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

Amateur Journalism: #2, Hari Rao of I Fight Dragons (The Near Future album release)

(Today’s post is the second in a series of 4 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 second post focuses on Hari Rao, bassist and puzzling prankster.)

Hari knew at a very young age that rock and roll would be fun. He recalls, “I’d bang on pots and pans pretending to be Tommy Lee, lip synch some Bruce Dickinson lyrics, and mimic Eddie Van Halen on air guitar. Come to think of it, pretending to play the bass guitar is probably not very common. And that’s actually how I came to choose the bass when I bought my first instrument – no one else I knew wanted to play it, which made me a bit of a commodity in the basement music scene of my youth.” The ability to enjoy a less glorious and somewhat workhorse role within a band has served Hari well in I Fight Dragons; other band members, including the front man, Brian, appreciate Hari’s sturdy support, and Hari knows how to keep himself amused…

“I like making music and performing, but I’m also pretty laid back and mild-mannered, not really one for the spotlight.” – Hari Rao, via email

In the band’s blog material, Hari comes across as a bit of a trickster. The post on February 21 of this year, for example, showcases Hari stealing chocolate from Packy, lead guitarist. Hari explains that pranks were especially important to him over the Vans Warped tour this past summer: “As much as we love performing, in some ways tour life can get a bit monotonous at times. Little things like inside jokes/schemes/pranks help keep everyday life on tour interesting.” But Brian warns that some of Hari’s material can end up puzzling other members of the band. (Apparently during the Vans Warped tour Hari did a running gag of stashing musical instruments in band members’ bunks that was hilarious more because Hari really enjoyed it than for its own sake.) Hari does manage to crack himself up consistently, and some of his jokes can be pretty good. When asked whether it was a good idea to buy The Near Future on vinyl as opposed to a digital copy, he quipped, “I’m not much of a salesman but I can build a pretty mean Excel spreadsheet. You need only enter in a few variables in rows 2 through 6 in column B and I’m sure the results of the built-in algorithm will suggest that buying a copy of the vinyl is in your best interest.”

Hari claims that his life outside of the band isn’t all that interesting. He enjoys craft beers, good food, and movies. He likes to play pool and watch football with Chad. Brian confirms that unlike Chad, who steps behind the scene professionally but is more of a social butterfly personally, Hari “actually is shy and quiet,” and lives up to the stereotype of the bassist not wanting to speak for the band. Brian explains that Hari’s nickname in the band is “Sniper”, because in conversation he’ll be super-quiet until he can deliver the perfect line completely out of left field. He also notes that Hari originally wanted the nickname “Machine Gun” but got shouted down: “You can’t pick your own nickname!”

Brian is happy that Hari has been getting bolder on stage. Hari sang third part harmony during the Vans Warped tour, which was a big deal for him. He also has been enjoying the warm connections between the band and their fan base. “Our fans are creative, talented, and show so much enthusiasm to get involved with the band that they are constantly pulling on our heart strings. From the amazing artwork they share with us on the Advance Guard site to the crafts they so thoughtfully make and bring to the shows… it’s a community spirit.” When asked about the delays in the production of The Near Future, Hari was realistic: “the kinds of things that cause delays aren’t things you can really plan for. When these circumstances arise, you just have to decide what is best for the music, the fans, and the band. Unfortunately, sometimes it means going back to the drawing board. The end result is worth it.” Speaking of the end result, you can still order The Near Future online if you aren’t waiting for your copy to be shipped as a Kickstarter backer!

    Other Posts in This Series:

  1. Chad Van Dahm’s Near Future Interview
  2. Packy Lundholm’s Near Future Interview
  3. Brian Mazzaferri’s Near Future Interview

Amateur Journalism: #1, Chad Van Dahm of I Fight Dragons (The Near Future album release)

(Today’s post kicks off a series of 4 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”, public release date December 9 of 2014. Interviews were conducted primarily through email, with supplemental information provided via telephone. This first post focuses on Chad Van Dahm, drummer and all-around great guy.)

On stage, Chad Van Dahm shies away from the spotlight. He prefers it that way. “I like being behind the scenes. I’m also the only 25 year old that doesn’t own a computer,” he asserts, acknowledging that of all the members of I Fight Dragons, Chicago’s homegrown chiptune rock act, he has the least presence on the band’s website.

However, his bandmates see him in a different light. When asked whether Chad is a reticent person on the whole, Brian Mazzaferri (IFD’s vocalist and lyricist, among other prominent roles) countered, “In a personal sense, that’s not true at all,” and described Chad as a “social butterfly.” When it’s time to compose and rehearse, Chad definitely makes his presence known! He uses a “call and respond” method to play counterpoint to IFD’s chiptune instrumentation: “I can play off the chip sounds to create a unique sound.”

Beer, whiskey and drums are my favorite things.  Oh, and hot dogs too.
“Beer, whiskey and drums are my favorite things. Oh, and hot dogs too.” – Chad Van Dahm, via email

Chad’s inspiration to pick up drumsticks came from the rock legend Keith Moon. Of all the bandmates, Chad is the least geeky; Brian, with a laugh, will tell you that playing NFL Blitz on the Nintendo 64 is as geek as Chad gets. He likes crime, mob, and thriller movies, gaining special enjoyment from them due to his law enforcement education. The fraternity, brotherhood, and loyalty of Chicago cops is a big part of Chad’s identity. But Brian states that this difference in interests does not cause tension between Chad and the other members of IFD. “Chad is the most get-along guy in the world!” And above all else, Chad’s love of drumming motivates him to be involved. “If you love to play and wanna get better there is nothing better in the world than hitting that first note in a big room and making it shake.”

Chad believes that the band’s diehard following comes directly from the band members’ accessibility and enthusiasm for personal connection. “We interact with fans on a personal level and we like to get to know them just as much as they want to get to know us,” he says matter-of-factly. He also believes that the vinyl release of The Near Future was a good move for the band, boasting happily that “this vinyl is a piece of art. It’s gorgeous.” If you haven’t placed your order yet, a copy can be purchased online through the band’s digital store. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s scoop on IFD’s bassist, Hari Rao!

    Subsequent Posts in This Series:

  1. Hari Rao’s Near Future Interview
  2. Packy Lundholm’s Near Future Interview
  3. Brian Mazzaferri’s Near Future Interview