Q&A: Titus Andronicus' Patrick Stickles On Geography, Buckaroo Banzai and The Lack Of Rocking In "Indie Rock." Also? A Giveaway!
Tomorrow night at Sons of Hermann Hall, Titus Andronicus comes to town supporting The Monitor, its second full-length release, which, it just so happens, also stands as one of the best releases of the year.
Visceral, and vehemently angry, the disc is in many ways a middle finger to the trivialities that so often consume our lives--and not just our modern ones, either. The Monitor is a concept record, centered in Boston and revolving around the Civil Way navy ship of the same name. But even then, Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles says, people had to put up with the same old stupid things.
"We can get caught up in superficial or temporal things," Stickles told DC9 in a recent interview previewing his band's upcoming show. "But, at the end of the day, people are the same and we all want the same things and we all get into the same sorts of trouble."
After the jump, read our entire interview, which, you'll see, also touches on a little bit of geography, a little bit of journalism's future and, sure enough, even a couple references to The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension.
Update: Contest is over. Congrats to our winner!
So where are you at the moment? What are you up to?
I'm at my apartment. Washing some dishes.
So you're between stuff, gearing up for the tour.
That's right. The tour is tomorrow, so I'm trying not to leave too much of a mess behind me.
Where are calling home these days? I know part of the inspiration for the new record was when you were in Boston.
Home these days is Brooklyn, New York. The place where indie rockers seem to be living all the time these days.
How do you enjoy Brooklyn?
I think it's cool. It's a great place to live. I mean, it's awesome.
How long have you been off at this point? I know you already did a first tour in support of The Monitor.
Well, we pretty much had the whole summer to do whatever we wanted. We did one tour around the Midwest in July, but that was only like a week long, so we've been pretty much taking it easy for, I guess, like, two and a half months.
I know the album came out right around South by--
Well, that would certainly be a smart business decision, wouldn't it? Right when it came out we did a tour of 53 shows or something like that. Then we did like three weeks in Europe. Then after that, we started the chilling that we were just talking about.
So what goes into the final preparations before the tour?
Well, let's see. Doing the dishes like I just said. And I scrubbed some of the countertops and the stove top. My laundry is in the drier right now at the laundromat around the corner. I'm gonna pick that up later. And then I have to go around to a couple different music stores around the general neighborhood. I've got things of mine that they said they were gonna fix for me and have done by today, but I haven't heard from either of them yet, so, hopefully, we'll get those.
Let's hope that works out. Let's talk about The Monitor specifically--
You mean you don't wanna hear more about the excruciating minutae of my daily life?
If that's what you wanna talk about...
[Laughs] No, that's OK.
Is it fair to call The Monitor a concept record?
You know, it's a concept record in that it's got--or it's supposed to have--recurring themes throughout, and it's got a loose narrative that's a somewhat consistent extended metaphor.
Was that the intent from the onset?
Well, I guess that depends what your definition of the onset is. You know, the creative process has many twists and turns.
Was this something where you realized, 'Well, I've got this maritime thing going and all these Boston and Civil War references in there...' and you realized that this was all something that you could put together into a narrative? At what point did you commit to it?
I guess it was pretty early on. Maybe around the time of the writing of the third song or so for that record. But I think that it's still symptomatic of certain values that we have of what makes for good records and stuff, first amongst these being cohesiveness. With long-playing records, especially in this ages of iPod shuffles or whatever, it's often overlooked that it's probably better for them to be a singular, cohesive artistic statement, you know, rather than a collection of like 10 or 11 songs.
Well, that's definitely true with this record. The songs bleed together and they beg you to listen to it all they way through. I noticed that, though, that with "A More Perfect Union," the video and single is half the length of the original song. That kinda goes against what you were just saying. I assume that was a struggle?
