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Friday January 28th

Titus Andronicus: A Tapestry of Ideas

Patrick Stickles, singer of Titus Andronicus, chills in a green room, camera in hand. Courtesy of Titus Andronicus
Buy Photos Patrick Stickles, singer of Titus Andronicus, chills in a green room, camera in hand. Courtesy of Titus Andronicus

Patrick Stickles has an interesting world view. Well-versed in rock ‘n’ roll, pop culture, literature and history, the leader of  New Jersey band Titus Andronicus shouts hyper-intelligent barbs over the group’s roaring brand of E Street punk. Diversions Editor Jordan Lawrence talked with Stickles before Titus’ Sunday gig at Local 506 to get an idea of what makes the divisive songwriter tick.

Diversions: On the new album, The Monitor, you use the phrase, “The enemy is everywhere.”. What do you mean by that?

Patrick Stickles:
Let me answer your question with a question. What do you think we mean when we say it?


Time: 9 p.m. Sunday
Location: Local 506
506 W. Franklin St.

Dive: That there are wicked people everywhere that keep you down. Is that what you mean?

PS: That’s definitely part of it. One of the morals of our record is that we have to be responsible for our own happiness. One of the main elements of the narrative is that I had just moved out of my home state of New Jersey, which has certain dismal things about it that I didn’t like. That when I was younger, I didn’t want to be responsible for.

But I found that when I moved, that didn’t make me immediately a lot happier. So the enemy being everywhere is about just saying that people are the same wherever you go, and we need to make the changes that we want to see inside ourselves rather than outside.

 But it’s also trying to remind the people that being politically engaged and socially responsible doesn’t necessarily mean saying, “f--k the president,” or whatever. Even if there’s bad guys up at the top of our ladders, there’s plenty of bad people down on the bottom with us. And maybe we should spend a little less time pissing and moaning about our elected officials and a little more time going after the f--king assholes that exist in our own communities.

How does that idea of knowing that there are bad people in your community tie into the Civil War references?

That was pretty much that concept manifesting itself to its logical conclusion. That period had all these brothers killing brothers and stuff. Maybe that’s kind of an intersection of those two concepts. On the one hand the Union government was waging war against the Confederate one. More practically speaking it was the Americans killing Americans. Those kind of divisions and partisan things still exist in our society now, albeit in more sneaky ways. But back then that was kind of that concept lived large and played out on a big stage.

Dive:  One influence you list for the record is “The Dark Knight.” How did that influence you?

PS: Remember the scene at the end of the movie where Batman pretty much has the Joker right where he wants him? And Batman’s like, “I’ve got you dude. You’re totally busted.” You know, “I win. You lose.” And the Joker says, “No, I win because there was this great guy Harvey Dent. And I proved that he is just as weak and has all the ability to get f--ked up and be a villain as much as anybody else.” He had put into motion the chain of events that led to him becoming Two Face.

One of the morals of our story is that we who think of ourselves as maybe being on the side of righteousness, you know, us lefties and stuff, that very possibly we are as bad as those we oppose. Just like them, we often define ourselves in opposition to them instead of trying to define ourselves just by ourselves. Kind of a little post-modern nightmare come to life.

Our hero finds out at the end that he’s been doing the same bad s--t that he’s been on the other people’s case about. The emergency of modern life has forced him into that position and brought him down to that kind of baser kind of a life — just like the Joker has proven that the horrors of modern life could do it to Harvey Dent.

Dive: You make a lot of other references on the album. Why do you like to do that?

PS: Words often potentially can hold much greater weight than it says about them in the dictionary. These things, popular culture or relating to history or literature or any of that kind of stuff, all these things can form our language. If I say things, hopefully it’s more than just a collection of pleasing sounds. I’m just trying to infuse the words with greater weight and allow people to make connections based on their experiences. Kind of trying to borrow a bit of those words’ power. It’s like that book “Ulysses.” You ever read that one?

Dive: I’ve read parts of it. I haven’t been brave enough to make it through the whole thing.

PS: Well, few people are. Myself included. I had to read it back in college. It’s pretty impenetrable, like you say, but I thought it was actually really fun, albeit in small doses, to have all the different references and annotated versions and the guides around. To try to find out the various mystical powers that the words held based on their context in early twentieth century Ireland. Maybe it would be a big stretch to say we’re trying to do anything like that for twenty-first century America.

But I guess it’s the same sort of an impulse because the world, especially in this era of hyper-connectivity, is a very dense tapestry of ideas. And they all stem from all types of high or low culture. It all informs the way we think about the universe. I’m trying to get a piece of that action.

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