Kingston natives Ned, Ben and Alex Russin will give thanks for the Wilkes-Barre music scene their bands emerged from on Nov. 25 in Nanticoke
When a small town native becomes locked in conversation and encounters the inevitable where-are-you-from, it’s acceptable to approximate that location down to the nearest large city for those unfamiliar with the area. But for the four-piece rock band Title Fight, no matter what part of the world they are performing, they say they’re from Kingston, Pennsylvania. All four members of the band are from the Luzerne County borough—but to 25-year-old bassist/vocalist Ned Russin, the words are more than a simple declaration.
“I think it’s important for our identity,” Russin said in a phone interview conducted as the band made their way from Dallas to Austin, Texas to play Fun Fun Fun Fest. “There’s a very specific kind of mentality that comes from living in small town America and there’s also an idea that valuable and interesting things only come out of major cities. We just wanted to say you can do big things by being teenage kids who are passionate about what you do. That’s something punk and hardcore has really illustrated to me. I think that’s very powerful and that’s something I still believe in.”
Ned and his twin brother Ben, who plays drums in Title Fight, were introduced to punk and hardcore through their older brother Alex. The band built itself on the sonic foundation of New York and Washington’s hardcore acts like Gorilla Biscuits and Minor Threat, along with California punk like Descendants; groups that infused a sense of melody into their music without foregoing the aggressive elements that defined their genres.
“I think everybody that’s involved with something unique or different wants to introduce their younger sibling to it,” Alex, 32, said. “I have a younger brother (Harrison, 29, who’s currently pursuing a doctorate in musicology at Duke University), but he’s really into classical music and jazz, so there was no chance. Ben and Ned were 7 and I gave them some hardcore starter CDs, almost like gateway music. Pretty aggressive for a second grader, but very approachable punk and hardcore.”
Positive Numbers Youth Crew Fest, a music festival that was held annually in the area between 1999 and 2005, was also a major influence on Ned’s perception of music as both an art form and a community. The first time PNYC was held at West Side Park in Nanticoke was the first time Ned attended a show within the Wilkes-Barre area punk and hardcore scene, and on Nov. 25 Ned, Ben, Jamie (Rhoden, guitar/vocals) and Shane (Moran, guitar) will play that same venue when Title Fight headlines a sold out hometown show.
“We just want it to be a big celebration of our local scene,” Ned said. “The reason we picked the venue is because it has a lot of history within the local music scene. It’s a venue that has come back around in the last couple years and I think it’s the perfect kind of place for us to do a show like this. We’re doing everything — we’re bringing the stage, the PA — we’re doing all the work ourselves. It’s just a blank room otherwise. That shows the power of the area and the people involved. It proves the power of local ingenuity.”
Title Fight will be joined by fellow Kingston-based band Westpoint and Newfoundland hardcore punks Maniac. Wilkes-Barre groups War Hungry and Cold World will also perform before heading on a small tour of the American Northeast, which makes the show a family affair; Ned and Ben’s older brother and musical catalyst Alex plays guitar in Cold World.
“Cold World started in 2004, so it’s been a long time now,” Alex said. “Nick (Wojciechowski, drummer), Dan (Mills, vocals) and I are all originally from here. We had all played in bands together prior and we were kind of at a point where we wanted to do something that wasn’t happening in hardcore. We wanted to introduce elements of the 1980s straightforward style mixed with a more 1990s melodic style, so we gave it a shot.”
That shot resulted in two full-length releases on hardcore/metal label Deathwish Inc. Cold World and Title Fight are both nationally touring acts with their own schedules to keep, which makes it hard for the brothers to bring their bands together on one bill.
“I remember watching their first show; I remember watching them practice in the basement,” Alex said. “Just to be able to see where they’ve risen to and how much they’ve accomplished is really cool, and putting that on the same stage with us and what we’ve done … it’s special for those things to be occurring at the same time. I really do treasure it.”
Alex started attending shows in the Wilkes-Barre music scene when he was 14. He saw the events as an alternative to the parties and football games that seemed more appealing to his peers, and when his younger brothers took an interest in the world he inhabited he was able to help them find their place in it. Title Fight began picking up local gigs in 2002 and 2003 by asking Alex’s friends for opening slots on shows, and according to Ned there were a lot of shows in the area to open.
“It was a much different time than now,” Ned said. “There were several different venues going, the main one being Cafe Metropolis on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre. There were a lot of shows going on; there were a lot of bands and it was a very involved local scene then. Now we don’t have a solid local independent music venue. We come from a small town where the arts, especially the underground music scene, is its own thing. It’s not supported by a lot of people other than those who know and care about it.”
The Wilkes-Barre music scene may not be the same as it was in the early 2000s, but the Nov. 25 show is a celebration of the community that held up bands like Title Fight and Cold World. It’s a thank you to the scene that gave teenage Alex Russin a safe place to go and the friends he’d later travel the world with. It’s an opportunity for Ned and Ben to return the favor and provide opening slots to a few of the local acts that Wilkes-Barre continues to produce despite its lack of a solid, dedicated independent venue.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts
Critics described Title Fight’s newest release, “Hyperview,” as a tonal shift for the band; Ned Russin described the album as a snapshot of the group’s recent life experiences as much as it’s a creative progression.
“I think a lot of things drove us towards what “Hyperview” became,” Russin said. “We’re fans of music and we listen to a lot of bands; we listen to new bands all the time. We were checking out new things and bringing that into our sound and, just as important, we have experienced a lot of new things over the last couple of years. It’s a very involved process both creatively and emotionally, and I think a good balance of both of those really drove the progression in our music.”
Russin called the overall critical reception to “Hyperview” rewarding, but he hasn’t lost sight of the reason he got into music in the first place.
“We got into music to write songs we wanted to hear, play with bands we like and meet like-minded people,” Russin said. “That’s been our goal since the beginning. It’s very flattering that people like our record and it’s really nice for people to say kind things, but I’d like to think we would be doing the same thing if we were still playing local shows in Wilkes-Barre and that’s it. We’re not seeking validation through critics, we’re seeking validation through ourselves. That’s an important thing we’ve received through growing up in our town and having the example set by the older people that we knew. That’s very important for us to hold at the forefront of the band.”