Patrick Stickles is a wordy dude.
For example, the following interview is edited from a roughly 30-minute segment of our conversation. In that time, I recorded roughly 3,000 words from him. I spoke 20.
For a guy who’s made a career of shouting himself hoarse, the Titus Andronicus frontman surprisingly still has plenty to say.
This year’s The Most Lamentable Tragedy is his most stuffed piece yet. Telling the story of identity and reality across three LPs with a runtime of a feature film, TMLT showcases Stickles at his most grand and uncompromising. On “TMLT Around The World”, its current tour with Spider Bags and Baked, the New Jersey band has played a minimum set length of 90-minutes, sometimes as long as two hours. Regardless of how you feel about his music, you can’t deny Stickles’ dedication.
My conversation with Stickles was much like a Titus Andronicus listening experience. With trademark candidness, he shared his story of suburban complacency, urban blight, personal turmoil, and capitalist pigs.
How’s it going? Where are you right now?
I’m at my mom’s house right now, because life in the Big City got to be a little too intense. The privileged white boy that I am, I get to run away to the suburbs for a little vacation. Meanwhile, she’s in the Catskills with her boyfriend, so I’m basically walking around no shirt, big mess all over my mom’s house. I’m pretending like The Most Lamentable Tragedy sold a million copies and I bought a house in my old hometown, and so I’m just sitting around, smoking weed on the porch and being a bad boy.
I gotta have a fat-ass spliff with my coffee in the morning, you see. That was fine. I was out there fucking blasting that Goo Goo Dolls album Hold Me Up. Have you ever heard that one? It’s from 1990 when they were like a struggling punk band. No hits. It’s a great album to be listening to while smoking a spliff on your mom’s back deck, pretending that you’re still a rich white kid, though. You’re just hiding from your blighted urban existence. And I’m pretending right now, this weekend, that the last seven years never happened. I never tore up my grad school acceptance letters. Everything worked out. I’m rich now and I have a stable life, and I’ve actually got my own house and I get to do whatever I want, but I’m all alone. Nice house, all by yourself – that’s some solitary shit, like “the hole” in jail.
Friday night, I fucking drive out to New Jersey because the Big City is driving me insane, and I feel such relief. As soon as that thrill wears off, though, now there’s the anxiety of the fucking police state of the suburbs. I’m driving around in my van, which has three broken bicycles in the back of it: One’s got no tires, one’s got no handlebars, the other one is for a ten-year-old. I didn’t steal them/ I got them all legitimately – a bunch of long stories. There’s four broken amplifiers in the back, garbage all over the floor, and I’m at the wheel, you know what I’m saying? You can tell from afar that I’m a little skitchy. You make eye contact with me you know that I’m a fucking career criminal.
It makes me anxious being in the suburbs, even though this is nice and luxurious and shit, and I got all my mom’s nice things and her perfect little life and a great kitchen. The fact of the matter is you don’t get to enjoy the nice things in a life like this without certain compromises and sacrifices.
Suburban anxiety is a real thing.
It ruled my life for at least 23 years. I mean, it continues to do its work. I’m not going to drag a bunch of drama into it, but this reminds me: People have been harassing me since I got into town. It’s not all the time, but you know, here and there, because obviously they don’t see a motherfucker like me every day on the streets of this dead-ass town. Not to brag, you know what I’m saying, but that’s a fact. The ages are like zero to eighteen, and then there are parents. There’s nobody in between, and if there is, there’s nobody involved with the shit that I’m involved in. So they fear and hate me and the van. In Glen Rock, New Jersey, you see a van go down the street, you assume it’s coming from nearby Paterson to fill his van with shit from your garage.
That’s how these people live – in fear. That’s why they put up these fucking walls. That’s why they live in these gated communities. That’s why they create and reinforce institutional racism, subjugation, oppression. This City on the Hill, you know, my suburban home.
I pay for my apartment, my food, and everything else with my rock ‘n’ roll, but I’m always going to be from affluent parentage. I can’t turn that privilege off. I grabbed it when I needed it, you know? A lot of people from the big city, they want a place to run away to, but where are they gonna go? I’m a lucky fucking guy. Even though I’m grateful for everything my parents ever gave me, I have a deeper understanding of the price of those advantages. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Nobody in the world can get richer without somebody else getting poorer. Nobody can get fatter without someone else getting skinnier. And I didn’t think that’s what it was, because all I could see was a bunch of fat asses.
