Title Fight’s ‘Floral Green’ at 10 — the story behind a landmark of modern punk & hardcore
A few weeks after Title Fight released their 2012 sophomore album Floral Green, they celebrated with a hometown release show in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and that's the moment that their producer Will Yip realized how much of a breakthrough the album would be for the band. "They opened with 'Head in the Ceiling Fan,' and when the snare drum came in -- I'm getting chills thinking about it -- the place went off. I thought that building was coming down. And I was like, 'Oh, this is gonna work.' Because if the people that always loved Title Fight still love that, that means we did it. That means all we did was make the net wider for people, but we didn't alienate fans. It was still punk, and it was still Title Fight. And then they went into 'Numb,' and it was like, the record had been out for like a week, and people are losing their fucking minds, singing every word. So I knew it clicked, I knew it was working. Honestly I've never experienced anything like it since, not until probably Turnstile on the last two records."
Floral Green, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this week, came just one year after Title Fight's 2011 debut album Shed, and if there's a band that epitomizes the "you get your whole life to write your debut album and a few months to write your second" cliché, it's Title Fight. The band formed in 2003 as middle schoolers, solidified their lineup with second guitarist Shane Moran in 2005, and for their first few years as a band, they only ever wrote a few songs at a time and released them on splits and EPs (eventually compiled for 2009's Run For Cover-released compilation The Last Thing You Forget). When it came time to finally write a full-length, bassist/co-vocalist Ned Russin says Title Fight weren't even sure if they had it in them, but they spent nearly two years on it and came out with Shed, which cemented Title Fight as a force within the punk scene. Released by SideOneDummy and produced by their hero Walter Schreifels, you could hear the influence of anyone from Gorilla Biscuits to Lifetime to Texas Is The Reason. It was a big step up from the EPs, and with more momentum behind them than ever, Title Fight spent almost the entire rest of 2011 on tour, honing their craft even further, and beginning to write what would become Floral Green.
"The Floral Green writing process wasn't just a singular time, because we were touring the whole time, and even that's something I don't think we would have been capable of doing the year prior," Ned tells us. "I think it was having that confidence [to write a full-length album] from Shed, and being like, we know that we can do this, and we're just gonna keep doing this, and we're gonna try and write better songs. It was also coupled with the fact that we were listening to new things, having new experiences, getting new gear, and all these things kind of coming together, and probably the biggest thing is that we were playing live so much. And kind of seeing what worked, what we wanted to do, what felt comfortable to us. And so all those things kind of came together in the writing process for Floral Green. To me, that's like the basis of the record."
As much as Shed is often a straight-ahead, D-beating melodic hardcore record, there were moments on it that hinted at something more. Songs like "Safe In Your Skin" and "GMT [Greenwich Mean Time]" had an atmospheric side that suggested Title Fight were interested in more than mile-a-minute punk songs, and the anthemic title track suggested this was a band who could write pop songs, not just ragers. "I think there are very clear moments throughout each record where you can kind of see where we're going next, but we didn't really realize it at the time," Ned says, and that came very true on Floral Green, which took the more expansive moments of Shed and really honed in on them. Floral Green pushed Title Fight to new limits without abandoning what made them Title Fight. The songwriting got better, the musicianship got tighter, the production got more creative, and -- with all due respect to Shed and the EPs -- Floral Green is the moment where Title Fight fully came into their own. Shed was a breakthrough within the punk scene, but Floral Green grew Title Fight's audience beyond that. The album helped set new trends, it influenced a ton of bands off the bat and continues to do so 10 years later, and it's a big reason that Title Fight are now rightfully considered one of the most crucial underground rock bands of a generation, punk or hardcore or otherwise.
As Title Fight were on the road and starting to write songs for Floral Green, they were listening to all kinds of different music in the van, and it was starting to show up in their songwriting. The influence of bands like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Nirvana, Fugazi, and Sebadoh was right there next to the Revelation Records stuff that had informed their earlier work, and it wasn't some big intentional idea to expand their horizons; it was all underground rock to them, and it was how they'd always consumed music. "The way that we got into music was through my older brother, and he came up at a time where the shows we were going to were really not that segregated, and it would be like you would see a ska band, an emo band, a hardcore band, and a post-hardcore band, they would all play the shows at the same time with each other," Ned says. "It felt like, from my perspective, a singular underground music scene."
