meta-scriptThe Salvation Of Chris Daughtry: How He Conquered Music-Biz Machinations & Fear Of Irrelevance For Triumphant New Album 'Dearly Beloved' |

Chris Daughtry

Photo courtesy of Daughtry


The Salvation Of Chris Daughtry: How He Conquered Music-Biz Machinations & Fear Of Irrelevance For Triumphant New Album 'Dearly Beloved'

On the surface, Chris Daughtry had the best possible outcome for a fourth-place "American Idol" winner: The first Daughtry album made massive sales. But it's only on his newest, 'Dearly Beloved,' that he has complete creative autonomy

GRAMMYs/Sep 15, 2021 - 11:38 pm

Chris Daughtry disliked a Dr. Luke and Max Martin song so much he screamed in the studio while recording it. It was late in the recording process for Daughtry, his namesake band's debut album. Despite being an adept songwriter, the people upstairs asked him to record the pop overlords' co-write "Feels Like Tonight" at the eleventh hour. He couldn't connect with slightly generic lyrics like "I was waiting for the day you'd come around / I was chasing, but nothing was all I found." It didn't feel like him.

"There are recordings of me in the vocal booth going 'F*** this song! I hate this f***ing song!" Daughtry tells Despite coming in a respectable fourth place on "American Idol" in 2006, "It was written for me as if I won the show. If I won, this would have been that song that you sing at the end, where the f***ing confetti's falling on you and you're singing [Clenched voice] 'And it feeeeels like...' You know what I mean? That was going to be my celebratory win."

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By any measure, Daughtry was a "celebratory win" for the band. It became the fastest-selling debut rock album in history at the time, doing numbers that some out-and-out "Idol" winners might envy. But what's he been up to since? Despite the impressive raw data, the singer's label bosses never quite let him off the leash. Plus, endless executive turnover left him adrift, grasping for and missing ephemeral radio trends. But while Daughtry remains his best-selling work, he's arguably just made the first of his own volition.

That album is Dearly Beloved, the band's first outside of RCA, which will release September 17. (These days, they're rounded out by guitarists Brian Craddock and Josh Steely, keyboardist Elvio Fernandes, bassist Josh Paul and drummer Brandon Maclin.) With vibrant highlights like "Desperation," "Heavy is the Crown" and "Break Into My Heart," it's a slick, atmospheric modern rock record with a dystopian-flick vibe. But, more importantly, every second of it is Daughtry's and Daughtry's alone.

What a difference a decade and a half makes: the once-tightly-goateed young man nervously belting the Box Tops' "The Letter" for a skeptical Simon Cowell has sprouted a Michael Stipe-style beard and procured tribal tattoos. Like a streetbound, malnourished Maine Coon rapidly regrowing its coat and gaining healthy weight upon adoption, he looks prosperous and healthy. For the former service manager at a car dealership who's been through hell and back in music, it's been a wild ride to artistic liberation.

If not for his doggedness drive for success, everything about Chris Daughtry's early life suggested anonymity. He worked said day job in North Carolina while obsessed with '90s rockers from Live to Stone Temple Pilots to Alice in Chains, he performed gigs locally.

After an audition for "Rock Star: INXS" in 2005 proved to be a nonstarter, Daughtry auditioned for "American Idol" with a bittersweet overture from Deanna. "This is his dream, and when he married me, he took on my two kids," she exclaimed on-camera through tears. "I'm so emotional because I know this is his chance." His yowling, pitch-perfect version of "The Letter" was his ticket into the show—despite Cowell's rejection due to perceived "rushing" and lack of charisma.

Throughout Season 5, Daughtry climbed and climbed as the show's resident "rock guy" in the stead of Season 4's Bo Bice, who lost only to Carrie Underwood. But where Bice was a shaggy Southern boy, Daughtry looked chiseled, streamlined and severe, a quintessential modern rocker rather than a throwback. While he wound up eliminated in fourth place, he had clear marketability outside of the show. Sure enough, his looks, voice and vibe carved his path into the majors.

Despite the occasional critical jeers and sheer number of chefs in the kitchen on Daughtry—plus, "I hate the way I sound" on that record, he says today—Daughtry felt validated by the response. Later, he said he harbored no fantasies of winning the show. "I don't know how it could have got any better," he expressed in a 2009 interview. "We've sold almost six million records. So I'm not sure where the title [of "Idol" winner] makes that any better."

"We have these conversations with the band all the time: They're like, 'Man, it obviously worked, whatever you were doing.'" Daughtry says today. "I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to critiquing myself. I'm very happy, obviously. I'm super pumped for what it did. And if that meant not knowing what I was doing and just going in there green and riding the wave of excitement, then so be it."

