I Fight Dragons’ Brian Mazzaferri on wading through a world of money
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To quickly dispel a long-standing idiom, it’s money—not love—that makes the world go ’round. I Fight Dragons is well aware of how the desire to acquire currency can motivate people, which is why the band put together a little diatribe called (no points for guessing) “Money.” “Green is where it’s at / Green will never let you down / You can bet your life on that / Win the bet and buy your crown / Because when pushing comes to shove / Money conquers faith and love / You can buy ’em up for nothing down,” sings guitarist-vocalist Brian Mazzaferri, with slow-burn dissatisfaction simmering in his voice. Juxtaposed with all of this lyrical bile are the five-piece’s ultra-hooky, power-pop-gone-chiptune sound and an amusing music video that features takeoffs on Mega Man, Pac-Man, and Super Mario Bros. Altered 8-bit sounds and graphics evidently make good tools for cultural commentary.
I Fight Dragons will stop by Metro Saturday, Dec. 17. In light of the band’s most-renowned song’s subject matter, The A.V. Club figured it would be appropriate to talk to Mazzaferri about money; namely, where the band first started receiving some, what the band members would do with a lot of it, and what other notable songs it inspired.
The A.V. Club: How did you earn the first dollar from I Fight Dragons, and how do you remember spending it?
Brian Mazzaferri: Okay, let’s see. Before we even put out our EP [2009’s Cool Is Just A Number], we played a show in Chicago at the Elbo Room. We played a couple of these shows where we didn’t tell anybody. We didn’t have any music on the Internet, but we just wanted to make sure that we could even physically make our controllers, and the sort of setup we had envisioned, work. There was still a fairly big turnout among just people that we knew. From the ticket sales of that, we made a little bit of money. It was in the dollars range. But yeah, for the most part, almost all of that early money was put right back into buying more stuff for the band: more controllers, investing in making T-shirts, and all of that. For a long time, it was—and still, honestly continues to be—a lot of money being reinvested in different gear and different things to make our show better, and things like that.
AVC: What’s the most expensive thing the band has spent money on?
BM: I’d say the most expensive thing we’ve bought, music-wise, is our in-ear rigs. We’ve kind of piecemealed it together. There’s different individual parts, but at this point, all five of us have in-ear monitors. And we’ve got our own rack onstage, which we use to run them, and it’s really important, because we have so much three-part harmony. For the longest time on our first tour, and just playing around, it was such a fight to try and tune three-part harmonies in a rock band. It’s just so loud, and the monitor situation everywhere is unpredictable at best, so, piece by piece, we each got five different in-ear monitors, transmitters, and finally the last piece that kind of brought it all together was a rack—a little mixer. It was a chunk of change to put it all together, but it’s still worth it musically, because we’re able to tune our harmonies and really sing so much better because we have that control.
AVC: By the grace of God or Publishers Clearing House, the band receives a check tomorrow for $10,000. What are you going to spend it on within the band?
BM: One of the biggest things would be probably a bunch of new drum cymbals for Chad [Van Dahm] and probably new amps for us. I like our setup now. We’re going direct from POD HD pedals on guitar, which is kind of a cool, convenient setup. But in our dream world, I would love to get Mesa Boogies [amplifiers], or even just Mesa combos, to play through. We could easily sink several thousand dollars into upgrading that gear.
AVC: After that, another check comes by. This one’s for a million dollars. This can be a bit more open-ended, as you’ve got to bump it up when you have that much money. What would you do with it?
BM: Wow. I’d say the biggest thing—and any touring band will tell you this—is that they’d love a gorgeous touring vehicle. One of the biggest rigors of the road, depending on what you’re traveling in: You’re either in a van or some kind of custom-built apparatus. Or, if you’re doing really well, you can be in a bus or something like that. If we’re talking a million dollars, owning a tour bus would be awesome, or some kind of vehicle that lets you get on the road, [and] an awesome touring vehicle with a studio built in. Some of the people we’ve toured with have occasionally had studio buses follow them around, and I’d say that would be the coolest thing. Also along those lines, we’d definitely build our own studio in Chicago. A million dollars is a lot of money though. [Laughs.]
