By Cam LindsayLike their Shakespearean namesake, Glen Rock, New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus are a dramatic bunch that play music so genuinely furious that it expels the sense that they too are out to taste the sweetness of revenge. Their recently released debut album, The Airing of Grievances, is a rock record with the kind of epic greatness you get to witness every time a blue moon hits. As gripping and ambitious an album as greats like Arcade Fire’s Funeral or TA favourite, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, Grievances begins its arc with a celebratory "Fuck you!” and never lets the listener go, keeping ears glued with their unrivalled ferocity. Virtual unknowns until just recently, the band’s rise through blog love and word of mouth finds them becoming one of year’s best new discoveries. Bookish vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stickles and bassist Ian Graetzer took some time out to sit down and tell Exclaim! all there is to know about Titus Andronicus, from the literary references to the band’s eternal instability.
Can you tell me a little about the band’s history? Stickles: The story of Titus Andronicus is not unlike that of any other band. Ian, Liam [Betson, guitarist], and I all come from the same small town in New Jersey, and I met Dan [Tews, guitarist/keyboardist] and Eric [Harm, drummer], who live in another small town in New Jersey, through mutual friends. We got started around the late spring of 2005 and have just been plugging away since then, playing all manner of embarrassing shows and wallowing in doubt and insecurity. Paying dues, I suppose. We just tried our best every time and hoped that somebody would notice. After a while, some people did not notice and told their buddies, and that process repeated enough times, and here we are.
You borrow both the name and text from Shakespeare's play. Was there intentbehind those choices? If so, what are the reasons?As far as the name is concerned, it started out just as a cool-sounding name. I have found that when a person wants to be in a band, he or she spends a lot of time accumulating a mental file of words or phrases that would be cool band names. Titus Andronicus was, to my mind, the best one that I’d come across. As we came to cultivate our aesthetic a little more, and understand more about the play, it became more and more appropriate. Shakespeare obviously is a very classy entity, more or less the pinnacle of human achievement and excellence. At the same time, The Most Lamentable Romaine Tragedy of Titus Andronicus is not really all that far removed from, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre so it was an odd contradiction in the literary world – basically a generic slasher flick that happens to be the work of the greatest mind that ever walked the planet. That seemed like the kind of line that I wanted our band to straddle; that line between the more cerebral, thoughtful elements of the human condition and the part of us that just wants to see blood and brutality. If Titus Andronicus the play could have both those, I wanted Titus Andronicus the band to have them too.
As for the text, Titus Andronicus the play is basically a piece of crap, at least compared to the likes of Hamlet and Richard II, but I think that the monologue that we used (which was read beautifully by our old friend Doug Johnson, who moved to L.A. a while ago to be an actor) comes pretty close to redeeming the whole thing. It is very beautiful in its sheer wickedness and its lack of remorse. A very pure thing, you know? I wanted our album to have that same kind of attitude, that sort of take-no-prisoners thing.
And with Camus' The Stranger. What made you decide to use a selection of that prose? The Stranger is probably still my favourite book, and the section that we used is probably the best part. Heart-breakingly beautiful stuff. In terms of relevance to the album, it was the same thought process I had in naming the song after Camus. The way that his protagonist, Mersault, is not necessarily an evil man but that the world has robbed him of any ability to feel anything, the end result of which is his doing evil things, affected me in a profound way. Being a bored teenager in New Jersey at the time when I first read that book, my friends and I spent a lot of our time knocking over trashcans and stuff like that, not out of any malevolence but just from sheer apathy and boredom. The Stranger was like the literary equivalent of the police blotter in the Glen Rock Gazette, to my mind. That idea of being generally an okay guy but having your environment turn you into an asshole was one of the central themes of our record. Also, I really wanted to have something for Okey Chenoweth to read, who was our high school drama teacher and is an amazing man.