Will Yip says when Title Fight were first showing him the demos for Floral Green, Shane looked at him and said, "We had to beat 'Shed' -- the song 'Shed,' which had a giant chorus. That set a bar, we had to beat it with every song." Ned says the goal was even simpler than that: "The biggest thing for us when we were making the record was the fact that there was no fast drum beat. To us, that was the biggest change," and later added, "I think the midtempo, driving kind of thing felt very comfortable to us, and I feel like it allowed us to really come into our own, specifically with vocals and vocal melodies." He also adds that, looking back now, the change in tempo was of course not the biggest difference between Shed and Floral Green, but at the time, it was all just one big blur to him. The band spent three years straight touring, practicing, writing, and recording, and it wasn't really until Ned could take a step back that he could fully process what a leap Floral Green was.
Title Fight made most of Shed live without a click, something Ned says was Walter's influence. "He was like, 'Let's just make a record like we used to make records in the '80s and '90s, you just put a band in a room, hit record, do some overdubs, and that's it, just really capture the band in their live setting.'" It felt "really comfortable and really good," Ned says, but for Floral Green, they were "trying to do something a little bigger, use the studio as an instrument, just take our time and try out a bunch of different stuff." To help them achieve those goals, they asked Will Yip -- who engineered and mixed Shed -- to produce. "Not to throw anybody under the bus, but nobody other than the band wanted me to produce that record," Will says. "Because every hot punk producer wanted to produce Title Fight. They had legends calling them! People who have worked on huge records that I'm admired to be in the same conversation as, and who the fuck am I?"
Ned adds, "Will Yip was a very intelligent, very experienced, very on-the-same-wave-length person. We had been talking to other producers, kind of doing the whole typical schmoozing, kind of courting thing, and we just realized in that moment that we could go with somebody a little bit more big name or something, but it's like we have a guy who we're comfortable with, who we're friends with, who is close to home. He has the best studio we could possibly ever have access to, and he's right here, so it's like why wouldn't we go with Will, you know? I'm not taking any sort of credit for Will's success, because Will is a super talented guy, and an incredibly dedicated engineer, producer, mixer, and writer, he's just a really talented person -- but at the time he was sort of a new guy, but we were also new guys. He was our friend and that's how we operated, we just wanted to be with our friends. We just wanted to be around and work with people that we liked, and got along with, and agreed with, and had a good time with, and Will was all of that, along with all of his accolades and his world-class studio. Looking back, I think it was the perfect decision. Shed was the beginning of a relationship, and Floral Green was the real formation of us and Will becoming a unit."
With Will in the producer's chair, Title Fight built each song individually, piece by piece, and tried out an array of different amps and guitars and snares and cymbals, really giving each song its own treatment -- something that was inspired by Will's background in hip hop. And instead of just doing a few overdubs like they did on Shed, they really leaned into layering different guitar parts, which Ned calls "one of Will's best contributions to the record -- his ability to show us how to create a sonic landscape." The admiration and teaching/learning process was mutual; "Going from Shed to Floral Green, it was the same studio, same engineer, but it sounds really different, you know what I mean? They were one of those bands that helped teach me that," Will said. "They pushed me. Title Fight pushed me to do every record differently."
What Ned remembers most about the studio experience, though, was not any particular recording technique, but the fact that they were literally living there. "We slept in the studio. We didn't have any money to stay anywhere, so we stayed in the studio just on couches and Shane slept in the B mixing room or whatever. And the thing about Studio 4 is that it's in the basement of a building, so there's no light whatsoever. So we would only see sunlight when we went out to eat for lunch or something, and even then we were usually inside of a restaurant, so it was like, we would see light for 30-45 minutes a day, and the rest of the time we were just in the studio working. And even when Will went home and we were in the studio by ourselves, we were working."
With this piece-by-piece, song-by-song process, Title Fight were able to push themselves in an array of different directions. When they wanted to push the pop sensibilities of the song "Shed" further, they came up with "Secret Society." It was one of the songs that came together most quickly for the record, and to this day, it's one of the catchiest, most enduring Title Fight songs ever written. Its melody and lyrics hit you right away, and it still has that gritty punk exterior that makes it Title Fight. If I had to pick one Title Fight song to show someone who's never heard the band, I might pick this one. At the same time, Floral Green leaned more heavily into the more atmospheric side that Shed sometimes hinted at, never more so than on what is the most influential song Title Fight ever released, "Head in the Ceiling Fan." The song, which has gained more than a few comparisons to Hum over the years, pushed Title Fight towards heavy shoegaze without abandoning the emotion and the attack of a punk/emo band. I'm not saying that every single "emo-gaze" (or whatever) band got their ideas from Title Fight, but before this song came out, there weren't really any bands in the punk/emo scene doing shoegaze, and after it came out, there were tons. Title Fight helped break down the doors not just for punk/emo bands going shoegaze, but for a generation of punk/emo bands doing whatever they wanted, regardless of what boxes it did or didn't fit into. "Head in the Ceiling Fan" was the start of that.