The band's second album, 2009's Leave This Town, was mostly in the aesthetic mold of its predecessor and landed in the ballpark of its sales. Still, getting there wasn't a given: There was every chance of it flopping. "Leave This Town was a very stressful record because we were right off the heels of major success with the first album," Daughtry recalls. "You can't help but feel this unspoken tension and pressure to do that again."

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And in the end, "It did okay," he says. "It did one and a half million or so, but I felt like I got the record that I wanted. There was no songs thrown in last minute that I didn't write or something like that. Then I think it progressively got a little more trickier to navigate that balance of digging my heels and playing ball.

"There was a part of me that was also seeing a huge decline in record sales, and correlating that with my own creative relevance or abilities," he continues. "And me going, 'Well, maybe there is something to this. Maybe I do need to be paying attention to what other people are doing, and maybe I do need to be changing with the times.'"

When Daughtry listens to Leave This Town these days, he hears a guy beholden to his influences, yet inching toward his own style. "With a lot of artists that I can go back and listen to, you can hear their influences on their first record a lot more than records that proceed it," he says. "To me, I instantly hear who I was listening to at the time, as opposed to like, 'Oh yeah, that's just me.' But that's just me nitpicking. And I don't know if anybody else would hear it, but I definitely do."

His internal editor and nitpicker might make hay with Daughtry and Leave This Town, but Daughtry has special affection for the band's third record, 2011's Break The Spell. "I love that record," he says. "I had a blast making that one. I think that was one of the records that didn't have any real outside influence, but at the same time, didn't really... Well, it showed in the record sales. I didn't really have a lot of backing from the label either."

It's worth noting that Daughtry's career to date had been haunted by an endless parade of new A&R reps, all subjecting him to a new and confusing vision of the band before dematerializing and being replaced just as quickly—rinse and repeat. 

"With different A&R people, you have different versions of who they think you are," he says, still sounding pained. "This person, they may think you're this kind of band. Nobody really got where to put us. Nobody understood it after our first two records. There was a lot of turnover at RCA and I think we had a different A&R person for every record."

"It was always trying to get to know the next person and trying to explain the type of record you wanted to make, he continues. "Then, in the middle of making one, you find yourself being like, "I don't know if this is what we were going after, but hey! We're playing ball here and everybody wants to make money and be successful.' So I definitely played my part just from being surrounded by peers saying 'Nobody's playing guitars on the radio now. You got to do this to stay relevant.'"

That Chicken Little-style harbinger of the "end of guitars" brought about Break The Spell's 2013 follow-up Baptized, an extremely commercial detour that remains the biggest sticking point for the singer. He's still audibly frustrated about that experience. "Looking back, there were moments where I'm like, 'Yeah, that missed the mark,'" he admits with a wince. "I can see why maybe we got a lot of flak from the fans on, especially, Baptized. That record was an... experiment, for sure."

Read More: Daughtry Is Reborn On Baptized

The band put most of their chips on the electro-pop single "Waiting for Superman," which seemed like a surefire slam dunk. "A&R at the time got more excited than I've ever seen an A&R person yet over a song," he says. "And you start to go, 'Oh. Well! if they're that excited, that must mean something good. It felt a little over-the-top pop for me, but I was playing ball. I was mesmerized by the hype that was going on around me."

That hype didn't translate into the marketplace, though: "Waiting for Superman" stalled out at No. 66 on Billboard's Hot 100. At this point, Daughtry's frustration reached its boiling point; the back-of-the-envelope calculus for success made no sense to him. "Wait a minute. I'm doing all the things they're saying to do to get this result, but A. they're not pushing it, B. we're not getting the results," he remembers thinking. "Why am I doing something that I don't fully believe in?"

The relative failure of the single catalyzed a period of depression for the singer. Why had he been signed in the first place if they didn't want him to be him? "I started going downward mentally," he says. "I started second-guessing myself as a writer and performer, and my relevance in this new world of music that I didn't quite understand from the time I started in 2006 to now. It just felt so foreign and different to me, and I wasn't doing what I naturally did, which was rock."

Daughtry fulfilled the band's RCA contract with 2018's Cage To Rattle, which the latest suit pitched to him as a return-to-form rock album. "He's like, 'We're going to f***ing make a rock record,' I'm like, 'Yes!' He's like, "Get [Kings of Leon producer] Jacquire King." I'm like, 'Yes!'" he remembers. "Then, a new A&R person comes in and trumps his say." At that deflating moment where he realized this record would be like the rest, Cage To Rattle began to float away from what Daughtry envisioned.

