Interview: Title Fight

kelly gonsalves is in the main event…

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When the coarse, ragged voice on the other end of the receiver finally greets me after a day and a half of missed calls, I have half a mind to call an ambulance. He speaks with a raspy gruffness that makes it clear that the games of phone tag were not done out of carelessness or spite. The life of the touring artist is oft painted as something glamorous – hitting up new cities every day, jamming hard on a stage before hundreds upon hundreds of screaming fans, and just all around living the dream. But here’s the “rock star” story oft not told. It is here, embodied in the man who can hardly lift himself out of bed to answer his cell phone, whose dry throat can only produce rough, guttural noises and whose exhaustion seems tangible even for a person hundreds of miles away. Fact: Touring is rough.

Photo Credit: Manny Mares
Photo Credit: Manny Mares

But Shane Moran, lead guitarist of the established punk rockers known as Title Fight, doesn’t acknowledge any of this. His band has been on their 2012 fall tour since October, after just having finished playing Vans Warped Tour in the summer and releasing in September their third full-length album, Floral Green. Once the tour ends in December, the boys have just a few weeks off before their mini-tour with Quicksand in January and an Australian tour beginning in March.

“It’s been going well,” Moran says about the nonstop touring, and it feels nearly ironic. Pity comes with ease at the comment. But it isn’t just for semantics — underneath the rasps and gasps, there is something, not only genuine, but practical about the way he looks at his career. Moran is not a man who will willingly sell his time and efforts into something not fully worth his while.

But, surprisingly, rather than commenting on how much success Title Fight has been finding on the last few tours, he cites how exciting it is for him to watch the other bands — in this case, bands like Pianos Become The Teeth and Single Mothers — take the stage and meet their own brands of success.

“We could have gotten bands that would sell a lot of tickets and draw a lot of people in,” he explains, “but at the end of the day, it was more important to us to be touring with friends – people who we see eye to eye with.”

The sheer number of times he mentions the other bands on the tour lends validity to his selfless claims: companionship seems to account for much of the joys of the journey.

“It’s the community that it sort of introduced me to. Songs and lyrics that are sort of metaphysically here in the song are great, but I think, beyond that, meeting other bands and going to shows as a kid are things that have really shaped me as a person. Don’t get me wrong; the meaning behind everything and the lyrics and the songs are really important, but for me, the community of it is really what’s kept me around.”

And although that notion seems awfully sentimental for a guy in an American hardcore punk band, fostering and maintaining strong connections seems to be at the heart of many of Title Fight’s scheduling decisions of late — and not just with relationships with other bands. Title Fight has been putting much thought into the way its decisions affect the people around them, including the fans. For instance, the next big Australian tour this coming Spring, Moran explains, is specifically tailored to hit more “intimate” venues, at which the band is “more comfortable.” The last time they were in Australia (which also happened to be their first time), the band had booked really big shows in areas with large, complicated securities and extraordinarily high ticket prices, which apparently “rubbed a lot of kids the wrong way.” Moran stresses how important it is for the band to make it up to those kids this time around and make it out to those smaller, more personal venues.

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Such noble causes ring true with the band’s back story. Started by Ned Russin, Ben Russin, and Jamie Rhoden in 2003, Title Fight began as a band of thirteen year-old kids with nothing but the drive to play. Moran joined up with the crowd a few years later, and together the four of them tackled one little stage at a time: “Back then, we just wanted to play at this local venue, and that was like our only care.”

Much has changed since those days of careless teenage dreams, but even in the climate of a changing and rather volatile music industry, Title Fight is frankly not too concerned about the pressures of the industry. In fact, while one can track many a punk rock band slowly transition into a more “poppier,” radio-friendly sound over time, Title Fight seems to be doing just the opposite as they push forward with new, bolder music. Floral Green, for example, hit #69 on Billboard Top 200 and emphasized a harder, grittier sound that is far removed from the lighter pop-punk days of their first compilation, The Last Thing You Forget.

“Whatever happens in the industry doesn’t really effect us. [… It] doesn’t really have any effect on what we do,” says Moran, not with spite but with confidence. “I think a lot of bands get to the point where they can either give into it, or they can do their own thing and stand out.”

When you get to the level of fame that Title Fight has achieved, it can become easy to let the idea of record labels and record sales control the music and the process by which it is created. Although he does not seem begrudged against the industry in any way, Moran does admit that it has the potential to “take away from a band’s identity and what makes it special.” But Title Fight’s everyday decisions make it clear that they have no intentions of bending to that hand that feeds. Moran indirectly affirms the band’s position above the traps that he says most bands fall into:

“Like, for us, on this tour that we’re doing right now, I think we could have tried to take it one direction and make it a really big even and try to get bands that would bring a lot of people, but at the end of the day, we wanted to do a tour that was our own thing.”

His voice is still strained, but by now, every question is met with a longer, more detailed response. Despite how desperate the man must be for sleep, he does not seem to struggle for his words. In fact, the man gives answers so drawn-out and lengthy that it’s a struggle to keep up with jotting them down. He is tired beyond question, but one can tell just by the depth of his answers that he is truly invested in the subject of the discussion. These are answers that he does not have to think about. He does not need to sit and think and plan what the “right” thing to say is. These are things he already knows and believes from the inside out.

“It’s still the same band, still the same people. Not much has changed – writing the music is still the same,” he says.

There’s not a trace of nonsense in his tone; these are matters of fact. His voice still cracks every few words, but the words themselves sound warm and familiar even in the muck of a haggard voice. This, it occurs to me suddenly, is the true story of the modern-day rock star: It is here, in the man who pushes past his limits for the sake of having his voice heard, who damns convention for the sake of individuality, and whose exhaustion is inevitably overridden by his passion.