Cover Story

Murder Your Memory: Title Fight’s New Sound And Old Haunts

For reasons nobody seems to entirely understand, the school thought it would be a cool idea to throw a “rave.” Of course, we’re talking about a rave that’s taking place in a high school student center — and a flat, dour student center of ’70s geometry at that. It’s not exactly some underground scene in a warehouse or something, but they’re trying. The fluorescent lights are replaced by, I don’t know, “nightclub lighting” of various random black-light sources; the linoleum that’s usually slick with the sheen of those fluorescent lights’ reflection has been covered in carpets and some sort of glow-in-the-dark stuff splattered around. This is, of course, a school-sanctioned event that’s attracted mostly freshmen and sophomores so, you know, drugs and alcohol are strictly forbidden, which stops as many high school kids as such stipulations usually do. Maybe some enterprising few upperclassmen got some ecstasy, who knows, but most kids just seem stoned or drunk, or maybe on speed now and then. Particular groups keep sneaking out into the alleyway behind the big gymnasium to smoke some more weed, and miraculously none of the teacher chaperones catch onto this. The school, for their part, is providing Red Bull. Red Bull’s really having a moment these days. And in the other, smaller gymnasium, Title Fight is about to play a set. Because why not?

This is, let’s say, not Title Fight’s typical setting or crowd. This isn’t one of the local DIY spaces that specializes in shows for the hardcore scene. This is a high school gym with anemically blue walls that at one point maybe more closely approximated a deeper hue of navy, one of the school’s colors, and that sometimes faintly smells of chlorine from the pool across the hall. Compared to the rest of the rave takeover, it’s still blindingly well lit in here, an odd room to see a band play in any circumstance. But especially so when there’s a constant stream of people passing through, en route from one end of the student center to the other, and when those people are sixteen year old girls not wearing many clothes or members of the wrestling and hockey teams who come off as, to some extent, offended at this band screaming in the corner at this rave.

This is my first time seeing Title Fight, and it occurs to me that this is going to be an enduringly weird first impression. To their credit, they seem to be totally cool with the surroundings: The school asked them to play, so they’re playing, and they’re doing their thing as they would in a much smaller space in a more logical context. With a PA set up near one wall of the gym, they turn up really loud and play a bunch of punk music for the group of us who are hanging out in the gym specifically watching them, for those of us who came to the rave to see this, not for the rave itself. Some of the people in this crowd are drinking Red Bull, too.

The gym isn’t built for acoustics at all. Shane Moran’s and Jamie Rhoden’s guitars meld into a big distorted cloud clanging around in the rafters of the gym. Bass and drums — handled by fraternal twins Ned and Ben Russin, respectively — take on that weird ping-pong-y percussive feeling that can happen with a less-than-perfect sound system in a completely nonsensical venue. It’s the kind of thing that winds up as waves of sound imploding inside your body each time the echo reverberates around the room. But hey, it works. The whole thing feels immediate: loud and sloppy and a bizarre counterpoint to tonight’s situation otherwise. Each song, muddled in a room of metal and glass and whatever synthetic something this floor is made of, sort of bleeds into the next. Until the end, when Ben cedes the drumkit to his older brother Alex, and a friend of the band takes over vocal duties, and they perform what can more or less be called a death metal approximation of Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” That sticks out. It’s the kind of thing that leaves a memory.

All of this happens on a night almost ten years ago, when Ned and Ben and I are freshmen in high school together. Title Fight’s just another local band. A lot of us are in bands right now.