"They're saying, 'Oh man, you do this song, we're going to have a big hit,'" he says. "I'm like, 'I don't know.' I argued with them. I argued, I argued, I argued. I finally caved. The song did nothing and I was like, 'This is it. Once we're done, we're done. We're parting ways. If they don't take me up, I'm not going to be mad at this.'" In the end, Daughtry "parted ways mutually" with his label and management.

Fast-forward to 2020: As the COVID-19 pandemic became entangled with global racial protests, Daughtry looked at the world, examined his feelings and began to write. "I've never really been one to write about current events, never been a political person, never been anyone to be kind of moved by the things going on around me," he says. "This is the first time that I felt compelled to write how these things made me feel."

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Such was the batch of songs that eventually comprised the liberated Dearly Beloved, which Daughtry calls "100 percent, hands down" his favorite record he's made. The single "World on Fire" especially carries the weight of his newfound introspection and world-weariness.

"Right before the s*** hit the fan, Australia was on fire," Daughtry says. And I remember being in the studio and we were just scrolling through Instagram as we do right before a session—we're having our coffee just looking through the news or whatever—and I just remember going, 'Dude, literally, the world is on fire. No matter where you turn, something is totally f***ed.'" And I think [producer] Marti [Frederiksen] was like, "'World on Fire,' man. That's a good song title."

Daughtry. Photo: Sara Fish

Whether or not the glitchy, stadium-scaled rock on Dearly Beloved is your cup of tea, there's a poignant thrill to hearing an artist break out of his industry fetters and do exactly what they want to do. In the videos for both "World On Fire" and "Heavy Is The Crown," Daughtry is cast as a Jack Reacher-style action hero fending off a cabal of shadowy, suited baddies with choreographed moves, which seems pretty biographical. Semi-inscrutably, both end with the same disclaimer: "To be continued."

But those three words seem to sum up Daughtry, who despite commanding millions of fans worldwide, has spent 15 years in the business clearing his throat so he can finally do what he wants to do: Be a rock 'n' roll singer, full stop. Given a crystal ball, is there anything he would tell his 25-year-old self, who, for better or worse, was about to be fed into the thresher of the music business?

"I would say have a clear vision," he concludes. "Because if you don't, someone's going to give you one."

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Musicians Mark Stoermer, Brandon Flowers, Ronnie Vannucci and David Keuning of The Killers poses for a portrait during the 2004 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 8, 2004 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Killers

Photo: Frank Micelotta


5 Ways ‘Hot Fuss’ Propelled The Killers To Rock Royalty

During the alternative-guitar-band renaissance of the early 2000s, the Killers slugged out a debut album that’ll stick with us forever. Here are five reasons ‘Hot Fuss’ catapulted the Vegas favorites to the top.

GRAMMYs/Jun 14, 2024 - 05:19 pm

They came out of their cage, and now they're doing just fine. 

In an era of stiff competition, from the White Stripes to the Strokes, the Killers could have gotten lost in the shuffle. But with 2004's Hot Fuss, the Brandon Flowers-led, Vegas-based rock band essentially emerged fully formed, with a debonaire mystique, a raided new wave record collection (think the Cure and Duran Duran), and a knack for sky-high hooks. They didn't just nail the songs, and charisma, on the first go — they created one of the most timeless albums of their generation. 

In the 20 years since, chances are "Mr. Brightside" has gotten maddeningly stuck in your head at least once. But that's just the tip of the iceberg: Hot Fuss is teeming with cryptic one-liners, sticky melodies and a specifically aughts sort of emotional abandon.

Today, the Killers are one of the biggest rock bands of the 21st century, with five GRAMMY nominations and more than 28 million records sold worldwide. Here are five aspects of Hot Fuss that helped them break into the stratosphere.  

It's The Result Of A Completely Scrapped First Attempt 

Sometimes, the first thought isn't the best thought. The Killers were full steam ahead on their debut album when Flowers hit a major snag: a little album called This Is It by the Strokes came out. 

"When we put it on in the car, that record just sounded so perfect," Flowers admitted to NME in 2012. "I got so depressed after that, we threw away everything, and the only song that made the cut and remained was 'Mr. Brightside.'" 

How would the Killers' legacy have changed without classics like "Somebody Told Me" and "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine"? We'll never know — but the band (and the world) is likely glad they gave Hot Fuss a second shot. 

Brandon Flowers Is A Superb Lyricist 

Did you know Hot Fuss has an extended murder narrative? Well, in two songs: "Midnight Show" and "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine." (The third act, "Leave the Bourbon on the Shelf," was relegated to their 2007 B-sides and rarities disc, Sawdust.) 

