Interview with Ned Russin | By John Hill
Is there any solid definition of what “hardcore” means in 2015? For some, it means digging up their older cousin’s old KoRn records, blending them with blackened death metal riffs, and throwing in some 808 bass drops. For others, it could mean sticking to the classics and paying respect to those who came before. For Pennsylvania’s Title Fight, it means living in the moment. More than ever before, the band’s prismatic influences deliver sounds and textures that shift depending on your perspective. At first, a track may seem aggressive or grungy, but once you turn the corner, it becomes dreamy and distilled. Their release Hyperview is sure to confuse some, but for others, the album will be a portal of moods and layers.
Since the release of Spring Songs, what’s been going on with you?
Personally, I moved out of my parents’ house, which is a big deal. It’s a big deal to me! [Laughs] My parents are very happy to let me live at home, especially since I’m in an existence where I’m in one place for an indefinite period of time. It’s not like I have a job Monday through Friday, nine to five. With all of this stuff, it was like I would be home for a month, then gone for a month or two, [then] back for two weeks. It wasn’t like I was a burden or anything—I would obviously help out—but I figured it was a maturity decision on my end. Other than that, personally, it’s been pretty normal. We’ve been touring a lot, and locally, we’ve been struggling to have a central venue.
Moving out is totally terrifying. So, there’s no Wilkes-Barre venue at the moment?
Not right now, and that’s weird. It’s hard to explain [our hometown] Wilkes-Barre to someone who hasn’t been there, but it’s a really small place and we had this crazy music scene for a long time. We had shows three to four nights a week, and, like, three venues going on at one time, which is crazy. In 2005, most of the venues in the area had folded. So, it was up to my friends and myself to take on booking. We built things back up. We still had a venue called Cafe Metropolis, which is super important to me, because it’s really where we started, and now, across the street, is the Hyperview mural.
That venue closed in 2009 or something, and we started a venue which folded in a year or two, but since then, it’s been… Not a trainwreck, because it’s still going, but having a central venue for punk-hardcore and anything else has been rough. Like, we put a deposit down on a spot, but the guy totally flaked with our money. Since then, we’ve just been doing shows at VFWs. The scene has fragmented itself more now than in the past. There’s a bunch of different factions of scenes, which doesn’t make sense to have in a small place like Wilkes-Barre. What made everything work was that all the people got together and would support everything. I’d like to get back to that if I could, and help in any way. Idealistic maybe, but we’ll see.
What does Hyperview mean? The suffix “hyper” appears in the title, and “Hypernight,” which is both a song title and a refrain on the record.
So, “Hyperview” was a term invented in the studio. Basically, we were having a discussion, and I said, “I’d like to invent something that can transcend beyond music and be discussed in colloquial terms rather than be associated in music contexts.” We threw around ideas, and I came up with “hyper-something.” Wrote the song “Hypernight,” and we tried to further it, and we came up with Hyperview. What I came up with is: “Hyperview” is a state of existence where you can completely see the truth. It’s a pretty abstract idea, and I’m working out the kinks of it. I just think it’s something I wanted to do, create something and be the one able to define it.
It kind of fits the whole record. I mean, not all the songs work together with their context. They’re all about trying to be honest with yourself and discussing emotions that are difficult to discuss or decipher, and I think that works within the record.
What other ideas did you bring to the table with this record?
It was kind of unintentional on my end, but after reflecting a little bit, a lot of it is control oriented: trying to control your life, and realizing the lack of control we really have. The only thing we really can control within ourselves is what we do. The way people react to that, the way people act, and the interactions because of that, you then have to process. A lot of the stuff I was writing about was trying to control my own destiny and do the things I want to do, and have the conversations or even have relationships in my life. The stuff I was working with was a real understanding of how hard that all is.
I think that even pops up in tracks like “Numb, But I Still Feel It”…
Yeah, I think that’s always been a thing for us—especially for me—to address the unknown and those emotions and uncertainty. It’s something I especially thought when I was 16, 17, like, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna get a couple years down the line, and everything will sort itself out. I’ll understand myself, the world, and move on.” And of course, none of that has happened. I’m more confused now than I was when I was a teenager. Those feelings, thinking, “Was I wrong? Am I not trying hard enough?” Then it kind of comes to acceptance, like maybe it’s beyond me and I just need to do stuff internally for whatever I want: happiness, success, good feelings, anything. These things I just need to try to attain.
Was it scary trying out new tones and sounds in Hyperview? The difference in the vocals sticks out; before, they were really in your ear, and now, they’ve become another texture in the larger picture.
I think this batch of songs really took on its own identity, and there’s definitely an aspect of apprehension around the whole thing. Just because we signed to a new record label, our last full-length came out two years ago… It’s stuff that you don’t want to affect how you’re writing and what you’re doing, but it’s definitely there in your mind that it’s scary and it’s uncertain how it will go over in a new context. Stuff like that, like the vocals. I think the songs have such an identity, that we sat down and we did stuff with the music that called for the mixing. That’s a big thing for us, looking at the songs and how everything works together.
What’s a particular song you’re especially proud of on the record?