"We were so locked-in, we didn't even know 'Head in the Ceiling Fan' was a new sound, we just loved the riff," Will said. "That was one of the songs that we didn't demo, that was fresh when I heard it in the studio during pre-pro, the week before we went to recording, and I was like, 'Holy shit, this is gonna be a special track.' At first, it felt like interlude-y to me, and then it kept growing, and we added parts. [...] And honestly, when we tracked it, I thought, 'Are kids gonna like this? Did I destroy Title Fight? Did I help aid in destroying Title Fight?' 'Cause this isn't Shed, you know what I mean? But the other part of me was like, I don't give a fuck, I knew it was good." Will also mentioned that Jon Simmons from Balance & Composure and Brianna Collins from Tigers Jaw stopped by the studio while they were working on Floral Green, and they showed them that song. "The first people to hear it outside of the five of us were Jon and Brianna, and they were blown away. They were like, 'What the fuck?' It like confirmed that this is so crazy, but we knew were right to trust our taste. [...] It taught me not to be afraid to push your fans and trust your fans, trust your fans to grow with you. I think it was a very, very, very important song."
"['Head in the Ceiling Fan'] was just kind of a thing of like, this makes sense to us," Ned adds. "On the record, I think it fits nicely, I think it sits in the context of everything and makes sense, but on its own, it definitely was a song that felt drastically different. And I think the biggest thing for us was realizing that, and wanting to be unafraid of the move. And that was why that was the first song we released, because we wanted to set the tone of like, we're not gonna continue to do the same thing."
Releasing "Head in the Ceiling Fan" as the lead single may have risked alienating some of Title Fight's punk/hardcore fanbase, but it also played a crucial role in gaining the band new audiences. It came out just as the indie rock-centric music press was starting to latch onto what became known as the "emo revival," and "Head in the Ceiling Fan" helped make Title Fight such a natural band to latch onto; they were embracing so many of the same musical influences as bands that were considered "indie rock" or "shoegaze" or whatever, and their loud, cathartic, punk/emo/hardcore roots made them a refreshing antidote to the vast array of indie rock that didn't really rock. Title Fight weren't trying to break into that space or any other space -- they were just writing the music they wanted to write -- but you can't deny the impact they made on breaking down barriers between different music scenes, and erasing preconceived notions and stigmas about bands who came up in the punk/emo scene, even if none of that was the band's intention. "First bands wanted your Pitchforks to look at them, and Title Fight helped make it go the other way, where your Pitchforks wanted to be a part of the Title Fight world," Will said. "It was a special, special time to experience."
With those walls broken down, it became increasingly common for bands from the punk/emo world to start finding audiences who came from other musical walks of life, and also for those bands to feel inspired to constantly grow and push their own boundaries. The impact of Floral Green also helped inspire a lot of bands to want to work with Will Yip, who quickly became the go-to producer for punk/emo bands that were interested in pushing the boundaries of the genre. It's no exaggeration to say it's hard to imagine what the past decade of rock music would even look like without Floral Green.
"I was making that record right after the first Circa Survive record I did, and those two records changed my life," Will says. "A lot of punk and hardcore bands hit me up and were like, 'Yo, we fucking love those Title Fight records, why don't you help us?'" He later adds, "I think even if it wasn't outwardly said [that bands were influenced by Title Fight], it was subconsciously known that the rules were broken down," Will says. "[Working with Title Fight] was why I got to work with a lot of those bands. We went out of our way to make sure we were growing, and I feel like those bands like your Turnovers and your Citizens and your Superheavens, they just wanted to do -- it wasn't about doing things different, they just wanted to do what they wanted to do. [...] Like I remember when we were doing [Turnover's] Peripheral Vision, it was like, 'Yo this is different, I'm not sure people are gonna fuck with it... but yo Title Fight did it so whatever!' Obviously those records didn't sound like Floral Green, but it had the same ethos of 'we're gonna trust ourselves, we're gonna trust these songs, we're not gonna be afraid to grow.'" Will also adds, "Even to this day, everybody that shows up in this studio, every guitar player in a band whips out a guitar and starts playing [the 'Head in the Ceiling Fan'] riff."