Outside of sprawling concepts, Flowers' sneaky prowess as a lyricist is all over Hot Fuss, from sticky alliteration ("Turning saints into the sea/ Swimming through sick lullabies") to masterful use of negative space. 

Exhibit A is "Smile Like You Mean It": "Someone is calling my name/ From the back of the restaurant/ And someone is playing a game/ In the house that I grew up in/ And someone will drive her around/ Down the same streets that I did." By erasing the specifics, and only providing a framework of memory, the picture is ever more elusive and intriguing. 

The Album Is Front-Loaded With Five Bangers 

Sure, some tracks on Hot Fuss, like "Change Your Mind" and "Believe Me Natalie," are relatively minor. 

But with absolute napalm across the first five tracks — "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine," "Mr. Brightside," "Smile Like You Mean It," "Somebody Told Me," "All These Things That I've Done" — it's actually kind of a relief to get a sleeper album track, that reveals its qualities slower. 

No matter your take on the rest of Hot Fuss, or their discography, the fact remains undeniable: they came in swinging. 

They Kept The Demos Intact For Raw Impact 

The Killers and the Boss have crossed paths a time or two — and they made a Springsteenian move when they used demos as the final tracks. It worked, imbuing Hot Fuss with a certain spontaneity and energy. 

And because these Hot Fuss tracks were meant to comprise a demo, "We never thought [these songs] would be on a record." drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. later admitted. Talk about a turn of events: what could have been a collection of scratch tracks would help define a generation. 

"Mr. Brightside" Took On A Life Of Its Own 

"Mr. Brightside" has undeniably become the Killers' signature song — a staple not only at their concerts, but at bars and karaoke joints around the world. And once social media came along, it inspired a cornucopia of memes: even snippets of lyrics, like "Comin' out of my cage" and "It started out with a kiss, how did it end up like this?" have become miniature cultural forces. 

Aside from Flowers' almost unwaveringly single-note verse melody, the song's odd structure — the second verse is the same as the first — has also been ripe for humor: one favorite meme takes you into the fictional writer's room when that decision was made. 

Whether for rock 'n' roll transcendence, or just a nostalgic laugh, revisit Hot Fuss as it turns 20 — and smile like you mean it. 

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"American Idol" Season 1 Finale - Kelly Clarkson Performance Show
Kelly Clarkson performs on Season 1 of "American Idol."

Photo: Steve Granitz / GettyImages


On This Day In Music: "American Idol" Premieres On Fox Network

For decades, "American Idol" has been instrumental in discovering some of music’s biggest names and pioneering the reality TV contest genre. As the show enters its 22nd run, here’s a look at how it has become an iconic household staple across the country.

GRAMMYs/Jun 11, 2024 - 04:23 pm

For countless Americans, "American Idol" is intertwined with core memories as a show that had families eagerly glued to their TVs twice a week. It brought generations together, creating moments of both suspense and excitement that are still remembered today, as the show continues to run in its 22nd season.

Created by visionary entrepreneur Simon Fuller, "American Idol" premiered on June 11, 2002, as a fresh spin-off of the British program "Pop Idol." It revolutionized how Americans engaged with reality TV through its interactive, viewer-driven voting system, which encouraged audience participation in the success of their favorite contestants. The show also offered viewers a glimpse into contestants' candid backstories and personal journeys, anchoring emotional investment and skyrocketing the show's popularity.

The show's debut season featured a dynamic trio of judges: singer Paula Abdul, TV personality Simon Cowell, and producer Randy Jackson. Their contrasting personalities brewed a chemistry as captivating as the hopeful performances. Abdul’s warmth, Cowell's blunt wit, and Jackson’s humor added extra layers of entertainment, making the twice a week broadcasts a must-watch.

The first season of "American Idol" also unforgettably introduced the country to Kelly Clarkson. Since her debut — with a heart-tugging backstory about being the average girl-next-door with big dreams — Clarkson has gone on to tour the world, host her own TV talk show, and secured her spot as one of music’s most beloved talents. 

"I had dreams since I was a little girl that I wanted to be on the GRAMMYs, or some award show and sing on there," Clarkson mentioned in her pre-audition interview. Flash forward 22 years, the pop singer has accumulated 17 GRAMMY nominations and three wins, propelled by a powerful vocal gift.

Other artists who launched their careers from the show's platform include Jordin Sparks, Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert, and Jennifer Hudson, who each serve as testament to the show’s impact in music.