***

I knew Ned and Ben pretty well back then, even though I was never involved in Wilkes-Barre, PA’s local scene, which was dominated by hardcore. We had a lot of the same friends; Ned was my lab partner one year in chemistry. I don’t know if I ever met Rhoden or Moran back then — they went to a different high school — but I might’ve talked to them in passing once or twice. In the summer of 2010, I ran into Ned back home, at Barnes & Noble. I had just gotten back from my first year at college in New York, he had just returned from Title Fight’s first time touring Japan. I didn’t seem him again for years, until I ran into him backstage at Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, in November 2013. Both of our lives had changed a lot. It was the first time I’d been sent anywhere for work; I was working on a profile of the Walkmen for Stereogum. In those couple of years, Title Fight’s career had continued along a steady upward trajectory, as they continued to tour and, bit by bit, develop a foothold in a more mainstream indie world. They were beginning to garner attention outside the niche of the hardcore community. When they released the curveball “Head In The Ceiling Fan” as the lead single to 2012’s Floral Green, it led to writeups on sites like Stereogum and Pitchfork and SPIN, no longer exclusively Alternative Press. I was sitting in an apartment in Paris sometime in the summer of 2012 the first time I heard that song, and I was stunned by it. For whatever amount of time I had left in that city, I used to walk aimlessly in that swampy Parisian summer humidity, listening to “Head In The Ceiling Fan” on repeat, thinking I should give Ned a call when I got back to America. I never did; that would have to wait until the surprise reunion at Fun Fun Fun Fest. We stood on the side of the stage and watched Chelsea Light Moving and Merchandise, and then when Ned moved to NYC last year with his girlfriend, we went to see the Men and then Merchandise again. (Ned’s been a fan of theirs for a while, which is interesting considering the relatively similar trajectories of the bands’ existences in the last few years. He once booked them at a show at a skatepark not too far from where we grew up.)

Come 2015, Title Fight’s stature has continued to shift and mutate. People have always seemed to struggle to place the band in a particular spot: You’ll see them referred to as emo, hardcore, post-hardcore, and nowadays shoegaze, with some writers throwing their hands up at the whole genre game entirely and simply referring to them as “indie” now. These are the kinds of growing pains that can come with the transition Title Fight are making, from being well-known and maintaining a fervent fanbase in a specific community that can have a lot of its own arcane and rigid classifications and rules, to having songs premiered on Vogue’s website, of all places. This time around, the impetus is their new album, Hyperview. While there might be more of their DNA intact than it sounds on an initial listen through the new record, it’s also easily the furthest, most committed departure from where they started. Full of bleeding watercolor guitars and dreamily detached vocals, it’s also the kind of record that could, whether they want it to or not, begin a severing with one world and a closer relationship with a new one. It remains to be seen what effect the record will have on their career, whether it’ll be a sharp delineation between the past and whatever comes next, or whether it’ll be another incremental step in a process that has, in reality, been slow-burning since 2012.

Right now, though, we’ve gone back to the source of things. Yesterday, I took a Martz bus from Port Authority like I do every time I come back home, so that I could meet Title Fight in Wilkes-Barre. Home turf, and all that. When not on tour, everyone aside from Ned still comes back home to the Wilkes-Barre area. Rhoden and Ben still come back and crash at their parents’ houses. Moran has an apartment with his girlfriend Brianna Collins, who’s in another of the prominent bands to hail from the area, Tiger’s Jaw.

Ned got in this morning, and we’ve all met at Sweet Treet, a small, fantasyland-cheap restaurant on Wyoming Ave. in Kingston, which is the town directly across the river from Wilkes-Barre, the town the band calls its home. Our high school’s campus is right behind Sweet Treet; on any given day during the school year, it’ll be a mix of old local people who come here every day and high school students either using a free period or skipping class to come over and get some cottage fries. You were allowed to smoke inside, probably longer than otherwise in public spaces in Pennsylvania, and if kids ever snuck off campus to actually smoke a cigarette themselves they usually just told teachers they’d been at Sweet Treet, to account for the smell. The most jarring thing is that the place is well-lit and pretty clean now. My memories of it recall a gray-ish cave, and if you were inside, it always looked like it was a cloudy day outside, no matter what.

