“You gotta be really smart to play dumb, and we’ve done a really good job at it,” says Honor Titus, the heroic lead singer of newly crowned punk kings Cerebral Ballzy. Tucked inside the lower level of a self-built bunk bed in his cluttered Brooklyn bedroom—a tiny sweatbox covered with posters and black wall markings—the 22-year-old musician lights a cigarette and exhales deeply.
If onstage he’s driving at 100 miles per hour, here, in his private sanctum, he’s thoughtfully idle. It’s been a whirlwind few months for Titus since his band released their self-titled debut album last summer and began touring Europe in its support—an experience he compares, with more than a bit of knowing hubris, to Beatlemania.
Cerebral Ballzy first charged the punk scene in 2010 with their thrashing, seven-minute debut EP, You’re Idle, and were almost immediately embraced by Brooklyn’s angry, unhinged teens—in part because Cerebral Ballzy’s five members had been Brooklyn’s angry, unhinged teens. Rather than scream anarchy at society’s bigger picture, however, they took aim at the joys of youth: beer, pizza, and skating. Their sound was puerile, raw, and sweaty, 1980s punk dragged, kicking and screaming, into the seething present. With tracks like “Insufficient Fare” and “Drug Myself Dumb,” not to mention Titus’ penchant for vomiting onstage (or playing sets naked), their act was neither serious nor smart, a lowbrow code they wholly embrace. “When we started this band, we weren’t concerned with the tunes we were writing,” Titus says. “It was the opposite of strategic—it literally just happened. We purposely avoided political messages. I wanted it to be about pizza and puke, and it’s done wonders.”
In an age of Occupy movements, prolonged recessions, and an enduringly frustrating political landscape, Ballzy found genuine success in the relatable simplicity of youth. Who hasn’t gotten drunk and vomited? Who doesn’t love pizza? Their live performances—wild exercises in what Titus calls “debauched ridiculousness”—are like anarchic oases at which audience members, if only for a short time, can indulge their carnal instincts without the presence of a consequential wet blanket. “People need something brash,” Titus says. “They need something to hold on to, something to go home with, something’s that immediate. The only thing that’s really immediate these days is double-clicking a fucking song. People sit at computers all day and tweet and ‘check in’—there’s no human interaction, no accountability, and no face to the words. I think that people are really becoming fed up with it. They’re getting cabin fever.”
Titus is very much a part of that lost generation. Returning from high school in North Carolina, he studied advertising at New York’s Pace University before promptly dropping out, made a “shit-ton” of money in an agency on Madison Avenue, and then dropped out of that, too. “What was the point?” he asks. Getting back to his punk passions—and his Brooklyn roots—he formed Cerebral Ballzy at the age of 19, traveling to the hot, lascivious streets of Madrid to write the band’s eponymous debut album.
In addition to being a pleasantly distasteful bit of wordplay, coined when a fellow band member was “ballsy” enough to pick up a pizza slice that he’d dropped onto the subway tracks, Cerebral Ballzy is, according to Titus, “about the pinnacle of man, whoever he may be—Zeus, a conqueror, a conquistador. They were cerebral and ballsy. I think people are becoming way too cerebral and not ballsy enough.”
While touring, the band’s European fans feverishly took up Titus’ call to balls, but now that he’s returned home, he’s in the mood for something more: an evolution of the revolution. “A killer live show is something that we’ll always have,” he says. “But now I think that we can actually write killer tunes and big songs and still maintain that sense of human emotion. I don’t want to be a show band, so we’re going to write a record that doesn’t make us one.”
Titus absentmindedly ashes the cigarette he’s been smoking onto his bedroom floor, and after a brief pause, adds, “Rather than bring in a four-day-old pizza slice, next album, we’ll have leftover steak.”
Styling by Simonez Wolf.
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Photography by Matthew Williams