"American Idol" has not only opened our eyes to some of our favorite musicians, but it also has given us some of our favorite pop culture moments.

A video that frequently resurfaces on social media captures a memorable moment between Katy Perry and contestant Noah Davis, where they bond over the slang term 'wig'

"No, it’s not your language. It’s just for us," Perry joked to her fellow judges, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan, when they questioned the term’s meaning.

After two decades on air, "American Idol" has etched a lasting legacy in pop culture. It has paved the way for other reality TV music shows and created lasting memories for music fans along the way.

“The show transcends age, gender, ethnicity, everything,” Underwood told Billboard in 2005. 

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Wallows Press Photo 2024

Photo: Aidan Zamiri


Wallows Talk New Album 'Model,' "Entering Uncharted Territory" With World Tour & That Unexpected Sabrina Carpenter Cover

On the heels of releasing their amped-up third album, 'Model,' alt-rock trio Wallows detail how their "very unabashed" approach has expanded — and landed them in arenas for the first time.

GRAMMYs/May 30, 2024 - 07:11 pm

Over the past five years, Dylan Minnette, Cole Preston and Braedan Lemasters — together, known as alternative rock band Wallows — have acutely constructed a sonic landscape of earworm guitar hooks, snappy drums and sing-along lyrics. And their third album, Model, helps lift their career into a new sphere of guitar-driven stardom.

Wallows' growth from the indie-pop breakouts of 2019's Clairo-assisted "Are You Bored Yet?" to full-fledged alt-rock stars is abundantly clear across Model's 12 tracks. Produced by GRAMMY-winning alt-rock whisperer John Congleton (who also helmed Wallows' 2019 debut album, Nothing Happens), Model amps up their vintage-meets-contemporary sound. It's an album that sounds perfectly written for arenas — and that's by design. 

On The Model World Tour, which kicks off on Aug. 6, the trio will hit arenas and amphitheaters in North America, Europe and the UK, and Australia and New Zealand, including iconic venues like Madison Square Garden, Red Rocks and The Forum. With the tour in mind, they wrote wavy melodies fit for the masses to sing along, like on the racing "Your Apartment" or the howling chorus of "You (Show Me Where My Days Went)."

If the polished sound of Model sounds like the work of a band who has sharpened their talents for decades, that's because it is. Though they made their official introduction as Wallows with the 2018 EP Spring, Minnette, Preston and Lemasters — all in their late 20s — have been performing together since they were just 11 years old.

As Preston asserts, their longtime partnership has resulted in "this kind of synergy happening." It's seemingly helped them become more vulnerable, too, as Model sees the Wallows guys singing overtly about love for the first time, like on lead single "Calling After Me": "I knew the feeling would be forming/ After I took a look into your eyes/ But are you ready for it, darling?"

In celebration of the release of Model, Minnette, Lemasters and Preston mused to about their creative journey, why they recently became the unlikely scorn of Sabrina Carpenter fans, and how they're "filling a space" in mainstream alt rock.

You're about to embark on an arena tour, playing venues like Madison Square Garden and The Forum for the very first time. Does this feel like a new phase in your evolution as a band?

Braeden Lemasters: Yeah, I think it does. When we started the band seven years ago, when I look back it's been a very natural progression; it's not like we went straight from 200 capacity clubs to arenas. 

We've gone through the stages and right growth, and now we're entering this uncharted territory. We actually haven't even opened up at these venues for anyone, so it'll be our first time playing an arena. We have no idea what to expect.

Model as an album sounds bigger than your past ones, especially songs like "Anytime, Always" which may sonically fit right in at an arena with its sing-along hook. Did you have the arena tour in mind when you were working on Model?

Cole Preston: Yeah, this record was the first time we did know the tour routing [during the album process]. It didn't necessarily change the way that we worked; we always adapted a similar approach to writing where we naturally want it to be catchy and full, which all lends itself to the live show. But understanding that we're going to have this level of a moment, we'd need to make a record that represents that moment that belongs there.

You guys are an alternative rock three-piece, which is rare in today's musical climate. Does it seem that way to you?

Dylan Minette: Yeah, I definitely feel like there's a space where we're sort of filling [with] the way our music is and sounds. There's other bands that are playing the same rooms and can, but all of us feel pretty different from one another. 

Our music is very unabashed, and there's nothing we're trying to subdue or be cool, or worry about it sounding too pop. I'm not saying we're the only ones doing that, because that's obviously not true. But our favorite bands growing up — like Kings of Leon, Arcade Fire or The Killers — weren't afraid to go for it and let the music be larger than life. There used to be a lot more bands that just dominated and went for it, so we try to make sure we're filling that space that isn't really being filled right now. 

