The Art of Evolving as a Band Ft. Title Fight
The ultimate guide to the hardcore legends.
November 9, 2019
If you haven’t read my piece on the evolution of Turnover, you can view it here. It will be updated soon to talk about their new album, Altogether. For the best experience with this piece, listen to all the tracks linked, it’ll help a lot!
Think of yourself at 13. What were you doing? What were your favorite hobbies? What music were you listening to?
For me, I was in eighth grade, spent most of my free time playing Grand Theft Auto V and Black Ops 2 on my Xbox 360. My favorite bands were Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pink Floyd.
Safe to say, I am not the same person anymore: I own an Xbox One now.
Bad jokes aside, it makes sense that my interests changed over the course of nearly eight years. Everyone goes through this; we experience new things, go through important events, and are exposed to more of the world.
This is the concept that continues to boggle my mind about Title Fight.
Formed by brothers Ned and Ben Russin, Jamie Rhoden at 13 years old in 2003 (Shane Moran would join in 2005) they weren’t supposed to succeed. Imagine how many teenagers come together and form a band, nobody outside could expect things to work out. But that’s just a sliver of the magic behind this band.
From Kingston, Pennsylvania, Title Fight took the concept of genre and tossed it out the window. Hardcore, post-hardcore, shoegaze, punk, or pop-punk — none of these labels come close to containing TF. That is more telling of the band than any other description could.
“We started out as 13-year-olds just trying to play shows. I was hoping that we could make it to the point where we could release a record and tour but I never thought that we could be at the point we are now,” said Ned Russin, in 2011, in an interview with killyourstero.com.
On instruments, Shane was on guitar, Ben on drums, and Ned and Jamie shared vocal duty, while also playing the bass and guitar, respectively.
Four LPs and many singles and EPs later, and Title Fight has cemented them a unique position in “the scene” where they are almost universally beloved amongst listeners of the previously mentioned genres.
There’s a mystique around Title Fight that made them so great. Using album art, unique merchandise, which included a VCR tape-based documentary and zines, plus an overall sense of humbleness made them stand out in all the right ways.
Not that other bands haven’t used these methods before, but as I’ll go into, Title Fight took elements like the mentioned ones and made it relatable to them.
Despite the consistency in uniqueness, we cannot say the same for their discography; from album to album, it was something new and refreshing. Along with being incredible, it is also the featured focus of this piece.
While I didn’t go into EPs as much as I should have on my Turnover (link it) piece, I will also skip the beginning singles and EPs. This includes their EP, Down for the Count, which they released in 2003.
To quickly summarize it, it sounds exactly like what you’d imagine a bunch of 13-year-olds playing punk would sound like. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Last Thing You Forget, 2009
While technically not an album, but a compilation album, I believe this is a proper starting point to track Title Fight’s musical journey.
Released by Run for Cover Records, who now host artists such as Movements and Turnover, the at the time 17-year-olds got their first big break with the release of Last Thing You Forget.
To sum up this album in one word, it’s raw. While the production isn’t worth calling weak, compared to later Title Fight projects, that would be an immediate source of criticism for me. But again, I’m criticizing an LP dropped by high schoolers.
Pop-punk influences are dominant on this record. Again, you really can’t frame any TF album into the boxes of a genre, but for the sake of helping you frame it, that’s where I’d put it. Not even Ned could describe themselves.
“Uh, I always have a hard time with this, but I’d just say we are an “alternative” band. Jawbreaker, Seaweed, and Lifetime influences I guess?”
Of course, a band that grew up and was influenced by the Wilkes-Barre hardcore scene would carry a sound reflecting off that. Yet the music isn’t as “heavy” as what many would call hardcore acts today. With energetic guitar riffs and drum patterns that leave you with no options but to jump around, I would call this album a banger.
“The writing process was pretty slow but we really just tried to take our time on it. We wrote over a long time but it really came together in the end pretty quickly.”
When you consider that a group of teenagers wrote this, it really makes you feel useless.
While Title Fight’s lyrics weren’t anywhere near the beauty we’d see in later works, they were solid enough to stick in my head after jamming out. The album suffers from it being short, which, while not surprising for a band within this specific musical scene, hurts because of the repetitiveness of some tracks.
Kicked off with “Symmetry,” which is still a cult favorite for any fan of the band, it immediately sets the pace for a great and era-defining album for scene goers.
With other iconic tracks like “No One Stays At The Top Forever,” “Youreyeah,” and “Western Haikus,” it isn’t TF’s strongest album, but that is attesting to just how remarkable this band is.
Moving over to SideOneDummy records, Shed serves at Title Fight’s technical debut album.
The biggest takeaway one can get by listening to this album immediately is that we see the boys evolve into a much more mature act. This results from a more effective creative process in making the album, as attested by Jamie in a conversation with davidjamesyoung.com
“The other two or three times that we’ve been in the studio, it was literally somebody’s basement that we turned into a studio. We were there for three days and finished all the songs in the studio. We were unprepared and rushed—we wanted to get everything out as soon as we could.”
