Okay, I want you to do me a favor. Yes, you, the one reading this. Okay. Try and remember what it was like to wake up as a kid, and pull out your Game Boy. Remember that time you kicked butt and leveled up your Charmeleon, before slowly turning into a Charizard in Pokemon? How about finally beating The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of TIme?
Yes, those were indeed simpler times. There was one element of those games, however, that always stood out to me: the music. And apparently, it stood out to a group of five guys in Chicago, IL. Rock band I Fight Dragons have had a knack for always creating unique music, whether it's focusing on one song or an entire concept album. They've successfully been able to combine both elements of modern rock with chiptune music (i.e., the video game music I was referring to earlier).
I had the pleasure of chatting with lead singer Brian Mazzaferri about their newest album, "The Near Future", and their upcoming appearance at the Denver, CO "Nerd Prom". Check out the interview below.
I listened to “The Near Future” in full last night. Great record. Clearly there is some kind of story behind this album. Mind explaining the details of this story for fans?
Oh absolutely! So the first half (or side) of the record is a concept song-cycle. The song-cylce is called “The Near Future”. It has a companion graphic novel booklet that goes with it. The digital version on iTunes comes with an iTunes/iPad formatted version as well. The version on our site just comes with a big PDF.
But yeah, it’s supposed to be read as you listen to it. There’s instrumental passages throughout the record, and it’s supposed be a journey as you listen to it song by song. The second half of the album is more traditional in terms of stand-alone songs.
One of the biggest standouts for me on this album was that, I think, the chiptune elements and rock elements were split into separate songs for the first ten tracks, and then they sort of come together in the final five songs. Was that intentional in the layout of the album?
A little bit! In the first half, the chiptune songs are used as a dramatic element, so it represents a lot of the other-worldly stuff. With the song cycle, it’s got aliens from another dimension and all that. So sometimes when there’s stuff that’s happening with super powers and all that stuff, that’s where we would use the chiptune parts. It becomes kind of its own character as it goes through.
But yeah! It does end up being in different spots and serving different purposes as opposed to the second half, which is just everything at once.
How would you say that the material on “The Near Future” differs in comparison to an album like “KABOOM!”?
Well I think in a lot of ways, with KABOOM!, we were on a label at the time. Our sort of goal at the time was to the best I Fight Dragons album pop record we could make. Not pop per se, but in terms of trying to make great standalone, single songs. And we tried to write a ton of them. I have a deep appreciation for the individual awesome song. That’s absolutely what we were going for on KABOOM!, in terms of our production. It was everything in the kitchen sink, all thrown in there. A lot of those songs came into from various demos that were almost full recordings already. So the recording process itself was kind of a matter of just fleshing that out.
“The Near Future” was kind of the opposite. We were starting from a place of “let’s have a big hulking concept and see what we can build around that concept.” Musically then, it evolves in sort of the same way with these bare-bone acoustic demos that we then, as a band, put together in more complex arrangements and things that I’d say are, musically, much more complex (than KABOOM!). But they’re sometimes more straightforward arrangement-wise. There’s not always a million things going on at once, but the things that are going on are kind of more complex, in that way. I’d say the evolution is seeing what we can do around a concept of tossing out the idea of a hit single, in terms of the genesis of The Near Future.
I have to ask, who designed the album artwork for “The Near Future”? It’s awesome. It looks like a rad sci-fi novel you’d find at an old bookstore.
It was from an amazing artist named Ryan Mauskopf. He’s actually the same artist that did the artwork for KABOOM! Really great guy. He’s done a couple posters for us as well. We just keep working with him at every chance, because he’s really awesome.
As I was doing research for this interview, I stumbled upon a flyer for an event you’re hosting called Nerd Prom. I’m intrigued. Can you tell fans a little bit more about what they can expect from this event?
Sure! So we’re not actually hosting it, per se, but we are playing it! I think it’s been put on for the past few years by Andy “Rok” Guerrero, whose one of the founding members of Flobots. They’ve been doing it for a few years, and it’s been getting bigger and bigger. This year he called us. We’ve known Andy for a few years. He said you guys have to come out to play, and we said alright!
But yeah, it is essentially what it sounds like! Andy’s band is going to play, we’re going to play, and then the big finale is going to be sort of a performance of the entirety of “Awesome Mix, Vol. 1” from Guardians of the Galaxy. Andy’s putting it altogether, he’s the mastermind. But it’s going to be a really fun night.
I ask these two questions to every artist that I interview. The first: what kind of message would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
I think it all boils down for us, to…well it’s funny. At the end of side one, there’s a song called “Fighting On”. For us, I think that kind of sums up the core message of I Fight Dragons material, to just keep going. Even when stuff seems horrible, you keep going anyway and get to a place where things get better. When you boil it down like that, it seems pretty cheesy, but at the core of a lot of what we do, I’d say that’s sort of the message. No one has it figured out, so you’re not alone, and you’ve just gotta keep going. Keep fighting the good fight.
What does music mean to you?
Whoa. (laughs). Music, to me, is a way to communicate emotions, at its core. Lyrics are one thing, and they can communicate ideas and thoughts, but there’s a famous quote by an old lyricist. I think it was Yip Harburg. I heard it back from a professor back in college and it’s stuck with me for a long time. The quote was “Words make you think, music makes you feel, and songs make you feel thoughts.” That absolutely is what I think of when I think of songs and the songs that really mean something to me. It’s a thought loaded with the emotion that comes with it.
Anything else you would like to include in this interview that you’d like to let fans know about?
Yeah! If you haven’t heard the new album yet, go and check it out. We’ve got new lyric videos on YouTube so you can have the whole experience of it, even if you don’t have the physical album. If you’re in the Denver area, come out to Nerd Prom! And we’ll probably have some new tour plans out soon, but we don’t have anything on the books just yet beyond Nerd Prom.
I Fight Dragons
This has been another Shameless Promotion.