Were you guys always interested in this genre? I would think for the majority of people from your generation, the inclination would be to do bedroom pop  or electronic music, and not to start a band.

Lemasters: The interest for me stems from my dad, who was a guitar player in Ohio  local bands. I alway thought it was so normal; I'd be 5 years old and my dad would be playing a stratocaster around the house and listening to the Beatles. He bought me a guitar when I was really young and taught me how to play, so I've had this connection to these classic bands. 

When I met Dylan, we bonded over that, because he also liked that music at a young age. I think it was rare for a kid our age to like that kind of music. Cole was also just a very talented musician at a young age too. So we all loved band music at a young age and wanted to form one; there was no other reason than that. We didn't have to search out our passion for it. It was already there.

Speaking of, I've loved your distinctive covers, from "My Worst Enemy" by Lit (which you put a melancholy look at it) to "Espresso" just recently. What's the key to a solid cover and how do you decide what songs to put your spin on it?

Minette: We definitely don't have songs in our pocket. We always try to do something unexpected or unconventional to get people talking about it, otherwise what's the point? 

Cole recommended "Espresso," which I hadn't heard at the time — but if he's saying this new, popular song is good, I trust him. When I listened to it, I thought it'd be great, and when we worked on the first version it had a drum machine and was funkier. When we stripped it back and it became more emo, it was hilarious. 

Though there are some Sabrina Carpenter fans who are really mad I attempted to sing that song. "You could never be Sabrina!" I'm like, "I know I can never be Sabrina!" But you know what? She texted me recently and gave the seal of approval. That's all we needed.

Since you've all been playing together in some capacity since you were 11, what's kept you together all these years?

Preston: When we were young, our brains were super mushy and we all had a big influence on each other as people. We're all very different now as people in a lot of ways, but we all know each other enough to predict how someone will feel or react about something. 

So there's this kind of synergy happening because, since we were 11, we were practicing every day and performing original music, and we just didn't stop. By the time we became Wallows officially, we had been a band for seven or eight years at that point. 

Speaking of, I know you recently connected with the person who indirectly inspired your name? What's the story behind that?

Minette: So Wallows was named after a skate spot in Hawaii on Oahu, which we first heard about from the video game Tony Hawk's Underground where it was part of the Hawaii map. Braeden played it growing up and at a certain point he said it'd be a cool album title. Eventually, when we were thinking of band names, we realized Wallows would be a great name. 

Last week, we were on "The Today Show" and they said "We have a surprise for you!" And it was a message from Tony Hawk, which was so full circle. To go from being kids with all ambitions and dreams, and now Tony Hawk is surprising us — it was crazy. If our 13-year-old selves were experiencing this, that'd be insane.

Model was produced by John Congleton, who was also behind your first album. What brought you together again for this third record?

Lemasters: When we first started making music, we worked with John; he made some St. Vincent records and we really respected his work. We were just naive enough to be so excited to go with him and we didn't meet anybody else at the time. He did our first EP and first album. There's something really special about that connection and bond you make, that first time. 

For our second album, we worked with Ariel Rechtshaid, which was incredible and who we always wanted to work with. When we decided to work on Model, we didn't know who to go with, but we went in with Congleton again to record some demos for no project at all. We asked him what he pictured for us regarding a new album, and everything he said is exactly how we were feeling. 

I also always admired an artist working with a producer multiple times, like Nigel Godrich with Radiohead or George Martin with the Beatles; there's a camaraderie where you always know where you've been. So it was a no-brainer to go with John again for Model. I think it's our best work yet, and best production yet, and that's largely because of his passion for the project. 

What's the most gratifying part of the musical process as an artist: writing and producing, or going out and performing them on tour?

Lemasters: It's such a hard question, but my answer would be it's whatever process you're currently experiencing. Writing and recording is so exciting, but going on tour and seeing people sing the songs is the most rewarding thing. I know that's the most cop-out answer. 

Does it change over time?

Minette: Exactly. It's a cycle, when you're on tour you're thinking, "I can't wait to go back into the studio" by the end for sure. I'm interested to see what happens when time slows down to step away from both and take a step back. I don't think we're near that, but I'm already thinking ahead to the next album, and we haven't even toured this album yet! 

Right now, I'm more excited for this tour than ever, but I'm also more nervous. It all adds to the excitement and intrigue of it.

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Twenty One Pilots performing in 2022
Twenty One Pilots perform at GPWeek Festival in 2022.

