Behind the Beat: Dragon Slayers

It turns out Valley band Problem With Dragons really do have an issue with the mythical creatures that inhabit their moniker.

"We just have a problem with dragons," says guitarist, songwriter and lead singer Robert "Robo" Ives. "Show us someone who doesn't. They suck!"

Point taken.

Ives formed Problem With Dragons a few years back to help realize a weighty catalogue of unreleased and unperformed tracks. "We started in the basement of Grant Street in Easthampton in October-ish of 2007," he says. "I had 10 years worth of demos, Joe [Magrone] needed a band—and something to help keep him alive—and Jeremy [Dubs] said he would play drums: cool!

"Our first show, we played three songs: 'Betray Us,' 'Jesus Chainsaw Massacre' and—I don't remember. The second show we played was the Happy Valley Showdown, [in its] first year. Wheeeee—we were a band!"

Dubs has since vacated the drum throne, to be replaced eventually by Jenn Ramsey. The lineup is now set and rocking, but is not afraid to feature a guest player here and there. "We had Matt Bachand of Shadows Fall play drums for us one time," Ives says. "It was a benefit show for an adoption agency and Matt helped us keep from flaking out on that gig. Thanks, Matt, hope your new album sells like a mofo."

Problem With Dragons play heavy, fuzzed-out, unself-conscious music, a meaty stew of metal, punk and stoner rock with a dash of sludge. The songs feature layered, multi-tracked vocals that range from eerie and creepy to primal scream, all backed by heavy riffage that alternately shreds and plods.

According to Ives, the songwriting process begins with him and culminates on stage. "I write some riffs, record them onto Cool Edit Pro [software], loop them, add some vocals, add some drum beats, add some bass. Then [we] learn to play it live. Pretty simple, really."

Part of the band's mission is to rock hard in a world they feel is currently lacking in hard rock, but for them it goes even deeper than that. Through their music—as highlighted by songs like "Salvation"—Problem With Dragons can get downright political.

"As a band, we believe in disemboweling our completely fascist country," says Ives. "Stripping the rich white fundamentalist Christian Republicans of all their power and influence over our people, and restoring all of our rights and freedoms. A lot of terrible shit has happened over the last eight or nine years, unbelievable shit. Cut it out!"

While they take pleasure in railing against the system, there is a lighter side to the group as well, Ives contends. "As friends and as rockers, we believe in rocking hard, partying with friends, having fun, meeting other cool bands and living it up. Life goes by quick—do it while you can."

And what about the group's influences?

"We like to joke and say Linkin Park featuring Jay-Z, but that is just not funny at all!" Ives says.

Instead, he reels off a list of over 20 artists, from Megadeth, Iron Maiden and Danzig to Fugazi, Clutch, Killing Joke, Tears for Fears, Hall and Oates, and Lionel Richie. "The Dragons' music might not obviously reflect all of these influences, but they are definitely in there! We love music."

Problem With Dragons love to play live as well, and invite everyone to come out and join the party. They are also busy recording a full-length album.

Ives is feeling positive about what the future holds: "Recording, writing, playing, rocking, partying, having a good time, West Coast tour, a 300-watt tube bass head, finding a way to take it to the next level—maybe a record deal? Please!—try to make all this pay off. [We're] not looking to be the next big thing or get rich, just looking to be able to survive in this so-called free country as musicians or artists."

For songs and shows, visit

Author: Matthew Dube

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