AVC: Moving onto IFD’s song, did any specific situation inspire “Money”? The lyrics seem very pointed.
BM: Actually, that song was written as a project. There was an assignment—not like a school assignment, it was for this sort of publishing thing—and there was this TV show looking for a theme song, and it was all about lawyers and greed and all this stuff. And it just got me thinking about what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about greed, lawyers, and that sort of thing. It basically came out in one rush. I was like, “Well, here’s my thoughts on that.” It was very kind of easy to write.
AVC: How did the song end up as the theme for WWE’s “Money In The Bank” pay-per-view in 2010? What’s especially interesting in this case is that I Fight Dragons isn’t like most bands WWE chooses to provide themes. Most are hard rock or metal.
BM: Someone from WWE was an I Fight Dragons fan and liked the song, and I think suggested it internally to their people, who reached out to us. We were like, “Hell yes! We would love to be a part of that.” We got to go down and be special guests at the “Monday Night Raw” before “Money In The Bank,” and it was so fun. We did an 8-bit version of The Miz’s theme song, and he ended up winning, which was awesome. He was our pick.
AVC: Are there any other money-related songs you’re fond of? There are many out there, including The O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money” and Aerosmith’s “Eat the Rich.”
BM: Yeah, man, there’s tons of money songs. There’s a song that’s out there now, “I Need A Dollar.”
AVC: Yeah, by Aloe Blacc.
BM: [Sings.] “I need a dollar / A dollar is what I need.”
AVC: Do you have a favorite money-related song, or one that interprets the topic in a particularly interesting way?
BM: Hm. That’s an interesting question. I don’t know about “favorite”—I like a lot of those ones—but The Beatles’ one [“Money (That’s What I Want)”] is the first one that came to mind, but I’m not even sure they wrote that, because that was earlier-period. It might have been a cover. I love the cover version that is the same song as The Beatles. It’s a very loungy version that was in some Quentin Tarantino movie, too.
AVC: Was it the one by The Flying Lizards?
BM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That one’s awesome. The tone to me just reflects the attitude so perfectly of [sings] “I want money / That’s what I want.” It’s that kind of devoid, soulless, slimy feeling I’ve always found incredibly appropriate. The thing I like about that song, too, is that it’s double-edged. It’s deceptively simple, saying “I want money” and stuff, but especially that version shows the double-sided nature of wanting it, but also not wanting to want it. I feel like that ends up saying a lot about our modern struggles with wanting to have money, but not wanting to want money.
AVC: For the sake of this discussion, let’s say I Fight Dragons is a straight chiptune band. How do you feel about chiptune’s future financial prospects compared to other niche genres, such as dubstep, hardcore, or avant-garde jazz?
BM: That’s an interesting question, because there’s a lot [to think about] there, because chiptune is definitely a part of what we do. I enjoy a lot of straight chiptune artists as well, but chiptune is a funny thing even to think of as a genre, because it’s actually an instrument. It’s like saying “guitar music.” While that makes sense, too—you can say “guitar music,” and that will have some sense of a genre—but technically, classical acoustic guitar and heavy metal are both varieties of guitar music. You can actually use chiptune to make avant-garde jazz, like YMCK or things like that. I don’t really know. I feel like that’s a larger question, because you’re discussing the financial future of music to begin with, and especially of niche musicians, which is always going to kind of be a catch-as-catch-can life. If you’re working in a niche, you have to sort of carve your own way to make it work, and people do. For what we do, I feel like actually we’re a little more based in pop rock, but that in and of itself is an open question right now. All the music magazines have declared that rock died this year, and we’re at the end of an era—and who knows? I feel like, personally, we’re not done yet. There’s got to be something that breaks through and brings it back, but we’re at the down point of a cycle for sure. None of the top 10 albums of the past few years have been rock albums. I feel like people are kind of getting sick of the straight-up electronic, soul-free stuff. It’s not that I don’t like electronic sounds, obviously—but sonically, I do gravitate towards the rock end of the spectrum, and I’m excited to see what’s going to come on that front, because I feel like it’s due for a resurgence.