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Oldies But Goldies: Titus Andronicus Talks To rock nyc In 2010


(In the beginning of March, 2010, I sat down with Titus Andronicus leader Patrick Stickles for what would be my only interview with the indie rock superstar. One more than I’ve had with Kurt Vile, of course, so there is that. I was never very happy with the resulting story, and yes, absolutely blame me. I didn’t like the bastard third album, Local Business, and then nothing much till yesterday when a new song dime bagged us. I get a feeling it is gonna be a Titus Andronicus type of a summer -I already have a ticket for Shea Stadium this July… Meanwhile, here is the Punk rock interview of your dreams -IL)


If you were at Bowery Ballroom around a week ago you would have found Titus Andronicus leader Patrick Stickles and me deep in conversation. Stickles, while up to his neck in the new album and the upcoming tour taking the time to meet with a blogger who can’t influence his career one way or another, finding time to share some time with a fellow traveller. And me? In my first big time face to face in thirty years abjectly failing to make it worth his while.

A quick googling of Titus Andronicus on rock nyc will find my first mention of the band was on the very first post here and I have written, obsessed, loved and thought about Patrick more than anybody else with the exception of Conor Oberst on this website. To love the honest roar of rock and roll is to love Titus and I join legions of fans in just adoring band and man.

I sent the Monitor to my friend Mike Nessing who promises his appraisal later this week, but I can tell when somebody is getting hooked and if you meet Titus half way (and if you have the ears and mind of a Nessing!!) they will blow your socks off. Nessing has already noted that I call the album dead while loving something that functions first and foremost as an extended (over an hour!!) of music. And, in a follow up email, “Patrick certainly has the power of his convictions.”

I’ve asked Helen Bach, who dismisses Titus as boys music, for a dissenting review, but she has refused. I don’t know about that. Marie Lynn, as girlie a girl as you’d ever want to meet, and already a big Titus fan, emailed me her opinion of the new album: “im a sucker for smart rock and i think titus is the embodiment of smart rock…. los camp are smartish but titus is really obviously intellectual kind of rock… but totally not in a snotty way … in a way that gives depth… who can get away with a civil war themed album and still be cool!?!”

What follows is a transciption of my conversation with Patrick. I kinda blew it!! After stalking the poor bloke I didn’t know how to conduct the interview (I wish Marie Lynn had been with me) but whether I blew it or not here it is. The worst Patrick Stickles interview ever!!

PS: Lay it on me, Iman.

IL: Do you know Carl Story? “Fear And Loathing In Mahway” reminds me so much of him. “You can’t love God if you don’t love your neighbour…”

PS: Yeah, I heard that song on a telethon on TV in America. It was by a vocal trio and I filed it away. I do know that song.

IL: Here’s a question posed to Elvis Costello in 1978 and now like to ask you. Why is the second album better than the first?

PS: Well in his case because he had the crack Attractions. Why is mine better? I don’t know maybe because you’re a little older and wiser, maybe still have a couple of new ideas, maybe you can refine your formula without starting to pander to anybody. Maybe you have a slightly better idea as to what you want to do, you’ve aced some success on your first one but you’re still hungry without getting lazy. I guess by the third album you try to make a career out of it so maybe your muse is still pure by the second one.

Il: So your third one will be your Armed Forces?

PS: I hope to think are third one will be our London Calling.

IL: Just today we had a post in which we imagined any band playing any Clash song. I chose Titus Andronicus playing “Complete Control”. What would you choose?

PS: Me and my friends used to play “Janie Jones” back in High School but probably… I can pick a better one than that. I’m gonna go off the path a little bit and say “I Turned Out A Punk” by Big Audio Dynamite.That’s one that i can do. I thought for awhile about playing that song but we have enough trouble learning our own songs.

IL: Well, they’re getting a little difficult at this point.

PS: Yeah, it’s true, getting a little ten minute, multi tempo, confusing. We figured we can’t learn more than one at a rehearsal and even after that we can just barely stumble through it. We kinda have to pick our battles. We only know how to play like fourteen songs. Couldn’t fit any Big Audio Dynamite in there.

IL: OK, let’s go back to the begining. You’re a young gentleman from New Jersey and your parents did what?

PS: My father was a lawyer, he is now a Catholic school teacher, my mother is a students assistant concellor for a High School. She is almost like a therapist where students can discuss their feelings and their problems. And my step-mother teaches third grade.

Il: So you are part of the education field?

PS: It’s true, I almost became a teacher myself. Instead I turned out a punk. I was all ready to go, I was all set to go to graduate school. That was 2008. I handed in all my applications in at the end of 2007 and I thought in June 2008 I’m gonna go to graduate school, I’m gonna become a teacher and I’ll forget all about this silly rock and roll stuff. We put our first record out in April and it got somepositive reviews and it looked like maybe we could travel the world and entertain the kids and I couldn’t say no for better or for worse.

