Titus Andronicus: “If you don’t like social media, get on it and do it better”

Posted November 11

For someone who has only been tweeting for less than a month now, Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles has already made quite an impact on the micro-blogging site, which is why we caught up with the musician to talk about social media and the ever-important concept of “keeping it real.”

Stickles hit the blogs hard the other week after suffering a 200-volt electric shock right to the noggin Wednesday night at band practice. After a trip to the hospital, he took to Twitter, where he filled in followers about the experience, shared a couple of lyrics from a song inspired by the shock, and, still high on electrical energy, expressed his disappointment with Kurt Vile for letting one of his songs appear in a commercial for Bank of America: “Come on, Kurt Vile, yr a million times better than that,” he said.

Vile tweeted back (he had only tweeted once before): “sorry titus. i did it to be like the carpenters. and to buy my daughter high end diapers and to pay back my publishing advance. and because i never cared about that sorta thing. whoops, i even have a bank of america account. B-P (and that’s a dude with sunglasses sticking out his tongue, i’m so sorry.”

Stickles subsequently apologized, but the blogs were already on the scent, and stories detailing the musicians’ “Twitter War” started hitting the web. Not a bad level of buzz for a newly minted Twitterer.

Stickles admits that he probably shouldn’t have slammed Vile on Twitter, but he doesn’t apologize for letting it all hang out on the social networking site — he’s an opinionated guy, and his stream reflects that (he’s also in a punk band, and say what you will about the relative health of the genre, it’s generally not supposed to be polite).

Struck by Stickles’ candor on Twitter (a nice change from the PR-controlled accounts of many a musician) and curious about the status of his electrically inspired song, we chatted with Stickles Friday on the phone as he sat on his stoop in Brooklyn — after he talked to his mom about the evils of Wal-Mart, of course.

Luckily, this was right after it hit the blogs that Jay-Z will be producing a line of Occupy Wall Street shirts — without giving any of the profits to the actual cause.

Check it out:

So you saw that I was on Twitter earlier dissing Jay-Z. I put him on the #sh*tlist today. On Twitter I do #hitlist and I do #sh*tlist. Good stuff goes on the #hitlist. Bad stuff goes on the #shitlist. Today Jay-Z got on the #shitlist.

Was it because of his Occupy Wall Street shirts?

Oh my God, time out. My favorite neighborhood car just drove by. This bad-ass, black, classic little sports coupe two-seater just rolled around the corner. You can go ahead and put that in your article. ‘Noted local rocker sees cool car.’ That sounds like a Springsteen-inspired story.

Here’s why it’s bullshit, right, about Jay-Z: Because first of all, his friend Kanye did go to Occupy Wall Street and show some solidarity. You figure if you go there, you can do a little rapping if you’re going to show your face. Dude went to Facebook last year and all this sh*t and he didn’t have any problem rapping just off the cuff. Anyway, he went there and he kept his mouth shut, but at least he was there.

Now Jay-Z he’s like, ‘Whoa, this is a cultural moment, this has got value. This doesn’t have a single thing to do with me, because I am the biggest capitalist in the world. All I ever talk about is capitalism. Every world that comes out of my mouth is about getting money, is talking about consumption.’

He’s the one percent — straight-up. And he knows it and he doesn’t want anybody to ever forget it. ‘So here’s this cultural moment. This has value and I can exploit it and I don’t have to give anything back and I can just get something for free. And it’s the exact opposite of what I’m all about. But people won’t figure that out because people are idiots. I’m a billionaire genius. People are stupid. And I’m going to use the stupid people to get more money for my coffers. But eventually the day’s coming when people are going to revolt, but me and my one percent friends are going to have enough money that we’ll be able to hire a mercenary army and we’ll build this whole walled-in city. We’ll be up on the hill, and then there’ll be the 99 percent who will be the serfs and that will be a great life.’

So he thinks he can get closer to that by selling those T-shirts. That makes me sick. And furthermore, he hasn’t been a good rapper in almost 10 years. So he never should have come out of retirement after The Black Album, and he never should have tried to make more money off of Occupy Wall Street when he doesn’t believe in it. And he obviously doesn’t. That’s my two cents.

Have you got any feedback about the tweets that you sent out yet?

No, since I sent out those tweets I just went to the coffee shop and talked to my mom on the phone and now I’m talking to you. And each of you have failed to validate my tweets. Thanks a lot for that.

To validate them? I saw them.

I’m just messing around. I’m just talking about how on the Internet, you put something out there and you’re like, ‘OK, now everybody tell me it’s great. Right now.’ My father always tried to teach me about delaying my gratification when I was a kid. The Internet quickly undid all of those experiences.

You guys recently joined Twitter, right? Why?

