Owen Chambers (a.k.a. Tremolo Ghosts) on Titus Andronicus, their masterpiece of a second album, and why he wrote a song about it for Songs About Albums: Volume 2.
The Monitor by New Jersey punk band Titus Andronicus is an album about civil war. Not, strictly speaking, the Civil War fought between the Union and the Confederacy in North America from 1861 to 1865, although the band do utilise historical events and speeches from that period to enrich their sprawling punk masterpiece.
No, the civil war that Titus Andronicus wrote an album about is far more personal and intangible than any historical event. The Monitor is about the duality of humanity and the internal conflicts that threaten to tear millions of ordinary people apart every day.
It's things like this that fascinate me about the band. They proudly wear their influences on their sleeves, but don’t actually end up directly using these influences. The band owe a tremendous debt to musicians like Crass, Public Enemy and Neil Young, but they don’t actually really sound like any of these. Rather than creating a pastiche of the things that drove them to become a band or release an album in the first place, they create totally original, courageous art of their own containing the spirit of their influences. For example, Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles has often professed his love for Bruce Springsteen, and whilst there is little audible similarity between TA's music and Springsteen's (on The Monitor, at least), they both exude similar feelings of working class betrayal and a darkness in the heart of an erroneously promised American Dream.
This ability to be great consumers of history and art whilst being able to distil these into their own singular vision of punk music is what makes Titus Andronicus one of the greatest bands of the 21st century. Their world is a beautiful shambles, always threatening to fly apart at the seams.
Does my song, Virginia in Pieces, reflect this? Not really. Does it audibly tip its hat to Titus Andronicus whilst carving out its own specific musical niche? Also not really. I’ve written a pop song about something I love in the hope that you will discover something you love too. A case of diminishing returns, perhaps, but one I’m proud to have created.
Titus Andronicus forever.
Thanks to Owen for sharing his thoughts on The Monitor, which is one of my all-time favourite albums as well. You can download Songs About Albums: Volume 2 for FREE from Bandcamp or SoundCloud.