I never saw anybody that was struggling. Struggling was not real to me. That’s why teenagers can throw around words like “ghetto.” It’s just racist, classist stuff. It’s a mind trip to be back in New Jersey right now and have to pass Paterson, New Jersey, which is so blighted and impoverished. It’s impecunious. Is that the word I want to use? They ain’t got no money. The world turned its back on that city, and it stopped being this number one silk producer, or whatever it was in its golden years. Now it’s only liquor stores. It’s, like, institutional. It’s difficult for me to put into words, but it’s a shocking thing for me to see.
Where I come from in my hometown, you can drive two miles in one direction and you can be in Patterson, where the system’s boot is actively pressing down on these people as hard as it can. Or I can drive two miles the other way and be in Ridgewood and see people whose affluence even I can’t imagine. And people in Glen Rock have, like, no problems. We’re doing real well. I’m walking around my mom’s house right now. It’s too much house for an old woman. She could sell this thing and she probably would get $750k, maybe a million. But if I go two miles into Ridgewood, New Jersey, I’d be surrounded by full-blown $10 million mansions with views of Freedom Tower and Empire State Building from their decks. That’s two miles from my mom’s place. And in the other direction, there’s liquor stores and no grocery stores. You know what I’m talking about? So, it’s a crazy feeling to be here in the middle of this, and knowing what I know now. It’s not that I know everything. I don’t know anything.
“All I know is that I don’t know.”
Exactly. But I’m thinking about how it is in New Jersey and it puts a lot of thoughts in my head. I don’t know if I have a point exactly, but shit’s going on. I feel different.
Do you get the feeling of being between two extremes often?
Is there a certain bipolar quality to my life? Yes, I often bash away between two poles. I like to do it in my art, as well. Is that where we’re going? No doubt, that’s where it is. Take me to the top and I’ll go to the fucking bottom. I’m not scared of the bottom. I’ve been there. I’ve been way under the bottom. I’m not saying I’m special, but a lot of people want to live in the middle. A lot of people want their lives to be compressed. They’re afraid of getting hurt. They don’t want an open-hearted life with the love and joy that’s possible, because when you let those things in, you let in the possibility of loss and sorrow. When you are vulnerable before someone, you give them incredible power to hurt you. You put your heart in the hands of another person, and you say “Do with this as you will.” If you do that, you could have the greatest feeling of your life or the fucking complete opposite. You could hurt worse than you ever imagined you could hurt. A romance is just one example. My fucking rock ‘n’ roll career is the exact same thing.
I decided I wanted to be a rock star, and that meant that I get to play before a few thousand people at fucking Lollapalooza. I’m not bragging, but it happened. At the same time, we also performed for two people in Salt Lake City, Utah. And I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy that – I actually enjoyed that more than the fucking Lollapalooza – but my point is that it’s all about an open-heartedness. Life throws a lot of shit at you and you could get hurt really bad, but if you’re ready to hurt, you’re open to many amazing and beautiful things. The other option is to stay in the middle your whole life, You’re never gonna get hurt and you’re just going to tread water and you’re going to run out the clock. I don’t want to do that. I’m not into that. I refuse to run the clock. I’m making plays. Fuck this dribbling, pointing around shit. I want the rock and I want to hoop.
“Don’t be afraid of the ball,” somebody said to me yesterday. And I was like, “That’s it.” We went through one big conversation all about this – the open-heartedness and not being afraid to get hurt, and then my friend said it. I guess it was my cousin, Matt. “Don’t be afraid of the ball.” He’s one of the fucking meathead jocks of my life, one of the people in my family that has a bunch of dusty trophies in a closet somewhere. It’s how I’m trying to live.
It’s scary, though. People ask me straight up if I could flip the magic switch and be one of those people who lives in the middle lane their whole lives and peacefully float along the lazy river – if there was a drug that I could take. I’ve had this conversation with a lot of people, like doctors and shit. They put me on the fucking drug! It was to make sure that I wouldn’t hurt so bad anymore, and I didn’t, but it took away a lot of other things as well.
Maybe it helped with my anxiety or something, but it turned my brain into a fucking stone. And it made me fucking fat, lazy and sluggish. I couldn’t generate abstractions. Maybe I wasn’t in the deepest part of a depressive episode on a physical level, because depression is a physical as well as emotional thing. It is a physical condition of the body. It’s real. After the worst of it was over, after it had been treated by Wellbutrin, Abilify and Cloneazapam, maybe I wasn’t physically depressed anymore, but I was super fucking sad because the poet in me had been put to sleep. He was the motherfucker that made the mess. He was a bad boy. He had to go in the time out corner.