We had this guitarist [Amy Klein] for a while and she was a big Twitter user so if people wanted to know what was going on with the band they could usually get on her Twitter. She’s not in the band anymore, so I figured we’d better find a new content stream. And then I started doing it and I figured, ‘This is fun.’ And it was easy because I was just doing the stuff I would be doing around the house anyway — looking at YouTube videos, thinking about punk. So now I just do that and I just summarize my thoughts and then everybody tells me I’m great.

So what’s been your experience with Twitter so far? Last week you were tweeting about Kurt Vile’s song being in a commercial and a ton of music blogs wrote about it. Was that something you expected to happen?

I mean, sure. Because I’m the f**king man. Nah, I’m kidding. It’s funny, because when you’re tweeting, you’re in your underpants, you’ve probably got Ben and Jerry’s in one hand, there’s a cartoon in the other window. It’s 2 or 3 a.m. Maybe you just received a large electrical shock. The point is, it’s your private life, right? It’s your casual thoughts. But because of the unspeakable, unfathomable power of the Internet, now your private, personal thoughts — with a few keystrokes — are the property of the world. It’s wild. There is kind of a dissonance there.

But, you know, at the same time people see [the anonymity of the Internet] and they think that excuses them from accountability for their words and actions. And that’s not what I’m about. When I do something on Twitter, or somebody says on Twitter, ‘Titus Andronicus sucks’ or ‘Titus Andronicus shouldn’t have said this or that,’ then I just retweet it myself. I control the story. ‘So you’re a part of my story.’ That’s what I say to those retweeting haters.

Yes, there’s the dissonance between Twitter being casual, like opening the door to your brain, but it also being quite public, and very official for that reason. So I guess it just comes with a certain level of flexibility. With progress comes more responsibility, and I guess that just means more accountability for people who are tweeting and who want to put their ideas out on the Internet. They can’t just hide behind a shield of anonymity when stuff doesn’t work out in their favor.

Like I can’t post a tweet that’s great, that’s a hit tweet, and then be like, ‘Oh, leave me alone about Kurt Vile.’ I’m putting it all out there, so I better be ready to stand by it. Maybe I shouldn’t have dissed Kurt Vile or Jay-Z, because in a way that’s pretty weak. Because it’s a pretty shitty person who looks at other people and says, ‘What you’re doing is bad.’ It’s a good person who says, ‘Look at what I’m doing. It’s good.’ Because then you’re defining your values positively.

You’re pretty open on Twitter about disliking stuff. Are you going to keep doing that, then?

I keep it real. All day long. Unless I’m playing with you, in which case I’ll let you know. But, no, I keep it real. Keeping it real is just the only way to live.

So no one bothers you guys — publicists, etc — about managing your Twitter stream?

We ain’t got no manager. Nobody tells me what to do. We do have a lawyer. And a guy that sets up our concerts. And a record company. But no manager. Social media was an autonomous choice that I made. But as far as keeping it real goes, it’s all just about empowering the kids. So, hopefully, they come to the Titus Andronicus concert, they see us on stage and they’re like, ‘That’s the sh*t. That rocks.’ But, hopefully they’ll find some other ways — either we’re talking about real sh*t in the lyrics and we get on Twitter and talk about real sh*t, or we’re at the merch table after the show, selling T-shirts and having real talk with the kids then — and hopefully when all that happens the kids see us and say, ‘Hey, that was cool. That concert kicked ass, and now we see that these guys are just regular old folks like us. Let’s think about what kind of sh*t we can do now.’

Do you have any tweeters that you emulate?

My biggest Twitter influence probably has to be Lil B — Based God. I don’t agree with a lot of his lyrics, but I actually admire Lil B a lot. I think that he is like a real dude. I think that’s what people want nowadays; they want something that’s really real, where they can tell that it comes from the artist and not some team with this whole big social media five-year plan.

So you tweeted about the song you wrote after being electrocuted. Is that a real song, or was it more of a joke?

Well, we’re working on a new album right now, it’s going to come out next year. Right now we’re still figuring out the exact track list, but ‘I Am The Electric Man’ is definitely in contention for that album.

It’s kind of a song born on Twitter, then? You tweeted a bunch of lyrics out after you were in the hospital.

Yeah, you could say that. I’m trying to make Twitter as close a reflection as I can of my real life, and it was a song that was born in real life. This is 2011, the lines are getting blurrier all the time. What’s real life, what’s the Internet? I don’t even know.

Let me just leave you with one thought: Twitter is as good or as bad as any insitition, because it will be as good or as bad as the people who use it. The responsibility is on us. Let us take that as a fact and use it for empowerment purposes. If you don’t like social media get on it and do it better. That’s what I’m doing.

By Brenna Ehrlich