Interview with vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stickles | By John B. Moore
Those thrown by Titus Andronicus’ fantastic but surprisingly mellow last album, 2018’s A Productive Cough, can revel once again in the band’s louder, more raucous side. Just a year after its predecessor, the New Jersey band are back with An Obelisk, nearly 40 minutes of ferocious rock layered with witty, razor-sharp lyrics.
According to vocalist and guitarist Patrick Stickles, the band had every intention of following up their softer record with a sound more familiar to their fans.
“It’s all part of the master plan,” Stickles says. “I had an interest in performing live in a more acoustic, singer-songwriter capacity, which we did in supporting that album. It’s always been among my musical interests, ballads and more traditional songs with country leanings. There’s some of that on all of the albums. I’ve been interested in that all the way back to the debut, [2008’s The Airing of Grievances], but it wasn’t until last year that I thought my career was in such a place that it would be prudent to pursue that in the focus that we did.”
An Obelisk, like the album before it, is on Merge Records. It came out on June 21.
“They let me do anything, sometimes against their better judgement,” Stickles says of Merge. “It’s a pretty hard place to get in trouble at. I can tell you that if I had tried to do any of these things at my old record label, they would have put me in the stocks.”
Below, Stickles dives deeper into the new album, working with Bob Mould, and Titus Andronicus’ seemingly never-ending tour.
Did you work on the songs from An Obelisk around the same time you were writing for A Productive Cough?
Oh, yeah, big time. There was a documentary around the making of the last album, and there’s actually a scene where we play one of the songs in the new record. Watching that, it should be obvious why that song didn’t make it on the A Productive Cough album. There were a few other songs that we were playing at the time that are on the new one. What can I say? I caught a little bug. I was at a place in my career where I thought, “Maybe I won’t do a banging rock album right now. Maybe that can wait another year. Maybe I can use this more acoustic, ballad-y album to renegotiate the terms of my contract a little with my audience and what my central purpose as an artist is.”
I saw you in Philadelphia opening up for Bob Mould, and you appear to have snuck in a few of these new songs by calling them covers of obscure songs from old punk bands.
Yeah, that’s what we claimed. We’re trying to consider our audience; Bob Mould fans want to rock, and you don’t want to get up onstage before Bob Mould comes on and be sleepwalking, because you know he’s going to burn the place down. Forty years in, and he’s really still coming with the thunder, so we couldn’t be slacking off—and that goes for being in the studio with him as well.
You are obviously both on the same record label, but how did you get him involved in producing An Obelisk?
To make a long story short, around the time he came out with his Patch the Sky album a few years ago [in 2016], I read a profile of him where he mentioned that he liked Titus Andronicus’ music. I didn’t know that before, and I wouldn’t have assumed that he’d even heard of us before. I also happened to know Michael Azerrad who wrote the book “Our Band Could Be Your Life: [Scenes From the American Indie Underground, 1981–1991],” and he became the cowriter or editor of Bob’s  memoir, [“See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody.”] I said to him, “You think Bob would produce a record for us?” He asked Bob if it was OK to give us his email address, and he said OK, so we kind of just took it from there.
What was he like in the studio?
The main thing that was remarkable about him, putting aside the incredible career that he has had, was his diligence and how present he was during every moment of the process. We’re such goofballs, and he’s so disciplined and runs a very tight schedule, and that is not something Titus Andronicus is known for. That was the big thing we were looking for. He’s a very serious guy and has recorded something like 40 albums, so obviously, he knows how to do it, whereas we usually just fuck around.
According to your upcoming tour dates, it looks like you are out for most of the year. Is this your longest tour so far?
It’s the most dates that we’ve ever announced at one go, and there are 10 days off in the middle of October before we go back out again, but to me, that’s not really that long. In 2009, Titus Andronicus went out on tour [and] there were only a few days that we were home, and in 2010, we did a tour where we did 48 days in a row with no days off. So, this one is clearly ambitious with 63 cities in North America, but to me, that should be the standard. Some of these musicians are fucking lazy. Again, that’s easy for me to say when it’s a couple months away. Once we’re in the thick of it, I may be kicking myself and trying to figure out what was going on in my crazy mind when I agreed to this. What am I saying, “agreed to it”? It was my idea.
Sep 04 Pittsburgh, PA – Spirit Hall
Sep 05 Cleveland, OH – Now That’s Class
Sep 06 Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
Sep 07 Milwaukee, WI – X-Ray Arcade
Sep 08 Madison, WI – High Noon Saloon
Sep 09 Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line Music Hall
Sep 10 Sioux Falls, SD – Total Drag
Sep 11 Fargo, ND – Aquarium
Sep 13 Missoula, MT – VFW
Sep 14 Walla Walla, WA – Huichica Festival
Sep 15 Vancouver, BC – Imperial (Westward Music Festival)
Sep 16 Seattle, WA – Crocodile
Sep 18 Portland, OR – Polaris
Sep 20 Davis, CA – Odd Fellows Lodge
Sep 21 San Francisco, CA – Rickshaw Stop
Sep 22 Felton, CA – Felton Music Hall
Sep 23 San Luis Obispo, CA – SLO Brew
Sep 25 Los Angeles, CA – Bootleg Theater
Sep 26 Anaheim, CA – Chain Reaction
Sep 27 San Diego, CA – Soda Bar
Sep 28 Phoenix, AZ – Rebel Lounge
Sep 29 Santa Fe, NM – Tumbleroot
Oct 01 Denver, CO – Globe Hall
Oct 02 Omaha, NE – Waiting Room
Oct 03 Iowa City, IA – Gabe’s
Oct 04 St. Louis, MO – Off Broadway
Oct 05 Indianapolis, IN – Hoosier Dome
Oct 06 Columbus, OH – Ace of Cups
Oct 07 Morgantown, WV – Pleasant Street
Oct 09 Lancaster, PA – Chameleon Club
Oct 10 Baltimore, MD – Ottobar
Oct 11 Asbury Park, NJ – Asbury Park Brewery
Oct 12 Jersey City, NJ – Monty Hall
Oct 22 Providence, RI – AS220
Oct 23 Easthampton, MA – Flywheel
Oct 24 Boston, MA – ONCE Ballroom
Oct 25 Portsmouth, NH – Press Room
Oct 26 Burlington, VT – ArtsRiot
Oct 27 Montreal, QC – L’Escogriffe
Oct 28 Ottawa, ON – 27 Club
Oct 30 Toronto, ON – Mod Club
Oct 31 Detroit, MI – Deluxx Fluxx
Nov 01 Louisville, KY – Odeon
Nov 02 Nashville, TN – Drkmttr
Nov 03 Hot Springs, AR – Low Key Arts
Nov 05 Dallas, TX – Club Dada
Nov 06 Austin, TX – Barracuda
Nov 07 Houston, TX – Satellite
Nov 08 New Orleans, LA – Santos Party House
Nov 09 Mobile, AL – Alabama Music Box
Nov 11 Miami, FL – Churchill’s
Nov 12 Tampa, FL – Crowbar
Nov 13 Orlando, FL – Will’s Pub
Nov 14 Gainesville, FL – High Dive
Nov 15 Atlanta, GA – The Earl
Nov 16 Athens, GA – 40 Watt Club
Nov 17 Greensville, SC – Radio Room
Nov 18 Asheville, NC – The Mothlight
Nov 19 Durham, NC – The Pinhook
Nov 20 Richmond, VA – The Camel
Nov 21 Washington, DC – Black Cat
Nov 22 Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church
Nov 23 New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
Photo by Ray Concepcion