Last Friday, I had the pleasure of seeing a local band by the name of I Fight Dragons play at the Elbow Room. A couple of things made that event special. A) After about 6 years, via Twitter, I was able to reconnect with a high school friend (Brian M. Singer of IFD) B) Video Games and Good Music are great. Video Games and Music TOGETHER are better. And C) CTR prides itself on finding uses of technology in all aspects of life. IFD was a perfect example of the kinds of stories we at the tech report want to share with the rest of our fellow Chicagoans.
Do yourself a favor and check out the video. Additionally, Brian was kind enough to give us a great overview of I Fight Dragons and where you can connect with them if their music strikes your fancy.
1. What's behind the band name?
I was randomly trying to think of cool T-shirt design ideas for nothing specific, when I came up with the concept of the words I Fight Dragons and a little guy holding a sword and shield. I had recently become obsessed with Chiptune (8-bit) music and that T-shirt idea struck a chord in me. It represented everything that I think art and music should be, putting oneself on the line and fighting one's own fears and demons (and dragons). I decided instead of a T-shirt it should be a logo for a new band that would combine chiptune and pop/rock, and so I went about assembling just such a band.
2. One of the main reasons you caught our attention at CTR was because of your heavy use of old school gaming hardware to manipulate and contribute to your music. What got your band interested in doing this? Do you think that the video game influence that you grew up with will always have some sort of influence on your music?
Well, I've always loved video games, especially the older ones like the original NES and SNES games I grew up on. In the days before we had the graphics and processing ability to make the modern, 3-D marvels of today, the games themselves had to be simple, well-designed, addicting, and awesome, since the graphics and gameplay were inherently limited by the computing technology.
That said, it started primarily with the sounds. When I was getting into the chiptune genre, I became fascinated by the range of sounds that could be created by an NES soundcard and how the technical limitations inspired the original composers to find innovation in other areas of their compositions. I also was blown away by the applications those sounds had in modern music in all kinds of genres, and by the chords the sounds struck in me, probably partially because of my fond memories of hours spent playing old NES games.
So, as we were recording our first songs, I was trying to figure out how we were going to play these NES sounds live. In a lot of live electronic music performances people sit at a laptop (or a gameboy or two in the case of chiptune musicians) and tweak things, which is cool but not very interesting to watch. So I thought that if we were playing NES sounds, there had to be a way to rig up NES controllers as instruments to play live. Well, it's very complicated and took Bill and I sitting down for 5+ hours programming each song, but it is indeed possible with a little ingenuity, a soldering gun, and a LOT of time.
On the other side there's a couple of programs for making music using the gameboy, I was able to acquire a cartridge with a program called Little Sound DJ that I use to program my Game Boy (original and vintage thank you very much) to play all-chiptune versions of our songs. That also is fun and VERY time consuming :)
3. Digital Marketing is a key element of success to any modern band. Myspace seems to be the goto network to help get mass reach for your band name, but can tell us a bit more about what other forms of online/offline media you're leveraging to introduce music fans to I Fight Dragons?
Oh man, that's a huge question. Obviously the music industry has been turned on its head in the past years and is going through some major changes, so now more than ever it's really important for bands to take control of their own destiny, and the internet is of course a prime tool for doing so. That said, there's SO MUCH on the internet that can sap your time and energy while getting you nowhere, so it's a tough battle to make sure your work is paying off. MySpace is a good standard, since people these days habitually go to a band's MySpace even before their website, since they know what to expect and will get to hear a few of their best songs. From there though, we're also using Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, iLike, and a bunch more. There's also a lot of cool new innovative music sites like thesixtyone.com, places that are taking new approaches to finding great new music. It's tricky though because you never want to spam people, which is always a danger when you're using social networking sites to promote your music. Basically we're far more interested in ways to form relationships with people who are into our music than in spamming our name out there to the world, and we're trying to keep our priorities set accordingly.
Offline, we mostly just focus on making our shows awesome events that we would really enjoy attending ourselves. I know if I went to a show where the band was hopping around on a Power Pad and using a Power Glove and there was an 80's TV with an Atari on it, I would be pretty damn stoked. We also try to put up neat and artistic 8-bit-inspired posters for our shows too, mostly because they're fun to make.
4. Who do you consider your core fanbase? What other bands would you compare yourself to?
Well I think our main listeners are people who love smart pop/rock and share our affection for the NES. My favorite band is Fountains of Wayne, and there's definitely a lot of Weezer and Postal Service influence in our sound too. I think we've got a bit of the Playradioplay! / Crystal Castles vibe too, but a little less dancey. On the chiptune side artists like YMCK and the whole 8-bit-peoples roster have definitely influenced us a lot. My favorite NES themes are Final Fantasy, Megaman 2, Blaster Master and Zelda. When pressed to describe our sound (as bands so often are) we usually tell people our sound is a bit like Weezer meets Postal Service inside a Nintendo.
5. Tell us a bit more about upcoming gigs and IFD appearances.
We just had our CD Release show February 6, and we have a lot of stuff in the works. We're going to be on the radio in Chicago Feb. 23rd, 89.5FM and online at Vocalo.org, and we may be playing the Empty Bottle on March 1st, but that's not 100% yet (I'll know for sure before Friday so I'll update you). We're also playing at the International Pop Overthrow festival in April at the Abbey Pub, a rare all-ages show, but the date is not 100% set yet. We're also looking at possibly setting up a show with an awesome video-game auction site www.dawdle.com where people can come and play video games and see us play at the same time, but as with everything else, there's no date for that yet. We'll definitely keep our MySpace fully updated with more firm dates as time goes on, and people can also sign up for our email list at our website or our MySpace to receive free stuff and updates from us regularly.
If you're interested in hearing/learning more from IFD you can find them here: