"I’m just sitting waiting for the van to be fixed, otherwise I’d be talking to the walls."
Patrick Stickles can talk, and as he made clear during the course of a two-part, hour-long interview, it doesn't necessarily matter if someone else is talking back. On an off day between shows in Portland and Seattle, Stickles' band, Titus Andronicus, found themselves temporarily sequestered as the band van had broken down.
Thankfully, between then and now, the Titus Andronicus Express is back in action, which will allow the band to make it to the Chameleon Club this Wednesday, Oct. 9.
Since the last time Titus Andronicus played in Central Pennsylvania - at the Abbey Bar in Harrisburg in 2010 - a lot has changed for the band. Band members have come and gone, a rock opera was released, even a surprise Halloween EP last year, but what has remained true is frontman Stickles' ability to convey verbose emotion in a medium that doesn't always welcome such feelings with open arms.
The band's sixth album, "An Obelisk," was released in June and might serve as the most concise call to arms of the band's career to date. Songs such as "Troubleman Unlimited" and "Tumult Around the World" strike out at concerns both personal and national, all while providing riffs designed to move your feet and mind.
Stickles' answers are far beyond what could be contained within an average "Q&A" format, so here are just a few of his extended thoughts on topics ranging from the recently deceased songwriter Daniel Johnston to band successes (and failures), edited for clarity and language.
On the band's last jaunt through Central Pennsylvania:
"We played in Harrisburg in 2009 or 2010. I’ll never forget that night. This madman kept coming up on the stage and was shouting lyrics into the microphone, but he didn’t know many of the lyrics. Every time we played a song he liked, he would jump up on the stage. I was like, 'Whatever, this guy’s crazy, but it’s funny.'
We were really broke in those days, so we had to, like, beg people in the audience to let us stay with them overnight. This dude was like, 'Come on over to my house!' And we’re like, 'You? Ok.' His wife made us this special popcorn, and she told us that the secret ingredient is garlic salt. We were like, 'Damn, you’re as crazy as your husband is! But let’s try it.' And you know what? I still put garlic salt on my popcorn to this day."
On the dearly departed Daniel Johnston:
"I met the guy one time, actually. We played at this festival in Spain. I was having another one of my manic episodes at this time, thinking, 'I can do whatever the [expletive] I want.' I had credentials, so I thought, 'I’m going backstage at the place he’s playing and meet [Johnston]. I’ll walk in like I own the place.' Sure enough, I walked in and nobody stopped me. Nobody wanted this smoke.
I found this little parking lot area where he was standing, waiting for the rest of his band to show up. I said, 'Mr. Johnston, I love your music so much and studied you extensively. I’m a manic depressive like you are. Because of studying you, it has validated and affirmed my notion that manic depressive people can be great artists, too. That’s given me a lot of strength, and now, like you, I’m telling everybody about it and I’m going to try to help validate the next generation of manic-depressive and bipolar people.'
And he said 'Oh, yeah, I get a lot of letters from people saying what you just said.' And I said, 'Oh yeah, I bet you do get a lot of letters.' And then he said, 'Well, I gotta go.' And then he got in the van. I got a picture with him on a phone that I later lost, so the picture is gone. But I’ll tell you what I didn’t lose – I kept messing around backstage and eventually found his dressing room. In there was his can of Coca-Cola, which he had drank because he loves soda. I took the can, and I still have it to this day."
On posting to social media when someone dies:
"I’ll tell you something else, too. It pisses me off when somebody like Daniel Johnston or David Berman [of Silver Jews and Purple Mountains] dies, and everybody comes out of the woodwork being like, 'Oh, this dude is so important.' You didn’t give a [expletive] a week ago when he was alive, and now you’re out on Twitter doing this performative act. And you don’t really care, you just want to be a part of a moment. 'It’s trending on Twitter now, I’m gonna put my little two cents in.'
They did it the other day with Ric Ocasek. And everybody’s like, 'I love the Cars.' Yeah? When was the last time you put that record on? You’re full of [expletive], you’re a poser, like, shut up. For a minute, I thought I might dash out a little Daniel Johnston tweet, because he really did mean a lot to me. But then I thought, [expletive] that, I don’t need to do a Daniel Johnston tribute tweet, I’ve been living a damn Daniel Johnston tribute life! You feel me? I’m an outspoken bipolar person, I let everybody know and I’m not gonna let anyone forget it.
I’m out here validating myself practicing radical self-acceptance. Even if I look like a basic white boy, I am a representative of a marginalized community, the so-called 'mentally ill.' I ain’t [expletive] ashamed, I rub it in everybody’s face, just like he did, with my art and the way I lead my life. I think that’s much better than a tweet. I’m no saint or anything, but it’s what I’m doing, ya know?"
On Titus Andronicus tattoos:
"I just met two people the other night that had Titus Andronicus tattoos on the bottom of their arms, how about that? Crass taught me a lot and really helped me to be a more critical thinker. They’re not exactly autobiographical, confessional, singer-songwriter music by any means, but they talk about the anxieties that will occur when we’re made to exist in society. Square pegs in round holes, you know?
That was the initial reason I got the tattoo, to be a reminder of that. Part of the vow that comes along with a tattoo - the promise with the universe that I made when I got it - was that I would try to do for others what Crass did for me and pay the debt that way. So I suppose that people getting Titus Andronicus tattoos is the same story. Maybe that is evidence that I’m paying off that debt in some modest, humble way. It doesn’t sound modest or humble coming out of my mouth, though."
On figuring out which songs will be successful:
"I don’t know. Every time I’ve put out an album on Merge Records, I’ve said, 'Oh boy, this time I’ve got a big hit single for you and it’s gonna be all over the radio and we’re really gonna make some money this time.' Like 'Fatal Flaw' from [2015's 'A Most Lamentable Tragedy'], I thought that was going to be an Everclear-level smash. It was not. And last year, we put out 'Above the Bodega' and I thought, 'Oh, this is a smash, for sure. This is gonna dominate the airwaves.' It didn’t. Even with [2019's 'An Obelisk'], 'Tumult Around the World' is basically 'We Are the World' for today, a generation-defining anthem. It’s not.
So, I don’t know what to tell you, I can’t seem to make a hit single. Maybe that would be bad though, like maybe a hit single isn’t the way to create a personal, deep connection with an audience? There’s no pleasing me, I can’t be satisfied. Satisfaction is next to complacency which is next to death. Is the tiger satisfied when it goes out on the hunt? I doubt it. Dissatisfaction is how life survives."
Tickets for Titus Andronicus at the Chameleon Club can be found here and at the door.