Twenty One Pilots spill the beans on their 'colourful' new single, Shy Away

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

Image source, Ashley Osborn
Image caption,
Frontman Tyler Joseph (left) says he was feeling more positive as he recorded the band's latest album

Twenty One Pilots have revealed that their new single Shy Away started life as a "tutorial" on how to operate a recording studio.

Frontman Tyler Joseph told BBC Radio 1 he created the song for his younger brother, after he asked him how to go about writing and producing a record.

"I just thought, OK, let me start from scratch," he recalled.

"And I came up with the beginnings of the song almost as a tutorial for him, on how to how to lay out a song."

As he continued to work on the track, Joseph's lyrics became a letter of advice to his brother.

"The only thing tougher than trying to figure out what your own purpose is, is watching someone whom you love trying to figure out their purpose," the singer told Radio 1's Jack Saunders.

"So that's what the song is - trying to just give that person that boost of encouragement and pushing them forward."

Coo the music

It's not the only family connection on the song. Joseph's one-year-old daughter Rosie also appears in the opening seconds - although her contribution was unintentional.

"You'll hear this little baby cooing noise and it's actually because, when I was first working on the song, she was in the room with me."

As he sang vocal ideas into his phone, Rosie "made a noise in the background and immediately I thought, agh, why did she just ruin the recording?

"But when I transferred it over to my rig in my studio and I was working on that audio file, I found myself loving that she had been in some way a part of that creative process - and I actually kept her noise in the beginning of that song."

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Shy Away is the first single from Twenty One Pilots' forthcoming sixth album Scaled And Icy, which will be released on 21 May.

Powered by a bouncing synth riff, it's more upbeat and optimistic than the music on their previous record, Trench, which dealt with themes of mental health, doubt and suicide.

Speaking as Shy Away was crowned Radio 1's Hottest Record, Joseph said he was in a more positive headspace this time around.

"As you move about your life, you start to answer more and more of the questions you had when you were younger," he said. "The truth is, I have found some answers."

The 32-year-old described Scaled and Icy as "more colourful" than Twenty One Pilots' earlier albums, both sonically and in the artwork - which features a coiled blue dragon on a shocking pink background.

Surprisingly, the image was inspired by a tiny figurine he keeps in his recording studio in Columbus, Ohio.

Image caption,
Tyler showed Radio 1 the toy dinosaur that kept him company during the making of the album

"I have this theory that, even if you're confined to one small room, if you were to focus on one singular detail of that room, then that detail can then come to life," he explained.

"So I've been staring at this [dragon] dude and if I can get to a place where... all of a sudden, he can grow and fly around the room, then I am transported to a completely different place. It really is the power of creativity, the power of imagination and, ultimately, the power of music. And that's something that I'm experimenting with on this record."

Touring 'in limbo'

Scaled And Icy was largely recorded last year, with Joseph exchanging files with bandmate Josh Dun online as they spent lockdown hundreds of miles apart in Ohio and California.

Joseph described the drummer as his "centre of gravity" - and revealed he'd recently decided to move back to Ohio so the band could live in the same town again.

That's where they'll be for the foreseeable future, with the prospect of touring still on pause.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The band's previous hits include Stressed Out, Heathens and Chlorine

The band, who were the first group to have two albums where every song was certified gold or platinum, will play a livestream show to launch their album in May. But, after that, Joseph said it was unclear whether the band could play live this year.

"People think that people who are promoting concerts know more than the general public when it comes to when it's going to be safe to play shows again," he said.

"The truth is, I've talked to the top of the top and these guys and girls do not know. No-one knows.

"We're all holding our breath, hoping that things settle and land and get safe. So we're really in limbo."

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