If unswerving dedication alone were enough to ensure a young band’s success,Titus Andronicus would be destined for greatness. And getting picked up by a label that’s home to a bunch of highly gifted musicians in addition to possessing the boundless energy required to fuel a perpetual tour have definitely boosted the odds.
This charismatic quintet (originally from the New Jersey suburbs) has hardly taken a break from the road this year since the re-release of The Airing of Grievances, an album of punkish indie-rock anthems, on XL Recordings (where it joined a roster including Radiohead, M.I.A. and Vampire Weekend) in January. And that’s how Patrick Stickles, the tireless 23-year-old lead singer of Titus Andronicus, likes it.
“That’s what we do, that’s the job. In order to be able to survive financially, we pretty much have to keep going always, and that precludes things like having a regular job or an apartment, normal life stuff,” says Stickles as he prepares for a two-week U.S. tour. “I think it’s great…I think it’s the only sensible way to live.”
Stickles, who plays guitar, synthesizer and harmonica live (as well as piano, glockenspiel and tambourine on the record, which was originally released in 2008 on boutique label Troubleman Unlimited) started the band while in college in 2005 with friends from his days at Glen Rock High School, some of which he’d been collaborating with for years.
“I think Titus Andronicus is my seventeenth or eighteenth band,” Stickles guesses.
Pre-Titus Andronicus, Stickles’ first performances were in VFW halls and basements in Glen Rock and surrounding towns. He calls that small but supportive scene (which includes nearby Ridgewood, hometown to members of The Vivian Girls and Real Estate) “a nice little incubator for a young rock ‘n’ roller.” He’d never been the singer of a band previously, but Stickles, who says he’s “a little bit of a control freak,” made the transition to bandleader in an effort to develop his own aesthetic.
“I write all the songs for this group and… I figured if I was going to do that, I might as well sing them as well … even though I don’t think of myself as much of a singer,” explaining that when he’s written songs for others to sing in the past, he hasn’t always been satisfied with the results. And the emotional quality of his raspy howl, delivered at high volume, has turned out to be one of Titus Andronicus’ strong points.
Stickles claims British post-punk visionaries Television Personalities as the single greatest musical influence on Titus Andronicus, with The Modern Lovers’ proto-punk and indie-folk luminaries Neutral Milk Hotel close behind: all of which have been distilled into clever hooks, swirls of melodic fuzz and crashing drums performed with unrelenting intensity. And he embraces the do-it-yourself attitude of seminal punk band Black Flag; saying that Titus Andronicus focuses on “working hard, trying to maintain a certain level of integrity,” and adds that simplicity is essential to the Titus Andronicus credo.
“It mostly has to do with how we conduct ourselves when we’re on the road,” Stickles explains. “We try to keep our overhead very low. So we like to sleep on strangers’ floors and we don’t have any crew or anything like that."
He reasons that any excesses would lead him and the rest of the band to the poor house, since they just barely sustain themselves by touring constantly. And though they partly stick to this approach out of economic necessity, they also embrace the ethics behind it.
“In living this way, we’re happy.We’re comforted to have ideological heroes like Black Flag to look back on,” he says. “What would Black Flag do? That’s one of the big parts of our decision-making process.”
> Titus Andronicus
April 18, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 N. 6th St. (betw. Wythe & Kent Aves.), Brooklyn, 718-486- 5400; 8,$15
What would Black Flag do? That’s one of the big parts of our decision-making process.