Shakespearean Rumble:
The Solidarity Behind the Buzz with Titus Andronicus

Words by Alex Napoliello — Manville, NJ

IIt’s Saturday night and I’m an hour away from two the most happening music cities: New York and Philadelphia. But instead of hopping on a train to one of these destinations, I decide to take a 45-minute drive to the middle of the Garden State: Manville. Tonight I choose to hang out in an old VFW hall with a bunch of young teenagers opposed to a more upscale ballroom in either city.

“It brings me back to the glory days,” said Patrick Stickles, front man of Titus Andronicus, before entering the Manville VFW. Titus was headlining a benefit show thrown by a local high school student. Although it would have been nice to have seen them play a venue with a pristine sound system and a full bar, there was something about being back in the same environment that helped jump-start Titus Andronicus’ career that made it worthwhile. It was fresh, raw and something that may not happen again for a long time, if ever.

The members of Titus Andronicus currently reside in Brooklyn, NY. However, the band grew up in Glen Rock, NJ, which lays across the Hudson River in the shadows of the illuminated New York City lights.

“This state has been so disparaged over the years, wrongly so in my opinion, but it’s often the butt of everyone’s jokes,” Stickles said about New Jersey. “They think it’s the same place that they see on TV. That kind of maybe gives us a little bit of an inferiority complex, but that same thing kind of gives us that underdog mentality too.”

By the site of tonight’s gathering at the Manville VFW, Stickles was right about the misrepresented Jersey image. A crowd of 40 young teenagers moshing — free of alcohol nonetheless — to the sound of their favorite local bands is not something you see on television often. With the rise of the MTV reality show “Jersey Shore,” the Garden State has been tagged as a guido, binge drinking, techno-laden safe haven. In fact the show’s stars, most of who aren’t even from Jersey, have risen to such stardom that Nicole “Snookie” Polizzi will be featured on the cover of the next Rolling Stone issue.

Still, Rolling Stone has its moments of clarity. In early April of last year, the once trend-setting rock magazine noted Titus Andronicus as one of the “best new bands.”

“Sometimes, even though it does feel great, you can’t let that stuff slow your decision process,” Stickles said in response to the Rolling Stone article. “If you start thinking too much about the way to further collect such accolades than it becomes a different sort of game that maybe it wasn’t intended to be. You gotta’ kind of remember to adhere to the code of creative conduct that you set for yourself.”

But at one point in Stickles’ career, the game could have had a much different ending. He originally planned to attend graduate school in hopes of one day being a music teacher. However, Rutgers University rejected him and Stickles decided to go full-steam ahead with Titus.

“Why maybe it is that we humans love fighting. Why there’s so much division within so many of our systems and institutions that are supposed to be working together, whether that be a community as big as the world or our country or as small as two people.”
– Patrick Stickles

“It looked like I would be able to do it and make sort of a job [out of it]. Something I could do to support myself, at least for a little while,” Stickles said about his decision to continue playing in a band. “‘I said, hey, what the hell.’ I guess I could go to graduate school any time. The record-buying public is probably a little more fickle than that — I need to strike them while the iron is hot.”

“…No time like [the] present. You gotta’ sometimes just go for it, even if it’ a little scarier than the thought of going to graduate school, which is quite scary in its own right,” he continued.

Stickles never looked back. In 2008, Titus Andronicus released their debut studio LP, The Airing of Grievances, on Troubleman Unlimited Records, a local record label based in Bayonne, NJ. Two-years later, they released their sophomore album, The Monitor, on XL Recordings (the same label that just handled UK distribution of the new Radiohead album The King of Limbs).

The Monitor received wide acclaim from critics all over, earning the #10 spot on Pitchfork’s top albums of 2010. A concept album built around the American Civil War, The Monitor packs a punch of rebellion and rawness with the zeal and intelligence of a scholarly article. Listening to the album feels as if you’re hearing Stickles shouting from a soapbox, telling the world how he feels.

“It’s human nature to pit one side against another,” Stickles said, referring to the concept of The Monitor. “There’s no such thing in our world as pure positiveness. Something that’s pro anything must be anti something else.”

Furthermore, Stickles explains, “why maybe it is that we humans love fighting. Why there’s so much division within so many of our systems and institutions that are supposed to be working together, whether that be a community as big as the world or our country or as small as two people.”

Stickles admits he was writing The Monitor for other Americans and felt the Civil War was a perfect metaphor for how he feels about society. “It’s exciting stuff: Huge battles, brothers killing brothers, larger than life figures, the future of democracy hanging in the balance. It’s all very thrilling and I wanted a piece of that action.”

While using the Civil War as a metaphor for a concept album appeared to coincide well with the views of Titus Andronicus, Stickles reveals that their next record won’t have such a distinct classification. “The next album will have hopefully a singular, thematic purpose but maybe not so specific; hopefully it will have a certain amount of cohesiveness and taken as a whole. It will have a point across the whole length of it.”

As far as when the next Titus Andronicus record will hit the shelves, Stickles offered, “we’ve started learning a couple new songs, but we have to go out on tour again pretty soon. After going on tour for a little while longer, we’re going to hopefully get more serious about learning more new tunes and seeing what develops.” He continued, “There’s lot of ideas and enthusiasm, but there’s not that much of a schedule. What’s the rush? We’re young still.” | New Jersey