Almost a year to the day after Twenty One Pilots dropped their sixth studio album, Scaled and Icy, fans will get to enjoy the Twenty One Pilots Cinema Experience in theaters.
The concert event from the acclaimed and Grammy award-winning band is an encore of their livestreamed show that launched the release. Broadcast from an arena in their native Columbus, Ohio, it was billed as a one-time-only concert and watched by fans from more than 200 countries.
This big-screen version features an extended cut of the show with remastered audio and video and more than 20 minutes of never-before-seen footage. It screens for one night only on Thursday, May 19, 2022, with a handful of encore screenings in select locations on Sunday, May 22, 2022.
I caught up with drummer Josh Dun to talk about the road to Twenty One Pilots Cinema Experience, the experience coming full circle, and whether or not he’ll be in the audience himself on the big night.
Simon Thompson: You’ve had a great start to the week with a win at the Billboard Music Awards just days before this lands in theaters. Was that timing coincidental?
Josh Dun: It was totally coincidental, but it’s cool and feels like a nice ramp up to this cinema experience. Entirely coincidental, but it worked out nicely nonetheless.
Thompson: And this will be landing in theaters almost a year to the day that the Scaled and Icy album was released. Was it always the intention when the album came out to have these 12 months apart or lucky happenstance for you guys again?
Dun: That just happened organically as well. The original livestream that we did took place as a hand-in-hand event with the album release. As soon as the livestream occurred, you could go and buy the album. We didn’t know what we would do with the livestream after that, but there were definitely the beginning of plans and conversations about what makes sense, and it was like, ‘Okay, let’s hold on to it for now and think about next steps.’ Over time, it started to make sense, and we were like, ‘Let’s show this to people again in a really fun, cool, and unique way.’ We put so much time and work into pulling off that livestream, and I also think about the full circle of this thing. The livestream came about because of the pandemic, which meant we couldn’t tour. The way it was initially performed and streamed was with people essentially sitting at home alone, or maybe calling friends and watching it together that way. Now, it’s come back around where everyone can grab a friend, family members, or a group of people and go together and experience this thing all over again with other people. It’s one of those cool moments where reliving that experience, surrounded by people, will be completely different but really cool.
Thompson: I was very surprised about how much effort was put into creating that in the arena. Many bands were doing this kind of thing, but the staging was stripped down. Twenty One Pilots went all in and effectively staged a high production stadium show. Whose idea was it to go so big?
Dun: That’s a good observation. Livestreams have been around since before the pandemic, so people often asked us if we would ever do one. Our answer was always no because the way we pull off our show requires people, and we’ve intentionally made it that way. That hasn’t changed since we were playing in bars and clubs. We’ve always involved the audience as much as we can, so the idea of doing something without an audience felt impossible. It’s like we’re putting on a show without our other band members. Then the pandemic came around, and, even initially, we started seeing some bands and artists doing livestreams. Being completely transparent, it was a little bit underwhelming for both of us. It was like, ‘This is cool, there’s kind of like a buildup hype, we’ve got the countdown on the screen, and then the show starts, and after two songs, you know exactly what the rest of the thing is.’ We had a lot of conversations, it was a topic on the table, and we looked at each other and had a conversation because it felt like we couldn’t pull off an authentic version of a Twenty One Pilots show that we would feel proud of. When we decided to try and tackle something, we knew we had to rework everything from the ground up and reimagine what the performance would look like, and in some ways, we took advantage of the fact there wasn’t a crowd there. We rented out the arena in Columbus. We had five or six different set pieces we ran back and forth from, and it took up the entire arena floor. We couldn’t do something like that generally with a crowd, and we added a few other things like backup singers and band members and some dancers. It was something where we had to start from the ground up again.
Thompson: Was it the fan reaction afterward that it was a good call? Was that where the confirmation and validation came from?
Dun: I think so. Having an audience at our shows has been so ingrained in what our band is and how we present ourselves that I felt a little self-conscious performing something without an audience that was going to go out to an audience. Even the day of the livestream, I was like, ‘I hope that people like this, I hope that it comes off well and that it’s interesting, and people stay engaged in performance the whole way through.’ I did think seeing positive reinforcement and encouragement from people afterward was validation, especially as this thing was pretty expensive to do. We put a lot of money into it and a lot of time. Preparation was somewhere like eight months of getting on Zoom, which makes things difficult as you can’t get people in a room to have logistical conversations. We had people all over the country popping on Zoom and having conversations about what things would look like and feel like so far ahead of the actual event.
Thompson: Have people previously approached you about doing a concert movie, a documentary, or even something theatrical with your work?
Dun: It was never really a conversation that we’ve had before. We put out our album, Trench, which we followed up with Blurryface, and those albums have some storylines that go all the way through. We’ve also been intentional in making these albums and songs standalone, so if you don’t know anything about any backstory, or the band’s lore, you can listen to the songs and enjoy them. There is also some underlying storytelling happening, and specifically, when Trench came out, many people said, ‘Hey, you should do a movie or a Netflix
Thompson: Has this experience changed how you feel about doing something cinematic or for the stage? Green Day is just one example of a band who has taken their work and put it on stage with great success. What about scores? Danny Elfman and Trent Reznor have both had great success in that area.
Dun: Personally, I feel like you unlock things in your mind as you move forward in life. Tony Hawk was the first guy to do the 900 on a skateboard. Nobody had ever really done it before that, and once he did that, it unlocked the ability for other people to do that. Now it’s a relatively common thing for people to do, and so sometimes it does take a mental unlock where it’s just like, ‘Oh, we’re capable of doing something like this.’ There aren’t currently any conversations about moving forward in the direction of film or TV, but if we wanted to take on something like that eventually, I think we could.
Thompson: When you did the livestream, you couldn’t see how the audience was experiencing and responding to it. With it screening in theaters, you have the opportunity to be in that room, with the audience, watching them watching you, so are you going to sneak into any of the screenings and see what it was like from the other side?
Dun: I am going to, yeah. A couple of weeks ago, my mom was like, ‘Are you going to go to any of these?’ I was like, ‘No, probably not.’ There were a couple of thoughts that I immediately had, and one of them was that I’d buy a ticket to my own cinema experience and I’m the only one in the theater. I definitely didn’t want to find myself in that situation. That was my first thought. I’d rather stay home and, in my mind, pretend that everything’s great, all the theaters are packed out, and everyone’s throwing popcorn at each other and having a great time. As we get closer to the date, I would look back with regret if I didn’t show up at a movie theater and enjoy it with everybody. As I mentioned, I look at it as a complete circle thing, where we can now be around people. With music and movies, I think that they are a stamp in time. I listen back to albums from high school, and they bring me back to that moment, and it’ll bring up feelings or emotions that I’ve had at that time. To relive this livestream, I think it’ll take me back to the middle of the pandemic when many things were bleak and uncertain, and there wasn’t necessarily a light at the end of the tunnel. Going and sitting in a theater, hopefully, surrounded by other people, and reliving that moment with a fresh perspective would be a fun and exciting thing. I think I’m going to have to go and enjoy it as well.
Thompson: Which city will you grace with your presence? Do you know yet? Are you just going to pick a random one?
Dun: It’ll be Columbus, Ohio. I think that will be the most convenient for me.
Thompson: Ticket sales for screenings in Columbus, Ohio, will go through the freakin’ roof, Josh.
Dun: (Laughs) Well, hopefully, because I don’t want to be the only one in there.
You’ll find ticketing and the most up-to-date information about participating theaters worldwide right here.