That is annoying. And it certainly wasn't my idea. But I can see why it's necessary. Even though we have certain values, none of our actions are gonna exist in a vacuum. So you have to sort of play the game a little bit as far as people's quite short modern attention spans go. Especially if you wanna be on MTVU or whatever it is.
Or late night TV.
Yeah, that too. The sad fact is that there's not always room in our media infrastructure for seven whole minutes of squeaking and squawking, you know? You've got to cram it all into three and a half minutes. I guess people can stand three and a half minutes of everything.
Well, I'm pretty interested in the fact that you did want to make this a single narrative. You said you started realizing it three songs in to writing the record, but how does stringing all those together work?
I guess maybe the process that you're asking about had three steps or so. Right about the time that we were finishing up the first record, I wrote a couple of the tunes that are on this new one, and they didn't really have too much to do with the theme, per se. But then I started writing a few more of them and the theme started to pop up and stuff. And that was about the same time that I moved to Boston and also the same time that I got really into the move The Civil War by Ken Burns.
And who doesn't love Ken Burns?
Oh, I know. Ken Burns is the best. So upon learning to love that movie was kinda when I was like, well, maybe this should be a Civil War concept record of some kind--especially since we were already talking about people getting pissed off at one another anyway.
People getting pissed off at each other was kind of a theme of the last record, too. If there's something that connects the two, it's very much this feeling of the world crashing down on you and being angry and pissed off about it.
Yeah, pretty much. That is pretty much what every song has been about up to this point. And I can't really imagine writing about anything else. Although perhaps I could frame things a little more positively. I mean, that's pretty much the theme, as it was on the first record, too. Although, maybe the first record was just a little more self-obsessed than the second, which is certainly very self-obsessed, too.
I can't act like I'm very familiar with the Shakespearean tragedy Titus Andronicus, but is it fair to say that that's where the band name came from?
That is where the name came from.
Do the same kind of themes exist in that play?
I dunno. I mean, I guess you could say that perhaps they do. But that's not really why we picked the name. The band name existed before the themes were fully in place. I'll tell you my standard answer for why we picked the name, and I'll also tell you the very true fact that this reason for why we picked the name was decided upon long after the name was actually picked. It was really that it just sounded cool. That was the only reason. But, later, upon thinking about it more, it was decided that the "real" reason that we picked the name was because, well, here's the thing about Titus Andronicus the play: It's very gory. It's his goriest play, and I think there's a murder every 90 lines or something. Or maybe not a murder, but an atrocity or something. It's got more atrocities per line than any other Shakespearean tragedy--or comedy for that matter--so it's funny because it's very much like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or something that appeals to some of the basest human desires to see some sort of horrible human spectacle. It speaks more to the visceral part of us. But, at the same time, it exists within the Shakespearean canon, which is pretty much the most sophisticated fancy-pants thing that has been made by humans. So, to me, it appears to exist at a very peculiar nexus between our cerebral and visceral impulses. With is the sort of nexus that we would like to stand at within the context of modern indie rock.
Do you feel like this kind of visceral nature to your songs is a kind of reaction to the lack of--
Of "rocking" in modern "indie rock"? Or, rather "indie music"? Is it a reaction? No. Because I think we would be doing it the same way, even if everybody was making an effort to rock super hard. Those have just always been our values, to rock as much as we can.
But it does very much stand out in the modern climate.
I guess that's just good timing for us. Although maybe it is and maybe it isn't. With so much of this whole indie rock thing, your success seems to be based on how neatly you fit into the current zeitgeist. So, I dunno, I guess you kind of pick your poison. Either you're off alone, fighting your idea of a good fight by yourself and you stand out for that reason and people appreciate you because of that, or else, y'know, you do the thing that is popularly accepted as the thing to do. Not to say that anybody would necessarily do to just for that reason, because it was cool. Not to point any fingers at any other indie rockers or anything like that.
So, basically, no chillwave or iTunes commercials in Titus Andronicus' immediate future.
Probably not, although I did just recently buy a wah pedal. So we could be going chillwave any minute now. Probably not, though.
