Titus Andronicus’ Rustic Upheaval

Northern Transmissions' interview with Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus by Ray Concepcion

Titus Andronicus has continuously flipped the script over their first for albums, so their short and rustic switch up for A Productive Cough wasn’t too surprising. After some years away from the epic The Most Lamentable Tragedy, the band’s new album slows things down. After explaining that we weren’t another phishing call, we chatted with Patrick Stickles ahead of their Montreal show at Bar Le Ritz on March 11 about their surprisingly short record, their acoustic change-up and what led to their new album documentary.

Northern Transmissions: Why did you decide to make this album more ballad-heavy and slower than your previous albums, and what inspired you to strip back a lot of the blistering energy you once had?

Patrick Stickles: This album is a little different but to me it doesn’t come out of nowhere. All the albums have had their moments of quiet, introspection and we’ve had these ballads that strip away the punk rock on occasion. The thing that separates this album is that the ballads are the predominant focus of it. Across our career we’ve constructed a metaphorical house that has many rooms in it. So rather than make an album that tries to visit every room, we made one that enters one room and pulls up a comfortable chair. I wanted to do that because it was what my internal compass told me to do, and I have to follow my muse. I can’t keep on doing the same thing even if that’s what certain members of my audience would prefer.

NT: Is this what inspired the more slice-of-life writing on songs like “Above The Bodega (Local Business)”?

PS: I’m going for more of a conversational feel rather than swinging for the fences with big metaphors or grandiose statements. It’s trying to sit down with the audience and have a nice little chat like a couple of old buddies.

NT: I’ve also noticed a growing trend in artists putting out these smaller records with longer tracks, there’s even four album’s roughly the length of A Productive Cough this week, so what inspired this more compact release especially considering your last record was 29 songs long?

PS: How do you follow-up a 29-track record? You’re certainly not going to make a 58-track record, and then you’d just go bigger and bigger. You have to build in a bit of ebb-and-flow into your career, so you can play the long-game rather than a long record. Records with track-lists like this used to be a lot more common. Someone pointed out to me online that this album is seven tracks at 47 minutes and Bruce Springsteen’s second album is also seven tracks and 47 minutes, so there’s precedence for this in New Jersey music history. There’s practical considerations at work too, because I knew I wanted this record to be a single 12-inch LP. The last record was three, so that’s 36 inches of vinyl. There’s this just certain physical limits that come with recording on vinyl and the album was made with that in mind. As for the song length, I’ll often think a song is going to be a quick 3 to 4 minute song and sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s 10 minutes. I don’t write long songs to make long songs, I just write something until it’s done. The record doesn’t even fit on one 12-inch, we had to put the Bob Dylan cover out as a digital bonus track.

NT: I also understand you’re taking this sound and doing an acoustic tour, so how have you found rearranging some of your louder hits?

PS: Like I said, all the records have had some songs in this style, and that are more conducive to an acoustic style. I should make it clear however that it’s not an acoustic tour, because I’m going to be playing an acoustic guitar. It’s just that I don’t have the rock band like that, but it’s not unplugged. This is our fifth album, so after all the albums and tracks we’ve put out, we have a pretty sizeable body of material to draw on. All the songs start out as us strumming on guitars and then we bring the band in, so it’s not too hard to get back to the mindset we wrote them in when arranging them for an acoustic show.

NT: What inspired you to make the making-of documentary for your album and did you find any unexpected moments while filming the process?

PS: I’m a big fan of behind-the-scenes studio documentaries, as a musician I probably find that stuff more interesting than other people. I particularly like Metallica’s ‘Some Kind of Monster.’ If I like an artist I want to know how they do what they do. A big part of it was that I was friends with Ray Concepcion, he worked on us for music video on the last album and he’s just gifted with a camera. Whenever I make an album I try and assemble the best team I can, so I asked Ray to hang around while we made the album. He was happy to agree to it, which was a blessing. Hopefully people enjoy it and find a certain amount of insight into the process.

NT: I understand you accidentally got involved in a twitter feud with David Crosby when a reporter asked him about your music?

PS: It wasn’t really a spat or feud since I never really responded, I was happy to retweet David Crosby and let my followers clap back on my behalf. I wouldn’t tell David Crosby that he’s wrong, he likes what he likes and he’s a seasoned guy at this point. If he doesn’t think much of Titus Andronicus or think that it even qualifies as music, well that’s his opinion and he’s entitled to that. It was purely a coincidence though that he was made aware of the band and gave his harsh opinion on the day of the announcement. We had been planning to announce on that day for a while, and we really didn’t plant that guy to ask him. We didn’t coordinate it like “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get David Crosby to say that this sucks.” That was just a gift from the social media gods, and it was funny. If Neil Young had said that, maybe it would have hurt a little more.

Words by Owen Maxwell