By John Ambrosio
On Friday, I got a chance to talk to Titus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles to discuss his bromance with the So So Glos, their new “Bring Back the Dudes” tour, his thoughts on DIY music, and more.When I called the number that the band’s press contact had provided me, I heard the garbled but unmistakable sounds of Titus Andronicus rehearsing:
Patrick Stickles: I’m sorry about that. We’re having practice right now. The guys are just jamming on the riff off “Devil’s Haircut” by Beck right now. That wasn’t on the agenda for today, I don’t know why they’re doing it, but unfortunately I’m talking to you instead of scolding them.
John Ambrosio: Haha, no problem. Are you on the road right now or are you just getting ready to leave?
PS: The first show of the tour that we’re about to do is on Sunday so this is going to be our last rehearsal before we get out there so we’re just trying to juice up our repertoire.
JA: Oh, ok. So what can people expect from this tour? Is it going to be any different from when you guys were touring for your new albums or are you guys going to be doing some new material?
PS: Well we’ve got a couple new songs that we just put out on this new 12’ EP for record store day so that’s got two unreleased songs on it that we’re going to be playing. Well, they’re not unreleased anymore, they were previously unreleased, now they’re released and they’re part of our repertoire. And we’ve got some new cover songs, and the most exciting part is that we actually now know how to play all of our original songs, like all the songs that are on our albums. And that doesn’t seem like such a special thing for a band to do — I recognize that a lot of bands know how to play all their songs all the time, but we’ve turned over line-ups a lot, so this lineup has been the first to have the talent and the commitment to learn all of our songs. So any request that we get we will be prepared to honor, which has almost never been the case with the band before.
JA: Do expect to see the line-up of the band change a little more, or do you think that it’s sort of stabilized now that you have the line-up from the album?
PS: You never know and I’ve learned not to count my chickens in that department but I will say that the line-up of the band that’s in place now has been together for longer than any previous line-up and we’re in the process of making plans for later this year too and everyone’s still in it so this line-up is going to exist for not less than like 18 months, which is crazy for us. The previous longest lasting one was like 11 months.
JA: Now when you say you have plans, is it plans for more show or is it plans for recording?
PS: The plans are for more show, but hopefully after the shows we can get started thinking about another record. But that’s a ways away still. I still need to write a lot of the songs
JA: Do you have anything right now that you’re thinking out that you might try on this tour?
PS: Nah, not for this tour, just the songs from that 12” I mentioned. But since we’re thinking about a tour later this year, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that we’ll have a couple new songs at that point, but we will see.
JA: So this tour is the “Bring Back the Dudes Tour” and you’re doing it with the So So Glos. How did that relationship between your band and the So So Glos start?
PS: We share a practice space with them, in Brooklyn at Shea Stadium. We met right when Titus Andronicus started playing out on the Brooklyn DIY scene. Before that we did most of our shows in Manhattan at like shitty bars and stuff and lame clubs on the lower east side that really had nothing to do with music and were just like beer commercials basically. We found out that there was another scene going on in Brooklyn that was a little more our style and at the very first show on that scene at a place called Don Pedro’s I met three of the So So Glos that night and we played with them our first show together later that month and since then it’s just been love, it’s been a bromance, you know? And it’s great, one of their guitar players, a guy named Matt Elkin, lived with me for about a year and the other three guys lived at Shea Stadium during a period that I also lived there for about two months and so we got very close there too and it’s just a great friendly thing. Oh no, the guys are jamming on “Collective Soul” now. Heaven let your light shine down!
JA: So you mentioned the Brooklyn DIY scene and that’s obviously a big part of Titus Andronicus’ aesthetic being that it’s very DIY and anti-consumerist but at the same time you guy are one of the biggest indie acts in the country and you’re selling thousands of your albums through a pretty big label. So with those two ideas in mind, how have you stayed true to your punk or DIY roots?
PS: I mean that is the eternal question. I should say that calling us one of the biggest indie acts is kind of a massive overstatement, it’s not like we’re Grizzly Bear or something. But it’s a constant struggle; it’s an ongoing question. It’s like this, right: you want to make a piece of art so much so that you don’t want to do anything else and that requires a lot of compromises because art of any kind, be it music or a book or a painting or anything, should be born out of noble artistic intentions. It should be an attempt to achieve a pure artistic expression of self rather than a means to the end of getting a paycheck. And yet at the same time we live on the planet Earth, and what’s more the United State of America and so the dream of living a life that is unbeholden to money is just that: it’s a dream. You’re never going to be able to do that, so your choice becomes do you want to make a certain series of compromises and be able to fully commit yourself to your art or do you want to do you art on the weekends and make your money doing, I don’t know, something else? People seem to have other jobs, but I don’t really understand what they are. For me, it was more important to make my art the focus of my life than it was to completely protect my art from the influence of capitalism, you know?
JA: How did you first get involved with DIY music or punk music or whatever you want to call it? Was it just like you were into punk in high school and it developed naturally form there or was it something different?