Photo: Mauricio Santana/Getty Images


Twenty One Pilots' Road To 'Clancy': How The New Album Wraps Up A Decade-Long Lore

Three years after 'Scaled and Icy,' Twenty One Pilots' seventh studio album is here. Dig into the rock duo's journey to 'Clancy,' and how it further showcases their knack for vivid world-building.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 07:28 pm

Long before Twenty One Pilots developed a cult following, the Columbus, Ohio natives were determined to not be put into a box. From their first EP, 2009's Johnny Boy, they've blended elements of emo, rap, alt-pop, electronica, incorporating hardcore and hip-hop into their shows. "No one knew where to put us," drummer Josh Dun told USA Today in 2014. "But we've approached live shows as a way to build something from nothing."

In the decade since, the band's sheer determination and eclectic onstage personality have made them one of the biggest rock groups of their generation. They're equally as spontaneous and intriguing in their music, building an entire world through dynamic soundscapes and visuals — and their new album, Clancy, ties all of it together.  

As the band revealed in a press release upon announcing the album in March, Clancy "marks the final chapter in an ambitious multi-album narrative" that began with Blurryface in 2015. But it certainly doesn't feel like an ending; Clancy further expands on the theatrical style and eclectic sound they've showcased from the start, offering both a resolution and an evolution.

While the makings of the signature Twenty One Pilots aesthetic began with its original formation as a trio — lead singer Tyler Joseph and his friends Nick Thomas and Chris Salih — it truly took shape when Dun replaced Thomas and Salih in 2011. Dun and Joseph had a common goal to re-formulate the way songs and shows were crafted; the drummer utilized samples and backing tapes at their gigs, helping the band dive deeper into their alternative style by fusing everything from reggae to pop together.

As a newly formed duo, Twenty One Pilots issued their album Regional at Best in 2011 — their last release before they signed to a major label (though, as they told Huffpost in 2013, they since consider the record a "glorified mixtape"). After significant social media buzz and selling out a show at Newport Music Hall in Columbus, the duo was courted by a dozen record labels, which set the stage for their big break.

"We went from no one in the industry caring to all of the sudden it was the hot thing for every label, independent and major, to be interested in some way," Joseph told Columbus Monthly in 2012 upon signing to Fueled by Ramen, which the singer said they were drawn to because they were able to retain "creative control" — a factor that would become increasingly more important with each release. 

Their 2013 album Vessel — which featured a combination of new and re-recorded songs from Regional At Best —spawned the band's first charting single, "Holding On to You," a rap-meets-pop track that oscillates from sensitive indie ballad to energetic anthem. Not only had they begun making a mark commercially, but it seemed to be the album that Twenty One Pilots felt they were hitting their stride creatively, too: "I know some people might not like this, but I kind of view Vessel as our first record," Joseph told Kerrang!at the time.

Though the character "Clancy" first came about with 2018's Trench, Twenty One Pilots actually introduced the world that Clancy would eventually live in with 2015's Blurryface, which focused on a titular character who embodies depression and anxiety. "It's a guy who kind of represents all the things that I as an individual, but also everyone around me, are insecure about," Joseph said of his alter-ego in a 2015 interview with MTV.

To convey the "feeling of suffocation" caused by insecurities from what he creates, Joseph began wearing black paint on his neck and hands in music videos and on stage to represent the "Blurryface" character. As Joseph told the Recording Academy in 2015, the "common thread" of all of the songs on Blurryface was that Joseph's alter-ego would be defeated, and each song wrestled with the dichotomy between darkness and optimism.

While Vessel kickstarted the band's commercial success, Blurryface saw their popularity explode and resulted in the band's best-selling single, the eerie rap-rock anthem "Stressed Out." The commercial success of Blurryface helped their hot streak continue into 2016 with the release of "Heathens." While the song served as the first single from the Suicide Squad soundtrack, its haunting production fits right into the world the pair had begun building with Blurryface. Their acclaim continued to grow, with Twenty One Pilots earning their first GRAMMY in 2017 for "Stressed Out" in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance Category — and, in line with their affinity for stunts, dropping their pants as they accepted their award.

Ahead of the release of their 2018 concept album Trench, the lore surrounding "Clancy" really began. Twenty One Pilots began leaving clues for fans on a website known as DMAORG, which featured black-and-white images and letters from "Clancy," who ultimately became the protagonist of the album. Twenty One Pilots fans (often referred to as the"Skeleton Clique") began clamoring to deduce puzzling clues and posting their theories about the narrative's endgame online.

