By Cam LindsayFollowing up a concept album that used the American Civil War as a contemporary framework and earned countless accolades sets a band up to deal with large expectations. New Jersey rockers Titus Andronicus realized this when they began making third album Local Business. They knew trying to do another imposing album like The Monitor would most likely kill them. So they chose to lighten the mood a bit, strip things down and capture what they do on stage in the studio by self-producing it live-off-the-floor. Songwriter/frontman Patrick Stickles can't avoid making statements and so Local Business is rife with them, contemplating such heavy topics as eating disorders and losing one's sanity with his winning brand of upliftingly tongue-in-cheek cynicism. By giving their songs more directness, Local Business succeeds in what the band set out to do: present Titus Andronicus as a charged, dynamic live band.
There are a lot of heavy topics you discuss on Local Business, but the overall tone of the music is pretty uplifting and even fun. Was the goal to balance the two? Stickles: Y'know, it was a case of a spoonful of sugar making the medicine go down. You have quite heavy, dour subject matter, but you juice it up with some upbeat rock music and it's a little more palatable, maybe. But a lot of time, stuff that seems dour, bleak and dismal, there's a hopeful undercurrent to it.
A number called "Food Fight!" follows a track called "My Eating Disorder." Is there any kind of relationship? Thank you for noticing that! That was the intention there: to do a little bit of a bait and switch. Have this musical interlude called "Food Fight" that is quite silly, funny and goofy — that's the bait — and then lull the listener into a false sense of security and smack them around a bit with "My Eating Disorder." A food fight is just another way of describing an eating disorder because what is an eating disorder but an ongoing fight with food? Right?
The press release says, "Titus Andronicus, the studious recording project, and Titus Andronicus, the raucous touring machine, are no longer two distinct beings." Was that something you were looking to consciously eliminate? It was a conscious decision to move away from a big production. We wanted to make something that was true to real life. Something that was more about creating a real moment in time and capturing it for posterity instead of trying to build up a fantasy moment, which is what we've done a lot on the first two records. We wanted this one to sound like a band playing instead of some kind of fantastical super-band with every bell and whistle you can imagine, and everything, but the kitchen sink in the arrangements.
Is that how you feel about The Monitor? What? That it's an overblown, overly ornate production? Yes, sort of, but I don't think that is to its detriment. What bothers me now about listening to it is that we used a click track on it so, to me, the band sound a little bit rigid. Every beat is where it's supposed to be. That, to me, is just a little boring. It was looser this time, with more opportunities to fail — flying without a net, so to speak.
Was that easier or harder for you? Harder, in a way, because we tracked it all live with drums and three guitars, so everybody had to do a perfect job all at the same time. There were a lot of ducks to get in a row. It was challenging in that way; we did about 100 takes of every song, or something like that.
Local Business sounds like you had more fun making the album. Well, you've got to have fun. You've got to laugh or else you're going to cry. There was more pressure making this one. The first two records we did we had very little to lose. The first one, we were just kids doing it on the odd weekends. And then the second, the expectations were low because the first one didn't really sell any copies. The second sold quite a lot of copies, by our standards, so more was on the line this time.
How do you lighten this pressure? Do you have fun doing it? You don't always have fun. Maybe the material has got a sense of fun, but it wasn't always a laugh-riot in the studio. A lot of it was beating our heads against the wall.
The Monitor had an obvious theme. Does this album have one to it? There is a loose theme that runs through it, but the difference is that there isn't a narrative. There isn't a real story, but there are some definite themes: consumerism, the individual's place in society, the empowerment of the individual, the power of the individual to create their values and morals.
What is the story behind "Titus Andronicus vs. The Absurd Universe"? That was just written during a point in my life where I was going insane. Hence the lyric, "I'm going insane!" You could say that it's indicative of the album as a whole. Throughout it, our protagonist is going a little crazy.
You told me last time that you like using the "kitchen sink arrangement." Is there as much instrumentation as on The Monitor? There was more emphasis on the guitars. There weren't any horns or bagpipes. There are piano and violins, but the intention was to focus on the guitars. Even within that context there were only three guitars, as opposed to the very large cast of guitars we had on the first two records.
Owen Pallett played violin on the record. Was that an attempt to keep the instrument in the mix after Amy Klein left last year? Well, we had some violins prior to Amy being in the band. But, yeah, the violin is a very beautiful and evocative instrument. I think Owen is a very talented guy and when we found out he was a fan of the band, we figured we could make a concession and put aside our policy of keeping it mostly in-house and allow for one very special guest, just because we could. It's a little bit of a status symbol because he's quite a star in his field. He's down for whatever, that guy!