Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus talks bagpipes, Bright Eyes and the Boss
Ww: I wasn't going to mention Conor Oberst, I swear.
PS: I appreciate that, even though his music has some pretty cool moments too.
Ww: There are so many elements outside of traditional rock and roll on The Monitor. I mean, there are bagpipes. How are you finding these tracks in a live setting? Are you touring with a larger group of performers or is it stripped down to more of the punk elements?
PS: Before I answer your question I have to give credit where it's due and say that "It's A Long Way to the Top if You Want to Rock and Roll" has some awesome bagpipes on it, so we can't claim to have been the first to explore that.
But you know, since we put out this record, the most up to date version of the group has had a much broader sonic palette. We've got keyboards now and some violin as well, so that helps.
But the record was a moment in time that's now in the past, so we try not to stay too beholden to it, as far as trying to recreate it note for note every night, because the concert is a different setting. We try to let the songs have their own life and be born again every night, with whatever tools we have at our disposal.
Ww: Was making The Monitor a collaborative experience? Can you name-drop some of the folks you worked with on the album, or tell me about how the recording process went?
PS: It was pretty collaborative. Most of what would be called songwriting was done much in advance of the recording process, and we have some of the most talented friends in the world. We pretty much just let them do what they want. It's just a matter of respecting your buddies, and all of them know what they do best as individuals.
So we don't give too much direction, we let them pursue their authentic voices. It was pretty collaborative, as far as the embellishments go, and we continue to do that now. The people in the band don't feel like they have to do exactly what's on the record. We're just all trying to speak with our truest voices. How much can you really do with B, C and D? It's just a jumping off point.
Ww: What can you tell me about your puppet-making hobby?
PS: I can tell you that it's immensely satisfying, but a project like that is harder to finish than begin.
Ww: Are you making those giant, horrifying, papier mache heads or actual hand puppets?
PS: I made two of those big, scary heads, like you said. One of them was of Abraham Lincoln and one of Robert E. Lee. The thinking was that if we're going to be promoting a record that has so much to do with the Civil War, that these heads might come in handy. But I haven't really found a practical application for them yet so they've just been sitting on top of my kitchen cabinets for the past six months or so.
When I made the Abraham Lincoln one, everyone who saw it asked me, "Is that supposed to be you?" I was like, "No, it's not supposed to be me!" So then I made a smaller little hand puppet, like a Crank Yankers thing that is supposed to be me. Hopefully when people come to the house they see that puppet and recognize that as me, and that will take the giant head puppet off the table, because the puppet and the head don't really look the same.
Ww: That makes sense.
PS: But I mean, the hand puppet became fun, too. He's developing his own little personality, so I just let him say all the things that I wish I could say. And when I'm on the road, he acts as my surrogate back home, so that my girlfriend doesn't miss me too much. He can do most everything that I can do, and I think sometimes she likes him a little bit more than me.
Ww: He's probably less high maintenance.
PS: It's fun. It's like a sitcom.
Ww: I've read your blog, and you seem to be on top of pop culture. Do you have an opinion on your home state as the current reality show capitol of the world?
PS: I have made a point not to watch any of these programs, but I can tell you that the New Jersey people you see on TV -- whether it's Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives or whatever the fuck it is, or even The Sopranos or any of that stuff -- that's definitely not the New Jersey that I grew up in.
I've met some people like the ones that are on those shows in my travels around the state. So that kind of character definitely does exist. But the percentage of media attention on the state of New Jersey that those kinds of people are perpetuating is giving the short end of the stick to all of the people of New Jersey who are smart, decent folks. And there are a great many of them in New Jersey.
It just sucks that the media doesn't consider them interesting enough to warrant national attention. As if New Jersey didn't have a bad enough rap already. Everybody thought that New Jersey was shit, and now it's worse because everybody thinks that we're a state full of Snookies or whatever the fuck it is.
The thing of it is, those people on Jersey Shore aren't even from New Jersey. They're from Staten Island. So it pisses me off that these outside agitators have come to our state and given it a bad name in the eyes of the national media. I'd love to see all of these people with their faces in the dirt.
Hopefully people will make more of an effort to find out what New Jersey really has to offer before they jump to any conclusions about what the character of our state is. There's a lot more to New Jersey than what you find on TV, or even on a Springsteen record for that matter.