Ten Questions with Titus Andronicus (@ Slowdown Jr. March 18); They Might Be Giants tonight…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:38 pm March 14, 2018

Titus Andronicus plays March 18 at Slowdown Jr. Photo by Ray Concepcion.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Since 2008 Titus Andronicus music has swayed from one style to the next, from bombastic, fist-in-the-air punk to soaring, swaying sing-along waltzes dense enough to keep a sea barge afloat.

The rock continues on the latest Titus Andronicus collection, A Productive Cough (2017, Merge), that finds singer/songwriter Patrick Stickles flexing his metaphoric pen on music that would sound good next to Exile-era Rolling Stones.

Sunday’s Titus Andronicus show at Slowdown will be an acoustic-only take on this new material, plus some Titus chestnuts. Stickles will be joined by Omaha native, pianist Alex Molini. “No drums, no ‘mosh pit’ every song pretty slow and not as loud,” Stickles said of this current tour.

I caught up with Stickles and asked him to take the Ten Questions survey. Here’s his answers:

1. What is your favorite album?

Patrick Stickles: It has been a long time since I declared an album to be my “favorite,” as I don’t much care these days to turn art into any kind of competition. When I did make such lists, I used to say that the self-titled debut of Violent Femmes was my personal number one, though it has been a while since I revisited it, and the adolescent frustration which the album so effectively embodies has slightly faded within me over time. Over the last five years or so, the album I have listened to most is probably Supreme Clientele by Ghostface Killah, which is so lyrically dense that I can hear it a hundred times and always find new wonders — what a powerful pen.

2. What is your least favorite song?

I try not to give too much emotional energy to the music that I don’t like so when I hear a song that irritates me, I don’t tend to learn its name, but I often find myself getting very frustrated when I am at the grocery store and they play that sort of acoustic, “whoa-oh” music that sounds like the band is wearing suspenders. That music must make some people happy though so I shouldn’t put it down.

3. What do you enjoy most about being in a band?

The most rewarding aspect of my career is meeting people who testify that the music has had a positive effect in their life, that it has helped them endure their difficult times. Many people in the audience have gone through struggles similar to my own and I know the power that art has to validate the sufferer and fortify their spirit. It is a great honor to be a part of that exchange and to pay my debt to the artists who have helped me to carry on.

4. What do you hate about being in a band?

I adopted two baby cats last year and, of course, they can’t come on tour with me. Leaving them at home was difficult and I miss them very much.

5. What is your favorite substance (legal or illegal)?

I smoke a lot of cigarettes, though I do not recommend them.

6. In what city or town do you love to perform?

Performing in New York City is always special, as that is mostly where we all live. As I write this, we are gearing up to play in Toronto, which is a rocking town. Really though, any town with a stage where people are willing to show up and receive the music is fine by me.

7. What city or town did you have your worst gig (and why)?

In terms of the quality of the performance, the worst Titus Andronicus gig I can remember was in Oxford, UK, which was marred by extensive equipment malfunctions, out-of-tune guitars, general sloppiness and all those sorts of things which plagued Titus Andronicus for the first five years or so of the career. As far as shows which I enjoyed the least, our last show in Akron, OH was ruined by a certain contingent of drunk bros who took it upon themselves to create and enforce an overly violent, macho vibe on the dance floor, which bothers me to no end. This sort of thing happens more often than I would like, but it is usually the fault of a few bad apples and I try not to let it sour my impression of the whole town, Akron or anyplace else.

8. Are you able to support yourself through your music? If so, how long did it take to get there; if not, how do you pay your bills?

I am very blessed that music has been my solitary occupation since 2008, shortly after the first Titus Andronicus album was released. My needs are fairly modest, and it’s not as though I am raking in the dough or figuring that I can retire off this rock and roll thing one day, but I am very grateful that I am able to make my art the focus of my life. There’s no way to know how long that will last, but every day that I get to live the life of the artist is a great gift and I measure my success in those increments.

