Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles: 'I'm out on the open road now'

Punk band's singer talks about the nature of art, beards – and what happens when you grow up and move to Brooklyn

When I first interviewed Patrick Stickles in 2008 I called his childhood home to set up the interview. At the time Stickles's band Titus Andronicus was relatively unknown and he still lived with his parents in their suburban New Jersey home. I remember that his mother answered the phone and assured me that Patrick, eager for press, would get back to me as fast as possible, which he did.

Four years later, Titus Andronicus is playing to sold-out shows across the country, the band is on the cover of Paste magazine with a favorable review and I am going through a press rep to set up our second interview.

Much of our conversation this time was about Titus Andronicus's new album Local Business, easily the most polished of the group's three records. Whereas the first two had a charming rawness that you associate with the garage bands you grew up with, Local Business sounds like it spent more time being massaged in the studio.

That said, while it's clear the band is growing up, Titus Andronicus hasn't forgotten its roots. Like the first albums, Local Business owes an enormous debt to New Jersey. The most memorable tracks have the Springsteen-like crescendos and singalongs that first endeared the group to fans. And perhaps more importantly, Stickles's love-hate relationship with his home state is rich a source of inspiration. In a Big City, one of Local Business's best songs, Stickles explores the phenomenon of what Buzzfeed's Matthew Perpetua calls "growing up in the shadow of New York City".

If you spent any formative years in the garden state it's easy to sympathize with Stickles's often melodramatic angst. If you haven't, well, there's still some catchy riffs worth listening to.

First, I have to ask: any plans to tour the UK?

Hopefully pretty soon, maybe next year. We'll see.

The first lines of the first song on Local Business seem to set the tone for much of the album. "I think by now we've established everything is inherently worthless / and there's nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose." Was that tongue in cheek?

Well it's kind of a little humorous and also trying to be self-aware. I was saying that we've flogged a dead horse a little bit in regard to how that particular scene goes. But its also quite sincere, it's supposed to be taken quite literally and catch everyone up with the content of the first two records. We're saying accept these premises as being understood and lets continue our conversation from there.

What premises are those?

I'm talking about the inherent worthlessness of everything and the inherent absurdity of the universe in which we live.

Heavy stuff. And this is drawn from one of your favorite writers, right? I remember you based a lot of your songs on Albert Camus's work.

He's one of my very favorites. An important and early influence for me. Also, a very handsome man. He was like the Cary Grant of the existentialists and he was the youngest writer to ever win the Nobel prize for literature so how about that?

I did not know that. Who are your inspirations now?

They come from all over you know. This record was quite inspired by Neil Young, very inspired by the Rolling Stones, the band Big Country was a big influence. Thin Lizzy would be another one.

This album seems much more personal than the last two. You have a song about trying to quit smoking and a song about your eating disorder, just to name two. Why such a self critical analysis?

I wanted to move away from metaphors. The last album was quite cloaked in metaphors. And more so than that we can only talk about are own experiences you know. That's all we know of the world and its certainly true of me.

Can you tell me a little bit about selective eating order? Before I looked into your latest album I had never heard of it.

I shy away from lots of foods, lots of unfamiliar things, Anything that seems to be foreign to my quite selective palate freaks me out. Makes me want to barf. There's nothing about a particular food that is repulsive, it's just the foreignness of any food that I don't know. I struggle with it still and I haven't made any progress to speak of.

I also noticed a lot more humor in this album. One of the tracks Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter, does it refer to what I think it does?

You mean a bowel movement?


Believe it or not it's a metaphor.

For what?

Art. When we make art we take stuff in and we regurgitate it and we try and make it up to be nice and fancy so its kinda like taking a dump.

I don't think I've ever heard the artistic process described quite that way.

It's just dressing up your doo-doos to be something fancier than what they really are.

When I spoke with you last, four years ago, you were living at your parents' place in Glen Rock. I think shortly thereafter you moved to Brooklyn, but in the first two albums Glen Rock was has a noticeable presence. It seems like you had this view of Glen Rock like you were really glad to get out of town?

Yes, I did it. I escaped. I'm out on the open road now. New Jersey is fading in the review mirror. It's not a bad place but there's nothing there for a guy my age in my particular walk of life. Nice place to grow up, but I'm supposed to be an adult now so it many virtues are lost on me.

Finally, I've got to ask: why'd you shave off the beard?

So that I could stop talking about it.

I guess that hasn't happened yet.

I talk about it more than ever now. It's time for a change, time to face the world without fear or shame. Time to stop hiding away.


Alexander Hotz

The GuardianTramp

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