This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus prior to the band’s show in Norman, OK. Throughout this interview, we discussed a fantastic new policy change to one of Norman’s most iconic underground venues, along with a discussion of some of the group’s major influences, and a mild dissection of past releases such as The Monitor and Local Business. The following conversation takes place just moments after a brief introduction via phone call, while the band was traveling from Austin to Dallas for a performance at the iconic venue known as The Loft.
Opolis is at 113 N. Crawford on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013 in Norman, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman
SW: You came to Norman this past Spring for a show at Opolis. Will this be your second time here in Oklahoma?
Patrick: Actually, it will be our third show.
SW: Oh, I had no idea. Where was your first show?
Patrick: It was still at Opolis. That’s the only place that we’ve played in Norman so far. It’s a very nice place. The owners are great and treat us really well every time we come through. If they ever want to have us we’re always happy to come by.
SW: Oh yeah, I’ve lived in Oklahoma all my life but when I came to school in Norman, Opolis was such a nice surprise. Especially considering Oklahoma’s underground scene pales in comparison to other major cities. And like you said, the people that run the venue (Andy Nuñez) are so welcoming and friendly. Bouncing off of that, what is your favorite thing about Norman since you’ve been here a few times already?
Patrick: Opolis, I suppose. You don’t always get to do so much when you’re traveling around on tour, ya’ know? Most of time we’re just on the run. We make it [to the venue] by the skin of our teeth a lot of times. That being said, most cities we go to, we get to see the inside of the club and maybe like a 2-3 block radius. It’s not really quite as exotic (laughs) as you might think. I guess the real memorable feature of Norman or any of these places is the people.
SW: Oh I completely agree. “Normanites” can be a little eccentric at times. Sometimes when I drive around, I see people dressed up in medieval clothes, and it’s not even the medieval fair! Truthfully though, I love Norman for the moments like that.
Patrick: Hey, we gotta grab whatever we can in this life (chuckles). Speaking of Norman fashion, when we played there back in March, that was definitely the show of the tour where the majority of people were wearing plaid shirts. You could look out from the stage and see a sea of plaid. I don’t know why that was the trend, but they were lookin’ good!
SW: I feel like that’s a go-to “southern underground” staple. That culture may distance themselves from any sort of traditional clothing, but keeping the plaid at least gives them some sort of self awareness that they exist in that cowboy culture? I’m probably just making this up at this point.
Patrick: Either way, there’s nothing wrong with that from where I stand.
SW: Exactly. Let culture do what culture does I suppose. Continuing on about Opolis, this will be the first time (I believe) that you’ll be playing at an 18+ show (unless the first show happened to be like that), but the venue has kind of flip-flopped on that rule for awhile now. Do you expect a larger crowd this time around because of that? How big are the crowds typically for your shows at Opolis?
Patrick: Well, it’s not such a huge place is it? I’d say it holds around 150 people at most. I think last time it was just about sold out, but that was the first time we’d been there in a few years. I don’t believe that the show tomorrow is on track to sellout just yet, but we’re hopeful and optimistic of course. After all, it is the second time in a year. You would hope that the people had such a good time last time that they couldn’t wait to do it again.
SW: Well hopefully those that read this tomorrow will be intrigued enough to come see you. And honestly, there are still so many people that aren’t aware that Opolis is 18+ now. So you could say this interview is also sort of a PSA about that.
Patrick: Oh yeah, that’s a very important point to highlight. It’s bad when clubs discriminate against people for any reason. Sometimes liquor laws and the whole “alcohol industrial complex” can get in the way which is really too bad. Especially because the younger crowd are generally the most excited about these things. Particularly in rock and roll, and how teenage emotions are so “high end”- rock and roll can really be a powerful and important thing, and certainly was for me when I was at that age. Those people are often the most enthusiastic and the music speaks to them in a much more visceral way, compared to an older person like I am now, in which I prefer to watch from a distance.
SW: Yeah, it’s like you’re still a part of that crowd and promoting that type of music, but you obviously have a more mature outlook on things or that “hindsight perspective”.
Patrick: Yeah, I suppose so. All I know is, we don’t like for anyone to be turned away and if they wanna rock then I think that’s their right. I don’t know much about the laws in Oklahoma but I know that some places have stricter policies than others.
SW: I agree completely with that prior statement, and Oklahoma liquor laws is a topic that could go on for days (laughs). Moving on to some more music related content, I’d like to start off with a few questions about your 2010 record, The Monitor. I know it might be annoying or monotonous to drudge up questions about older work, so feel free to answer these as you will.
Patrick: I mean, I’ll try. I don’t think about that too much anymore.
