MusicMusic Features

Titus Andronicus

In two-plus years of this music-writing gig, never before have I encountered a mind quite like that of Patrick Stickles. The beardally-gifted frontman for literary-minded indie-punk-metal act Titus Andronicus is a living news ticker, rolling out miles of sentences into acres of paragraphs about everything from the band’s predicted (but not promised) third record, to a beautiful woman he passes in the street. Both animated and anguished, snide and achingly sincere, this is clearly an artist who takes his work very seriously and would burn it all to the ground in a second rather than see it compromised.

Having stated his reverence for Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in the past (calling it “the greatest record of all timeâ€), Stickles begins by speaking fondly of his previous trips to Athens, saying, “The last time we were in town we opened for Ted Leo and the Pharmacists at the 40 Watt Club. Another time we played with No Age, and then in December of 2008 we played at Secret Squirrel. It’s a pretty memorable town in the history of this band, somewhat, and in the history of American indie-rock, certainly. It looms large in a lot of people’s imaginations… even my own!â€

As for that much-anticipated third album, Stickles sounds like a man against the world. “A lot of stuff might go wrong,†he begins. “It’ll be different from the last album in that there won’t be much of a story. There’ll be a theme, but it won’t be catalogs of images like last time. It won’t be tied to any one time or place. It’s all about modern stuff. The contemporary struggle. I’m not going to promise anything, though. Big promises don’t matter when dealing with a bureaucracy as large as the record industry. I’m just one tiny pea in this giant machine. It’s a big, shadowy, mysterious thing for a brain like mine to comprehend, but, like it or not, it’s bearing down on me. Hopefully, we’ll emerge from that contest victorious. The new record will be the prize. Who knows, man? It’s just a wild, wild West. Past is prologue. 2012, ya know. Very exciting stuff. Very terrifying stuff.â€

Without a breath, Stickles launches into an aside, exclaiming, “Man, I’m paying a big price to talk to you right now! This girl just walked by, and she had on a patch of the band Crass. That’s my favorite band. I’ve got a tattoo of them myself. So, if I had one more chance, I could tell her about the Crass tattoo. She would be all about it. She just walked by, but I couldn’t talk to her because I was talking to you. Jerk [laughs]. No, it’s not your fault. It just makes my point about how life is sometimes cruel. The universe doesn’t want me to be too happy. It’s reminding me, ‘Hey, Patrick, pick up those songs. Get on with your life of guitar and turn your back on the world of girls and nice-smelling things and warm security. Forget all that stuff and pick up your guitar and be dirty and bitter and chug it.’â€

While not overtly political, Stickles clearly writes with an eye to history and philosophy, and was happy to offer his thoughts on the current state of the Union in this already-tumultuous election year. “I think there’s a real feel in the air about people being disenfranchised,†he explains, “and how we’re consolidating power and wealth in a smaller and smaller group of people. It’s a serious crisis, but it’s fortuitous for these politicians that there’s gonna be an election, ’cause they’re gonna make the whole thing about people being fed up with them, and they’re gonna turn it into a football game. And then somebody’s gonna win, and somebody’s gonna lose, and they’re gonna clap, and the people will take it to be resolved. People are fired up, but it’s not a football game. It’s about abandoning the status quo or allowing for different options to be acceptable in the status quo. Hopefully, we’ll fight back: keep demanding more of the whole system. Hopefully, in the future it’ll look less like a football game, but that’s what it is, and they think that the team that wins gets all the money in the end, which is coming imminently. Except it’s not! 2012 is just a consciousness shift. Just a new rebirth for humans. And it’s kind of an excuse to do your best… at whatever! Don’tcha think?â€

And with that it’s over. Like a whirlwind had blown through my phone and ping-ponged around my house for 15 minutes. Stickles thanks me for my time, and sprints off to fight his next battle. To speak to a man who bleeds so clearly in service to his art—who likely takes weeks off his life every day in the name of some higher or better ideal—is a truly remarkable experience. To see that man perform will be a show for the ages.