Titus Andronicus Are Not the Taliban: Sorting Out the Long, Twisted History of the Band
Kyle Dean Reinford Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus draw more from hip-hop culture more than you think. Songwriter, bandleader and Wu-Tang Clan fan Patrick Stickles' lyrics are deeply post-modern and full of hypertext links to everything from The Velvet Underground to Albert Camus to Curb Your Enthusiasm. And like any hustler with a sense of business acumen, they now know the value of a promotional mix tape.
Released earlier this year, Titus Andronicus LLC featured a sturdy live cover of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town." While introducing the song Stickles' tone of voice makes it difficult to tell if he is making fun of it, the crowd or himself. The dude is that dry. I have seen his band open for a number of top-tier indie heavyweights, and every time he thanks, say, Cursive or Okkervil River for having them I always wondered if he was taking the piss. When I asked Stickles about this recently he seemed genuinely unaware of this tendency ("You gotta make 'em laugh, I guess") but swears he's easy to work with.
"The other people in the band. I like to think that I give them a lot of positive reinforcement," he says. "I mean, we like to joke around a lot. But I don't, like, dis them by any means."
The reason this is pertinent is that since forming in Ramapo College in 2005, Titus Andronicus has been through so many members than even the guys currently in the band don't have a concrete idea what number member they are. Since the release of the New Jersey punk army's 2010 breakout album The Monitor, Titus Andronicus underwent a full line up change one member until only Stickles and drummer Eric Harm were left. They are now joined by on-off-and-now-on-again guitarist Liam Betson, bassist Julian Veronesi and the band's most recent recruit and eighteenth member overall, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Adam Reich.
Because of his tendency towards drama-punk bombast, bloodletting lyrics and high-pitched screams, Stickles has been compared to Conor Oberst for most of his career, but says he doesn't not want Titus Andronicus to be Bright Eyes-style operation with a songwriter and rotating musicians. In his mind, the current line-up of Titus Andronicus is the final line-up. Of course, he says that every time, but this is the first time that the band that played on the album is the one that will tour it.
I recently traveled to New Jersey for a feature in this week's Village Voice about the making of said album, the rabidly philosophical Local Business. During the reporting of the story, I also hung out with the the band at their practice space and crash pad, the DIY venue Shea Stadium, which is conveniently enough owned by Reich. Stickes is one of the most intriguing songwriters working in any genre, but Local Business proves that he is working with a formidable, locked-in unit that is worthy of attention. Here is a transcript of my time with the band; consider it your chance to get to know the starting line-up of your Titus Andronicus.