Honor Titus; stylish poet, lover of books and all things tangible, ultra native New Yorker and lead singer of Cerebral Ballzy opens up to Grant Fell about beautiful literature, the inspirational counterculture of yesteryear and how the new Ballzy album, 'Jaded and Faded', is going to make them the punk rock monkees, "the 'Punkees' if you will". UK Editor Sara Dunn dresses him in Jaewan Park and Alex Forsey lenses.
Grant Fell: The first eponymously-titled Cerebral Ballzy album skated in from Brooklyn in 2011 sounding like a Black Flag x Bad Brains party had exploded in the subway. You are about to release Jaded and Faded, your second album, on Julian Casablanca’s Cult Records. How do the two albums differ?
Honor Titus: Everyone is going to be surprised with our latest effort. People oftentimes placed us in this “hardcore revival” bracket and tried to pidgeonhole our sound but Jaded and Faded pulls from so many miscellaneous influences and is ridden with strange aspirations. The album is more melodic and that will be the initial surprise but the lyrics are so tongue-in-cheek that people will be bamboozled with our gaul. Not only do we suggest an admiration for Flag but also The Nerves, with a dash of Baudelaire to show that we’re the coolest punk band going.
You recorded on a farm in Texas and worked with Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio for the new album. Why that studio in Texas and what has Dave brought to the record?
We had to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We knew that all the shit we had going on would only distract us and potentially put a halt to the record so we split town. Dave brought such a brilliant energy to the record. We knew we wanted something different, potentially something that hasn’t been done, and he constantly tossed ideas around and embraced ours. The record sounds like punk for this wacky fucking era we’re in. David Kahn was brought in to mix the endeavor and he’s a guy thats done the Strokes and Paul McCartney - he did a fabulous job, Jaded and Faded sounds big.
Are you still a hardcore skateboarder? I’ve seen a few live snippets and images of Cerebral Ballzy in small clubs and to say you get around the stage, sometimes up and over it, would be an understatement. Is there a skate ethos to your live performance?
I used to skate a lot more. There is an undertone of skating to our set. Just the spastic energy of constant forward motion. I must say that modern Ballzy is not only concerned with movement and bubbling energy like it once was. We’ve got some deeper/ fuller/ longer songs that make the kids gawk and stare and swoon. Circle pits are a bit passe’ at times.
Who is your favourite skater of all time? (Tony Alva for me)
Aw mannnn. Was hanging with Jerry Hsu last night. I love his style. Alex Olson is another homie that is absolutely incredible. Leo Romero is a hunk on a shredsled. GONZ is an icon I hold in the highest regard. I see him around NYC and he is always soooo supportive. He’s stoked on Ballzy.
There is a strong graphic undertone to Cerebral Ballzy artwork – posters, covers, web etc – are you a fan of comic culture, graphic subcultures? Do you have favourite artists or genres?
I love graphic novels/I love comics/I love art. Raymond Pettibon has always been an idol. We’ve been lucky enough to work with him and I’m lucky enough to call him a close friend. He’s working on my other project (Eyeshadow) logo at the moment. Adrian Tomine is a guy I respect heavily in the comic/graphic novel sector. The art scene is so interwoven to my NYC existence. Aurel Schmidt and I are very close friends, for example.
You guys tour a lot, and gig heavily when you are on tour – you obviously love being on stage. Could you define your finest moment on stage to date?
Ohhh man, thats a hard one. WE ARE NOT SOLELY A LIVE BAND. We write mega tunes and it’s time people wrap their fucking head around that. Playing Russia was massive. Kids started circle pitting upon our entrance. Kids were literally collapsing with excitement at our Tokyo gig. This next record’s gonna make us the punk rock Monkees. “The Punkees” if you will.
The NME called you a ‘permastoned Manhattan street punk’ and over the years there have been many suggestions of hard partying, girls, nakedness on stage, excessive pizza eating, girls, vomit, Jack Daniels and girls again…are you guys Punk’s True School, living the dream?
We’ve shredded mega hard. So many stories, good and bad, sad and rad. We’re a bit older now so there is a bit of an objective now, you know, to share our art and all but there was a time when shit was life threatening.
Ha! New York is a big part of you, what song says, “New York” to you like no other?
“Aint it Fun” by The Dead Boys, “No Words” by the Clan of Xymox, Charlie Parker & Coltrane.
Do you have a memory of the first Ballzy gig? What was it like?
Some random CMJ gig we somehow landed. We got blackout drunk to quell the nervousness to playing to a packed room in the Lower East Side. We had 2 or 3 songs so we ended playing “Anthem” like 4 times. THE ROOM ERUPTED, on our first gig.
You guys have a super solid following in the UK. Why do you think you connect so strongly with the Poms?
Um, theres a dry wit to Ballzy, both stupid and innocent but brilliant and macabre. Our brashness also is something that is rare over there. Also the girls just love us.
We love your style – you genuinely pretty much look good in what you wear all the time. Any plans to wear more suiting or tailored outfits like the Jaewan Park pieces you are wearing in this shoot?
Yeah, we played in Vegas in suits on acid once. Thank you for the compliment btw. High fashion brands love the Ballzy, with Nudie being a strong supporter of our denim game. For right now, Carharrt and Reebok classics. Simple punky stuff for Honor Titus. Black only. Jim Crow fashion.
You seem to be someone who is steeped in culture; artists, writers, poets, the Beat Generation and what happened there. Have you always been a big reader, someone who devours cultural history?
Yeah, as a New Yorker it's engrained in the way my mind works. Beautiful literature is one of the only things that can move me anymore, however sad and jaded that is. I long for another time where tangibility reigned supreme and new ideas/notions were valued rather than refuted under the guise of irony. Something’s gotta give and Ballzy might be the soundtrack to an imminent change in our vapid society.
Is it true you also do some spoken word stuff, some poetry of your own as it were?
Yes. I’m working on my first collection of short stories and poetry. Also, I’ve got novel aspirations and other stuff in the works. Any publishers of note, should reach out. I want to be our Jean Genet. I need to find my Grove Press.
You have a rare day off. Describe a perfect day off for you.
Sleep, tall redhead, pancakes, menthol cigarettes, tropicalia tunes.
You are singing in the band of your dreams. Who is on guitar, bass, drums?
Johnny Marr and I.
Who, or what are you inspired by more than anything or anyone else?
I’m inspired by debauchery and subversive literature and music and film. The counterculture of yesteryear is something that inspires me immensely. Burroughs and Jim Carroll. The romantics of a time that was often harsh and metallic.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
The lack of tangibility. (It's killing records, books, and YOU next.)
What are you listening to at the moment? Slowdive. What are you reading? 'Death on the Installment Plan' - Celine. Your current favourite TV series? Blahhhh. Film? 'Withnail and I’. Artist? Maggrite. Footwear brand? Reebok/Converse /Dr Martens. City in the world? NYC/London. Art gallery? Too many brilliant ones. Jeweller? Theres a girl in NYC named Britt thats made me brilliant stuff. Britt by Britt. Indulgence? HA, WOULDNT YOU LIKE TO KNOW? Drink? Tequila/Cider. I also like grape juice.