My Brother – Using the Power of Money to Pursue Your Passion

My Brother - Using the Power of Money to Pursue Your Passion

On today’s episode of the Financial Independence Podcast, I interview my little brother while drinking wine next to a canal in Venice!

Financial Independence Podcast Live in Venice

Brian, who is three years younger than me, isn’t actively pursuing financial independence but he’s done some really impressive things with his money and has used the power that money provides to fully pursue his passions.

Blue Coupe Performance

Brian Playing Cowbell with Members of Blue Öyster Cult

In fact, he’s currently in the middle of a ~6-month mini-retirement and is using the time off to travel and hopefully take his music career to the next level.

We dive into a lot of interesting financial topics but we also degenerate into some brotherly chat, which produced classic quotes like this one: “I took my solids elsewhere.”

Brian's Apartment

Brian’s “Apartment”

Hope you enjoy it!

And if you want to ask Brian anything (or if you have any connections in the traveling-musical-theater industry), please add a comment below!

Listen Now

  • Listen on iTunes
  • Stream audio file here
  • Download MP3 by right-clicking here


  • How we are different when it comes to money (including his much more extreme level of frugality)
  • Why he chose to live in a place with no heat, hot water, air conditioning, sink, or toilet
  • How to save money as a musician/artist
  • Why focusing on buying more gear misses the point and how you can avoid that common trap
  • How to utilize the power of quitting even if you aren’t financially independent
  • What it’s like tasting the early retirement lifestyle
  • Why learning a language abroad is a great way to travel
  • The pros and cons of having a day job when you’re an artist
  • How to get a dream job in the arts
  • Using mini-retirements and part-time work to pursue your passion

Show Links

Full Transcript

Mad Fientist: Hey! Welcome everyone to the Financial Independence Podcast, the podcast where I dissect the brains of some of the best and brightest in personal finance to find out how they achieved financial independence. I’m your host, the Mad Fientist. And welcome to my laboratory.

Wow! It’s like you’re really here with me. You may notice some additional sound effects today. And that’s all thanks to today’s guest, which is my little brother, Brian. He was the mastermind behind my original podcast interim music which is what you heard at the beginning of this episode. And I asked him to create some music that I could talk over when I’m doing intros just like this one. I was getting sick of just hearing my boring voice all the time. So now you can hear some sweet sounds underneath it, which I think is a lot better.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I have my brother on the show today. And he’s three years younger. And although he’s not actively pursuing financial independence, he’s done some really interesting things with money that I think people on the path of FI could learn a lot from. Not only that, he’s actually a lot more frugal than I am. And he’s really quite extreme with his frugality, which you’ll soon hear about.

So, without further delay, this is an interview with my little brother, Brian, that we recorded next to a canal in Venice, Italy actually.

Hope you enjoy it.

Mad Fientist: Hey, brother!

Brian: Hello!

Mad Fientist: So, before we start, let’s set the scene a little bit. We are sitting here on a canal in Venice. We’ve been here for a couple days, eating a lot. And this is our last day in Venice before we move on to more internal sections of Italy. And I figured what better place than canal-side with a bottle of wine to interview my brother. So, thanks a lot for being here.

Brian: Yeah! Si, si. Grazi.

Mad Fientist: So, my brother has been learning Italian and doing his best.

So, before we start, I also want to thank you for creating the podcast interim music. I don’t think anybody knows who actually made that. But you are the mastermind behind that.

Brian: Yeah! No, I appreciate the opportunity. Actually, it’s been my best known work as of yet. So thank you for letting people hear that.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, it’s been downloaded and listened to over two million times. I haven’t checked for a long time, so it’s probably like 2.5 million. But yeah, it’s been a lot of plays of that music.

Brian: That’s crazy!

Mad Fientist: Yeah! And it’s perfect. I asked you to create/recreate Thomas Dolby’s She Blinded Me With Science, but do it differently enough so I don’t get sued. And then, obviously, replace science with fience. And it’s way dorkier than I ever imagined it would be.

Brian: Thanks! Yeah, it makes no sense musically. I’m glad it worked out.

Mad Fientist: So, I’ve wanted to get you on the show for a long time. You’re not as obsessed with money as I have been my entire life. But you’re good with money. And you do have an interesting story to tell as far as how money has allowed you to be a professional musician. So, how would you say we differ when it comes to money?