SW: Absolutely, like I said I don’t want to force any unwanted conversation, but if you don’t mind then I will proceed: It’s been a little over six year since The Monitor first released. Prior to it becoming what some would call a punk classic, did you have any idea that it would receive the acclaim that it did?
Patrick: Umm… Not exactly. Like, it wasn’t an accident, but it was intended to be a great thing. That being said, that’s true of any record. Ideally, you just go out and try to do your best and the degree to which people appreciate is a little bit beyond your control. The only thing you can control is the effort, time, and energy that you put into it.
SW: Right, I feel like there are some cases in which artists may have an intuition that their work might be well received, but its the records that reflect nothing but true rawness and honesty that manage to make their way to the top of the charts that really stand out, and I’m sure it must be a good feeling to know people connect to your music so intimately. Continuing on the subject of this release, I know that many people adore the Civil War concept that was thrown into this album. That being said, I feel like there are so many things that could go wrong with concept albums, such as focusing too heavily on the extended metaphor at hand and losing focus, or coming across as a bit too “try-hard”. I feel like The Monitor seems to be a perfect balance and had a really good execution in general. Did you have that forethought going into this project or did the pieces just fall in place naturally?
Patrick: I don’t know, I mean, I was like 23 years old. You’re really kind of asking the wrong guy- it sounds like you know a little more about it than I do even.
SW: I suppose I have read into it a little deeper than most, but now that you mention it, I could assume from the author’s perspective its kind of just your SW work or thoughts that you just feel like sharing to anyone willing to listen. Would you say that’s how it is?
Patrick: You could say that.
SW: Well, moving onto one of my staple questions for every artist who are some of your influences that helped establish the sound of Titus Andronicus, or simply helped shape your musical identity or interest?
Patrick: There’s like hundreds of them, right? You know like anybody you could name: Lou Reed, Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Wu-Tang Clan, The Clash, or fuckin’… you know, there are tons of them; its endless. We all just go through life and we’re exposed to all these things that are floating around in the air and they all do their part to weave the tapestry that is our perspective on life.
SW: I agree with that so much, I mean, that’s the beauty of it. The tapestry is a great analogy. Moving back to the topic of your own work, I wanted to bring a little notice to Local Business, the follow-up to your 2010 record. While the The Monitor had its fair share of nihilistic themes and disdain towards humanity, the beginning of this latter release kicks off with the lyrics, “Okay I think by now we’ve established everything is inherently worthless”. Would you say that this release was an outlet to reflect on these ideas even further, or sort of a sequel in a sense?
Patrick: Well to me mind, every record kind of builds upon the ones that came before it. Basically every release is just a snapshot of my frame of mind at the time that the record is being created, you know what I’m sayin’? And in the same way that people are always growing and developing in the way that we see the world and the way we think about life, well art is sort of the same. When a particular record or any kind of work is in the past, its not really in the past because the act of making it a prominent part of your development- you know you’re just always trying to get to the next level of your think about art, life, and just everything in general.
SW: Exactly. And I feel like having those recordings would be nice from a personal standpoint because it basically gives you a synopsis of the type of person you were at that point in your life. I mean, it really is just kind of frozen in time and its out there for everyone to see. I guess you could say history.
Patrick: Yeah, pretty much.
The Most Lamentable Tragedy
SW: I’d like to focus the last few questions towards your latest release, The Most Lamentable Tragedy. I would have to say that this is your most ambitious release yet, with its 29 song tracklist and over an hour and a half length. What inspired you to create such a hefty album with so many “acts” and parts?
Patrick: Well I basically just had certain things that I wanted to express and explore and stories that I wanted to tell, and I didn’t think I should be boxed in by someone else’s definition of how long a rock and roll record should be. It really is all arbitrary you know? It’s a lot like any other art form out there, just a different vessel to communicate ideas and stories through.
SW: That’s a great way to look at it. I think that’s how some of the best albums are made, by not listening to anyone’s standard for how songs should be written, let alone the length of them. My final question about this album deals with the overall theme, or message that you want to convey to your audience through this piece. What is the theme of The Most Lamentable Tragedy?
Patrick: The moral of the story is that we go through life, and life is like this confession of the moment. You have moments that can be rather positive, but in turn these moments can become negative rather quickly, and I’d like to think that we shouldn’t take these good moments for granted, and that we must not forget them. It’s really easy to become absorbed in negativity, especially when we let those feelings win over our joy. That’s basically the moral of it all.
Titus Andronicus will be performing tonight at Opolis. Tickets are $15 dollars, and doors open at 8 PM. Show starts at 10 PM. For more info head over to the venue’s main site here.