Titus Andronicus still feels like swinging 10 years after 'The Monitor'

Singer and guitarist Patrick Stickles discusses the burden and benefit of the band’s breakthrough second album in advance of Sunday’s Ace of Cups show

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Patrick Stickles photographed around the time of the 2010 release of "The Monitor"

Titus Andronicus singer, songwriter and guitarist Patrick Stickles wants to focus on the music as the band continues a pandemic-delayed tour celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its breakthrough sophomore album, The Monitor, from 2010. But absent an actual manager, he’s also burdened with the minutiae associated with restarting what is essentially a business following nearly two years of COVID-driven stasis.

“There’s just like a million-and-one things that go into putting the show back on the road,” said Stickles, who will join his bandmates in concert at Ace of Cups on Sunday, Nov. 14. “We got this van, and then put a bunch of money into fixing it up, and now I gotta find a way to get a trailer on the back of it. And then I have to order all of these T-shirts and vinyl records. And buying 400 T-shirts, that’s a lot of bread, and vinyl records aren’t cheap, either. So we have all of these up-front financial investments, which frighten me because we’ve been out of work so long and it’s not like we’re sitting on a surplus of money.”

On top of this, Stickles said he's still adjusting to the reality of what it means to be a touring artist amid a still-ongoing pandemic, where shows could be canceled or delayed if any of the band members, all of whom have been vaccinated, contract COVID-19. “Which, I guess, fair enough. We don’t want to be out there spreading an infectious disease, and it wouldn’t be right to do that,” Stickles said. “But I’d be bummed out to cancel a tour and then I’m sitting on 400 T-shirts that I just can’t give back because they already say the name of the band.”

“This is probably not what you were hoping I’d say, and the truth about what goes on behind the scenes is probably boring to your readers, and logistics and managerial [tasks] are perhaps not sexy or glamourous,” Stickles continued. “They’re tedious to me, too. But this is my reality.”

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Since launching Titus Andronicus in Glen Rock, New Jersey, in 2005, Stickles has never shied from presenting his inner-most thoughts in their rawest, most unvarnished form, whether he was writing about growing up in suburbia amid a broken economy and an increasingly tribalistic political culture (The Monitor) or his own struggles with mental health (The Most Lamentable Tragedy). 

And if that means offering readers a detailed view into band business, or taking shots at Neil Young, a musician Stickles continues to idolize, for his limited views on touring amid the coronavirus, then so be it.

“Loudmouth millionaire Neil Young, did you see what he said? He said, ‘You can’t do any concerts. They’re irresponsible freedom fests.’ Meanwhile, he’s hiding out in his sprawling compound, clacking away, little keyboard tough guy,” said Stickles, who talked about the need to balance the exhilaration of a return to touring with the precariousness of the current moment. “He has no right to tell me what to do. This is how I put food on the table. He can go hide in his bunker for the rest of his life if he wants to. He doesn’t need the money. I do.”

In preparing for this current tour, Stickles spent more time with The Monitor, an album with which he has an admittedly complex relationship. Foremost, he’s grateful for the various avenues opened by the album, which he credits in large part for his ability to eke out a living as a musician over this last decade. “If not for that record, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now,” he said.

At the same time, Stickles now feels somewhat removed from the person who originally wrote and recorded those songs. “We recorded that album 12 years ago, so I've undergone a complete cellular regeneration since then, you know?” he said. “I'm literally a different person, in that the corporeal form that was present for the creation of that album no longer exists. There's that age-old question: If you, one-by-one, replace every single part of a ship, is it still the same ship? And there's no answer.”

He’s also had to navigate the weight of expectation that followed in the wake of the laudatory reviews bestowed on The Monitor, starting with follow-up Local Business in 2012 and carrying through most recent long-player An Obelisk, from 2019, describing the legacy of the band’s sophomore album as “an albatross around my neck.”

Revisiting The Monitor for a 10th anniversary reissue and again in rehearsing for these current shows, however, Stickles said he’s finally been able to let go of some of this residual bitterness, coming to appreciate the concept album, which is loosely themed on the Civil War, for the audacious swing that it was at the time. 

“Listening to the record and learning the songs … I was like, this is pretty cool. I see why people dig this,” Stickles said. “That album was an attempt to see if we could stick around. We had done one album at that point and easily could have been a flash in the pan. So, you know, I had a big fire in my belly to take a big swing and grab for the brass ring, and to graduate to that upper echelon where I believe that I belong. And to a certain degree, we did. Obviously we’re not playing arenas or anything, but the fact remains that I’m still holding this job. … We climbed the ladder a few rungs, and now the mission becomes to sustain that for as long as possible.”