Brian: Well, when you asked me to do the podcast a long time ago, I thought it was as an example of what not to do in life. But no, from just watching what you’ve done, it’s taught me how to be better with money.

How would we differ with money? I don’t think about it, to be honest. I typically don’t think about it—or at least, probably five to ten years ago, I didn’t think about it at all. And then, when I got a better job where I was making more money, then I started seeing what’s important and stuff like that through what you’ve been doing with the Mad Fientist.

Mad Fientist: Well, I disagree a little bit. Let’s go back to when you moved into your apartment in Pittsburgh. Obviously, you knew enough about money and prioritization to find a place where you could play drums—which is what you love to do. You’ve been playing drums since, what, you’re 10 years old or something—and you needed a place to be able to do that in the city, and you didn’t want to have to travel out to the suburbs or anything, but you also knew that prices in the city are expensive. So can you just describe what you moved into it when you moved into your last apartment in Pittsburgh?

Brian: Yes. As a drummer, I think it’s impossible to find an apartment where you can practice and afford in a city. Luckily, the rehearsal space I was using with one of my bands was in this beautiful building downtown. And the owner was very relaxed.

I asked him if I could live there. And he said, “Just don’t tell me what you do. You can live here. Just don’t tell me what you’re doing.” So I moved into this empty storage room basically. It was big, but no amenities whatsoever. No utilities really. There was one wall that had outlets all in a matter of two square feet, I would say. Those were all my outlets. There were three outlets. And then, no heat, no water inside of the room. No shower. But I could practice drums, and it was $350 a month including no utilities.

So, it ended up being my dream place. I mean, I think to me being able to practice and play in my house was more important than having an outlet on every wall, so that I could have a nice lamp everywhere, whatever.

Mad Fientist: So, let me just reiterate this. So there was no toilet in the apartment. There was no sink in the apartment? Or did you have the sink at the time?

Brian: No sink. There was a sink right outside my apartment, but no hot water.

Mad Fientist: And there was a toilet three floors down. So this is an abandoned building pretty much in Pittsburgh that has offices in it. So, some people would come in during the day. But pretty much, it was just you in that building.

Brian: Yeah, for nights and weekends, it was basically my building which was amazing. I mean practicing drums, everybody in the building could hear you. But luckily, during the day, I was at work when people were in the building. And then when people would leave the building, I would come home, practice, try and find water.

So, it wasn’t that bad. There was a shower on the second floor where my rehearsal space was for the band. I was up on the seventh floor. But the owner who allowed me to stay there quickly sold the building, probably within a year. A new owner came in and demolished my shower. So that’s when I moved to the buckets.

Mad Fientist: So, yeah, he had an incredible amount of buckets. There is buckets for showering in. There is buckets for going to the bathroom in?

Brian: Well, yeah. I mean, the bathroom bucket came later when I realized it was nicer to just—you know. It was only for code yellow. There were no solids. I took my solids elsewhere. But yeah… I had a bucket for my dishes. I had a bucket for my laundry that I would churn my laundry in, and then a bucket I’d shower in. And I had a camping shower basically. I go harvest the water on the fifth floor where there was a hot water tank, and then bring it up to my apartment and tie it to the ceiling, get in the bucket.

Now, I didn’t have heat either. So in the winters, it was awful. And it was a three-gallon bag that would run out very quickly, so you’d have to stop it while you lather. And that’s when you’d freeze. And then you’d let the water run on you.

Yeah, it was miserable. But I could afford it, I could save money. With that apartment, I could save money. And I could practice, which was the biggest thing. I practiced every day so much because of that place. So I’m really thankful for it.

Mad Fientist: Yeah. And you had drum sets up there. You had a marimba. You had pianos. You had congos. You had Indian drums, tabla. You had loads of instrument sin there. There’s no way that would have fit in some normal Pittsburgh apartment.

So, I also want to say like it sounds really bad, but it was actually a lot nicer than I expected. When you said that you were moving to somewhere like that, I was actually really worried about you. It sounded awful. But when I came, it was actually pretty cool. You’d have to get into a freight elevator to get up there, which was a cool Brooklyn loft space thing. It was actually really cool. And the space was really nice and bright.

And then, it kept getting better over the years, right?

Brian: Yeah, yeah. So, when I first moved in there, I brought an ex-girlfriend with me. And she started crying when she saw it. And she just kept saying, “What is your mom going to think?” because there was nothing but filing cabinets in the space, in the area. They took the filing cabinets out of course.