Il: Who were the the intellectual influences on the first album, The Airing Of Grievances? Sartre, de Beauvoir…

PS: Well, like you say, the existentialists. Like Nietzche, Camus. That whole reject everything, knocking down all the ideals and essences and stuff.

IL: Have you read “The Mandarins” by de Beauvor.

PS: No, I’ve only ever read “The Second Sex” by her. I got my Mom a copy of “The Second Sex” for Mother’s Day. The year my niece was born my mother became a Grandmother and I thought now would be a great time to think about your ideas of womanhood.So I got her this book but I don’t think she’s opened it yet.

IL: And, on the first album, musically what were you listening to.

PS: Television Personalities,

IL: Who I don’t know

PS: I credit them with bringing vulnerability to punk. Punk from the begining was about giving the kids stuff to shout about but TVP applied that to the emotional spectrum and that was important to me. Neutral Milk Hotel. The Deadly Snakes.

IL: Springsteen?

PS: Well, sure. I’ve never had a Springsteen period… I never had a Springsteen period but being from New Jersey his music is wired into our DNA.

IL: When you were writing those songs were you consciously wanting the audience to join you, to sisingalong.

PS: Sure, that’s the funnest things. When me and my buddies sing songs, sing our favorite songs from High School and stuff, it fosters that sort of communal element that is important to music. That camraderie, that cohesiveness. So certainly the gang, the fuck you thing, the singalong part.

IL: Whenever I write about Titus I get email by fans saying finally a band cares about me, I care about them, they are important to me.

PS: Yeah, who wants to be like the fascist king or like that. We try to go for the gut as much as possible. It’s repaying the debt to all the bands that meant a lot to us in super meaningful ways when we were growing up. made us be crazy about music and made us want to take on the world. And to have people feel that way about us is a wonderful thing.

IL: One more question on Airing and we can move on to the nest one.

PS: Have you ever heard of Eamon Hmilton And the Breaks? Eamon Hamilton used to be the lead singer for British Sea Power > They’ve got a real good one called Breaks Breaks Breaks. Which has a great song called “No return” and you should check it out. He doesn’t spell his name like you.

IL: The thing is I’m Lebanese and when you sing about civil war, I’m here because of civil war. So it is one of those subjects that bothers me because…

PS: I can imagine. It bothers me to.

IL: I was speaking to my friend, a PHD in Colonial American History, about the battle between the Monitor and the Miramack.

PS: That’s a bit of a misnomer. It started as the Miramack but renamed HSS Virginia. Tell your PHd buddy that. Just kidding, I’m jealous of his PHD

IL: The reason they won the battle was because of the gun?

PS: That’s right, the rotating turf. Much more versatile firing range than previously.The Monitor had only two guns compared to the Virgian’s ten. It eventually ended up a standstill though it did get blown up by its own crew ironically enough. They didn’t want to surrender it. And meanwhile the Monitor just sunk because of a breach in the hole in Virginia some months later. So the two greatest maritime machines in American history at that time could only destroy themslves. Which is a perfect metaphor for humans.

IL: Let’s move on to the album, which I love.

PS: Thank you.

IL: And it sems to me to be stating its case for a certain type of music in a certain time and place. It quotes from Bruce, from Bragg, and it maneuvers em around to make a different point.

PS: Well, you know, we are all part of a greater continunem you know. We are part of the ongoing conversation… you think I’m being evasive?

IL: Yeah, it seems to be a statement about what music is at this exact moment.

PS: yeah, that’s true. .I’m trying to stack my chips with the artists I think are most deserving of having my chips stacked with them. Certainly Billy Bragg and Springsteen and all these guys are my favorites. Music that inspires me and I would hope others.

IL: it seems to me to be an album that states: fuck what you’ve heard, this is now.

PS: This would be a wonderful thing if it proved to be true. … it would be nice to always have enough food. I’m more concerned about selling concert tickets than albums.

A coupla more words about the greatest band on earth, Spider Bags, and that was it. Spider Bags are playing with Titus at Maxwell April 24th but I think I’m gonna be at the Odessa Records fest in Chapel Hll. If not, I’ll be at the Joe Steinhardt Modern Hut concert, so I think I’m gonna miss em…

Reading the interview, I want to explain why it isn’t so good. Stickles refers to his niece at some point and I don’t ask about his brothers and sisters. I wasn’t listening hard enough, I missed the new album questions and though part of the reason is I’d only streamed it at the time, the other reason is I was showing off when I shoulda been doing my job. Also, a little more about religion, Mr. Interviewer, and for chrissake Iman stop acting like a plank and listen.

Having said all of that, Stickles is as great a guy as you thought he was and it was a blast to talk to him.

Up soon? Nessing on Titus. I can’t wait.

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