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Interview: Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus on ‘The Most Lamentable Tragedy’ and mental health


Mission Creek Presents: Titus Andronicus, w/ A Giant Dog

The Mill — Sunday, Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m.

Punk is a genre often plagued by a reputation machismo and grandstanding; mosh pits full of sweaty and aggressive men and rowdy, disaffected musicians are familiar staples. A punk band with the name of Titus Andronicus, notably Shakespeare’s most violent and graphic play, would appear to fit this stereotype.

However, Patrick Stickles — the band’s front man and lyricist — has spent the majority of his music career discussing the toxicity of the insincere and emotionally-detached approach found in a lot of music. Stickles writes on their most recent release, The Most Lamentable Tragedy, “I don’t want to feel my Y chromosome.” In our discussion, Stickles laments pop culture’s tendency to ignore mental and emotional health, to society’s detriment.

Titus Andronicus in Iowa City, Sept. 22, 2013 -- photo by Zak Neumann
Titus Andronicus in Iowa City, Sept. 22, 2013 — photo by Zak Neumann

I talked with Stickles about their 2015 album, their stop in Iowa City and his signature emotional openness. Titus Andronicus plays The Mill on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $15 ($17 day of show).

You’re on the road in Texas right now; do you have a van that you drive yourself or do you have a bus?

No we’ve got a van that we are responsible for driving; we’ve got a pretty modest operation.

This is a reunion of Iowa City and Titus Andronicus?

Yeah, we’ve played at The Mill; I remember the last time we played there, they had like a bluegrass music playing before us. So we showed up and people were picking and sawing up on stage.

It’s kind of a small venue, but your home turf venue, Shea Stadium in Brooklyn, is also a small affair with a really DIY operation. Have you been there since its beginning?

We didn’t have anything to do with the founding but we did used to practice there. We don’t really practice there anymore, but I think it’s probably comparable to The Mill, more like a hardscrabble, rough and ready operation. We aren’t all that popular; I think The Mill will be just right for us.

The new album is about a year old now. The Most Lamentable Tragedy is this sweeping rock opera that you’ve talked about as being somewhat autobiographical, and you do some stuff on there you haven’t done in previous albums, like covers and traditional songs.

Well, you know, for one thing, the record is quite long, so with a big canvas like that you have opportunity to explore things that might be a little superfluous in the context of a 40-45 minute LP — so it was something a lot more expansive than that; we had the opportunity to do a lot of different things, we just wanted to do it. It’s a way to kind of illustrate that we are just one point on the long continuum … ya know, we didn’t just come out of nowhere. We’re just kind of part of rock history, of all the achievements, so it’s a combination of those artists of the past and also our place in it.

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It’s great when musicians you like do covers of other bands you like; Daniel Johnston and The Pogues are both covered on the album — both punk royalty.

I think so, too.

You’ve talked about wanting to do an album with a theme of mental illnesses, and you’ve been really open with your own mental health. You’ve also annotated this album on Genius very thoroughly with regards to depression and mania. What was your motivation for this album?

Yeah, absolutely — it’s not something that I see represented a lot in art, or our popular culture today. These things kind of get swept under the rug a lot; in my experience, ignoring these issues, or trying to push them off to the side, does a lot more harm than good. When these things don’t get discussed and have to live in the darkness, they gain more of their toxic power that way.

Titus Andronicus in Iowa City, Sept. 22, 2013 -- photo by Zak Neumann
Titus Andronicus in Iowa City, Sept. 22, 2013 — photo by Zak Neumann
I wanted to ask you about the name Titus Andronicus. You have a lot of Shakespearean references; is there a reason you chose that, and what is your relationship to the name now?

When it started out, the name was chosen just because I thought it sounded cool. After a little while I kind of decided my own interpretation of it, which hinges on the fact that the play is quite violent, a very extreme and over the top sort of play, like, people getting murdered left and right — it’s quite extreme … The thing about it is, it’s kind of a more low-brow sort of entry to Shakespeare. In general, we think of his work as being kind of the highest achievement in art; he’s, like, as fancy as it gets. That particular play is kind of a low-brow, violent trifle, for someone we think of as being very sophisticated, very high-brow art.

So to me it sort of represents this nexus between our cerebral and our visceral, like the mind and the body, and I thought that perhaps the band could aspire to a similar sort [of balance]. We want to rock and be loud and low-brow, but at the same time, we hope to think that one would not associate us with the violent trifle aspect. To not have us be completely mindless, but just to get down the thrill of playing music.


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