The song I’ve been most excited about is “Liar’s Love,” I think. There’s a lot of simplicity in the record, and I think for me personally, that song came together in a nice, easy way. The song itself flows really nice. The riff is cool, and has a weird dissonant moment where it has this kind of weird vibe where you don’t know what’s going to happen. To me, the chorus melody is really great, and I’m really proud of it, and I like the lyrics a lot. It’s something that fit together almost perfectly, and I liked the way it came out a lot. At this moment, yeah “Liar’s Love” is probably my favorite.
With Title Fight being around for over 10 years now, have you ever felt misunderstood?
I don’t feel like we’ve been misunderstood. There are certain things we get lumped in with that I’d rather not be. Obviously, I’m unashamedly a huge fan and advocate of hardcore. So many great things have come from it, and I can’t say enough about how great an art form I think it is. But, there’s a lot of backlash from people who feel entitled within it. They feel they’re able to judge people who don’t meet their standards or fit into their agenda. At times, I feel like we’re at the brunt of that. Sometimes, we’re cool because of that, or not, because we don’t meet their standards. It’s a hard thing to navigate, because it’s something that has no real definition. It’s so subjective, and it’s difficult because what I think or what the next person thinks, neither is right, but both are true to what we feel.
It’s not a general thing, but with certain people, they’re like, “Oh, you like Title Fight? That means you’re a loser.” That’s a little hard to take, because I don’t think we try to come across as some righteous band. On the flipside, people who say, “If you don’t like them, you are not this kind of person.” I don’t want to be viewed as that; I want to be seen as music people can listen to and enjoy regardless of anything. If you like it, great, if not, no big deal either. I think people using us as something else, it’s hard to take, but it’s not like I can stop it. It’s going to happen regardless, but it’s a little hard to handle at times.
How do you deal with fans’ expectations, while pushing yourself as an artist?
It’s hard; it’s really hard. I don’t feel stunted by anyone’s expectations. I truly feel we try to express ourselves first and foremost. But it’s rough, because being in a band means people have to like you in order to do something, basically. If you want to go on the road, you need people to come see you. If you want to do anything, it basically means you want people’s attention. It’s hard to think that, if we put out this record and everyone thinks it’s corny and fake, that something is going to have to change. It means we won’t be able to go out as much as in the past or not go to certain places. But at the end of the day, you have to look at what you feel, as an artist, is right for you in the moment [rather] than worry about others.
It’s a rough thing to balance, and it even goes down to merch designs. You always have to worry about how you’re going to be perceived, putting out a true representation, and something that is in some regard commercial. It’s a crazy, delicate line that’s hard to walk, but what’s most important at the end of the day is the comeback and my creative output. To me, that’s what I try to base my decisions off of.
Can you boil a Title Fight song down to one thing it represents consistently throughout your career?
I don’t know if there’s one thing. I really feel like the releases are very different. The Kingston 7” is completely different from Hyperview, and, sonically, almost a different band. It’s hard thinking about the correlation, aside from the obvious of us playing the music.
There’s stuff I still love from when I was 17, and those are the influences that got us interested in music. Even stuff like how Ben [Russin] plays drums. At the beginning of our career, it was all about how fast we could play, and playing everything as fast as possible. The way he learned how to play and how he plays was from that energy. He’s the same player, but it’s those things that are the glue of the band. It’s never like, “We’re into this album now; let’s sound like it.” Rather than changing influences, it’s building influences. Every day, you hear something different, and you hear all these new bands in between when you write records. Some of it I really like a lot, some of it not so much. But everything I hear is constantly influencing the stuff we write. It’s hard to say from my vantage point, but I’d like to think that’s the correlation.
With other bands, you get the sense they’re like, “Oh, this is our American Football song, this other one is our hardcore song.” What is most impressive about Hyperview is that you could pick apart the influences, but they just sound like different sides of the same band.
Absolutely. To us, that’s what’s important. Being a band and not an imitation of other bands. It’s impossible to exist without influences. If we took two completely different things, made some new genre, and were on the forefront of a new idea or whatever, it would still be based on other people’s ideas, but on a different spectrum.
Of course there’re bands we look up to and that mean a lot to us, and it’s not like we’re ripping them off. It’s that I genuinely appreciate their music and it inspires me, so, when we sit down to write, it inspires us. For us, it’s more important to find our own voice with those influences than trying to recreate their voice.
If you gave Hyperview to someone who dropped off since they heard 2011’s Shed, how would you hope they receive the album?
I’d hope that anyone would be able to see it’s authentic, it makes sense within the band, and that there’s effort behind it. That’s all I could ask for. Even with Shed, there were moments that were laid back or chill. I think we’ve always had the ability to have multiple styles in one. I feel like every time we sit down, we go beyond what we did before in every direction. There’re moments on Shed that show the path to Hyperview and were worked more on later, but they’re there. I hope people see the path was authentic and not anything about trends or popularity or fame or money or anything. We’re writing these songs because we like them, and that’s really all I could hope people come away with.
In this current moment with everything going on in the band, are you happy?
Yeah. I do think I’m happy. There’s a lot. This record has still yet to come out, so there’s anxiety, but I put in the effort I felt was necessary, and I will continue to put in the effort to realize what the idea of the record is. I think that’s a big part of happiness, and art. And beyond that, I don’t know. But in that realm, yeah, I do think that I’m happy.