I Fight Dragons are precisely the sonic "power up" that pop culture needs.
On their debut EP, Cool Is Just a Number… (Photo Finish/Atlantic Records), the Chicago rockers wrap warm harmonies in sounds generated directly from vintage Nintendo soundcards. Released in April 2010, the EP showcases the six-piece's digitized, daring approach to music, mixing chiptune and pop rock. Swirling electronic passages propel "The Faster The Treadmill," while first single "Heads Up, Hearts Down" morphs from a NES-fueled intro into an organic guitar crunch. Equally nodding to Weezer and Final Fantasy, I Fight Dragons approach alt-rock with just the right controller.
Lead vocalist/guitarist Brian Mazzaferri describes the band's enigmatic style best. "We've got pop rock elements, but we've also got original music made using old video game soundcards. We abuse those Gameboy and NES soundcards in a set of musical modes that were defined by early video game music."
"We're basically trying to be a cyborg band,” jokes guitarist Packy Lundholm.
Whether or not they're terminators sent back in time on a mission of rock 'n' roll doesn't matter, because no soundcard is safe from I Fight Dragons. In early 2008, Brian partnered up with keyboardist Bill Prokopow in order to transform a solo demo of "Heads Up, Hearts Down" into something more. "Bill and I stumbled upon chiptune,” says Brian. “I told him that I wanted the beginning of the song to sound like Nintendo music. We used synthesizers at first, but we learned about chiptune soon after. We realized there were ways to access those soundcards and control them in the studio. From there, it was a no-brainer to connect the dots and do rock music in the songs we were making."
After Bill and Brian realized the power of chiptune, they assembled what Brian refers to as a "superhero team" of musicians, including Packy, bassist Hari Rao, and drummer Chad Van Dahm. Pooling their collective powers as I Fight Dragons, they self-produced and recorded Cool Is Just a Number…, officially releasing the EP in early 2009. Once the band began posting songs online, a diehard following rapidly developed with fan sites dedicated to I Fight Dragons popping up all over the internet. To their welcome surprise, their first show sold out. Triumphantly, I Fight Dragons began to infiltrate the Chicago scene with a show at the legendary Metro solidifying their presence further in July 2009.
The band continued cultivating a rabid fan base with another night at the Metro and a show-stealing appearance at the Chicago Warped Tour. Soon after, the band caught the attention of Photo Finish/Atlantic in late 2009. The label became their official home in February 2010, and I Fight Dragons stormed the tour circuit with everyone from Cobra Starship to MC Chris.
With Brian’s respective background in musical theater and the band's use of NES controllers and Power Gloves on stage, the I Fight Dragons live show is quite the experience. "Theatricality is a huge part of the set,” explains Brian. “From the very beginning, we knew that we wanted to put on a show that people had never seen before, and that's where the controllers came in. The Nintendo controllers become physical instruments that we trigger sounds with live. We're not an electronic band simply mixing sounds; the controllers function as instruments. In our live show, we try to deliberately obfuscate that boundary between what's human and what's electronic."
However, I Fight Dragons want to awaken something very human as well, encouraging listeners to hold on to childhood dreams and promise. "The music of the original Mario Bros. series always has a special place in my heart,” says Bill. “Chiptune reminds me of a time when you'd play video games as a kid and good and evil were basically at the same level. This music evokes the same feelings."
"When we were playing Nintendo games as kids, a lot of these sounds became hard wired with this sense of adventure and epic possibility,” Brian continues. “We're not trying to hearken back, but we're trying to bring those emotions forward into a modern context." That said, your gaming console, stereo or iPod have never experienced anything as catchy as I Fight Dragons. Just listen to the perfect balance of video game bombast and soaring rock energy on "No One Likes Superman Anymore" to hear why I Fight Dragons are music's new go-to heroes. With the expanded release of Cool is Just a Number… and a forthcoming full-length on the horizon, I Fight Dragons are breathing fire all their own.