Time, in this case, served in the band’s favor, “we spent basically a year writing the album itself, and then when we went into the studio, we did two weeks of twelve-hour days. It was our first time in a real studio with a producer. All these things were really new to us, but we tried our best to make the most of them… It was a long time for us, but there was still a lot for us to pack in. I think, for our first time in a situation like that, we were as prepared as we could have been.”
While still raw, this is more reflective in the music itself than the production of it. In Shed, Title Fight evolves into much more of a hardcore act.
As odd as this will sound, the band benefitted from growing up. The themes and music matured nicely, but as seen with tracks like “Shed” it deals with more grabbable topics. Along with that, lyrically, the band improved tremendously:
You’re cold like the blood that runs through your veins
I’ve been told
There’s a black spot next to your name
You can’t seem to erase
Shed your skin, change your face
While those are only a glimpse of the lyrics, this song deals with people who try to throw themselves in the hardcore scene to look cool, only to leave it once it doesn’t serve them any benefits. Is it tribal? Yes. But it’s a real idea that can be pushed to anything.
Shed serves as a very strong second LP for the band where they took many of the problems holding back Last Thing You Forget and improve upon it to create a great record.
But despite the move to a more hardcore sound, this is actually the first example of TF slowing down a bit to create more technical tracks, as Jamie mentions.
“There’s a song that we wrote called “Society,” and the entire idea behind the song is that we’re the kind of band that writes these short, fast, aggressive songs. Why can’t we write a short, slow, angry, aggressive song? We drew influence from bands that we all love but perhaps doesn’t come out that much in our music. I think it’s a cool song that kind of sticks out in its own way, and I don’t know how people are going to react to it. I’m really excited about showing it to people.”
This album serves as a better introduction to those seeking to get into the band than their earlier effort. While still maintaining much of that catchiness, Title Fight evolved their sound to produce an album still heralded in a great light by the fanbase. With tracks like “Shed,” “Safe In Your Skin,” “27,” and “Stab,” TF kills it with their debut effort.
Floral Green, 2012
Now onto what many, myself included, consider being the strongest Title Fight project.
Kicked right off with a drumroll for the track “Numb, But I Still Feel It,” this album punches you right in the mouth in the best way. Its strong start never stops, and just listening to it now puts me right back in the middle of a mosh pit, it’s a beautiful thing.
The production sounds so much better in Floral Green, it’s clean and heavy, which gives way to the brilliant technical parts of Title Fight’s music, which I will say, for a band in a stereotypically “easy” genre, really complicate it in the best ways.
If we’re playing the genre dating game, I’m giving this album a solid place in between post-hardcore and emo. It lyrically carries those emo vibes, and it isn’t hardcore enough to classify it with other acts of the same genre because of TF’s creativity, so I think the post-hardcore zone is a better and safer bet.
The band drops the pop sound entirely, but as Shane explained in an interview with punknews.org, only a year after Shed, Title Fight wanted to stay innovative.
“I don’t know, I think we just wanted to keep things moving, and we did a lot of touring off of Shed, and we were writing new music and had a flat where we could record and make it all happen. We just did it because we like writing and we like recording. Just because Shed came out not that long ago, it doesn’t mean there has to be a time limit or anything. We were just ready and excited to do it. It just happened to work out. It was for the best, because if we were on this tour, still touring on Shed and playing those songs, it would have been fun, but we are ready to play new songs. We just want to keep things moving and keep things progressing. Maybe after this record it’ll take a while to record another one or maybe we’ll feel inspired and have another one out a year from now, who knows? For us, I don’t work anymore, Title Fight is what we do full-time and writing music to keep it going is an exciting thing.”
The pacing of some tracks on this album differs from previous albums. As already mentioned, the band experimented with this to certain points on Shed, but with arguably the band’s most iconic track, “Head in the Ceiling Fan,” it almost comes as a shock to hear such a quiet TF track. Despite this change, the band does what they do well: take something new and make it theirs.
And the transitions, holy fucking shit. You can’t take a breath with this album because it flows from one track straight into another. This is actually where the move to slower tracks benefits the listener, your natural point of pausing your mind doesn’t come after a track ends. This would give you a chance to literally pause the music, instead, that comes in the middle of a track, which will keep you listening until the album just ends on you. Whether it is intentional, it’s genius!
To only showcase a few songs would be a crime; if you’re going to only listen to one thing from this entire article, go listen to Floral Green. It is the quintessential Title Fight album. If I had to pick, “Numb, But I Still Feel It,” “Head in the Ceiling Fan,” “Sympathy,” and “Frown” are my personal favorites.
Spring Songs, 2013
A four-song EP released with Revelation Records, I want to showcase Spring Songs because while it is short and could be missed by someone getting into the band, it’s a crucial couple of songs; they preview what is to come with the Title Fight’s next, and to this point, the latest album.