"Head in the Ceiling Fan" wasn't the only Floral Green song that embraced a shoegazier, more atmospheric sound. "Lefty" was just as expansive, and is sort of the album's secret weapon, and even plenty of the rippers have walls of guitars and layers of atmosphere that echoed My Bloody Valentine just as much as they echoed Lifetime. And that, more so than any press or critical acclaim, is really what made Floral Green such an important album. The lines between your My Bloody Valentines and Sonic Youths and your Lifetimes and Texas Is The Reasons needed to blur because there was an overwhelming amount of people who liked both things and were excited to hear both things at once. Like Ned himself, a lot of music fans just saw all of this stuff as one big ecosystem of underground rock music; the lines drawn between different scenes seemed arbitrary at best and harmful to musical growth at worst. Title Fight were making the music they wanted to make, and it turned out there were a lot of likeminded people for whom that was the music they wanted, and needed, to hear.
Just as important as the musical growth on Floral Green was the impactful lyricism. Title Fight have always felt most like a punk or hardcore band at heart, but when they get called "emo," it's probably because of how personal, introspective, and highly emotional their songs get. Ned was dealing with depression as he was writing his songs for this album, and he says that the most important life event that happened to the band in the lead-up to this record was the death of their close friend Justin, who was part of the same local music/skateboard community as Title Fight and took the pictures for the Kingston 7". "We were in our early 20s dealing with the death of a friend, dealing with dropping out of college to pursue music, dealing with this weird kind of societal, familial pressure that didn't even exist that I felt, and trying to make sense of it and having these morbid thoughts of: we're all gonna die, life may or may not be pointless, but yet here we are living, and we have to make sense of it. And kind of just getting down about all that, but not wanting to be down about all that. So it was just like a heavy cocktail of early 20s solipsism and depression. [...] It was just dealing with all of that, and feeling like the only place I had to go to talk about it was music, and then also feeling like the only way I could write good music was if it was depressing."
You can hear these themes coming through all over Floral Green, and Title Fight worded and sung them in ways that could hit very hard for anyone who's ever been through something similar. "Every night I lie asleep, trying to wake up from this dream/Numb, but I still feel it crawling under my skin," "I never was able to say just how I was feeling," "Your voice in the back of my head/Wishing things could be quiet," and "I’ll never forget what all these feelings meant/Flying home for a funeral was my last regret" are just a few of the lines Ned and guitarist/co-vocalist Jamie Rhoden deliver on this album that hit like a punch in the gut and rush through your veins as you yell them back. And with death on his mind, Ned was also "super fascinated with the idea of making a lasting impression, making something that will exist after you die," and that concern of needing to leave behind a legacy came through on multiple Title Fight songs, but perhaps never more strongly than on "Sympathy." "'Sympathy' was a big song of, I don't know, staking my claim. Trying to validate my existence in a way. Because I was terrified of growing up, passing away, and being completely forgotten," Ned says. "It's something that I feel very different from now, but at the time it was a huge concern of mine, of showing the world that you exist."
In many ways, Floral Green was the culmination of everything that Title Fight had been building towards since their early EPs, but in hindsight, it's also sort of Title Fight's middle child. Just as parts of The Last Thing You Forget hinted at Shed, and parts of Shed hinted at Floral Green, the seeds were planted on Floral Green for the next two Title Fight projects: 2013's grungier, Revelation Records-released Spring Songs EP, and their much shoegazier, much more atmospheric third album, Hyperview, released in 2015 on ANTI- Records. Title Fight are one of those bands where every album is distinctly different, and important in its own ways. Ask a group of Title Fight fans their favorite Title Fight album, and you'll probably get every possible answer. Some prefer the faster punk of Shed, some prefer the atmospheric Hyperview, and some prefer that sweet spot in the middle, Floral Green. No one Title Fight album represents everything this band has ever done, but Floral Green comes close. It has the driving punk songs, the slowed-down indie rock songs, the big choruses, and the even bigger emotions. Hyperview looks like the most drastic departure for Title Fight on the surface, but Will Yip maintains that Floral Green took the biggest leap in songwriting and sound direction of any Title Fight album. "That was the big jump, I think that's what kind of solidified them as a fucking serious force, because they were real musicians, and they were showing the world that they could write a fucking song. Consistently."
When I asked Ned where he ranks it in the band's discography, he replied, "It's my favorite. I think that era of the band when we were at our best. I think the songs are maybe the ones that I'm happiest with." He mentions "Like A Ritual" is his favorite on the album. "I think that's Jamie's best singing ever."
"That era felt new and exciting," Ned adds, "like we were a part of something."
Title Fight have been quiet for nearly five years, but Ned remains active with his Glitterer project, and he'll soon be taking Glitterer on tour with his old pals Tigers Jaw, including a show at Brooklyn's Warsaw on November 4. All dates here.