transcript: Tyler Joseph Talks With Zane Lowe about “Christmas Saves The Year”

Zane Lowe: I want to know exactly what prompted you, Tyler, to get twenty one pilots into this never-ending and beautiful catalog of Christmas classics?

Tyler Joseph: I told my mom and my mother-in-law, everyone who ever asked me, "Hey, will you ever write a Christmas song?" I've always told him, "No way. that's not my thing." and then, I don't know if it was just the combination of working on that song at a piano while accidentally staring at Christmas decorations first going up, and that combined with being a dad for the first time, experiencing Christmas through a little girl's perspective, it kind of all came together.

Zane Lowe: And it did, man. It's a beautiful Christmas moment. It's funny whenever new artists come through, you realize - I always think that there's an unspoken pressure, because you think about the Christmas classics, and you don't think about that when you're making your own music; you're not thinking about that when you're making a twenty one pilots album, like, "how's it going to measure up to my peers or the music that's come before me?" but with Christmas songs, you can't help but think about the classics. You can't help but do it.

Tyler Joseph: There's definitely a few components that make a Christmas song what a Christmas song is, and I knew that I could either reinvent the wheel or I could try to lean into those assets that we're so used to, whether it's come some of those jingle bell things. I mean if you listen to the end of the track at the very end, you can even hear me fly in a "Ho. Ho. Ho." at the very end. So I was wondering if I was leaning into those Christmas attributes or not, that says it all. Actually I texted the guy that I have mixed all my stuff. I gave him a heads up, because this all happened really fast, which a lot of the stuff that I've been doing does, where it's just like, "hey, here's a song. let's go. let's go." really been testing my label and other people. they are used to having months to prepare for a release. really been testing that, because just having the studio in the house, wanting to turn stuff around so quick. But I texted my mixer. I was like, "Yo. A Christmas song is coming down the pike. get ready. You know, clear your schedule. I'd like to get this mixed and done in a couple days. And he goes, "oh cool. Are you recording a classic or writing an original?" I just texted - I said, "both."

Zane Lowe: ladies and gentlemen, in case you were wondering, Tyler Joseph knows exactly how good his band is. Don't go anywhere. Bro, I need a couple more minutes with you off the back of this track. Oh my gosh, man. not just drawing on the inspiration in terms of the iconography and the imagery of Christmas, the cheap decor and flavored cheer, but also with the arrangement and the music, too, that little Vince Guaraldi that kind of beautiful lilting piano and those dry drums and everything, it's got that classic Christmas feel about it, bro, in the production as well. Was it fun to do? Did you enjoy doing it? Just kind of something in between?

Tyler Joseph: I did. And actually a lot of times a new song can be inspired by a new piece of gear, and I got this outboard gear called Mellotron that has all these amazing kind of old-timey recordings with all the with all the mess-ups. And it was amazing to deep dive into this new piece of gear. And it just fit with all those sounds and all those layers. I had a lot of fun showing self-control. That's one of the first things that I know I have to learn as a producer. I decided like, "hey. My first drum pattern on that song was so many kick drums. It was like [...] that was what I first heard. And then I realized, "No. No. You gotta [pull it back] for just every once in a while, on the ups. And a lot of times I find a drum pattern that I love, and then just loop it through the whole section. What I did is I actually went in at specific moments where either the upbeats on some of those off light snare rim shots, and then some of the other inflections, I would go in and mute and add. So the drum pattern almost never is exactly the same throughout the song.

Zane Lowe: the drums are sick but they always are. We've talked - we've nerded out about this before, how I feel about you and drums. I think that you know you've got a real ear for making those an essential part of the process. And it makes total sense, because outside of your own skill set, the only additional member of the band and the collaborator is behind a kit, so it's got to be an essential part of what drives the band. hey uh, what's up with the Christmas movie? I mean, it is a Christmas movie. You're right. the hook is a Christmas movie - "Christmas Saves The Year". Why don't you write it? You should write it.

Tyler Joseph: I don't know. What I was doing [was] I always need to put myself somewhere when I'm writing a song, and this song in particular. I know I have a few friends who live in some bigger cities - they have these small apartments, and they have these small rooms, and there's a lot of people who don't have the space to move around. I'm lucky enough to be out here in Ohio. I've got some land that I can go out and actually get a breath of fresh air, but there's a lot of people going through this right now that it's been hot in the inner city. Their version of Christmas is going to be the tiniest little decoration that they can look at, as they're trying to weigh the options of whether or not they should see their family this year and stuff. And that's where I put myself when I was writing this song, this idea of referencing old Christmas past, and trying to create a new memory, but it's going to be a different one, and it's minimal.