With Trench, they found more characters and a deeper narrative. The overall album depicts "a world where nine dictatorial bishops keep the inhabitants (Tyler included) of a fictional place named Dema from escaping its controlling clutches, with the help of the Banditos — a rebel organization (featuring Josh)." On a larger scale, the album grapples with mental illness, suicide and an expansion on Joseph's insecurities from Blurryface

But Trench isn't one cohesive story; rather, it's a series of songs with clues embedded within. For instance, in "Morph," the character Nico is introduced, who is also the subject of "Nico and The Niners." From there, fans gleaned that Nico was one of nine bishops controlling the citizens of Dema, and those nine bishops were represented by each of the songs on Blurryface. The bombastic "Pet Cheetah" references that the house has vultures on the roof which alludes to it — and Joseph's home — being Dema. 

As with Blurryface, visuals became an integral part of the album cycle. This time, they used them to illustrate life in the dystopian Dema, which personifies depression through the trilogy of music videos for "Levitate," "Nico and The Niners" and "Jumpsuit." While Joseph's black-painted neck and hands signaled the Blurryface era, dark green clothing marked with yellow tape signaled the Trench era. During this time, the "Clancy" character remained shrouded in mystery — though through videos and letters shared by the band, fans theorized that it is an opposing force to "Blurryface."

By the time Twenty One Pilots' 2021 album, Scaled and Icy, came around, fans quickly noticed that it paid homage to "Clancy" as an anagram for "Clancy is dead," while also acknowledging the COVID-19 pandemic as a shortened phrase for "scaled back and isolated." While Twenty One Pilots could have leaned into the harrowing events of lockdown, they instead chose to focus on what has driven the band itself, the power of imagination — something that has been behind much of the band's work since Blurryface.

With the album came three singles — the propulsive "Shy Away," the heartwrenching banger "Choker" and the funk-pop-tinged "Saturday — which were recorded when the duo was working virtually during the pandemic. Unlike the past two projects which grappled with this doomed slant, Scaled and Icy pivoted toward a sunnier sound, signaling a shift in the narrative. But it didn't mean the dark world of Blurryface and Trench were completely in the past; upon Scaled and Icy's release, Joseph revealed to Apple Music that there would be "one more record" and "an explanation and book end" before moving onto another story.

Three years following the release of Scaled and Icy, fans began receiving letters from the "Sacred Municipality of Dema" — a reference to the fictional city featured on Trench, signaling what appeared to be a new era diving deeper into the band's lore. Since the previous record featured an anagram about "Clancy" in its title, it seemed natural that the next album would be named after the character. 

"'Clancy' is our protagonist in this story we've been telling, stretched out over the last several records. 'Clancy' is the type of character who, for a long time, didn't know if he was a leader or not, didn't want to take that responsibility," Joseph told BBC Radio earlier this year.

As the singer had hinted in the Scaled and Icy era, Clancy brings fans back to the darker narrative that began with Blurryfacet. After Joseph's character escapes Dema a handful of times, joins a rebellion, then is captured again, he finally has the same abilities as the bishops and aims to free the people of Dema. The album attempts to answer a few conceptual questions along the way.

Clancy's blistering first single, "Overcompensate" is inherently hopeful, and answers the long-lingering question fans have been wondering: Who is "Clancy"? According to the psych-funk number, it's been Joseph all along ("If you can't see, I am Clancy/ Prodigal son, done running, come up with Josh Dun.") As Joseph further explained to BBC Radio, "[With] 'Overcompensate', there's a bit of a confidence and swagger in it that the character needed to embody in order to take on the new role in the story we've been telling, and Clancy is gonna rise up as that person."

But much of the album focuses less on the literal lore, instead tackling the overarching themes of its counterparts: Joseph's struggles with mental health. Despite the darker, anxious nature of the album's lyrics, the majority of Clancy has a self-assured breeziness to it, jumping off of the upbeat Scaled and Icy sound. 

On the ballad-like closer, "Paladin Strait" — named after a fictional body of water off the coast of Dema —Twenty One Pilots really digs into the narrative of "Clancy" the character in a literal way again. What's revealed is the final battle between "Clancy" and "Blurryface" with no apparent winner — alluding to the idea that there is not necessarily a triumph over depression. In the final line, the band offers a callback to a lyric from Blurryface: "So few, so proud, so emotional/ Hello, Clancy."

While the ending may remain ambiguous, it may not be a coincidence that Twenty One Pilots postponed Clancy's release date by a week (from May 17 to May 24) in order to finish filming music videos for each of the tracks, all of which were unveiled upon the album's release. So, there's still hope that fans will find out definitively what happened to "Clancy" — or maybe it means his story isn't completely finished. 

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