One of the things that plagues a band in Title Fight’s position is that they are perennially a “new band,” in some sense. At the very least, with each record they’ve put out, it’s like they’ve been a new band to increasingly large groups of new fans. In reality, the group formed way back in 2003, then composed of the Russin brothers and Rhoden. Moran joined in 2005 as the second guitarist; now that I think about it, he was probably still the “new Title Fight member” the night I saw the band play that rave at my high school. There were demos and singles along the way, but for several years Title Fight were strictly a local band, kids still tied down with school obligations and limited by how long parents would let them get away to play a show. In 2008, they released the Kingston 7″, which featured a photo of the Russins’ parents’ front door and would later be compiled with two other previously released 7″s as The Last Thing You Forget in 2009. But it wasn’t until 2011 that they’d make their official debut with Shed, another release still steeped in references to their hometown. Floral Green followed in late 2012, and if you were paying attention, this is where some of Title Fight’s ambitions were already becoming clear.

“I don’t know if this is too grand a statement, but we want to be coming out of left field,” Ned says as everyone’s breakfast specials hit the table at Sweet Treet. “I personally don’t want anybody to be like, ‘Oh, I know what the next Title Fight record’s going to be.’ And to have them be right.” Compared to Shed, Floral Green was heavier, possessing a darker kind of muscle. (Some of this might be attributable to the fact that part of the record was inspired by the fatal heroin overdose of one of the band’s friends, the first time something like this had occurred in the band’s young life.) But it also had the bleary, gorgeously sad “Head In The Ceiling Fan,” the first thing that started the shoegaze comparisons, and the first song that let listeners know Title Fight weren’t averse to seriously changing things up. Spring Songs, an EP released in late 2013, was another hint that other things might be on the horizon, as a lot of its 12 minutes sound like loud, scuzzy college rock as much as they do punk. “I think the way we came out with ‘Head In The Ceiling Fan’ first, essentially the biggest leap on the record…that kind of opened the door for us to do something different,” Ned continues. “I do think Floral Green was a leap from [Shed]. I don’t think the change from that to [Hyperview] is as vast.”

With no disrespect to Ned’s thoughtfulness about Title Fight’s career, he’s also very wrong. “Head In The Ceiling Fan” and Spring Songs might’ve hinted at new ventures to come, but if Hyperview stops short of a total about-face, it doesn’t stop that short. Part of the reason, I’d imagine, that so many writers wind up resorting to comparing Title Fight to other bands is that, yeah, they’re still a “new band” to a lot of readers and listeners, but also because it’s really hard to pin down exactly what Hyperview is. There are still strands of emo and hardcore in here, but there are also hardly any screamed vocals, and there are also Moran’s and Rhoden’s guitars. The best way to prepare you for what they do to a guitar on “Chlorine” or “Dizzy” or even on the relatively straightforward “Mrahc” is to to say that these guitars feel like sounds melting in the air, and being presented to you while still in the process of figuring out what new form they will take.

For Moran and Rhoden, arriving at the new style was a mixture of chasing a sound they had in mind, but also just seeing what happened through experimentation. Rhoden has a kind of quirky zen affect, which means he sits quietly and lets the other guys do most of the talking, then he’ll offer very matter-of-fact answers. “When we got into the studio, the gain was actually a little bit more laidback in the first place,” he explains. “And I just kept the gain down intentionally. If it didn’t work, it didn’t work.” It’s a combination of the cleaner tone and the liberal use of guitar effects like delay, chorus, and flange that has created the smeared, ethereal guitar lines that dominate Hyperview. “I like abusing the effects a little bit,” Moran says. “I don’t want to be bashful about it and have it come across like, ‘We kind of want to go in this direction but we’re scared.’ I would just rather do it almost obnoxiously and be proud of it. How do you use an effect pedal and put 10 percent on it?”

