Themes and Variation S2E02: “Fight Songs” (with Ian Temple)

“An aptly named number from a bombastic legend of the upright bass… A rage filled rallying cry echoing the emotions of the masses… And an orchestral tapestry filled with elaborate symbolism, in spite of being loathed by its creator…”

In the latest episode of Themes and Variation, our podcast panelists unpack their interpretations of the term “Fight Songs.” This time around, I (your humble host, Mahea Lee) am joined by co-host Martin Fowler and special guest and Soundfly Founder and CEO, Ian Temple to discuss musical selections full of unrelenting angst, righteous indignation, and fiery determination.

This time around, we’ve highlighted songs by Charles Mingus, Rage Against the Machine, and Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky. The conversation touches on topics like mob mentality, the jazz world’s rumor mill, and orchestrated gunfire. Could Mingus swing? Is there a reasoning behind the seemingly unfinished name of a particular ’90s hit? And why does the “1812 Overture” sound so familiar?

Check out the latest episode of Themes and Variation for answers to these questions and more. (*And in fact, this chat also inspired our latest original YouTube video, “THIS is the most defiant song of all-time.”)

Listen here:

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Episode 202 Highlights

1. Martin muses on one of his all-time favorite upright bass players.

Martin: “He had no choice but to be fully outwardly himself, and I think the word ‘bombastic’ is how he lived his whole life. If you ever get the chance to read his autobiography, by the way, that is a tall tale worth spending some time with. That is so fun, so wild. There’s a lot of stories in there where I’m like, ‘I don’t think this happened like this, but I’m not sure.’ Feels like he’s waxing poetic a little bit on some stuff that probably did happen to him, and he makes it just a little larger than life, and that’s just… that’s how I think of him. But then yeah, he’s got sort of an angular quality to some of his writing and arranging that feels related to the way Monk approaches the piano in a lot of ways. That’s how I think of him.”

2. Ian taps into the psychological side of songwriting.

Ian: “It’s like, it builds and then the whole thing locks in. You get this release because the rhythm locks in. You get this release because the scale stops climbing and lands on that like pentatonic riff. You get this vocal release because he starts screaming it on the rhythm and he’s just like letting go. And that whisper has now turned into one unified energy, right? So like, it’s not multiple just individuals whispering. It’s now a unified group of people charging down the street, or marching down the street to achieve an objective. And everyone’s pounding the same drum, the same rhythm, the same kind of surging electrical energy. And I think that probably very much is the dynamic of being in a riot. The psychology of crowds, right?”

3. Mahea shares some surprising information.

Mahea: “Tchaikovsky hated this piece. It’s possible that he came around eventually, but one of the things he had to say about it was, ‘I’m undecided as to whether my overture is good or bad, but it is probably the latter.’ … He ended up putting a lot of symbolism into the writing, but it is just a collection of different pieces of music that he has repurposed and arranged in an expert way… Some of the music is original but yeah, it’s basically a really elaborate puzzle.”

Episode Playlist

With every new episode of Themes and Variation, we launch a new Spotify playlist that includes the songs mentioned in this episode and more. Here’s this episode’s Spotify playlist!

We’ll see you in a couple weeks with a new theme, new guests, and some new songs to break down. If you have any comments, questions, or theme suggestions, drops us a line at [email protected] or find us on Twitter.

And finally, here’s that Rage Against the Machine video that this episode inspired:

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