9. What one profession other than music would you like to attempt; what one profession would you absolutely hate to do?

The last “regular job” I had before pursuing music full-time was in delivering pizza, so I suppose that if I wasn’t rocking, I would be doing that. Unfortunately, that’s another one of those jobs that is going to be done entirely by robots in a few years. Before that first album came out, I was studying to become a schoolteacher, but I can hardly even imagine doing anything like that now — young people are crazy, especially with those phones they’ve got these days.

10. What are the stories you’ve heard about Omaha, Nebraska?

The pianist accompanying me on this tour is a fellow named Alex Molini and he is a native of Omaha. He speaks very fondly of his childhood years and he makes it sound as though Omaha is full of a lot of decent, good-hearted people with strong values. Of course, I have been to Omaha several times myself, always enjoying it thoroughly, and I am sure that our show at Slowdown will be a worthy addition to my expanding book of Nebraskan memories.

Titus Andronicus plays with Rick Maguire (Pile) Sunday, March 18 at Slowdown Front Room, 729 No. 14th St. Tickets are $13 Adv/ $15 DOS. Showtime is 8 p.m. For more information, go to theslowdown.com.

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They Might Be Giants returns to The Slowdown tonight. From the promo: “They’re back on the road with a new show with an expanded line-up of musicians. This new set will include all-time favorites, fresh rarities spanning their epic career, and spur-of-the-moment improvisations that will delight even their exhausted road crew.”

They have a new 15-track album called I Like Fun that sounds like everything they’ve ever done over their 37-year career. Check out the setlist from last night’s show in KC. $25, 8 p.m., no opening act.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: They Might Be Giants; second quarter album reviews roundup (in the column); Jake Bellows’ debuts on Saddle Creek…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , — @ 1:35 pm June 6, 2013
They Might Be Giants at The Slowdown, June 5, 2013.

They Might Be Giants at The Slowdown, June 5, 2013.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Here’s a surprise coming from a veteran band with a handful of gold (and platinum) albums throughout their legendary career: The best song of the night came from their new album.

Sure, you got usual run of faves: “Istanbul,” “Birdhouse in Your Soul” (How many thousands of times have they had to sing that song throughout their lives? I wonder if they would have written it had they known beforehand), “The Guitar,” etc., but the real connection came from a revved-up version of “You’re On Fire,” the first song of the encore (and the first song on Nanobots, their new release) and first time I felt any real energy coming off the stage.

The duo have grown old before our own aging eyes. Instead of the dapper, pipe-smoking Mad Man extra we remember from their early videos, Flansburgh now looks like a shaggy Kevin Smith bouncing around all roly-poly with his guitar; while ol’ slouched Linnell is finally beginning to resemble the 53-year-old guy that he is, shuffling between his keyboard and accordion, rarely smiling or looking up, tired. Maybe he was saving his energy for his voice, which has a darker timbre than on the early recordings but still carries that same unique, woody quality (Flansburgh’s nasal croon hasn’t changed a bit).

I’ve always (wrongfully) written these guys off as novelty nerd music, chock full o’ odd syncopated rhythms, tight-riff guitars, countless lurching breaks and odd lyrics that sound like they were written by a couple Mathletes killing time during detention (for doing something wise-ass like correcting their history teacher in front of the rest of the class). But perhaps the two Johns had a plan all along, and knew they’d be able to sing these unconventional, wonky tunes ‘til very late in their lives without sounding like a couple pervs (see Rolling Stones recent viral vid of “As Tears Go By” featuring Taylor Swift).

There was genuine charm as they ran rapid-fire through their set of short, sharp pop songs like a couple hip teachers singing a hyper-active version of Schoolhouse Rock to an audience of their nerdy disciples (I’ve never seen more people wearing eyeglasses in one room). Even when they switched to hand puppets during the mid-set break you couldn’t help but smile.

The fact that they’re creating some of their best material at this point in their career (Nanobots is their best album since Flood, which is their best album) is a testament to their creative spark. “You’re On Fire,” could be a conventional hit if there was a way to get it heard now that radio has all but died. Despite a few kooky moments, this album is closer to a straight-forward rock album, and Linnell’s keyboards (especially live) remind me of early Steve Nieve (Elvis Costello). And while EC’s songwriting trajectory over the past decade has been spotty (and boring), TMBG’s songs never fail to bounce with characteristic spark and whimsy.