“For this record in particular, we were very focused on having distinct instrumental sounds,” Ned says. In addition to the unique qualities of Title Fight’s current guitar sound, there are little textures hidden in Hyperview, too — synths, a theremin Ned had been messing around with. Where in the past Title Fight’s music was recorded with the express purpose of being able to reproduce every part live, this time around there was more experimentation, less concern upfront about how this stuff would be translated to a stage. “At the same time, I think it’s really important to be a guitar band right now,” Ned adds. “Guitar-based music is a valid medium. I think it’s harder to make unique-sounding guitar music than it is to do anything else.”

One factor in how different Hyperview wound up compared to the band’s other work was time. They had a month in the studio, more than they’d ever allotted for a record, and there was a lot of thought put into the cohesion of Hyperview. Ned, who in addition to being the band’s most frequent spokesman also comes across as something of a leader regarding the ideas and organization behind what Title Fight decides to do, originally conceived the whole thing as a very “existential album.” “It was the idea of, basically, I’m the only person that can know I exist and I can’t prove that to you,” he explains. “The record was: ‘I want this to be proof of my existence. I gave up on making that the main idea but it definitely found its way into the lyrics and songs.” What did dominate the record became retroactively clear when it was complete. At some point during the recording process, Ned became interested in the idea of making up a word and an attached meaning, and was attracted to the prefix “Hyper-.” After ditching “Hyperlight” (“too religious”), they eventually came up with Hyperview, which they now define as: “A state of existence where you can see things for what they truly are. It’s a hyper-awareness. Acute sensibility.” The idea seemed to make sense for the band’s lyrical style throughout Hyperview. “This is unfiltered thought,” Ned explains. “Whether it be good or bad.”

While the final product is a significant departure for the band, it’s not as if the record was conceived as an intentional middle finger to where they’ve come from, or some sort of definitive break from their past style. Ben, the other quirky zen member of Title Fight, claims he didn’t even have an idea of what Hyperview was going to be while they were making it. “I had no idea the record was going to sound the way it did until we finished it, honestly,” he says. “I had no idea what the vocals were going to sound like. I knew they didn’t want a ton of distortion on their guitars, and a lot of the songs were different. But even the songs we cut made a big difference in what the final group sounded like.” The last part is significant: no member of Title Fight knew exactly what Hyperview was going to be because they’d also recorded a lot of more aggressive songs that they wound up shelving in order to commit to this specific aesthetic.

The big question that remains, then, is how Title Fight’s existing fans, and the punk community where they’ve grown up, will react to not only the stylistic shift but also the Vogue premieres and the very real possibility that Title Fight will become increasingly popular in the indie world. So far, feedback from fans has been positive, and the band’s reactions are measured. “People forget…we still wrote those albums they love,” Moran says. “I feel the same way about bands I like that progressed. That variety is essential to being. If you’re an artist and you’re creating something, you’re going to keep creating and your scope is going to get wider and wider.” Ned adds: “I heard so many new bands last year and the year before that. The stuff I liked when we started this band, I still like for the most part. But I like so much more music, it would be so inauthentic to not incorporate those things I’ve been into just for the sake of continuity of the band.”

Depending on which member you ask and when, you’ll probably get a slightly varying answer regarding how they think of themselves these days. That is, whether they’d still describe themselves as a hardcore band, or whether they still subscribe to that community’s tenets. Ned, at least, is steadfast. “My interests are regarded as so immature,” he begins, “I’m very hostile about it. I’m very protective of it. I recognize how stupid it is. What adult man should be interested in screaming and jumping off stuff? But I think it’s incredible. It’s beautiful stuff to me.” The other question, though, has less to do with where Title Fight’s loyalties and interests lie than it does with who from the community will follow them wherever they wind up next. One of the paradoxes of niche communities like the broader hardcore/punk scene is that while they might be predicated on a rejection of certain societal expectations or rules, while they might be their own countercultures, they can also have their own exclusionary behavior, their own too-strict dogmas and codes. “People are like, ‘Oh, you’re not a hardcore band anymore,'” Ned says. “And we’re like, ‘Fuck you, we are.’ That’s hardcore. That’s the whole thing. It’s more hardcore to say ‘Fuck you’ to the standards than it is to be ‘OK, we’ll do this thing.'”

