Glen Rock, N.J.'s Titus Andronicus may call itself a shoegaze band, but its nervous vocals, pounding rhythm section and big guitars charge way too hard for that tag. Think of having the time of your life with Bright Eyes, or listening to five hyperactive Jersey boys decide they were way too smart to be in a Springsteen cover band.
As Titus drove through the Arizona desert last week, we spoke to frontman Patrick Stickles. Egged on by a van full of bandmates, Stickles had plenty to say about our seven words.
SHOEGAZE: Punk's answer to Phil Spector's wall-of-sound production. Beautiful, like the heavens opening up and God appearing, playing guitar. It meets at the nexus of overwhelming beauty and horrendous ugliness; it's the ugly cousin of dream pop. Big, big sound. Bigger is better; this is America, baby.
Nobody started calling us shoegaze until we told them that we were. We had to push the shoegaze angle a lot by putting shoegaze everywhere on our MySpace, recording an album called This Is Shoegaze, which never came out, and calling the tour "Shoegaze Across America." Happily, the people of America have taken the bait, and they are doing all of our shoegaze promotion for us. We're taking shoegaze into the 21st century. We're trying to co-opt the sound without adopting any of the sometimes boring onstage theatrics, or lack thereof. We're trying to take the big guitar sound from the shoegaze bands that we love and attach it to the faster, more intense kinds of music that we also love. We don't really sound like a shoegaze band because people think of that music as being very slow. Shoegaze, up until this point, has been a brontosaurus. Our band is taking it and turning it into the T. Rex. Roar! Here we come!
RELIGION: The opiate of the masses. Good ideas taken and twisted around until it's just a tool for subjugation. Scare tactics. Capitalism. Very good stories, but fairy tales, basically. Buddha was a regular guy, not a deity; he never got re-incarnated. Jesus Christ was an amazing genius, but he didn't know how to fly or shoot lightning bolts out of his eyes. Religion is like the old man who cuts up the Nerf balls that land on his lawn and says, "If you do this again, I'm going to tell your dad," so that the kid doesn't do it anymore, except that it's grown humans that want to go have sex with another person, but then an invisible guy says, "Hey, I love you and everything, but if you do that, I'm going to put a pitchfork up your butt for all eternity. I'm going to make you poop a whole pineapple if you touch yourself." Nonsense.
Unfortunately, it's so engrained in our culture that no one stops and thinks about how silly almost all of it is. Except for the ideas about love and brotherhood and looking out for each other and enjoying the beautiful earth ... forgiveness, mercy, compassion—awesome stuff. I would love to do that, but don't try to scare me into doing it. I'm gonna do it for me and for my fellow humans, not because you said you were going to make me poop out a pineapple. Although, God might be real. It could happen. But don't be scared of Him or Her. It's nothing to be scared of. Let's just rock.
I'm more pissed about humans and the way that they do religion than the idea of religion itself. We don't like neo-cons either. All those anarchical punks who write songs such as "Atheist Anthem" by Leftover Crack: Remember to fight the real enemy, the human. Don't direct your hatred at some invisible man in the sky. Channel that hate back into the community that made you so miserable in the first place. Fight the war at home, not in the sky. Also, no fundamentalists co-opting rock 'n' roll to spread propaganda. No Christian hardcore. No more Underoath! Get Underoath off the road and into a jail cell where they shall await a trial that may or may not ever come.
SHAKESPEARE: The pinnacle of human achievement. An incredible genius and yet more so a humble craftsman. He catered to the needs of his audience while transcending language up to that point and since. Unparalleled in the world of linguistics. Pretty much invented everything that we know about being human. My friend Andy [Cedermark, Titus Andronicus guitarist] points out that he wasn't Francis Bacon. He was just a real guy. Died penniless and alone, like all the best people do. Had an earring ... that's not that great, but what are you gonna do? Gave us the modern man in the form of Hamlet, the greatest artistic statement made by a human. Hamlet was The Dark Knight of the late 16th century. We're all thrilled to see Hamlet 2 when it comes out. Have you seen the adverts for that movie?
Another thing about him, he reached an incredibly rare intersection of virtuosity of his craft and humanity and the human weakness, which is almost impossible to achieve. Typically, the better you are at something, the worse your product is because it's deemed less human, but Shakespeare was the best at what he did and yet his plays were still incredibly human, particularly Hamlet. Everything that humans have said, he already said better 400 years ago and just to sell tickets, not even to be an artist. So imagine what he could have done if he had the resources and the freedom of a James Joyce or a Faulkner. The results would have been staggering, truly would have torn the world apart. We would be living on the moon now if a brain like Shakespeare could come around today. Thank God that will never happen. A man like that would bury us all.
