Music Features

Normal People - An Interview with Patrick Stickles

In 2010, Titus Andronicus released their breakthrough album, The Monitor. That record was most notable for its grandiose surges of distorted guitars, anthemic emotional outbursts, and use of the Civil War as a metaphor for personal alienation and struggle. However, their upcoming album, Local Business, seems to be a change of pace for the group - allegedly possessing a more basic arrangement and a politically charged theme. Which leaves us all wondering, exactly how different will this record be? Luckily for us, we managed to catch up with the band’s lead singer and principle songwriter, Patrick Stickles, at Brooklyn’s House of Vans. Mr. Stickles was kind enough to answer questions from Andrew Ciraulo and Peter Quinton about the new album, his influences, New Jersey music, and social networking.

Where does the title, Local Business, come from?

Well, the album has certain themes about anti-consumerism, the power of the individual, and creating your own place in society. It’s about not being forced into some sort of social construct, but rather determining your own values like any good local business person would do. 

What made you go with an instrumentally stripped down approach on this album?

The last album was really done up production-wise. We couldn’t have made an album that was more done up than that, it would have been ridiculous. It just seemed natural to bring things back to basics. I kind of wanted it to sound closer to one of our live concerts ‘cause that’s what we’ve focused on over the last couple of years. I think it makes the songs a bit more intense - a bit more rock n’ roll. 

You employed a lot of atmosphere and drones on The Airing of Grievances and The Monitor, will any of those textures make an appearance on the new album?

No, there’s not many drones at all. The drones were there to create a kind of wall-of-sound effect, this time around we tried to leave more space for the guitars to do their thing. 

Were there any specific bands or albums that influenced the direction of this record?

We listened to a lot of Neil Young. He was our main inspiration ‘cause he pretty much records all of his albums live. We especially spent a lot of time listening to Live Rust and Zuma. Neil Young says, “If its not in the room, its not on the tape”, so that was pretty much our motto for the whole recording process. It doesn’t really sound much like Neil Young at all, but the recordings definitely represent his sort of ethos. 

You’ve had a lot of line-up changes within Titus Andronicus, I was wondering how that reflects the band collaboratively. Is it more or less a situation where one or two members call the shots?

That’s how it’s been in the past, but we had a more worn-in core of guys on this record. We went on tour with this line-up before we started recording and we became a pretty tight-knit group. Everybody really tried to contribute as much as they could and everybody sang on the record. The first two records were recorded with a lot of guest musicians, almost like a fake studio super-band. We really tried to steer away from doing that again and tried to make this a ‘real’ band effort - a bit more of a tight-knit affair.

Will this record have any spoken word portions like the previous two albums?

Nope, this album is totally gimmick free.

Not even any literary or historical references?

Not really, but we do have a song called Ecce Homo which is also the title of a book by Frederick Nietzsche, but that’s pretty much as far as it goes.

I noticed (I Am The) Electric Man is on the new album. Have you fleshed the song out a bit more since its hospital bed origin? 

We kind of made a point of not fleshing it out too much. There’s no new lyrics or anything, everything in the song comes from that one night I wrote it. When you have an experience like that and write a song about it, you’ve got to keep it real and keep that moment in time intact. To dress it up a lot would be bad, but it does have a full band arrangement on it. It may be a bit more developed now, but all the pieces were there from the beginning. 

(I Am The) Electric Man and My Eating Disorder seem to be very personal songs for you. Do other songs on Local Business possess a similar autobiographical lyric?

Probably not as much as those two, that’s about as personal as it gets. The other songs are kind of personal too, but they’re mostly about broader and more relatable themes than just my own first-hand experiences.

A few nights ago, I saw you backstage hanging out with the some members of Real Estate at the R. Stevie Moore show at New York City’s Webster Hall. What’s your relationship with that band?

All the guys in Real Estate went to Ridgewood High School, which is right next to Glen Rock, where I grew up. Actually, Martin and I used to play in a band called Seizing Elian. We were all just a bunch of high school kids goofing off, just like any other after-school hobby. That was kind of how you made friends where we come from, just sharing common interests and playing music. 

That’s really interesting. I think most people know New Jersey for its pop-punk scene and Springsteen knock-offs, but most of the recent notable New Jersey bands - Titus Andronicus, Real Estate, and Screaming Females - don’t really have much in common with any of that. Did any of those scenes influence your music or were you strictly informed by the bands around you?

I think seeing average people like us getting up on stage and playing music was very inspiring. Some of that music didn’t inform our sound much at all, but that local music ethic did. Seeing a band like Screaming Females kicking ass was especially inspiring and informed us of what our bands were capable of. But yeah, most importantly that scene empowered us and made us believe we could really get out and make stuff happen.

You’re heavily involved in interacting with fans through social media and being very transparent about the inner workings of Titus Andronicus. What are your thoughts on social media’s role in the indie community?

I think it’s good for breaking down the fourth wall between performers and their fans. I don’t know if it’s necessarily lacking in the indie world, but I think people could always be a bit more transparent. Some artists make the decision to be more private about the internal workings of their band, no judgements on them, but I feel like most people don’t really know what it’s like to be in a band at all. I guess I’m trying to do a little bit to show our fans that we’re just normal people and that being in a band is just like any other pursuit for humans.

Local Business by Titus Andronicus will be released on 23rd October.