You can put that paper away, you’re not getting a word in edgewise. (Laughs) I’m serious.
This is how my conversation with Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles begins. Somehow, I should have expected this. First and foremost, Stickles is responsible for some of the best rock n’ roll records of the last fifteen years. He is also the kind of guy who rips up a $20 bill on stage to prove a point about value systems, writes a nine minute long epic titled ‘My Eating Disorder’, and is currently preparing a thirty song drone filled rock opera multimedia experience about manic depression. Stickles conducts himself like a proper rock star and is as verbose and upfront as his lyrics, dictating his manifesto with equal parts hostile defensiveness and professorial wisdom. In our conversation shortly before a free NYU show in which Stickles announced to the crowd his release from a mental hospital that week, we talked about radical feminism, Titus Andronicus’ potential departure from Beggars Music, Crass, and whatever the hell else Patrick wanted to.
Alright, you can ask me a real question. That was just me putting you in your place. You’re a post man, I’m the letter writer. Understand? So forget your agenda, forget your expectations, and just listen to me. Don’t try and force my hand, don’t put words in my mouth. Just listen to me, I already know what I’m talking about. What’s your first question?
Shuf: I’ve noticed recently that you’ve moved all your distribution in house, making a point to not use interns which interested me as a former intern of Beggars Music Group myself.
Okay, okay. I’m a former Beggars something myself but thats another press release.
Shuf: How does that make you feel? Why did you make that decision?
Why did we make that decision? Let’s just say that decision wasn’t entirely made in house but as we prepared for the decision that was inimitably to be made we realised that we were in a position where we had to start preparing for it as an eventuality.
Shuf: Will your upcoming release be distributed in the same way?
It will be distributed in the same way in so much as our fans will understand that there is not some kind of meddling intermediary between we, the artist whose opinion you care about, and you, the audience, the person who is supposed to be doing the caring. Record labels don’t care. Websites don’t care. Music magazines don’t care. Little school newspapers don’t care. People care about art. Everybody else is trying to make a dollar. Everybody else is watching the bottom line.
Thusly, I realised that there’s a hunger in the audience to support us directly. People come to the show and they come to the merch table and they say “Give me the most expensive thing where the most is going into your pocket.” This happens all the fucking time, honestly.
Watch me lift a heavy thing now. (Stickles lifts a large amplifier) Note that he revealed his pythons and said something about radical feminism that’s positive, showed he was on the team. You just make it up, you kids make that shit up all day, right? Anyways, that was no shots fired. Its all for the love of the game, folks. I am a radical feminist. I’ve studied Hélène Cixous and fuckin’ Susan Sontag and fuckin’ Simone de Beauvoir and everything.
Me and my beautiful wife were listening to fucking Penis Envy by Crass last night and just loving life, okay so I mean… don’t fuck with me.
But all I’m trying to say is that, people want to support us directly. They don’t care about the intermediary. They just don’t care. A record label beyond like a boutiquey record label like a Sacred Bones, Captured Tracks kind of situation offers the artist a certain thing. A label such as XL or any Beggars Group affiliated label or fuckin’ Sub Pop or any of these big indie labels, fuckin’ even up and coming ones like Mexican Summer; you know they are offering the artist a different thing. They offer the artist wider distribution. They put up a bigger tent but into that tent they invite the entire world. The entire world isn’t meant to understand what we do. People who think they understand what we do a lot of the time actually don’t. They think it’s a bro gang bang. I’m not interested in sucking those people’s dicks anymore. Nor am I interested in sucking anybody’s dicks or flicking anyone’s bean or licking any shitty asshole.
Shuf: Who do you feel responsible for?
Me. I feel responsible for myself. To quote Henry Rollins; “No armies. Army of one. In my church, I'm God. I write the book. I'm the man on the cross. I'm the boss and I believe. Amen!”
Shuf: What’s your favourite Bruce Springsteen period?
My favourite period is easily ’78, the lawsuit period when Bruce Springsteen was banned from recording in a real studio and had to just record hundreds upon hundreds of songs at his ranch in Holmdel, NJ, shirtless and barefoot, with the other members of the E-Street Band, a hatless Little Steven. Then he just churned it out. At home just fucking no label looking over his shoulder, no fucking asshole manager Mike Appel telling him what to do. Just him and his fucking crew; John Landau, E-Street Band, Holmdel, NJ, shirts off, let’s fucking go. Let’s write fuckin’ “Save My Love.” I write an amazing song before coffee in the morning and guess what, I don’t even drink fucking coffee or alcohol. I’m Bruce Springsteen. I’m a fucking superhuman. Except I’m not a superhuman. I’m just an advanced people pleaser and I’m a master craftsman. Hunker me down in the bunker and I’ll churn out. Give me 100 days, give me a year and I’ll give you enough songs for fucking The River and Darkness On the Edge of Town. Yes, The River will be a double album and I’ll sow the fucking seeds of Nebraska as well, dude. I’ll fucking come right out of that year straight into Colt’s Neck and I’ll just bang out all of the songs for Born In The U.S.A. and Nebraska.
Shuf: What three punk records would you give a hypothetical fourteen year old?
The first record I’ll say would be an introduction to the ultimate punk band Crass. Rather than saying their debut album The Feeding of the 5000 which is where most people start, I will recommend to the fourteen year old that The Feeding of the 5000 is maybe a little bit harsh sounding and Stations of the Crass, the follow up album, has actually got a few more hooks and hits and sounds a little more palatable to western ears and is still really punk. It’s actually punker than Penis Envy in sound. Sounds more like traditional punk-rock than anything else they did afterwards.
So, the first one is Stations of the Crass by Crass. Let the record show that, once again, he exposes his tattoo and mad the sign of the crass (The record shows that he exposes his Crass tattoo and makes the sign of the Crass across his body with his hand)
The other two would be two perfect extensions of the concept of punk-rock from the same year and the same scene. The year: 1984. The scene: greater Minneapolis/St. Paul. The albums: Let It Be by the Replacements. The most fearless, perfect punk album ever. The punk album that broke literally every rule, including that punk rock has to be on it. Guess what, there’s the nastiest most hardcore punk ever hiding on that album along with everything else in music.
The second one. The album that proved that punk-rock was just another signifier, just another device for channeling information, and the information is whatever you want. As Mick Jagger said fuckin’ you can say something really straight and status quo in an experimental way or you can do something straight and status quo and use that to make something experimental. Which is what Mick Jagger did on his famous Rape trilogy (“Gimme Shelter,” “Midnight Rambler,” and “Brown Sugar”), okay? In which he drags something into the light that gets pushed to the side by society and says “This is really going on. This is real life.” I’m not saying its good. There’s such a thing as a mention-use distinction but this is real. This isn’t another skeleton in the closet. This shit thrives in the darkness, we drag it out into the light, and it dies. Hence he wrote the greatest rock n’ roll song of all time, “Brown Sugar,” which is about slave rape. What a fucking genius that he wrote the greatest rock n’ roll song of all time about America’s all time greatest taboo and dragged it into the light and said “This is Thomas Jefferson talking.” You understand? So that’s no misogynistic song. That’s a fucking radical feminist song. Brown Sugar!
The album that I’m talking about though that pushed punk-rock into the realm of true literature is the double LP rock opera Zen Arcade by Husker Du.
So to recap, Stations of the Crass, Let It Be, and Zen Arcade and that’s everything you need to know about punk. For homework you get a little treat, the true ultimate punk album from New York City’s The Velvet Underground, White Light/White Heat.
Words: Nick Boyd
Photo: Alex Sugg