JERSEY: New Jersey ... gabba gabba goo! Bada bing! Densely populated state. Go Gotti or go home. Getting a cup of coffee [With a heavy Jersey accent]. Bruce Springsteen. The Misfits. Franki Valli and the Four Seasons. Pool halls. The shore. Frank Sinatra. Oreo cookie. Baseball. Woodrow Wilson, our 30th president and only president that ever held a Ph.D., who gave women the vote. The Jersey Devil. Shopping at the mall. The Meadowlands. The Statue of Liberty. Yes, it's true. The New York Jets. The New York Giants. Hoboken. Yo La Tengo. Alan Ginsberg. William Carlos Williams. South Paradise. High school kids rocking out. My Chemical Romance. Thursday. Saves the Day. Bigwig. Home, where the heart is. Roots. Values. Kegs. Microcosm of America. And I always thought the state kind of looks like a silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock.
New Jersey was the first state to have a gay governor. We're on the cutting edge. Jim McGreevey broke down the big gay governor barrier, which was probably actually bad for the gay community because he was incredibly corrupt, so much so that he had to resign. But it was the first time a state in the union had an openly gay governor, which is pretty good even if he was terrible. And then there was Jon Corzine, who was partying a little too hard in his limousine—too fast, too furious—crashed it, got messed up and had bones sticking out of his legs. As long as we're talking about gubernatorial affairs, we were the state that gave the world that girl from the Emperors Club that brought down New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. It would take a Jersey girl to bring down a man of that stature ... gabba gabba goo! Nothing matters in the whole wide world when you're in love with a Jersey girl, so come on down America, see what's cookin'!
PITCHFORK: A Web site that has a lot of power, perhaps too much. They have dangerous levels of power and are probably ripe for some Teddy Roosevelt-style trust busting, although the god-like power that they wield has been extremely helpful to us in getting our music to the ears of the consumer, who otherwise might not have ever heard it. I like to look at the Web site often and find out what they're saying about the best new tunes. They're a good resource and good patron of the arts, but dangerous. I hope that they will continue to look upon us smilingly and that we do nothing to anger them. We're like farmers tilling a winter's field with some turnips and the pitchfork gives us the power to do what we're doing now. But also, should we slip up, we could get the pitchfork up the butt in hell.
SEINFELD: Comedy television show from the 1990s created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, starring Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis Dreyfus and Michael Richards. Four hopelessly self-involved, awful people without any redeeming characteristics whatsoever living in Upper West Side New York City in the '90s. Greatest television show of all time. Redefined comedy. My friend Dan [Tews, Titus Andronicus guitarist] said that it's a Honeymooners rip-off, but don't put that because it's not true. Amazing show, kind of existential sometimes, but mostly just hilarious. For example, when Jerry has to take the marble rye from the old lady or when George said, "You know, we're living in a society!" Dan says that Seinfeld explores the darkest corners of what is and what is not socially acceptable. It was also the precedent for one of the other greatest shows, Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is even more outrageous in the misanthropy that's on parade throughout.
MISFITS: New Jersey punk band from the late '70s and early '80s. Wrote the greatest rock 'n' roll song of all time after "Louie Louie," "Where Eagles Dare." Horror punk godfathers. Glen Danzig, one of the all-time greatest heroes from New Jersey, along with Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra. And Woodrow Wilson. When I think of the Misfits, I think of Jersey pride. I think of going down the shore. Henna tattoos. Rooting hard for the Nets and the Devils. The pain of the Nets moving to Brooklyn, just like people from Jersey moving to Brooklyn and then forsaking their Jersey roots and starting bands that they say are from Brooklyn when they're really from Jersey.
I think about when the original drummer of the Misfits came to my History of Rock 'n' Roll class back in college and he and I played "Where Eagles Dare," with him playing the drums and me playing the piano. I think about the song "Last Caress," which is awesome. I think about how Metallica did a medley of awesome Misfits covers in this video I saw on YouTube. I think about how I go all over America with this rock 'n' roll band and see people in Misfits T-shirts and then we shout them out and play "Where Eagles Dare," and they get pumped. Finding lots of Misfits bootlegs in record stores across America. They were DIY pioneers that have rendered the value of the original presses of their records in the thousands. Most of all, rocking band; one of the all-time best bands from New Jersey. It makes me feel proud to know that we're from the same place the Misfits are from. And I think of the song "Lodi" by Creedence Clearwater Revival because the Misfits were from Lodi.
Titus Andronicus plays Bull City Headquarters Thursday, Aug. 14, with Vivian Girls, Spider Bags, Crystal Stilts and Megafaun. Ticket are $5.