***

Wilkes-Barre was always a place I planned to leave. The same was true of most of my friends. It wasn’t a bad place to grow up, but after that there isn’t much left. There’s always talk of some revitalization or another, but, mostly the place is a shadow of a more prosperous past, back when the railroad and coal industries gave it and its sister city, Scranton, some power. There are markers of that past all over, from decrepit factories to old stone buildings in town now dotted with empty storefronts. It’s your typical nowhere American town, and it’s easy to feel the lure of Philadelphia or NYC, neither of which are too far away. This is, of course, not a universal attitude. When I ran into Ned that day at Fun Fun Fun Fest, I thought, “Holy shit, how did we both wind up here from Wilkes-Barre? We got out.” It’s not the kind of town you expect a band to be able to use as a launching pad to a successful career. (Although, fun fact, Breaking Benjamin were also from the area. Another fun fact: Tim Showalter of Strand Of Oaks lived there for years before relocating to Philly, and actually played a lot of the same places as Title Fight back in the day.) Anyway, the thing is, Title Fight never looked at it quite the same as I did, as far as I can tell. Wilkes-Barre and Kingston have been really important to the band, not just because it provided a scene they could grow up and cut their teeth in, but also because, without the specific qualities that come with growing up in this sort of place, they would be an entirely different band.

Title Fight circa 2005

Title Fight circa 2005

After we finish lunch at Sweet Treet, Rhoden and Moran head home to play video games and the Russins take me on a little tour through my hometown, showing me the sites that mark Title Fight’s history. The first stop is one of the newest, the band’s mural on South Main Street. Made up of four squares tipped onto one corner and interlocked, the mural has a background of reflective paint. The cover of Hyperview has a photo of one of the band’s friends standing in front of it; the photo looks black and white because of the effect of the camera’s flash on the reflective paint. It took some time to get the mural approved by the city, but the location turned out to be perfect when it came through: It’s across from the former location of Cafe Metro, a now defunct DIY venue that was a staple in Wilkes-Barre’s hardcore scene for years. There hasn’t been anything but an empty storefront there for years now, ever since Metro closed. As we walk up and peer through the newspapers blocking the glass of the door, the black paint of Metro’s walls is still visible; the room hasn’t even been stripped yet, let alone turned into anything else. “I loved Metro,” Ned remembers. “It got a bad rap near the end because they stopped booking hardcore shows. There was a stabbing. It was a really fucked up time. I can’t blame them for stopping [booking hardcore shows].”

Ned in particular feels a slight debt to the place. It was a venue that gave Title Fight a chance when they were kids just starting out, and before they were able to tour outside the area they’d play a show every two or three months, usually at Metro. We start to walk back to my car. Some buildings have been torn down since the last time I walked down this street, there are long-standing restaurants I recognize and a new facelift for the one bar that keeps rebranding every couple of months. A few doors down from Metro, there used to be a stripclub called Toppers, and it’s now an ice cream place called Dairy Godmother’s. “That burned down,” Ned explains to me. “The back of it’s been renovated and instead of renovating the burned-down front of a strip club they just put up a big shitty vinyl sign. Dairy Godmother’s.”

We drive further south into Wilkes-Barre, take a few turns, to where we can get a vantage point of the Murray’s complex, which I guess is some old skeletal factory of some kind or another. There’s an “old Murray’s complex” in a different part of town where the Russins used to go skating at a DIY skatepark. This one was home to two local venues, Homebase in the early ’00s (before the Russins’ time, though Ned recalls going there once with his older brother) and then later the Zoo, on the second floor, where the band played once and saw shows during its brief existence. Collectively, the building was important for the local scene’s history as well as the band’s, enough so that Title Fight put it on the cover of Shed, where it’s surrounded by cartoon detritus like burning cars and piles of garbage. A few minutes after we pull away, we pass by Angelo’s, a favorite pizza place in the area, known for its sweet sauce. “We did an interview for Alternative Press once,” Ned says. “We took a photo of me in Angelo’s for it, and they hung it up on the wall. Someone took it down. It really hurt my feelings.” He laughs.

