It had occurred to me and Patrick Stickles at the end of our hour-long interview that we didn't talk too much about The Most Lamentable Tragedy. However, to understand the deep emotionality and storyline behind the gargantuan record, it's useful to just listen to the guy. This threw me for a loop early on. But, by the time he began pontificating about the de-stigmatization of mental illness, the internet as the newest battlefield for social change, and a recent campaign by the band to get their touring van doors fixed, it was clear that the album was almost exactly what we were talking about.

These are the forces behind TMLT because the album is so distinctly Stickles and the hero he portrays. If the interview was more of a ramble than a classic Q&A, so be it. That there is Titus Andronicus, and organizing the litany of themes wasn't about to become easy just because I had him on the phone.

So how different is the band? Is anyone still in the band that was still in it in 2005 or in 2009?

Well, nobody's in it that was still in it in 2005. But, the first couple years of the band were not really legit. Basically, the band was started to prolong that experience of jamming in the suburban basement. All of the members were people from New Jersey... And for the first couple years, it was just a revolving door of whatever lineup of like five or six of those guys I could field at any given time. In 2007, the band got the drummer that we have to this day, Eric Harm... Eric has played about 95 or 96% of the concerts that the band's done. After that, the most senior guy would be the bass player Julian [Veronesi]. He joined in 2011. Over the past three years, starting in like 2012 when that Adam Reich guy joined the band on lead guitar, we've enjoyed a more stable membership than any point in the past. The lineup of five guys that we have now has been together for just under two years. Over the past three years we've maintained 80% membership... Not that it's totally grown up now.

You didn't know [Reich] from Jersey?

No, I didn't know him from New Jersey... This is the funny thing that a lot of people don't realize. People go way out of their way to recognize Titus Andronicus's status as a New Jersey band, but only 40% of our membership is native to New Jersey. No one would ever call us a New York City band even though we live here and two people are native. It's a funny thing, these narratives and images that people get in their minds about the artists - the way that people will try to freeze the artist in time.

I feel like some of the songs on [TMLT] are about where you're at even though you don't necessarily talk about New York; except maybe that line about 'Hello Newman' ('Lonely Boy').

Well, that lyric originally called out New York by name. But then I said to myself "That's too specific. That's really gonna freeze this rock opera in place, and I don't want to do that." So I had to change it from "here in New York City" to "here in the Big City," which turned into a little bit of a callback to our earlier song "In a Big City."

There's such a feeling of anonymity in New York City, and I feel like as an artist, it's useful to stake your own claim.

Yeah, but it's the potential for anonymity that makes life in the big city so appealing to me - that makes the big city the only place I could ever really be happy. As kind of a crazy person, so to speak, I find it very advantageous to live around here because as much as I might be crazy, I'm very rarely the craziest person on any given block. Wherever you turn, there's someone doing something totally outlandish if not downright laughable to the common observer. But, because it's so huge and sprawling and dense, people don't have the time or wherewithal to stop and judge somebody or point a finger. There's space for every kind of thing in the universe here - even a lost, troubled wanderer like me can find a home, lost in the sounds and the flashing lights. It's all too confusing. Nobody can keep track of it all. Somebody like me can just, like, disappear or fade into the tapestry.

Is that what 'Lonely Boy' is about?

Yes, but I'm talking about it more as myself and the freedom that it allows. But, our hero in that song is interested in using [...] the density of the city to hide out of fear or shame. But, it's the same property of the big city that's so attractive to me. You can use the anonymity the city offers to do a lot... or you could use it to avoid interacting with any other person. Because with interactions come judgments and the self becomes the observed self; it can be all kinds of painful things. Even being with another person, just sitting in silence takes a certain amount of energy - feeling their gaze and observation. Our hero, at that point in the story, is very depressed and doesn't have a drop of energy to spare on dealing with anybody else and putting forth the effort to make them understand why he is so miserable and misanthropic.

Is he going through the opposite side of that on songs like 'Fatal Flaw'?

Whoa. Yes, exactly. In 'Fatal Flaw', he's saying "that which is within me is potentially a positive, and I want everybody in the world to know about it." 'Lonely Boy' would be more general withdrawing from interaction and not wanting to be seen because when we're seen, the observed self-takes over and we see through the eyes of the other; and we shame and debase ourselves as a result. Like you said, later on in the rock opera, he wants to do the opposite. He wants to let people in and throw himself out. He wants to spread his love and energy everywhere which seems like a better thing to do. But, is it?

"Is it?" is the big question.

It's the question that the rock opera will try to answer. Is it better to hide your misery and anxiety away - pretend it's not there? Or, do you drag it out into the light, expose it, and try to turn it into a positive thing? Kind of flip the polarity of it and change its energy somehow. Are you gonna do that though? Even when there's a risk that the person to whom this is being exposed - they could be hurt in some way? They might not want to see it, you know? It's a very tricky, very difficult line for our hero to walk in the story.

Do you feel like we're living in an age where people are more receptive to hearing stories like our hero's about anxiety or depression?

