Amateur Journalism: #4, Brian Mazzaferri of I Fight Dragons (The Near Future album release)

(Today’s post is the fourth and final in a series of posts containing original interviews with the members of chiptune rock band I Fight Dragons as they geared up for the release of their new album, “The Near Future”, due out December 9 of 2014. Interviews were conducted primarily through email, with supplemental information provided via telephone. This final post focuses on Brian Mazzaferri, chiptune composer, lyricist, rhythm guitar player, and leader of the Dragon Fighters – whether he likes it or not…)

Brian’s thought process involves a lot of tension between binary opposites, and effort to integrate those opposites into something greater. Here are some examples of these tensions and moves toward integration:

  • Are Dragons Friends or Foes?
    “I LOVE dragons, always have. My favorite fiction as a kid was young adult stuff by writers like Jane Yolen and Anne McCaffrey where humans got to have dragons as their best friends. That said, as I grew up and began to gravitate towards writerly / creative pursuits, I’ve always naturally envisioned the endeavor as an epic-fantasy style quest, which often involves the more traditional view of the dragon as the arch villain. Actually in the new poster that comes with “The Near Future” we’re all pictured in a giant battle where we’re both riding dragons AND fighting dragons.”
  • Is Rock Music Better Than Folk Music?
    “I’ll always have a love and appreciation for folk, and likely I’ll go back to singer/songwriter style stuff at some point in the future. Honestly, in college I didn’t have a band together, so I wrote and performed songs by myself with an acoustic guitar. In hindsight many of those songs really wanted to be full-band songs anyway (I first started playing with Hari and Packy when I recruited them to be my backing band and for a brief period we performed as “Brian Mazzaferri and the Tenured Professors” among other such ill-conceived names. That said, while I absolutely love writing small songs like “Not I,” “With You,” and the new one from The Near Future called “Always,” I have a hard time listening to entire albums of small songs. My favorite singer/songwriter albums like Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” expand and explore different directions musically and instrumentally.”
  • Is Information Technology a Good Thing?
    “I grew up in a very tech-forward house. My mother was a freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune in my youth and would send in her articles in the late 80’s over a 1200 baud modem. My dad is an IT consultant, so we had a LAN network at home well before it was widespread tech, and my friends would come over so that we could play networked games of Warcraft 2. I’ve always had a love of tech, and I don’t think that will ever change. There is a twist to this story though: my attitude towards information has had to change as I’ve grown up. I’m an information junkie, I devour books and articles and basically any kind of informational input in a constant and compulsive effort to understand EVERYTHING. This was very useful when I was younger, since it was generally very easy to devour every piece of information that came across my path and still have time to chew on it all and digest it. Of course, over time as connectivity increased that became impossible. Social media, torrents (now Spotify thank you very much), ebooks, and the internet in general all put WAY more information in my path than I could safely digest without my brain exploding, so these days I actually have to put pretty steep filters in my own way to keep me from becoming informationally obese and non-functional.
  • Is Life a Quest?
    “I think humans naturally gravitate toward the ‘quest’ story, it’s primal stuff, Joseph Campbell’s Hero With 1000 Faces, Robert McKee’s Archplot, and I have to think that has something to do with the way our brains are wired. The quest archetype carries so much causality in it, everyone gets what they deserve in the end, and most importantly everything that happens makes some kind of logical sense. I know it holds a deep resonance for me personally (clearly), but I also think it has real pitfalls when we try to apply it to RL. Real life is chaotic, random, assholes and wonderful people can both prosper, hardworking people die unsung every day, good people do bad things, bad people do good things, and good and bad themselves tend to be heavily dependent upon your individual perspective and context. When it comes to real life I think my own personal philosophy tends to be a bit closer to Zen ideas of practice and non-achievement than to quest-based thinking, since life just has too many factors to fit comfortably into the ‘quest’ storyline, as appealing as it is.”
“I’m probably not all THAT great, but I probably don’t suck THAT bad either. And in the end, does it really matter if I’m great or if I suck? I want to make music with my friends, so I make the music with my friends that we want to make.” – Brian Mazzaferri, via email
    And last but certainly not least (at least when it comes to The Near Future and Project Atma, the Kickstarter that backed it):

  • Is Fame Important?
    “I think before I was ever signed I had a little voice in my head that constantly whispered “Kid, your songs are the BEST. This shit is GOLD. People will eventually discover it and you’ll take your rightful place of glory.”. Of course, this voice was on one shoulder while I had another voice on my other shoulder whispering “Kid, your songs SUCK. What the fuck makes you think you have any right to call yourself a songwriter? You know in your heart that you’re destined to fail.” At any given point one of the two voices was winning, and enough of the time I really genuinely thought I was doing good work that it kept me moving forward and always trying to improve and grow. When we first got signed, that first voice was likely at its strongest. “See?? What did I tell you, I knew you were awesome, and a major label agrees, they believe in you!” Of course, the next step was 2 years of a grueling process in which every new song I wrote was immediately subjected to the dichotomy of “it’s a no-brainer smash hit single” or “it’s worthless.”

    “Over the course of those two years the “Brian Rocks” voice was basically beaten to death and by the time we left the label it seemed like there was nothing but the “Brian Sucks” voice left echoing in my head. Before we even decided to do Project Atma, I tried an experiment, and for a month I told the “Brian Sucks” voice to fuck off, that I was going to try and write something just for me, that I really genuinely wasn’t going to care whether or not it was ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or a ‘hit’ or ‘commercially useless’, which invalidated all of the “Brian Sucks” voices best arguments and short circuited him for a time. It was during that month that I wrote The Near Future song cycle (the first side of the album), which led to me recovering enough mojo to want to give the dream of Project Atma a real shot and make the album into a real thing. Currently, I think I’m back to a pretty healthy balance of the two voices, but there’s also a sense in which neither voice has as much power as it used to.”

If you come right out and ask Brian about the way his thought process seems to move through tension to integration and back again, he will laugh and quote Shunryu Suzuki at you. From Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

“This is the most important teaching: not two, and not one. Our body and mind are not two and not one. If you think your body and mind are two, that is wrong; if you think that they are one, that is also wrong. Our body and mind are both two and one.” (Suzuki 25)

He will also state, simply and eloquently, “It helps to contextualize things,” and that this is his overall quest and goal.

    Previous Posts in This Series:

  1. Chad Van Dahm’s Near Future Interview
  2. Hari Rao’s Near Future Interview
  3. Packy Lundholm’s Near Future Interview

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