That'd be quite the change in direction.
Yeah. I don't think that's gonna happen.
Have you been writing in your time off or just taking it all in these past few months?
I've been stacking it all up. I've written a lot of riffs and stuff, but nothing you could properly call a song just yet. I record a lot on my four-track and stuff.
Making use of the wah pedal?
Oh, yeah. All the time. Well, not all the time, but a lot. Yeah. I've got a lot of stuff that I've got recorded, but it's more like the kind of stuff that, at one point, I've got to sift through and try to put it together like a big ol' jigsaw puzzle. And that's still a long ways away.
I'm usually pretty curious about is the way sense of place has an affect on music, and that very much does seem to have had an affect on your music thus far.
We do think of geography. I don't know that it necessarily affects the creative process that much, but we did try to--and I guess we definitely did--discuss the idea of regional identity and what it means to be somewhere, what it means to be of somewhere. You know, as far as the Boston thing--that was on my mind a lot because I'd really never been outside of New Jersey as far as being a resident goes. I'd grown up there and gone to college there and everything, so that was kind of like at the forefront of my thoughts because it was quite different. But I guess the reason that we wanted to discuss that--especially since all this stuff was looked at in retrospect and I'd moved out of Boston by the time we got into the brass tax of making this record--was that we wanted to talk about how people, a lot of the time, with the place that they live, as with anything in life, they look for external forces in their happiness. Like, a lot of people will believe that, when they're in a rut, that a change of scene can do a lot of good. And, y'know, maybe that was something I was thinking of when I moved to Boston.
And maybe when you moved from Boston.
Yeah. Exactly. But it's like Buckaroo Banzai says, 'Wherever you go, there you are.' He was right. Or was it actually him that said the quote? It was in the movie.
I don't know if Peter Weller actually said it.
Well, if you like Buckaroo Bonzai, there used to be this band from Charlottesville, Virginia, called Truman Sparks. That was a character in that film too, wasn't it?
I honestly don't remember.
Well, I'm no expert on it myself. But all I'm trying to say is that, talking about disparities between different places, the idea behind that is the same as trying to talk about disparate times--like modern times and the mid-19th Century. And the point of that was to try and show that, ultimately, we can get caught up in superficial or temporal things, but at the end of the day, people are the same and we all want the same things and we all get into the same sorts of trouble. It's just the same old wolf in various different sheep costumes.
At the same time, though, one thing that I've noticed in people discussing your band is how often they mention New Jersey at the front of it.
You mean, do I think that being from New Jersey has affected our sound? I don't know about that. I mean, I guess that you could say that it has. Like, the New Jersey scene that was around when we were growing up, there really weren't too many bands like us. Not to say that, 'Holy shit, there's never been a band like us!" but what I really mean was that, when we were teenagers and stuff, the bands from New Jersey were all like hardcore or screamo or emo or pop-punk. And I guess we're a little pop-punk, I dunno, but there was never really too much of a place for us in the Jersery scene growing up. So, I dunno. I could say that, but then I could also say that New Jersey is the play the Yo La Tengo and the Misfits and Ted Leo and all these people are from, who have all been real important to us.
The opposite end of the spectrum being that, in this modern age, place has less and less importance.
Yeah, that's true, with globalization and stuff. And in American in particular, we're all plugged in to all these different things online.
Right. Like, if someone gets a write-up in Stereogum, does it really matter that they're from New Jersey?
That's true. Or maybe your article from the Dallas Observer will go viral and someone in Zimbabwe will see it and decide to get into punk or something.
Ah, the modern journalism dream. It's pretty terrible, actually.
Yeah, in some ways. But it's also awesome. The Internet could end up being a wonderful tool for freedom. You know free information and stuff. The dream of the public library writ large across the entire earth. That's a cool thought. What were we talking about again?
Titus Andronicus performs Tuesday night at Sons of Hermann Hall