Interview- Life is meaningless: But Titus Andronicus is not?
Prince Hamlet famously pondered "To be, or not to be?" but New Jersey-based punk rockers Titus Andronicus, named after another brutally dark Shakespeare play, have a slightly different existential outlook: they scream, "Your life is over! Your life is over! Your life is over!" in response to the responsibilities of modern adulthood. But Titus is not a band with a message; in fact, if you think you're finding meaning in anything they say that's deeper than face value, you're actually missing the point entirely.
"Nothing has any inherent value– we have to assign value to it ourselves," frontman Patrick Stickles says cynically. "That's in mind as we make our music. We just try to do what feels right to us."
That's how it should be whether you're in a punk rock band or donning a suit for a nine-to-five, according to Stickles. What began as a group of bored Jersey kids drenched in too much literature and philosophy (witness the allusions splattered all over The Airing of Grievances) has grown into a dynamic, in-your-face Pitchfork "It" band with an international tour under its belt. But don't expect Titus to hole up in expensive hotels and wax poetic about Albert Camus and the meaning of life any time soon. Remember, life is meaningless. Might as well just rock out.
The Hook: Spill it – what's the secret to your success?
Patrick Stickles: We just rock, straight up, as simple as that– we just rule, we're pretty much the best band, there's no trick to it.
The Hook: And how does one start doing that?
PS: It was just the classic me and my buddies weren't really going to be on the football team, and the girls probably didn't like us all that much, so growing up in New Jersey, it's football or the guitar.
The Hook: Where did this "life is meaningless" philosophy come from?
PS: It's just the way it is– it's all a pack of useless lies, as Meatloaf might say. I guess it started with Hamlet, then Friedrich Nietzsche picked up the ball, later on Albert Camus and all those French dudes... then it was the Sex Pistols after that and it's just ongoing. Now it's punk– punk is as real as it gets.
The Hook: Define punk.
PS: I guess we're not really a punk rock band– punk bands have leather jackets and mohawks and sound like the Ramones. We don't sound like the Ramones. But this is a punk band because it's not about having a mohawk, it's about rejecting indoctrination and deciding what's important on your own terms.
The Hook: And what is that?
PS: What's important to us is being intense, raising the stakes as high as they can reasonably go, being honest– we're not trying to put up a bunch of bullshit. We're just trying to have a good time for the punks at the show.
The Hook: Are you a good role model for those punks?
PS: I'm the best role model. But it's not really about that, we're not pushing an agenda, we want the kids to think for themselves and not let other people tell them what to think. We sing about how life is meaningless, and that just means that we should be creating our own meanings, not accept the meanings forced upon us. That's what we wish for the kids, we want to get them pumped up about rocking out– but if not, hopefully they'll buy one of our t-shirts. Well, it's a big world out there, with lots of ideas floating around and lots to discover. We do play in a punk rock band, but that doesn't preclude us from having a variety of interests– punk should be about opening yourself up to a lot of things. It's a long and arduous process, this self-actualization, this knowing of ourselves, and sometimes those things are in books and you gotta read them to find out.
The Hook: Are you self-actualized?
PS: No, I think that's a process that takes a lifetime if it ever gets completed at all. Will I? It's hard to say– if any of us do, it'll take years and years, there's so much to learn and unlearn.
The Hook: Meanwhile, what's next for the band?
PS: After Charlottesville, the tour is pretty much over and we'll just chill until our new record comes out next year– it's a big hubristic monstrosity, in the vein of Be Here Now by Oasis and more influenced by Meatloaf than our previous album. I made the decision I wasn't going to sing about so many books, I don't want to be the book guy–- looking back, I look like an asshole, like 'Look at me, look at all the books I read'.
The Hook: Sure. But what are you reading now?
PS: Lolita– it's cool, but kind of weird, with the whole pedophiliac quality of it. It's not a theme I'm interested in exploring.
The Hook: Moving right along, then–- is it hard to be a band right now? You spent all of your UK tour sleeping on fan's floors...
PS: You gotta be frugal, but you should be anyway–- we don't need to go to the hotel; the floor is fine. We see those bands living the easy life with people hauling their shit around for them–- it's wasting money as far as I'm concerned. We're a lot happier as a band for adopting that attitude. This indie rock stuff is bunk; we gotta get into the world of motivational speaking.
Titus Andronicus performs at The Southern on 10/10. Drunk Tigers and the SoSoGlos open. The show starts at 8:00 pm and tickets are $10 at the door.