My particular issue might be the de-stigmatization of mental illness, but that's just my one little particular cross to bear. I'm very much like a lot of people in that I'm just trying to end the silence on issues where silence has been the rule for a long time, you know what I mean? The things that I go through in my life are nothing new. They're as old as the hills... And the way that mentally ill people are suppressed and subjugated is nothing new either... It seems to me that until recently, like you said, a lot of people would prefer to just pretend that that stuff's not happening.

Basically, I'm trying to work towards some kind of alternative to that where the particulars of these illnesses can be discussed as freely as we would discuss any other natural fact of our species. We should be able to talk about manic depression just as openly and as matter-of-factly as anything, really. Validated people are sharing strength and solidarity on all kinds of issues. The silence is being broken. People are itching to have these dialogues. Let the powers that be see that we won't just passively accept whatever they're handing out and be force-fed whatever fucking tripe that they think we need today. That's the positive thing about the internet, I would say.

Yeah, the battlefield's kinda shifted. And what used to be the main battlefield was rock and roll, and it just isn't anymore.

Rock and roll is like a dead, academic art form like jazz now. It's not the dominant youth culture by a longshot. It's like the fourth.

But, in response to that, I think albums like Titus Andronicus albums are more inward. They're more personal stories because you don't know anyone else's struggle better than your own.

It sounds like you're saying that perhaps I'm not that interested in building a consensus or conquering the zeitgeist. If that's what you're saying, I would have to say that you're right. I'm not interested in building a consensus or conquering the zeitgeist because, in this internet age, you don't have to do that to be a success. The internet has created an opportunity that hasn't really existed before for a sort of artisanal middle class.

The fact is that even if we came out in the major label '90s, a band like Titus Andronicus is just too obtuse and too lacking in certain technical departments to ever sell a million records... As such, we would have been destined for the starving artist lifestyle. But, I'm starting to see now that it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. Even if the major label system is dissolving and it's very difficult for a band to build a kind of zeitgeist, the internet has increased our ability to communicate so much that even the weirdest, technically deficient artist can find a sufficiently large audience to support themselves if they're able to use the internet.

If the internet has taught me one thing, it's that nobody is really alone in the way that they feel. I have found plenty of stories that have made me feel less alone. And, plenty of people have found me with their stories about how the music of Titus Andronicus articulated their secret feelings and made them feel less alone... That's just a couple of keystrokes away at any time. These people that are forging this meaningful connection had something about them that predisposes them towards this music. If previously that person would have been difficult to reach via the mainstream media, it's much easier to do that now. And if Titus Andronicus will never cultivate an audience as large as Everclear or Eagle Eye Cherry or something, we will be able to cultivate a meaningful enough relationship with enough people around the world. They will be able to support us and give us a decent quality of life. We're able to monetize the support of the people that really care about us.

In our time as a buzz band, we may have had some half-assed non-fans dropping in. These people are mostly all gone. I'm not interested in them. I'm interested in the people to whom this music says something secret and meaningful. If we're able to forge a direct connection with them in the same way the music has forged a connection with their personal, secret heart, they could vote with their dollars to keep us in office because the artist is like an elected public servant.

Which is what [Titus Andronicus] has been going through recently?

What, with "Give Titus Andronicus Five Bucks?" Well, the thing is a lot of artists nowadays think that we still need to work on some patronage system where an artist sits around waiting for some kind of windfall or some angel to come out of the sky with a million dollars - like a commercial. The artist is like "Oh, I'm so fucking poor. I wish I would get a call from the big leagues. Hey, if I don't put my song in this commercial, then somebody else will. So what's the fucking difference?" No shitting on these so-called artists that want to sell out this way. But I figured, just like I said, "Why should I sit around and wait for somebody on the 100th floor of the Ivory Tower to decide that I'm ready to be a rich guy when there are plenty of people around the world that think that I should be one now, anyway?"

People have got like $100,000 that maybe they'd give us to be in, like, a car commercial or something. Not that they ever came calling with a check like that. All the checks that we've scoffed at wouldn't be so impressive for this discussion. So fuck it, we'll just call it a million. So, a car company comes around with a million bucks, and that would be cool. But, that hurts my heart, you know what I'm saying? So, I don't want to sell the car because that will cheapen the secret moment between myself and the listener later when I'm articulating their secret feeling - seeming to tell the truth that Mom, Dad, the church and the school could never tell. It's this magic thing that the artist can do that so many artists have done for me. I hate to imagine that moment being tainted with the memory of this other time when I said: "Yo, this car is dope. You know this whole thing I've been talking about with you all these years? It's this car..."

I don't even want a million dollars, honestly. I just want a living wage. I don't want to be in debt. I just want to eat. I don't need a lot of lavish stuff. I don't believe that there's any place for opulence in the society of the future. I shouldn't have to worry about if I'm gonna be able to pay the rent next month, and yet I don't want to sell out... It would all shake out okay if [...] there was some perfect communication between us... So I just figure, fuck it, they want to give me five bucks. When I say "give me," that makes it sound like I bought a bunch of coke with it. It's not like that. I told everybody on the internet that the van needs new doors. It's true, the back of the van is broken... If that's what my needs are, why don't I just say so? [The fans] know that we go out of our way not to sell out, and that we have a harder life as a result. They're into that. They're just as naïve and idealistic and stupid as I am in that regard.


The Most Lamentable Tragedy is out now. You can read our review of it by heading here.