You take your name from the Shakespeare play of the same name, why did you decide to call yourselves Titus Andronicus? Does it have anything to do with the character, or did it just sound cool?
Initially, it was just to sound cool. People with an interest in rock and roll have a tendency to walk the earth on the lookout for cool band names, and I am no exception – I have accumulated untold dozens of such names, some of which were maybe sort of okay, and most of which were just plain stupid.
As is so often the case, meaning was applied to it retroactively. The "deeper meaning" that was eventually settled on didn't have anything to do with the character of Titus Andronicus, but rather the place that the particular play holds in the literary canon. That is to say, The Most Lamentable Romaine Tragedy of Titus Andronicus has default "high-brow" status just by virtue of being a work of Shakespeare, but at the same time, it is very "low-brow" in content, relative to the Bard's other works – atrocities abound, and it ends up having more in common with "Saw" than, say, "Hamlet." This places the play at an interesting nexus between "high" and "low" culture, between cerebral and visceral human impulses, which is the same sort of place that we hope our band can occupy. We are a punk rock band, but we don't see that as an excuse not to pursue the highest level of musical sophistication that we can. Furthermore, we may allude to fancy-pants stuff like Albert Camus or Pieter Bruegel, but also to Seinfeld and the Simpsons and all that other stuff we love. Speaking of...
You seem to enjoy referring to pop culture, with obviously the name of the band. Your debut, The Airing of Grievances comes from the famous “Festivus” Seinfeld Episode. The song “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ,” is a clear connection to the Hunter S. Thompson book. Do you do this because it is easy to pay homage to what has influenced you? Or because you know the audience will recognize it and be more inclined to check it out?
I suppose it is more the first one, because few of our references are so obscure that if people were able to find out about a band as low on the totem pole as Titus Andronicus, they have probably already heard of Hunter Thompson or Albert Camus or Billy Bragg or any of these other people we allude to. Although, our audience seems to be constantly getting younger and younger (at our last show in NYC, not one but two youngsters told me it was their first concert ever!), so maybe it is possible that we might be someone's introduction to something cool.
How did the band form?
It is a classic American story. Me and some pals from high school got together to make obnoxious noise. We had dreams of putting out a seven inch and going on a tour. We did those things, and fell ass-backwards into a "career" of sorts.
There have been about 18 people to come through the band to play, why so many and is this the lineup that will stick for a while?
I couldn't answer this question with much authority, since I have never quit the band myself, and when our various alumni announced their own quitting, who can say if they were telling the truth? That said, here are some of the reasons I have been able to infer, one way or another.
In the first three years of our playing together, we racked up most of our "ex-members." At first, this was because a lot of our members (our first two drummers, for example) were still in high school, and moved away from New Jersey when they went off to college, so we lost a lot of them to that. When our first record came out and we decided to pursue the band full-time, a couple of us were still pursuing college degrees, and they wisely decided to finish out that project rather than following us down the very uncertain road to "indie rock fame."
When we started touring a lot, we burned through a few guys who thought that the touring life was what they wanted, but were proven wrong. Our policy has always been that if we are going to do something, we will do it all the way. This resulted in a 73-day tour at the beginning of 2009, which effectively killed our first proper touring lineup, because our dear sweet Andrew Cedermark just didn't have the sensibilities he thought he might. He has since settled into a quieter life down in Virginia and found some happiness, for which we are all glad. Our other guitarist at the time, Ian O'Neil, told us pretty much the same thing, that touring was getting in the way of personal stuff that he just couldn't ignore. Imagine our surprise when we learned a couple months later that he had joined Deer Tick, which tours as much as we do, if not more. I guess what he really meant was that he likes country music more than indie rock. Why he didn't just say that is anyone's guess. No hard feelings though – he is still the man.
Will this lineup last? Impossible to say, because I thought that the last ones were going to and I was wrong. I guess we shall see! I have my fingers crossed, because I really am especially fond of this one.
Hailing from a small New Jersey town, was it hard to get noticed with your art rock/indie style?
Where we come from in New Jersey, there is not much of an indie rock scene. The scene in NJ is much more dominated by hardcore and emo bands. As a result, in our formative years, we didn't play in Jersey very much, unless it was at a show we organized ourselves, usually in our practice space, or at friends' houses. Attempts to play in NJ usually fell flat on their faces, and we spent much more time playing around New York City, which has a lot more opportunities for indie rock bands.
When people think of Jersey bands, acts like Springsteen, Bouncing Souls, Thursday, Gaslight Anthem, Saves the Day and so on, those bands note the connection to the Garden State and where they are from. How does and has Jersey impacted Titus?
While we do take a certain amount of pride in our New Jersey heritage, and refuse to try and hide it, even though claiming to be from Brooklyn or something would probably be hipper, it is hard to say to what extent being from New Jersey has influenced our various decisions over the years. How can we properly quantify the effect that any aspect of our heritage or identity has on our behavior relative to another? If I had to guess though, I would say that being from New Jersey, which is so reviled in the eyes of the United States and, indeed, the world, and an object of mockery through shows like "The Jersey Shore" and "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" and things like this, infuses us with a certain underdog spirit, a drive to prove that we are as good as people from any other state. Then again, maybe not – hard to say for sure.
Your music has a sound of frustration and anger. Did creating The Airing of Grievances release some of that?
Playing rock and roll, in general, I find to be a cathartic experience. Just the act of screaming and jumping around is a great way to let off steam, and I am very fortunate to get to spend a good chunk of almost every day doing it. It is sort of similar to primal scream therapy. With this outlet, I do find myself feeling much more well-balanced. By getting to scream into a microphone, I don't have to scream at my loved ones or anything like that.
With those high emotions, playing the songs night in and night out, is it tiring to take yourselves back to that place of pain and anger?
Not really, because so much of live performance is strictly mechanical. That is not to say I go on stage to be a robot, but most of the songs (from our first album anyway), I have sung in excess of 400 times, so I can sing words that I wrote in a depressed place and not necessarily be transported there. The edges are worn down by sheer repetition.
Your live shows and music have gained you so much attention with the likes of Rolling Stone naming you one of the best new bands to look out for after this years South By Southwest Festival. What is it like getting the attention now after being in a band for so long?
It is nice and flattering and all that, but at the same time, I know that real validation has to come from within, that when you start holding yourself to someone else's definition of success, it is the first step towards pandering and losing whatever may have made you interesting in the first place. So, I try not to give that sort of thing too much weight, even though it is nice for our parents to see us in Rolling Stone and stuff.
Craig Finn of The Hold Steady appeared has collaborated with you, what was it like working with him? Will we ever see The Hold Steady and Titus do a tour together?
Truth be told, Craig recorded his part separately from our recording process – he had his guitar technician record it when they were recording vocals for demos of what would become the songs on their new record. That said, he is a really nice guy and has become a treasured friend of mine. As to whether or not we will ever tour together, that would certainly be awesome – we opened for them once in NJ, and got probably the best response we ever got from someone else's audience. We almost got to do some dates together this summer, but sadly, it conflicted with plans that we had already made. Maybe someday. It certainly is something I would enjoy.