Blue-collar punk: Titus Andronicus takes on 'the corporate ogre'

It’s not a great time to be young.

Photo by Tyler Dean Reinford

Photo by Tyler Dean Reinford by Alex Parker

That’s what Patrick Stickles says on a Friday afternoon, his head all full up of a nasty cold that makes him sound a little more vitriolic and, well, punk rock, than normal.

As the proud-to-be-New-Jersey born-and-bred frontman slash only constant member of the XL-signed band Titus Andronicus, Stickles has been a young guy with quite a lot to say for some time now. After 2008’s "The Airing of Grievances" got Best New Music from the ‘Fork, a lot of people started to listen.

Stickles’ lyrical strength makes Titus Andronicus one of the smartest punk acts going - a timely amalgamation of the hipster’s brand of broke intellectualism and the crust kid’s brand of eff-you. Basically, he’s irreverent and angry, plus as equally willing to say “Now I’ve got a fever, and I don’t know how to make it stop” as he is to make very overt references to Camus.

After "The Monitor," a concept album about war and moving to Brooklyn, Titus Andronicus is largely regarded to be back on form with "Local Business," released last month. This is the album that’s earning Stickles lauding as the twentysomething’s Bruce Springsteen - a blue-collar hero, albeit one, like a many in his generation, not at all satisfied with the capitalist system that’s left him highly educated but almost entirely unemployable.

Sick but chatty, Stickles talked to ahead of his Tuesday night Lawrence show about the importance of supporting true local business, being a punk indie kid and the web’s democratization of sound.

Alex Garrison: How would you say "Local Business" is different from "The Monitor"?

Patrick Stickles: It’s a little more direct, more to-the-point than the last one. The lyrics are a little less clouded with metaphor and more about real, everyday life. Musically, it’s less bells-and-whistles, more straight rock and roll, opposed to the last one.

AG: It’s called "Local Business" for a reason, I take it. You’ve talked a lot, in the music and outside, about questioning economic systems. What are your thoughts on that idea specifically?

PS: Like, why is it important to question the capitalist system? Because it has the potential to be quite evil. It’s a great thing in theory, and sometimes it’s employed properly, in the case of local businesses, where people are able to have an idea, then work hard, then support themselves. A nice living wage is a wonderful thing. But when the corporate ogre takes over and the people are just kind of slaves to a wage, I’m not such a fan of that.

It’s hard for me to comment as I’m kind of outside the workforce. But it seems to me that there’s less opportunities to do the kind of stuff like local business, supporting niche markets. People, young people especially, either can’t get work or have to do work that’s feeding data into the pockets of some fat cats. So I’m not too psyched about that.

AG: How do you think young people get over that cynicism? A lot of your lyrics seem to be self-aware of a young person’s cynicism, and that it’s easy to have, but probably not the best path to being happy.

PS: Well, it’s quite easy to be cynical, isn’t it? But that’s a cop out. Complaining about stuff is a lot easier than trying to fix it. There’s a place for complaining, sure - a reason to have a dissenting opinion. How to walk the line between that and getting apathetic, I’m not so sure. It’s a tough thing. You gotta just try and keep hope alive, however you can, I guess.

AG: I think, too, that a lot of "Local Business" is about finding your own value system. Is that a fair statement?

PS: Oh, for sure. That’s on the nose. We talk about it a lot, the inherent meaningless of the universe. In that void, there’s a great potential for creating meaning, if you want.

AG: When "Grievances" came out, you were on the precipice of choosing pursuing music or going to grad school. Why’d you choose music?

PS: That’s a great question, and I ask myself that a lot. Um, you know, rock and roll is just a little more fun. What can I say? Sometimes I question the wisdom of that decision, but it’s the bed that I’ve made and I’ll lie in it.

AG: Titus Andronicus gets love from both the “punk crowd” and a more indie crowd. Are you trying to have a broad appeal? And how do you think punk is doing in the current market?

PS: I think punk music is in a good place right now because of the Internet. It’s less beholden to the apparatus of the industry. I wasn’t around for that era, but I imagine it was a lot tougher to make what you wanted and find an audience, before the internet. It’s created a great democratization of sound. As for how we fit into it, I think we’re a little lost. We’re more punk than your average indie band, but not as punk as a real punk band. We’re stuck in the middle somewhere, and it’s a lonely place to be. But we’re doing OK.

AG: What’s your next step?

PS: I’m just living day-to-day, like an alcoholic. We’re just touring, trying to make the shows go well. I don’t really have a plan; maybe the record company does, but it’s just going along now.

AG: Yeah. There’s musicians who love touring, and those who hate it. Which are you?

PS: Eh, it’s OK. It’s got it’s own unique rewards, and challenges. It’s really the only way to support yourself doing this, so I’ll take it. I may come off as angry or whatever, but I know that, to get to do this all the time, I’m a very blessed man.

Titus Andronicus will play at the Jackpot Music Hall on Tuesday. Touring band Ceremony is opening. Doors are at 8 p.m.


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