ARCHIVES: Inspired by a flourishing scene, Kingston punk heroes Title Fight grow with ‘Floral Green’
With his shoulder-length hair pushed behind his ears, wearing a white Floorpunch T-shirt and rolled up jeans, 22-year-old Ned Russin is easily identifiable as the bassist/vocalist of local punk band Title Fight as NEPA Scene meets him outside his Kingston home.
The beautiful, well-furnished household he leads us into, however, isn’t exactly the abode one might picture a melodic hardcore group to originate from.
But as the rest of his bandmates – consisting of his twin brother and drummer Ben Russin, singer/guitarist Jamie Rhoden, and guitarist Shane Moran – arrive about 10 minutes later, they explain that this little piece of suburbia is actually the very reason their songs exists.
Music interested the Russins since they were about seven years old, and following in their older brother’s footsteps, it was only a matter of time before the idea for a band came about.
“I remember trying to start bands before we even played instruments or anything,” Ned recalled with a laugh. “When we started, it was just Jamie, Ben, and myself and we were just kind of playing for fun. We would literally practice in the room (in the basement). It was OK, it was fun, and I think my parents kind of hated it, but we were just doing what kids do.
“As things kind of evolved and Shane joined and we kept playing, it just kind of started becoming the only thing that we really did.”
Becoming more concerned about potential record covers than their schoolwork, the local music scene made a “huge impact” on the direction of their lives.
“I think it really shaped everything that we really do today, and also so much of the views that we have on social issues and stuff have been influenced by bands that we listen to and seeing the world the way that we have,” Ned acknowledged.
“I think Wilkes-Barre is probably the biggest thing that has played a part in our sound over the years. From growing up and listening to local bands… that we just grew up watching and then grew up playing with and stuff, it was just such a cool thing to see. … At a good local show, there will be 200 kids or something, and to see that come from such a small area and see these creative people doing such cool things – that was just an inspiration on so many levels.”
“When you have bands coming into your town, that’s going to inspire someone to start a band of their own. Being that it is such a small area that’s very much set in its ways, I think that’s a perfect place for someone who has a different voice to thrive,” Moran added.
“We didn’t really want to go to the dances or football games. We weren’t into drugs or drinking. For us, we wanted to make music with our friends. I think a lot of people identify with that. … Nothing really struck me like being in a band did. This is like the coolest thing I could possibly do, so if they could do it, we could do it.”
The area not only inspired the sound of Title Fight, but their lyrics as well.
“We always talk about where we’re from and Kingston and stuff because I think if we grew up anywhere else, it would be completely different, you know? We’re young and there’s not much to do, so for fun, we get into trouble and skateboard and write music. That’s what we did when we were younger, and that’s still what we do now,” Ned emphasized.
It’s no surprise, then, that the band’s newest album, “Floral Green,” due for release on Sept. 18, continues these themes by exploring “uncomfortable thoughts.” The official description of the album online says it is a “repudiation of cynicism and narcissism,” but Ned simply calls it “teen angst.”
“I’m 22 and we’re doing this and I’m confused. I feel like these are pretty normal thoughts for a person my age to have. I think the situation that we’re in is such a weird, irregular thing for a person our age to be doing. … We live at home and we do something really cool and unique when we’re on the road, but when we’re at home, I feel like this boring lump. I just sit in my room and listen to records or I read or something,” he admitted.
“I feel like if you’re 22 and you’re going through life and you have yourself all figured out and you’re just completely happy, I think there’s something wrong with you. I don’t think that’s normal.”
After releasing their debut full-length album, “Shed,” through SideOneDummy Records on May 3, 2011, Title Fight toured until December, so rather than become said lumps during their break, they returned to the studio with producer and engineer Will Yip at Studio 4 in Conshohocken to write and record a record a follow-up in five months.
“We booked recording time before we had a song written. It took us over a year to write ‘Shed,’ so to know that we only had not even half the time to do the same thing over again was stressful, but at the same time, I think it was kind of this exciting energy that we’ve never really experienced before,” Ned described.
“I hate pressure… but I think kind of having that behind us the whole time just pushed us to really do something different and be creative and just keep trying new things.”
The results created a “very different” record, a “progression” of their sound that pushed the band even further by trying a new recording process.
“The last record we did almost completely live, and this record we went a song a day and we would really focus in on a song and we would give each song whatever it needed,” Ned said.
“We would spend a whole day doing whatever, messing with different cymbals and snare drums and turning every knob on an amp to get the right sound for that song. I think that idea going into it just really made us think outside of our own box, and that’s what made the record what it is.”
Some of it so different that Moran wrote the first single, “Head in the Ceiling Fan,” for a completely different band.
“Jamie gave me a melody, and I just came up with lyrics for it. I just tried to push myself to be a little bit more abstract and create something that was a little bit different for me personally. … It made it much more of a statement than just releasing a song that we knew kids were going to like. A lot of our contemporaries, when they get to this level where they have a record label and people around them that are pushing them, they get scared with their decisions and they’ll put out the stock song that they think is a hit or whatever,” Moran noted.
“I thought it was cool that we just put out something that was drastically different and kind of made people stop and think, ‘Maybe I should pay attention to this record because it’s not like the last one.’ It’s different. I like putting our neck out on the line like that. I think the reward is greater.”
One thing they refuse to mess with, on the other hand, is their consistent employment of local talent. The band’s friend, Evan Evans, helped them create the DIY music video for “Ceiling Fan,” Ned’s girlfriend Hannah Roman directed and edited the video for “Secret Society,” the album cover artwork was painted by their pal John Garrett Slaby, and even their touring crew calls Northeast Pennsylvania home.
“It’s like a very insular community. I think we want to show the world what our area and what our friends are about, and that’s like the perfect way, to kind of bring them along for the ride. … I think it’s important to use Title Fight as a vehicle to kind of show all aspects of youth in Wilkes-Barre,” Moran enthused.
“We’d rather them be our friends than some hired gun, you know? We’d rather give our friends a chance to hang out with us and see the world. That’s really, really important to us, to keep it all in the circle.”
Though they never assumed they’d make it out of the state, Title Fight is busy preparing to head back over to Europe for their biggest tour yet, and even though they’ll be millions of miles away, Rhoden feels that there is a reason they have a following overseas.
“Everyone is there to listen to bands and have fun and hang out with their friends. There’re a few subtle differences everywhere you go, but overall, it’s a similar vibe. In Japan, obviously there was a huge barrier with the language and most of the people there wouldn’t know what you were saying into the microphone, but as soon as you started playing, everyone was on the same wavelength and would just go off,” he observed.
“I already consider ourselves successful. I don’t have a direct mindset of where I’d like to be as a band, but we take it as it goes. … Just to continue to tour would be a successful thing to me.”
Wrapping up the interview with a photo shoot, the Russin brothers run into their high school music teacher as they leave the house. Nancy Sanderson, director of the Performing Arts Institute of Wyoming Seminary, confirms the boys’ earlier stories of their lifelong appreciation of music, hardcore or not.
Even though they looked like they had just rolled out of bed after a gig the night before, the siblings couldn’t take their eyes off the Philadelphia Orchestra during one memorable field trip.
“They were literally leaning over the balcony on the edge of their chairs listening to every note and loving it. That’s the way they were. They were so open-minded. They both played classical music and liked it,” Sanderson remembered.
“It’s so easy to pigeonhole people who are in rock groups and to stereotype and everything, and they do not fit that profile at all. Great guys.”