From their early efforts as a melodic hardcore band to their recent foray into shoegaze, Title Fight have had an active, versatile career.
The Kingston, Pennsylvania-based band's first releases were melodic hardcore in the most literal sense; early singles were exercises in sheer musical endurance that married anthemic vocal hooks to breakneck rhythms and layers of cacophonous guitar. Their first proper LP, Shed, signaled artistic growth—the songs were longer, the melodies became more refined, and the lyrics took on an anxious, existential weight.
In late 2012, they released their sophomore LP, Floral Green. As with many great albums that were ahead of their time, it threatened to alienate its creator's core fanbase. Title Fight had dialed down their sound, borrowing more from alternative rock and bookish emo than hardcore, and audiences accustomed to windmilling at their shows weren't really sure what to think. "It took a while for those songs to sink in with people," says Ned Russin, the group's bassist and co-lead vocalist. "We toured [in support of Floral Green] with Pianos Become the Teeth, and the Shed songs did really well, but the Floral Green songs would only do okay. It was hit or miss, and we never really knew what we were getting into when we would play a new song."
Only a few months after the release of Floral Green, during a stretch of dates that saw Title Fight open for punk giants Quicksand, a paper airplane struck Russin mid-show. "It said, 'You are the worst fucking opening band I've ever paid $30 to see in my entire life,'" he recalls. "There was some backlash [to Floral Green], and I'm not going to say that [those sort of things] don't take up space in my mind—because they do. I remember that note because it sucked and hurt my feelings, but at the end of the day, it's not going to stop us from doing what we're going to do."
But most fans came to accept the band's move into more tuneful territory. "We did a tour a year after the record came out with Balance and Composure, and by then, the Floral Green songs were getting the same reaction, if not a better reaction, than the songs we would play off Shed," Russin says.
In early 2015, Title Fight released their third LP, Hyperview, challenging fan expectations again. The first track, "Murder Your Memory," begins with a trickle of reversed guitar before abruptly cascading into a reverb-laden, dream pop dirge. On more aggressive songs, such as "Chlorine" and "Rose of Sharon," the group plaster their signature, throaty punk with the warbling aesthetic of early British shoegaze. "Right now, the Hyperview songs are sort of in the same boat that [the songs on Floral Green] were in at first," says Russin. "People react to this new stuff really differently, and I like that. It creates a cool mood throughout the set because there are moments of extreme energy, and then there are moments of contemplation."
Despite the stylistic makeovers, Title Fight have largely retained their fan base. With the exception of paper-airplane-chucking hardcore dogmatists, everyone grows up. "It's never been our intention to alienate people or 'move beyond' people," says Russin. "I guess the goal of being in a band in the long term could be reduced to 'you want to grow, and you want people to grow with you.' We're fortunate that enough people have grown with us."
Title Fight perform with Coheed and Cambria, Circa Survive, Underoath, and many more at Chain Fest at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com. Sept. 17, noon. $50; VIP, $199. All ages.