When we were in high school, Title Fight started a very short-lived DIY venue called the Future, in a space sandwiched between another local pizza place and a local bookstore that doesn’t exist anymore. It only lasted a few months, but years later — after Metro closed and there weren’t any real venues around anymore — the band opened another, Redwood Arts Space. Redwood’s former location is in a weird strip mall surrounded on two sides by trailer parks and located not too far from the Mohegan Sun Casino in town. It’s now a laundromat called Suds & Bubbles. “The business that was here before we rented it tracked traffic and called the radio stations with it…so, they went out of business,” Ned recalls. “I think the building was vacant for four years before we rented it and they were so happy to get a tenant in here.” He and Ben walk around the room, the space apparently unrecognizable from a few years ago. Where the stage used to be over by the front window is now a sitting area littered with children’s toys. The length of the room is, of course, lined with laundry machines, most of an impressively industrial size. A faint line of green paint peeks out under the more typical cream that now exists, one lingering glimmer of the venue’s existence here.

Redwood had been going really well for a while. Like with any venue, keeping income flow going to pay off expenses was trickier some months than others, but they talk about the time proudly, reminiscing about how they fit 200, one time 300 people in here. (I cannot imagine what it was like when 300 people were crammed into this laundromat.) Eventually, facing dual pressures from zoning officers and their landlord (“He claimed the people who live across the street were calling him about people having sex in their cars, but I think that’s bullshit,” Ned says) Redwood closed. What remains alongside Suds & Bubbles is Heavenly Massage, one of those establishments where you can supposedly get more than a normal massage. During Redwood’s existence, the band ran into issues with Heavenly Massage, who complained about parking availability but refused to mark certain spaces for Heavenly Massage because “people don’t want other people to know they’re coming here.” At this point, Ned and Ben start doing this thing where they both sort of tell a story in tandem, filling in details and bouncing between each other. “They were like, ‘Their kids might be at your show,'” Ned says. Ben adds: “The whole front room is pretty much a living room.” “I think they live in there,” Ned continues. “There’s a shower in there, they have a dog in there, which is super illegal.” They’re joking, but there’s also an eye-rolling, frustrating reality to what they’re describing. “Literally a prostitution place can stay open but our venue can’t,” Ned says, the slightest bit of exasperation creeping in at the memory. “As much as I do appreciate this area, the shit we’ve had to go through to try to do actual harmless good for the town’s youth, it’s fucking insane.”

After brief stops by the Russins’ house and the band’s practice space — which is in a storage unit in Kingston — we meet up with Moran and Rhoden again in Wilkes-Barre, eventually winding up at Boscov’s, a usually desolate department store that is as good a dusty avatar for faded glory as anything else in this town. As we’re walking around, and at the end of a scenic Wilkes-Barre day, I find myself wondering: after all the places these guys have seen, do they ever want to leave entirely? How much do Kingston and Wilkes-Barre still mean to Title Fight now that they don’t really need these places anymore?

“I’m comfortable here,” Moran ventures mellowly. “It’s hard for me to make up my mind. I’ll be home for a while and feel good about it, then we’ll go on tour…I can’t ever think about the big picture because there’s always a tour every couple of months. I think I’d like to go somewhere else just to see what it’s like.” Ned, of course, has already left, even though he still seems to get a kick out of revisiting the town. Ben’s been dating a girl from Barcelona for a bit now, and when I ask him if he’s thought about moving over there, his answer is similar to Moran’s: It’s sort of tough to make the call while the band is so active. In terms of how relevant our hometown is to the band’s identity, it seems to be a question they’re still working through — there are apparently still local references on Hyperview, but there isn’t anything as blatant as, say, Shed’s “You Can’t Say Kingston Doesn’t Love You.” “In some ways, I guess it’s relevant to it,” Rhoden ventures.