It’s been the same way since I was four-years-old. I made too much of a mess. I wouldn’t be a good boy in school. They put me on Ritalin when I was just four years old. I never got my chance to be young because I made too much of a mess and I wasn’t a good boy and I didn’t play well with others. Those are all the things that make me a success today, you know what I’m saying? All the things that have given me every good thing in my life, they tried to make illegal. They drugged me to turn that off, from the time that I was a little kid.
And in 2012, I was really down in a dark place, and I turned to this doctor and she said she had the cure for my depression. Perhaps she did. But in curing it, perhaps she killed the poet in me, and that was every bit as painful as the clinical depressive episodes. I was sad and I didn’t even know myself. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I had to stop taking the stuff, and I did it in a way that I shouldn’t have. I should have been smarter about it. I don’t recommend to any kids to just go off their medicine, but there have been a few times in my life where I realized the medicine was the enemy. And I went off it, in the wrong way, and suffered because of it.
Going off my medicine then usually precipitated a major manic episode. I’m not certain, but my first serious major manic episode when I was 26 was shortly after I stopped taking a drug called Lexapro, which I had been on for, gosh, five or six years at that point. I stopped taking it, had a major manic episode, crashed from that, had to go to the other doctor, told her about the Lexapro thing, and she put me on the Buproban and the Abilify and the Wellbutrin. I figured out that they were killing the poet in me, and that she didn’t give a shit about that. I was a customer to her and she wanted me to come in every week to take my money. No shots at a good-hearted woman who wants people to be healthy, but she was a capitalist pig, and my doctor today is, too. I figured out that the drugs she was giving me would make it impossible for me to be an artist, so I said “Fuck this.” I stopped taking them. And you know, not too much longer after that, once the weather got warm, I went right back into being a psychotic maniac.
I realize now you do more harm than good fucking around that way. Every kid thinks, “Oh, I’m smarter than the fucking doctors. I know what my body needs.” You know, a lot of the times the doctor is not that trustworthy, and not always interested in what’s best for the patient, such as being rich as fuck, such as being a millionaire, fucking pricks. But you need to be careful and gradual with that stuff, and I regret times in the past when I was slipping on my medication and thought that I was smarter than everybody. The fact is I’m just another story of a dude who thought he was smarter than everybody, and basically fucked his whole life up walking around like he knew everything but really didn’t know shit. So I’m really lucky that at the end of that I still have anybody in my life and people I can turn to for love and compassion. I can’t believe how much forgiveness and mercy I’ve been shown, because I’ve been such a handful my whole life, and especially these past four years.
You want to talk about the record or anything? Want to talk about how the guitar is played? I’m getting a little choked up. This is heavy. This is real to me. Yes, I am putting on an act for you. Yes, this is a show. Yeah, I want to make you laugh. I’m trying to say it the funniest way I can, but it’s not funny and I’m not kidding. I think you get it. I get myself all worked up. I just get too excited a lot. I’m cool, I’m cool. This isn’t going to turn into one of those legendary interviews. They just called me out in SPIN Magazine for crying while reading kids’ emails. There’s another article that kicks off where I fucking cry with the journalist. It’s easy for me to make myself cry. But it’s not because I’m a good actor. It’s real to me. I want you to know that. Yes, these are real feelings, but I’m putting on a show for you right now.
I feel that my purpose on this earth is to communicate the way that things feel for me. It’s not because I’m an expert on the subject necessarily. It’s because I am a person who feels and I can communicate how things feel. I know that even though I said I’m not special or anything, my struggle means something. I don’t play those games, which is the legitimate struggle, but I know that I’ve had a bundle of advantages and privileges. I’m not special with my struggle – you know, poor me nothing. No pity on me, but I know that people out there feel the way that I do. I know that I’m not special, but I know that I’m not weird.
The world told me that I was weird for 22 years, at least. And then I found out that they’re fucking weird. I went out and found all those “weird” kids and said, “Yo, it’s them that’s fucked up. There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s something wrong with them and this sick world that they built, so run away as fast as you can, and put this on in the car while you’re doing it.”
That’s a joke too, but it’s not. I’m kidding when I say I want to get kids out of school and out of church and on dope, but I’m not kidding! I’m kidding, I ain’t kidding, I’m Walt Whitman. That’s a fucking rap lyric right there. Straight off the dome.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.