High-school colleagues Tyler Joseph, Nick Thomas, and Chris Salih formed Twenty One Pilots in 2009. The group released their debut album Twenty One Pilots. Both Thomas and Salih parted ways with the band in 2011. Soon afterwards Josh Dun joined the band; Joseph had been friends with Dun for around a year. Dun first saw Joseph when he was playing a show with House of Heroes. Joseph said that he "loved" the performance. The band released Regional at Best later that year. In June, the duo played their first out-of-state show to a group of 12 people. The pair soon gained popularity through a series of videos made by friend Mark Eshelman. The band played their last show as an unsigned band at the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, Ohio to a crowd of 1,800 in attendance. The band signed with Fueled by Ramen in 2012.
Recording for Vessel took place at Rocket Carousel Studio, located in Los Angeles, California with Greg Wells producing. Wells provided additional synths & keyboards and programming. Wells mixed the album, while Ian McGregor helped with recording. Mastering was performed by Howie Weinberg and Dan Gerbarg at Howie Weinberg Mastering, also in Los Angeles.
Different versions of "Ode to Sleep", "Holding on to You", "Car Radio", "Guns for Hands", and "Trees" were released on their second album, Regional at Best. "House of Gold" was released as a bonus track on Regional at Best. The original version has slight differences throughout the song compared to the version found on Vessel.
In the summer of 2012, Twenty One Pilots released the Three Songs EP. On September 11, "Holding on to You" was released as a single. On December 18, the album was made available for streaming via Entertainment Weekly.Vessel was released through Fueled by Ramen on January 8, 2013. The two men pictured on the album cover are Joseph and Dun's grandfathers. The pair did it to see what the label's reaction was and when the label said yes the group said "okay, maybe this is going to work!" In an interview, Joseph spoke on the meaning behind the album's name, saying that a vessel (our body) is an object carrying something far more important than the outer shell, and when we die, that is set free and lives on.
To help support the album, the band toured international throughout the year. On October 4, 2012 the music video for "House of Gold" was released. The video was directed by Warren Kommers and filmed on Will Smith's ranch outside of Los Angeles, California.
All songs written by Tyler Joseph, except "Holding on to You" written by Tyler Joseph, Maurice Gleaton, Charles Hammond, Robert Hill, Deangelo Hunt, Bernard Leverette, Gerald Tiller and Jamall Willingham.