“I think so. No matter what, it’s always going to be an important part,” Ben says.

“I’d say less than ever now, though,” Moran counters.

“I don’t think Kingston, per se, is important,” Ned says. “I think it’s just the fact that we didn’t come from a notable place. It could’ve been anywhere. We could’ve grown up in the Midwest. Our tastes would’ve been different and our lives would’ve been different, but I think just the idea of not being from a major American city was important to us to represent. We’ll always be from Kingston, even if we all move away.” There’s something true in there. There’s value in being an artist and incubating in a place like this, to use that removal and then head out into the world with some weird, specific, outsider-ness. Whatever the actual merits or lack thereof in Wilkes-Barre, there can be a power in that, because it’ll make you hungry for something else.

But I also think back to something else Ned said, as we were just starting our drive around and he happily let me know I was “still a local guy” for remembering a particular shortcut. A moment where he looked ahead out of the car and wasn’t looking at the band’s relationship to the city with any intellectualization or distance. “As I get older, I want to stop taking pride in irrational things,” he had said. “Like, I was born here, what does that mean? But then I come back here and I’m like, ‘This is my shit.'” And then he smiled enthusiastically.

***

On one of those quiet weekends in mid-December where the action hasn’t quite kicked in but you can feel the impending weight of the holidays and another new year, Title Fight are opening for Circa Survive at Union Transfer in Philly. The show is sold out, and there are presumably a lot of Circa Survive fans who bought up all those tickets. But there seems to be a divide in the crowd, with some group of people there purely to see Title Fight. A lot of old friends are coming out.

I get there just in time for the beginning of Title Fight’s set. They come out in front of a banner that has their name, a picture of a cat, and “Kingston, PA” on it. At this point, Hyperview has just been announced, and the set is light on new material, hewing closer to fan favorites from the stuff that’s already out, and that seems totally cool with everybody in the audience for the moment. Ned addresses the audience now and then, but keeps it straightforward, thanking them earnestly and getting on to the next song. The sound is impeccable; at some point in the subsequent weeks, Ned will tell me that they used to not give a shit about the sound and eventually decided to get their act together. But maybe what’s weirdest about it is to see friends up there, at work. Rhoden and Moran hold down opposite ends of the stage, and Ned’s there in the middle screaming and playing frontman. At some point in the set, he steps to the mic and says “We’re from Kingston, PA.” and the whole thing does something to my mind.

Watching them now, I realize I missed this whole process in the middle. I didn’t see all the little steps that took them from small local gigs and high school gyms to touring all over the place to loyal fans. I didn’t see the growth from a local band that two of my friends were in to, like, a band people know and care about all over the world. There were just those little signals along the way, the track premieres on sites I read or finding out my cousins in New Jersey were huge Title Fight fans or all those other tiny occurrences that collectively can give me some sense of what the last decade — or, at least, the years since high school — looked like for these guys. But I hadn’t been paying close attention. I never got to see them when they passed through New York or when we wound up at a festival together. One night we were at a rave and fifteen, and the next one we were here in Philly, at this show.

After the show, I head backstage and visit with Ned for a bit. We talk about the music we’ve been listening to. There are a lot more commonalities in our tastes these days than there used to be; apparently Moran is really into rap now and Rhoden loves dreampop. Mostly, Ned and I talk about people we used to know, or still know, or barely remember, and we talk about the people we’ve met all around the world who have replaced those other people. A lot of people pass through the backstage corridors who know Ned very well and have no idea who I am. We see one person from our high school; he’s recently married, about to go to Japan on his honeymoon. Every now and then, I hear some loose noise or roar from inside the main room, where Circa Survive’s onstage, and I wonder how different that crowd looks now that Title Fight is not playing. They had acted and looked and breathed like a hometown crowd. But it felt like we were very far from home.

Top photo by Brianna Collins

Tags: Title Fight