This brings me back to the two duelling dragons analogy, suddenly both bands are embracing each other’s styles and the music is set alight.
When the credits start rolling a haunting piano interpretation of Heathens trickles between the names. Something about it reminds me of a Final Fantasy soundtrack, or at least some song in some otherworldly videogame. This is so beautiful that I wish it was part of this ‘album’, but unfortunately it only appears in the YouTube video.
The fact that this was called ‘the MUTEMATH sessions’ begs the questions, will there be future collaborations between the two bands? I wouldn’t rule it out. Twenty One Pilots are always trying new things with their music and I think the time for collaborations has come for them. Until a new album is finally released, I think this is enough for fans to live off for the next while, however, Twenty One Pilots have mentioned in recent interviews that they have been working on new music whilst on the road, so that’s always promising.
In the meantime, it’s a a good shout to check out MUTEMATH’s music. they’re been around since 2002, so there’s quite a few albums to get through, and I think if you’re a fan of how weird TOP are, you’ll love the psychedelic disposition of MUTHEMATH.