It takes new directions on certain elements on the band, with a tease at points to the shoegaze sound Title Fight would adopt later on. But don’t get mistaken, this is still very much closer to the earlier TF efforts than the one that would follow Spring Songs.
“Receiving Line” is the best example of what is coming with Title Fight. But my favorite track on it is easily “Hypnotize” which is super underrated in the TF fanbase. It’s a solid EP.
What needs to be recognized are two elements: first, the time between Hyperview and Floral Green. Three years is a ton of time in musical terms — many bands can radically evolve in that time frame.
But Title Fight had been together for about 13 years at this point. For basically half of their lives, TF has been the center point for all four members, so fatigue was inevitable.
The Beatles, who some consider to be the greatest band ever, were only together for nine years. Most bands don’t last very long, especially ones that were formed when the group was all just becoming teenagers.
The biggest shock when listening to Title Fight revolves around the band’s brand new sound. Long gone are the hardcore bangers, as seen with the opening track, “Murder Your Memory.” Slowed down and melody are the new name of the band’s game at this point.
This is not a bad thing. For me, this was the first Title Fight album I ever listened to; I loved it then and still enjoy it now. The shoegaze sound the band takes on this album is fantastic.
That’s also not to say that the music didn’t still feature hardcore elements, it still hits hard when it needs to, but this isn’t a hardcore album by any means. Despite that, it still features many classic Title Fight elements, which include fantastic transitions and iconic lyrics.
“I feel like we always try to go into each record doing something different. That’s important to us, we never want to go in and make the same record again. So last January, we started to write this batch of songs. It was these heavier, more dissonant songs but with moments of grooves spread throughout, so the idea was that this was going to be a heavier record. Not like “metal” heavy but just darker. So we had been throwing around those ideas but once we got into the studio, we gravitated toward a totally different batch of songs and that’s what made the record. We had this idea to do this sort of style and when we sat down to record, we threw it out the window and went a totally different direction that we didn’t expect to go,” said Ned in an interview with VICE.
It’s a fun album for sure, it definitely reminds me of much of the indie stuff I’d listen to in high school, which again, is not a bad thing. Where this becomes a problem is for the long-term fans of the band.
Out of anything released by Title Fight, Hyperview serves as the most controversial and unpopular project from the band. I can understand that view; you wait nearly four years for your favorite band to release a new album, and what you get is a shoegaze, dream-pop, and indie rock album. But from an artist’s perspective, change is necessary, in this case, it is a radical sound difference.
Regardless, the production is remarkable. The music comes off more sophisticated, which while it doesn’t equate to better music, it counts for something when we’re talking about any band.
But Hyperview is still signature Title Fight, from the album art, which features a mural the band themselves designed in their hometown of Kingston, PA, to the tracks that make you want to get up and move. It may be a different book, but the author is still the same, and I don’t say that hastily.
And to that point, that is the last we’ve gotten from Title Fight regarding new content. Following some touring and a few one-off shows, including a charity performance two years ago at The Revolution in Amityville, NY, with Turnstile, which at the time of the writing of this, is the last we’ve really seen of Title Fight since 2016.
(Not being aware of TF at the time of that show continues to be one of the greatest regrets of my life.)
In a 2017 interview with Ned, he indicated signs of the band sounding tired out, “We can’t really announce anything. Can’t really say anything on the record. But yeah, we’re always writing new music. We have been going really strong for, I dunno, six years or something? And we’ve been kinda taking a bit of a breather for a little bit. We’re not rushing into anything. We have no definite plans – nothing booked. We’re.. um.. in the process of ‘noodling’ in our practice space.”
No one is sure whether Title Fight is done forever or just on hiatus — there was never a formal announcement.
Ned Russin is leading a solo project called Glitterer, which while it isn’t Title Fight, is still very enjoyable. Ben has been managing many bands, including Citizen. Shane has been recently playing as a guitarist for Turnover. While Jamie has been off doing his own things.
There is a strong chance that Title Fight is permanently done for, which for someone who never got the chance to see them live is devastating. But they’ve been together longer than most bands ever make it, which is a remarkable accomplishment for any band to do.
But what we have is an enormous legacy, that while not worthy of being in the rOcK n RoLl HaLl Of FaMe™, is worth more to kids like me and countless other bands. You don’t need not be a millionaire or play for the biggest labels to inspire and move people with your music; you can do it yourself and that counts for something. I’m sure of it.
Their ability to provoke so much feeling through music, art, clothing, and videos is a true testament to why musicians are so often referred to as “artists.” Even if it’s just a bunch of kids in a cramped room moving along to a two-minute track — that is what music is all about.
To make it as a beloved hardcore band says something about the character of the group. In a genre where being a “poser” is a crime, it showcases just how real Title Fight is.