kelly gonsalves blows it up…
“I know my fate. One day there will be associated with my name the recollection of something frightful — of a crisis like no other before on earth, of the profoundest collision of conscience, of a decision evoked against everything that until then had been believed in, demanded, sanctified. I am not a man. I am dynamite.” –Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo
Well. What would your first thoughts be? You are standing in the pit of a Sum 41 concert, waiting to see that iconic crazy-haired Canadian band that you’ve been jamming to since the times when punk was still on somewhat-mainstream radio, when suddenly out walks two fairly average-looking men, a single drummer and a single guitarist, ready to duke it out just the two of them, sporting a band name that references an old existentialist mantra from the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche.
It’s safe to say this isn’t exactly your normal set-up. But according Christopher Phillips, one half of the dynamic duo known as IAMDYNAMITE, this is exactly the kind of “pop” factor that the band thrives on. It’s all in the name.
When they first started the band a little ways outside of Detroit, MI, with Christopher Phillips on drums and Christopher Martin on guitar, the boys operated under the name Mahoney, a fairly empty title chosen mostly for shits and giggles. There was no meaning to it, Phillips explains, just that they thought it was funny. However, as time went on and their music started meeting more and more success, including winning signage with Brando Records in 2008, they decided it was time for a new identity. It wasn’t a “eureka!” kind of moment; it was more like a little bit of a chance encounter with some good literature.
“We went to a bar and just started listing names,” says Phillips. “Chris [Martin] was reading existentialism books for no reason, and this was a quote in it: ‘I’m not a man, I am dynamite.’ It stuck out. It was a positive thing. A big positive thing.”
According to Phillips, it took a while for the name to stick. They had to lay it out, see it there in front of them, “give it a fair shake.” But it isn’t hard to see why it worked. There is something that simply pops about the name IAMDYNAMITE – from the fully-capitalized stylization to the explosive positivity that radiates from its meaning. It arouses curiosity. It draws attention in every way possible. It’s visually appealing, marketable even. Add that to the existentialist background story — a reference from Nietzsche’s biographical work entitled Ecce Homo (roughly translated as How One Becomes What One Is) that ponders what it means to be human — and you have one hell of a band name to live up to.
“There is a personality that you have to have with that. You go out, you give it all you got, and that’s it.”
Phillips, himself, seems to be breathing his own precepts: there is a childish excitement in his voice, rearing to ramble on and on about his band and the stories behind it. He jumps into explanations before I even finish asking each question. He is not wild and boisterous like the name had me expecting; on the contrary, the man, though full of a sunny energy and a decent measure of confidence, displays a surprisingly down-to-earth sentimentality. The philosophical side of that name comes into play far more quickly than expected.
“Take the title of the album,” Phillips continues, referencing their latest release, SUPERMEGAFANTASTIC, which features a title as bold as the band’s own. “It’s more positive words. When people read positive words, or look at positive things, it makes them feel better.”
SUPERMEGAFANTASTIC, released in early March of this year, is the band’s first official album release. Featuring head-banging singles like “Where Will We Go” and garage-gang sing-alongs like “Ms. Jones,” this 10-song record portrays IAMDYNAMITE just as they are: two guys rocking hard. Even if you happened to stumble upon their music without seeing them live first or reading lengthy interview pieces such as this one, it is easy to recognize the single, uninterrupted chemistry between guitarist and drummer. There is no attempt to mask the fact that this is a two-man band: you hear a barrage of guitar tracks, a bombastic display of drums, and a two-part harmony. They don’t misrepresent themselves whatsoever. The sound this set-up produces, in turn, is quirky, unique, and surprisingly clean. SUPERMEGAFANTASTIC lacks the clutter usually felt in most bands’ first records; this album is proof that this duo knows exactly how to use their numbers to their advantage.
Prior to forming IAMDYNAMITE, the two Christophers dabbled in several other bands, many with the traditional four or five members composition.
“Decisions are harder, practicing is harder, getting another opinion is harder. Having just two people — it makes things a little more focused. There’s no majority rules. If one guy doesn’t like it, it’s not gonna happen,” says Phillips on his current band’s dynamic. He admits that there could be some setbacks to working with just two people, but he doesn’t seem too worried: “If there’s a limitation, there’s a way around it. There’s limitations in every band. But we haven’t found them yet. If we find one, we’ll work our way around it.”
Growing up in a small town in southeastern Michigan, “working around it” was the only way for the boys to thrive as musicians. Both his and Martin’s parents were musicians, so the affinity for the craft came quite naturally.
“We had a music room in our house, a studio, drum sets. It was kind of all around us,” he says.
He talks about long nights travelling in a van, jamming in each other’s basements as high school students, and working hard just to make ends meet. Phillips himself had been pulled into his first band with Martin very suddenly: he received a call one night from a band in need of a drummer for a gig they had in 8 days. He agreed to play with them, and from there, he never really left it. At the time, working with in a band of several people, they did mostly covers with just one or two original songs. Things only started to change when the group entered college.
“Everyone sort of went their own way through college, but we were the guys who wanted to do it,” explains Phillips. One by one, he watched the members of the band fade away, as often happens when young bands transition from high school to college and then from college into the working world. “It’s a hard decision to make when you’re like, what do I do? Do I make this my career and go for it? Or do I do my day job and do this on the weekends?”
Phillips earned a music degree in college, and both he and Martin worked as music teachers before they decided to formally hit the road as active musicians. He seems very distanced from his former life as he talks about, as if he doesn’t quite remember what it was like. There’s a energy rising in him as he explains his decision-making process at the time: “Do we wanna be teachers, do we wanna be a bar band, or do we wanna be artists? A lot of people would be okay with all that other stuff but us — we wanna be out there doing it.”
(The speech goes on a while, and I comment on how moving and eloquent his dialogue is, after which he apologizes immediately for the over-the-top display of passion. We both laugh, and I tell him quite frankly that he has no need to apologize. He knew exactly what he wanted, and he went after it. After all these years, he’s still going after it.)
From then on, Phillips and Martin decided to pull in the reins and push forward with their “wild and crazy dream,” as Phillips calls it. And so far, things have been going smoothly. IAMDYNAMITE, after catching the eye of their new label and the ear of Blue October’s bassist Matt Noveskey, has been meeting much success, touring with bands like: Blue October itself, Bowling For Soup, Sum 41, and many others. In terms of long-term goals, IAMDYNAMITE just seeks to “stay relevant, stay current, and keep the music out there.”
If they could describe their mojo in just two words, Phillips explains, it would be “good time.”
“If we’re put there and we’re playing, playing the same songs every night could get really boring. But if we’re having fun doing it, that goes out. That makes people start dancing, singing along, clapping their hands. When we go out, we just wanna hype everybody out and have a good time. That’s a big thing. Sometimes driving around the U.S. is boring, but you just gotta have fun with it–”
And somewhere between the lines of all the dramatic speeches Phillips gives without realizing it, that ol’ Nietzsche dogma comes creeping stealthily back in. The positivity, the energy, the explosions – it all boils down to this.
“Do what you want with your life. Live it. Do as much as you possibly can.”