That said, maybe it had something to do with my view of the stage (the usual stage left wing) but Linnell tottered around like he was fulfilling an obligation. Flansburgh, however, still looked and sounded like someone having fun, at least as much fun as the folks in the near capacity crowd, come to see some old friends.

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Speaking of reviews, this week’s column is a the second-quarter CD reviews roundup, featuring a few reviews regular Lazy-i readers have already seen along reviews of new Low, Daft Punk, Art Brut, BIg Star, Statistics, John Klemmensen and the Party, etc. You can read it in this week’s issue of The Reader, or online right here.

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That sexy, sassy guitar-playing troubadour Jake Bellows, formerly of the late, great Neva Dinova, announced yesterday that his debut solo album New Ocean will be released on Saddle Creek Aug. 6.

According to the press release, the album was recorded at ARC Studios with engineer Ben Brodin (Before the Toast and Tea, Conor Oberst),  Ryan Fox (The Good Life), Todd Fink (The Faint), and Heath Koontz (Neva Dinova). New Ocean is available for pre-order on CD & LP via Saddle Creek and limited edition cassette through Majestic Litter (yes, cassette!).

The back story:

“After fronting Neva Dinova for more than 15 years which included five full-lengths, a split EP, and countless tours, he packed up his dog and moved from his native Omaha to his girlfriend’s hometown of Los Angeles. Two days before he left he recorded 18 demos with musician and engineer Ben Brodin at Brodin’s insistence. Once in L.A., Bellows got a job installing sliding-glass doors and sold his Les Paul to buy a Datsun pick-up truck.

“Though he had no plans to form a new band, he played the occasional solo show, performed with Whispertown, and continued to write songs. In early 2011, an invitation arrived from Omaha’s Film Streams Theater for Jake’s old friend Ryan Fox also living on the West Coast, to perform an original live film score. Fox enlisted Bellows and Brodin to collaborate and the trio began to compose and discuss improvisational ideas over long-distance. Since they were all going to be in Omaha and had a long history of playing in each other’s bands, Brodin and Fox nudged Bellows into booking studio time to record some of his dormant songs.

“Fox and Bellows drove from LA to Omaha that November in a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle that didn’t have heat, a speedometer, a fuel gauge, seatbelts, or radio. They made it as far as Lincoln, NE, before the car caught fire at 4 in the morning. Later that week the trio performed the score to The Adventures of Prince Achmed. That weekend, they entered ARC Studios for a feverish recording session, arranging and writing parts on the fly with an impromptu band including Heath Koontz, Todd Fink, Whispertown bandmate Morgan Nagler and other old friends. Committing quickly to intuitive arrangements the band recorded 17 tracks in a little more than a week. They worked remotely on the record throughout that winter and spring, adding overdubs in basements and bedrooms across western North America.

“The group reunited in Omaha to debut the new songs at a couple of shows one week the following June. Excited to release the new material on their own terms the band put out a preview EP on cassette, Help, at the end of 2012. The new music is underpinned by philosophical conviction and shaped by an interest in physics, cosmology and mythology. Bellows returned to music with a renewed sense of the intrinsic value of art and its ability to express the commonality of human experience. His debut full-length, New Ocean, offers a mix tape of different kinds of songs hanging out on one record – love songs that are not necessarily ballads despite their introspective gauziness, with left turns into drunk-in-the-sun bossa nova and blue-eyed-soul ruptured by fuzz guitar. Bellows believes that songs change the fabric of the universe through the very frequencies they emit. As such, the record attempts to create the world he wants to see instead of reflect the world that is. ‘Our theory of the beginning of the universe is the big bang – a sound,’ Bellows said. ‘What gave birth to the universe is our one tool that we can change the universe with.'”

I’ve got a feeling he’ll be headed back to good ol’ Omaha on the upcoming tour. Call it a victory lap.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.