PS: That was it, really. Back in high school, we were listening to the Ramones and Sex Pistols, and Rancid and all this stuff and getting into it. And we would start our own punk bands and stuff and we had our own DIY scene in our suburb in New Jersey. By that I mean that we would set our gear up in, like, my mom’s basement and find out whoever it was that was our friend that had, like, a PA system and borrow it and set it up and just invite all our buddies over to dance and sweat the night away. And it was experiences like that that made up fall in love with rock n roll and all the feelings of community and fellowship that go along with it. It was a very pure and innocent time; money wasn’t on anyone’s mind and our parents were there so there wasn’t drinking going on. So that to me was what I liked about rock n’ roll. Doing that stuff and then when we got out of high school and had to kind of go out into the wider world to find places to play and we were playing on the Lower East Side of New York City and stuff, it wasn’t like that at all. It was like this stupid not fun thing with none of your friends. I mean friends would come to our shows, but we were totally un-autonomous and had no control over the situation and like I said everybody was a lot more concerned with the bottom line and that everybody that came in the door drank a certain number of beers. So finding the DIY scene in Brooklyn, which was more about the music, meant that people would come to enjoy music. Even if they didn’t know about the bands, they would just come because it was a happening and stuff was just popping off and it’s cool. It wasn’t about all that stuff I mentioned about those clubs I didn’t like, so to me it was a lot more like high school and reflected the qualities of that experience that were so appealing and important to me in those formative years. So it was like coming home in a way and it was comforting and heartening to see that there was a community in place that valued these kind of things that I had valued when my valuing of them had been leading me to become alienated against the rock n’ roll scene at the time. In finding this home at the Brooklyn DIY scene it was like it just strengthened my values about that stuff.
JA: Do you think that those same values can be found other places, or does Brooklyn have a unique thing going for it?
PS: I think that everybody wants to have the opportunity to achieve the purest level of creativity that they can and everyone wants to have the most control possible over what they put out and how it’s received and in what context. So I think whether or an indie band or a punk band or a rapper or ska or anything, I think that you value these things no matter where you are. It happens that the people in our punk community seem to make a bigger and more explicit deal about it but I think it’s fairly universal.
JA: One of your more famous songs, “A More Perfect Union” isn’t exactly a pro-Boston-area song. Where does that song come from for you? What was your experience up here like?
PS: Well you got to understand, I lived there. When I got out of college in 2008 I was involved with a woman who had been educated up there and wanted to stick around because she had gotten a job in a laboratory because she was a brilliant woman. And I was like well, Titus Andronicus is going to be on tour a lot, so it doesn’t really matter where I live so long as it’s vaguely close to New York, which has long been the home-base, so I was like forget it, I’ll move to Boston for love, and so I did. And then I wrote that song about the feeling of preparing to do that.
JA: So was your experience in Boston what you expected?
PS: I mean I didn’t have a ton of friends, I had like a few friends, but not very many. Like I was friends with the band Hallelujah the Hills and no one else when I lived in Somerville and I went out like once and the rest of the time I was at home watching Ken Burns Civil War movie and thinking about the Civil War album I was writing. Most of the time I just stayed at home watching that amazingly long film, all 11 hours of it, and when I wasn’t doing that I was out on tour with the guys. Then it didn’t really take that long for the woman I was with to figure out that the situation we were in sucked for her and then to give me my walking papers in no uncertain terms and I moved out of Boston. All that happened over the course of like 5 or 6 months and we were doing a lot of touring during that period so I never really got the Boston experience that I felt was coming for me. I do love the city very much and it’s been one of the best markets for the band and people support us there really hard and it’s tight. And our bass player is from western Massachusetts and it’s just popping and it’s cool and so historic, so I’m a fan.
JA: So you’ve mentioned in other interviews that before starting Titus Andronicus that you were on the cusp of joining academia and going to grad school. So what do you think you would be doing if you weren’t in this band right now?
PS: My plan was to be an English teacher and I’m still hoping to go back to that somewhere down the line. I find it quite noble, man. It’s all about the kids, man.
JA: Do you have any other secret interests or hobbies that people might not know about?
PS: I like making movies. Bands come and play at Shea Stadium and I make little movies of them and put them on the Internet. I just put up a bunch of videos on Monday for my weekly feature “Monday content blast”, which you can check out at titusandronicus.net and I got a bunch of videos of Diarrhea Planet which is like my favorite band in the world. That’s my number one hobby, other than music, making movies.
JA: Yeah, I saw the video of you playing Born to Run with Diarrhea Planet. How did that happen, was that sort of a spur of the moment thing?
PS: No, I had an evil scheme that I executed masterfully which is that I saw a video of Diarrhea Planet on the internet doing “Born to Run” with some of the guys from this band from Austin, TX called the Midget Men who are friends of ours as well and I was like, “wooozaa, this is amazing. A pop punk version of ‘Born to Run’? Finally”. And so I texted all of them because I got all their numbers and I said “great ‘Born to Run’ video” and every one of them texted me back in 5 minutes saying “you got to sing it with us when we come to Brooklyn next week” and I knew that they would and I wanted to do it so BOOM. I got it done.
JA: So I think we’re going to have to start wrapping this up since you have to practice but just before you go can you tell people who they can find out when the tour is coming by them?
PS: Yeah, you know just do the same thing you do to get any of our cool content information: you just go to titusandronicus.net or look at @titusandronicus on Twitter and it’s all up there. It’s 2013, baby!