Titus Andronicus has been in the music press a lot in the last few years. Critics and fans hail the band's albums, on which they play sweaty-basement-show ranters with as much confidence as emotionally revealing, Springsteen-tinged indie rock. It's a disarmingly sincere blend, unafraid to build a whole song around one line ("The enemy is everywhere") or write a 14-minute epic statement against frat-boy culture as the closing note to a concept album about the Civil War.
That last one is where you probably heard of the band. Their breakthrough concept album, The Monitor, on giant indie label XL Recordings, had a pretty big moment when it came out in 2010. Constant touring on that record and 2012 followup Local Business cemented their reputation as an uninhibited live band.
I've known Patrick since my former band Double Dagger played with Titus at a small warehouse show in Brooklyn in 2007. Full disclosure, I've also designed all of the band's records since then and consider Patrick a good friend. He's never one to hold back in a discussion, and he can go on at length about any topic you hand him. We recently had a wide-ranging conversation via Skype about the state of independent music and his band's place within it as they start yet another long tour and prepare their most audacious record yet.
City Paper: Titus Andronicus came of age in the Professional Era of Indie Rock, where it's not unheard of that a punk band could live off of being a punk band. But this also burdens new bands with problems of perception-
Patrick Stickles: Like we're just hipsters, right? It's a curse to be brought up in this era.
CP: While this ability to live off of your music is great in some regards, it also seems like, now, all bands are seen as a product-or even set themselves up that way.
PS: Most bands that play at Shea Stadium [the Brooklyn, N.Y. warehouse venue where Titus practices and Stickles volunteers], God bless 'em, they think it's comedy night, or who can care the least or be the most awkward. There's this insincere attitude. Like at the end of their sets, they say things like, "Oh, we'll get out of here now," like self-loathing hipsters. It drives me up a fucking wall.
I went to Acheron [a neighboring Brooklyn venue] recently and saw this band Disengage, a hardcore punk band from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It wasn't the signifiers I go to first thing in the morning, but they were going for it. We all dig Black Flag-derived stuff, so I liked it. But what really knocked me out and what really made it a great night was listening to the guy talk between the songs. This guy is talking about what the songs are actually about. And I was like "Yeah! You tell 'em!" because I never see that.
CP: Another trait of this era in indie rock is a polite toothlessness, and you've carved out a reputation for yourself as very outspoken, especially in regards to your contemporaries.
PS: I don't know how many bands that I've seen come up in this indie-rock community that've got this minor-league mentality, like, "I'm in a lesser-than bracket. I don't have the status of the Next-Level Indie Band," and they don't care who gets stepped on. It could be the dude who recorded their first album who grew up with them and now they're like [in a cavalier businessman voice], "I gotta go work with this big-name producer if I wanna get to the Next Level. We're really hoping for a Top 40 debut this time. It's just business, right?"
It's not fucking business. It's art. It's the one fucking thing in this world that's supposed to tell truth, and it's just used to sell fucking crap now.
There's this girl with this video now [Sky Ferreira's "I Blame Myself"] and she's wearing this $3,000 leather jacket. And at the bottom [of the video] it says, "Brought to you by such-and-such"-a fucking monstrous corporation-and "Click Here to buy the jacket!" And it's three stacks, dude! It's insane. It's all just building an altar to dysfunction.
And all that these indie-rock bands ever have to say is [mockingly fey singing], "It's all right, it's OK . . . All we have is just tonight!"-That's such an outrageous statement! At best they're saying something like, "Take comfort in the simple things." Like some pat on the head right before you wet the bed. It sucks and just teaches people to be complacent. Like, "All you have is all you're ever gonna get, so just take it. Take it in the ass."
These chillwave bands with their "I don't think about it, dude, I'm just here to chill and smoke weed, 'cause I signed with a major label, dude, and they give me 17 cents on the dollar and it's chill, dude. I'm just gonna get my advance and spend my whole summer smoking waves!" Fuck that! Who's paying for this? Who needs this? This is like Soma, this is like 1984, and they're feeding it to us 12 inches at a time, one MP3 at a time, and it sucks.
CP: Are the people who are paying for it the people who are coming to see your current tour? You told me a couple of weeks ago that you're touring with a "stoner band that represents the distance we are trying to put between us and the 'punk scene.'"
PS: Well . . . we're trying to burn every bridge out of town.
CP: While your lyrics cover the type of punk-scene politics like you're describing here, you also trade in larger universal themes, existential crises, mental illness, etc. Those seem like grand ambitions for a punk band, tackling societal problems, and not just in a "fuck the cops" kind of way. With your occasionally bleak outlook, why do you grapple with such large topics in what some would say is the frivolous world of pop music?