Interview: Titus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles on food fights and punk rock freedom (playing the First Unitarian Church tomorrow)

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Fans of New Jersey natives Titus Andronicus have gone so far as to credit the band with keeping punk alive.

Loud guitars, raucous choruses and heady, large-as-life lyrical concepts have earned it acclaim once thought unbecoming of the underground nature of punk music. Pitchfork was one of the first to publish a positive review of the band’s 2008 debut, The Airing of Grievances. Rolling Stone named them one of the best new bands of 2010 following the release of their sophomore Civil War concept album, The Monitor.

Naturally, the hype has been building for the release Titus Andronicus’ third album, Local Business, out today on XL Recordings. It is one of the band’s most stripped-down and sprawling, as well as an autobiographical effort from frontman Patrick Stickles, who chose to relay personal struggles within the album’s framework.

Despite the wealth of responsibility that seemingly rests on these punk purveyors’ shoulders, Stickles said there is only one group the band answers to for a reaction to the new record.

“It’s nice to get recognized in the papers and stuff, but more important than that is what the kids think about it, you know?” Stickles mused during a recent phone interview with The Key. “I’m more concerned with what they’ll think about it than the reviews. I mean, I hope that they’ll be good. I do feel a little pressure because a lot of people quite liked the last [album]. You have to wonder how much they’re going to like this one, or if that’s really important, if it really has to be a contest like that.”

Just as the band combats getting caught up in industry politics, a suspicion and warning against the power of corporate consumerism is a recurring theme of “Local Business.” Not only do band members support small businesses and “battling the corporate ogre,” Stickles said Titus Andronicus itself is registered as a Limited Liability Corporation in New Jersey, giving literal meaning to the new album’s title.

“So we think of ourselves as kind of a small business, a local business,” he said. “From a more metaphorical standpoint, it’s all about empowerment of the individual, even in the face of the will of society to crush people to make them conform, to fit them into boxes. ‘Local Business’ could be a metaphor for that individual rising above that stuff and determining their own values and moralities.”

Each individual’s personal responsibility to find meaning in a world where everything is “inherently worthless” is a message that opening track, “Ecce Homo,” outlines clearly from the start. But the undeniable peak of “Local Business” is an eight-minute effort by Stickles to confront a personal problem he rarely talks about. The track, called “My Eating Disorder,” describes his battle with a disorder called “selective eating,” which makes it impossible for him to eat unfamiliar foods.

[live tv] #059 Pt. 2-3 Titus Andronicus – My Eating Disorder from RaRaRa / Light & Noise on Vimeo.

Stickles said the actual process of composing “My Eating Disorder” was much easier than deciding whether to write the song or not.

“I’d rather usually keep it to myself,” he said of the disorder. “But, you know, it’s not good to keep secrets with your art, so I decided it was time to put it out on the table, no pun intended.”

Taking the time to tackle these tough or metaphorical topics has led Titus Andronicus to regularly stray from the traditional punk song construct. Tracks on Local Business range from the one to almost 10 minute marker, making it hard to compare the band to many of their forefathers, as well as their contemporaries.

“To me, what punk is really about is more than the loud, hard, fast thing, sounding like the Ramones or whatever,” Stickles said. “The important thing about punk to me is just that it gives you the freedom to do whatever you want to. To me, a punk song can be really long or have weird elements to it. As long as it’s from the heart and true to the authentic muse, it can still be punk even though it doesn’t sound like the Ramones.”

Local Business is, however, an attempt for the band to get back to the basics. Stickles said the last two records featured upwards of 30 musicians, but Local Business was recorded mostly live with a small group of less than 10.

“This one’s got more of a stripped-down sound, but I think it’s got a little more of a certain kind of energy for that reason,” he added.

Stickles said the band has already enjoyed playing the new songs live, and will even more so now that Local Business is out and they embark on tour through December. Stickles will soon have his fans singing back his tales of moving from Glen Falls to New York City (recounted in “In a Big City”) and being electrocuted last year in the band’s practice space (the basis of “(I Am The) Electric Man”).

Stickles can only hope, though, that concertgoers at venues with concession stands don’t take the song “Food Fight” to heart.

“I have been hit with a few beers in my day, but so far no food,” he said. “I don’t know how I would handle that.”

Titus Andronicus plays the First Unitarian Church tomorrow, Tuesday October 23, with Psychic Teens and Ceremony. Tickets and information for the all-ages show are available here. Local Business is out today on XL Recordings.