Titus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles spends a lot of time thinking about conflict. “Too often, we need an adversary to give us an understanding of ourselves,” he says. “If they just blinked out of existence, or started doing everything that I thought was cool, what would I do?” That thought is central to The Monitor, Titus Andronicus’ sprawling sophomore LP. Filtered through long-winded metaphors and references to the American Civil War, the record—part punk invective, part permanently hungover introspection—pits Stickles against a number of enemies, none more dangerous than the frontman himself.
“Our hero,” Stickles’ preferred term for the autobiographical role he plays in song, can only hope to defeat or come to terms with these adversaries if he gets right with himself. As such, it could be difficult to determine who’s fighting whom amid the blood, guts, and self-laceration of Titus’ show, sandwiched tonight between Okkervil River and Future Islands at the Troc. With that in mind, The A.V. Club asked Stickles to discuss some of the more prominent members of The Monitor’s “rogues gallery.”
Friends and drinking buddies
The A.V. Club: The way you sing about the hero’s friends on The Monitor recalls the derisive way Ian MacKaye treats similar bad influences on Minor Threat songs like “In My Eyes.”
Patrick Stickles: Oh yeah, no doubt. “All my asshole buddies,” right?
AVC: Does our hero overcome those characters? Or is it possible they don’t need to be overcome?
PS: Our hero does engage in some irresponsible drinking over the course of the narrative, but hopefully it’s clear that it was our hero who put the beer in our hero’s hands. Our hero could try and say, “Oh, it’s Saturday night with the boys, so that makes it okay.” But that’s just like anything else. That’s just making excuses. Our hero’s got plenty of them, but that one is pretty much bullshit. All the stupid stuff that our hero did when he was drunk, it was his own fault.
“He’s just 18 for now, but he’s going to murder us all”
AVC: The Monitor’s closing song, “The Battle Of Hampton Roads,” creates this image of an adversary: “He'll be 70-some inches tall / He'll be chugging a beer and he’ll be grabbing his balls / He’s the remote explosive waiting for someone to call.” Is this the stand-in for the people you encountered when you left your native New Jersey for Boston?
PS: We sang about that guy a lot on [2008’s The Airing Of Grievances], too. When our hero was a New Jersey resident, he ran into a lot of these types of dudes, and thought that maybe that was a New Jersey phenomenon. But out hero finds upon moving to Boston that people are the same wherever you go. That guy’s definitely still at large. But you’ll notice he was doing a lot of stuff our hero was doing throughout the record. He’s just a composite of many inherent human predilections.
PS: Well, I have escaped New Jersey. I don’t live there anymore, so I guess that was a success. That was another one of our hero’s lessons: New Jersey, New England—you’re going to get out of them what you put into them. Wherever you go, there you are. Who said that—Buckaroo Banzai? I’ve only seen bits and pieces of [The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension], but I’ve heard that quoted thousands of times, and I think it’s true. You can run your whole life, and you’ll never get away from yourself.
AVC: You told the New York Times that every great song about New Jersey is about getting out. Is “The Battle Of Hampton Roads” your attempt at writing a good song about returning?
PS: It was supposed to be like the anti-“Born To Run,” as far as saying the open highway doesn’t have the answers to all of our problems. That’s a rock ’n’ roll myth, from “Born To Run” or “Roadrunner” or any of these songs talking about the freedom of the open road. That was a myth that I was force-fed a lot growing up—especially with Springsteen, who was obsessed with that stuff. If he hasn’t done it by now, what chance do the rest of us have? Chances are, the things that we’re trying to get away from are still right under our noses.
“The man with the notebook”
AVC: This one kind of hits close to home for The A.V. Club: the journalist who’s briefly mentioned in “A Pot In Which To Piss.”
PS: I guess that has to do with the human need for external validation, and the confusing way that, in our postmodern nightmare, public perceptions get mixed up with reality and it turns into this mutant, anti-semi-reality—or something. Getting mixed up about, “What’s real?” “Who am I?” “Am I the guy that I think I am?” “Am I the guy described in the newspaper?” “Are we ourselves, or are we our Facebook profiles or our Twitter feeds?” It’s extremely confusing.