Zane Lowe: I've been lucky enough to catch up with you a couple of times now this year, which is rare. You don't run into a room to talk about music. I respect that about you. And when we spoke last time you talked about how quarantine was affecting your creative process. And twenty one pilots, you're not afraid to present a future, be bold, brave, or dystopian, depends on how you feel. But this year I can only imagine has put you in a really - as we say goodbye, just to get an insight into what what's coming - must have impacted your creative space, because you're a sensitive human, and you must be feeling and seeing what's going on out there, and experiencing it in your own microscopic way, and it must be influencing your music.

Tyler Joseph: It is. It absolutely is. I think that this new record I'm working on, it's some of the most taxing stuff that I've ever dove into, and it has a lot to do with the fact that I'm not bouncing it off of people; I'm not on tour as I'm writing it; I'm not thinking about how it may impact people live at that moment. I'm kind of really in a vacuum here, writing songs. And I think that there's still an opportunity to create some awesome stuff in that environment, but it's scarier than ever at the same time, because you haven't bounced it off anymore. You're just going to show up one day, and say, "Here's the album".

Zane Lowe: It must, in a weird way, feel like your first record. It’s not like you were bouncing your first records off people, either. You didn't have an audience.

Tyler Joseph: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that ever since we've gotten an audience, one of the things I've tried to do is get back to that moment - get back to writing music in a place where I didn't know if someone was going to hear it or not. And with everything being so still up in the air, you know, what it looks like for us in our career, because we live music was so important to us; when a band or an artist reaches out and asks me, like, "hey how do I get going? how do I get started?" for us, our equation involved going out and playing shows, and with that being not an option, it's like, "man, I don't know what to tell you right now. there's a bit of the unknown, a bit of desperation that brings me back to when I first started writing songs, and that's why I'm so excited about some of these new stuff. I can't wait to show it to you.

Zane Lowe: I can't wait to hear it, bro. I'm super excited. Everybody is. I mean people are thrilled to have you back. We love the way you move. little or no warning whatsoever has become the MO now for twenty one pilots fans you know. just "wait for it. there it is. Okay. cool." so Christmas, bro, the holiday season as you said, you are a dad now. What a beautiful addition to this whole experience. In fact, I think until you become a parent, there's a certain period in your life where you're between being a kid where it still matters and being a parent where the holidays really becomes about showing up for your family, and doing your thing, and being present, stopping your ambitions long enough to be able to share with your family, and tell stories, and just be a part of the unit, right? it's different now. You've got your own unit, and it must feel really exciting to know that you've got this song, but you can also disappear out of the studio and move into a whole different experience now that you're a dad.

Tyler Joseph: Yeah. When I played the song for her, she like, lights up. I can see her light up. And I was working out the second verse with her sitting on my lap, as I was sitting at the piano. It was stuff like that, I'll personally never forget. Every time I hear the song again, I'll remember her when she's that age, 10 months old, sitting on my lap, holding down the low keys, hitting everything wrong, and I'm still trying to work through that second verse. that's stuff that you can't manufacture. that's real for me.

Zane Lowe: Tyler, at last you've got somebody you can play music to, and just enjoy that process, as opposed to staring at them, intently wondering what their reaction is gonna be, so you can alter the snare.

Tyler Joseph: Yeah. Exactly. She loved it. She didn't have any critiques on the mix.

Zane Lowe: It was good to see you. This is a great record. I'm hard on Christmas songs. like I said, you can't be a modern band and show up, unless you're going to hit us with the Coldplay Christmas lights vibe. I mean, that's the bar. that's the bar that's been set by your contemporaries in terms of Chris Martin's like, "I know what I got to achieve here." and there are a few that come through every year that are able to do that. You've done that, man. I love it. This song is a stunner. We're gonna get straight into [...], brand new world first play. I love this record. We'll talk about it gassing up afterwards. But Tyler, have a fantastic holiday, man. Be safe. Be well. let's get through it and get you back into a space next year with music and touring, man. We appreciate you.

Tyler Joseph: thanks, man.

Zane Lowe: peace.

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