New Jersey punks Titus Andronicus answer tragedy with victory

Wednesday 30th, September 2015 / 09:58
By Joshua Erickson
Enigmatic frontman Patrick Stickles in a long, sprawling and hilarious conversation. Photo: Matthew Greeley

Enigmatic frontman Patrick Stickles in a long, sprawling and hilarious conversation.
Photo: Matthew Greeley

VANCOUVER — It’s not every day a punk band releases a 93-minute, 29-song-long, five-part rock opera. Then again, Titus Andronicus is not your average punk band. The Most Lamentable Tragedy (TMLT), the band’s latest release, is an epic, high-concept rock opera that tells the tale of frontman Patrick Stickles’ struggle with manic depression over the course of an album that traverses so much sonic territory it defies easy categorization. It is an album full of pain, anger, confusion, and frustration, but also hope and an overwhelming feeling of victory and gratification.

Preparing for the interview, I was expecting to speak with Stickles about his creative process, the DIY-ethos his band practices, and why he decided to create a 5 part punk rock-opera. Instead, I got a lot more than I bargained for. Speaking with Stickles for just over an hour and half from his flat in Ridgewood-Queen, New York, it was less than an interview and more of a long, sprawling and spontaneous conversation where topics of conversation included, but were not limited to: the internet and the democratization of consuming music, why bassists tend to sing in the high register (answer: they’re compensating for their instruments providing the low end), how your past self is an idiot and future self is a jerk, people getting their balls cut off so they can sing really high, why Titus Andronicus will never be as big as Imagine Dragons and how awesome the Weezer Cruise is.

“The critical acclaim is nice,” says Stickles, on the positive reception of TMLT, “But I have to keep the perspective that it is those people’s jobs, and they have a 24-hour news cycle to propagate.” Clearly cynical of music journalism, Stickles recognizes it has its place, but he doesn’t put much stock in it. Instead, he reaches out to the fans – the people the records are for – a connection he deeply values.

“It’s a much more meaningful thing, being face-to-face with a regular civilian, rather than somebody who got paid to churn out 1,000 words on why this is going to have a major effect on, I dunno, the third quarter report for whoever,” say Stickles with a laugh. “I am fostering meaningful relationships with kids all over the globe, not like we’re best friends or anything, but I know who they are and a bit about their struggles and they reach out to me, let me know whats up and I see ‘em out there and I know whats going on.”

Along with his fans, controlling the means of production is something very important to Stickles, and he claims it is a tricky relationship. According to Stickles, what we need is “a system based less on intermediaries and middle-men and based more on the potential of connectivity and free exchange… The means of production in the hands of the proletariat kind of situation.”

But how does an artist make a living wage in this situation? The Internet has, to a certain extent, put the means of production in the artist’s hands, but how do you monetize it and maintain integrity? Stickles has thoughts on that as well.

“The artist creates faith in the audience, right? But it is up to the business man – or woman, anyone can do it, business trans-person, whatever – it’s up to the business person to then monetize that faith. But it’s tricky because I know that this faith needs to get monetized if I am gonna make a living wage and I know that people’s faith is really strong and potentially lucrative. I also know I don’t want a bunch on intermediaries and middle-men coming in between myself and the audience. So, therefore, I am in a position where it’s gonna have to be me that is monetizing the faith of this audience. So how can I do that in a tasteful way, y’know? That let’s people know, like, ‘you’re electing me to this position. You pay my salary, the same way that a taxpayer pays the salary of a police officer or a letter carrier.’ Know what I’m saying? Like, I’m saying to the audience ‘I need your support! And your support needs to be worth something with a number on it, because I gotta eat!’

This fiery punk band frontman is eloquent, hilarious, emotionally real, a bit nihilistic, and speaking with him was an absolute joy. In his struggles with mental illness, Stickles has emerged victorious and TMLT is the latest example of that. The band hopes to continue building on that success on their next “five or six or more” records. And if you see Stickles hanging around the venue before or after the show, go say “Hi.” Just don’t tell him if you’re a music journalist.

Titus Andronicus performs at the Biltmore Cabaret on October 3.

Photo: Matthew Greeley

Photo: Matthew Greeley

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