And then, he new owner—I thought I was going to be evicted pretty soon because it wasn’t necessarily legal to live there because it wasn’t residential. But the owner just kept it quiet. And he gave me more outlets. He eventually put electricity in. And then, about two years ago, I got heat and air conditioning. It just blew my mind.

And then, the best part was about a year ago, he put in a toilet, a functioning toilet, and a hot water tank in my room. I cried, and I asked the plumber while he was installing if anybody ever said you’re a miracle worker. He said no. He said no. But it was the best experience ever.

Mad Fientist: So, explain how you took a shower.

Brian: Eventually, when I got the running water, I had a hose that ran from the spigot—that’s what we called it in Pittsburgh, the faucet—to a shower head that I made out of a PVC pipe that my dad made for me.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, my dad made a big shower enclosure out of PVC pipe. That was actually pretty impressive.

Brian: Yeah! It was amazing. It was the best shower. And then, a bucket inside of that. I would stand in the bucket, shower curtains all around me, flip the nozzle on the faucet, that would redirect the water to the shower nozzle, the shower head. I would stand in the bucket.

And then, I had a foot pump in the bucket with me that I would step on while I’m showering. And that had a hose that would lead to a bucket outside of my bucket. That would put the water in there. So, I had two buckets waiting for the water. So I’d have to switch the hose mid-shower because the one bucket would fill up. And then I would use that water to flush my toilet.

The same with the laundry. Laundry, I had a bucket. It was basically a salad spinner. I would put my wash in there which was basically three boxers—three pairs of boxers max is what I could do or one pair of pants. And then, I would churn that. I would get exhausted. But it was like living a pretend life. And that was what was so much fun about it. It didn’t feel real every time I do it. It just made me happy because it was like it was a way to do something that’s so easy for most people, but then you really appreciate it when you think about what you’re actually doing, like taking a shower and seeing where the water goes and having to do something with it. It was really fun. And I’m going to miss that a lot.

Mad Fientist: So, how long were you actually in that apartment for?

Brian: I was there for seven years—seven years, yeah.

Mad Fientist: Seven years. And you’re 32 now. Someone in their mid-20’s, I don’t know how many people would make that decision. So why did you not think, “Why don’t I just go into a bunch of debt and have this really nice, fancy place in the city and have and bunch of space?” Why did that never cross your mind?

Brian: I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s the way we grew up. We weren’t really given like a credit card at a young age or anything like that. I don’t know why I didn’t think debt was an option for some reason. I thought live within my means and hope it gets better. And yeah, it pretty much did.

I mean, if I had gone into a lot of debt then, I don’t think I would be sitting in Italy right now.

Mad Fientist: Yeah. And that’s a really interesting story too. And we’re definitely going to come to that because what you’re doing now is amazing and not many people could do that at your age which is a testament to how you’ve been able to save and your choices with money.

So, you’re living in a place where you can practice all the time to any hours of the night that you wanted to, put in a lot of work to get better at all the percussion things that you’re doing. And you’re working at the time. So can you just describe a bit what you’re doing?

Brian: So back then I was working at a flower shop when I first moved in there. So, I wasn’t making much at all. And there was no really working up in that company. Then I wasn’t really saving any money, but I was living way more comfortably in a place that I loved and was able to practice. So I knew I could get better and go towards something I wanted.

But then I got a new job that paid more money. And now, because I maintain the same quality of life from when I was working at the flower shop, I was able to start putting money away for whatever. I didn’t know what I needed. As a musician, you just want more gear. So I was probably saving for a new drum or a new drum set or something like that. But really, I didn’t know what. So I was just saving which was nice.

Mad Fientist: So, saving for new gear. That’s maybe something we should touch on because I think a lot of people in the creative fields are always looking for that next thing. I know me personally, it was like, “Well, what’s the next synthesizer I could buy. That would be really sweet. It’ll make me even better at what I’m doing. I’m sure it’s the same with a lot of different arts.”

So, how did you overcome that urge?

Brian: Well, luckily, I think it was that the job that allowed me to make a little more money to save was also a job in the instrument selling arena. So I was mainly dealing with customer service aspects of selling drum parts for custom drum builders and stuff like that and just people, general instruments for musicians and stuff.

And so seeing the amount of people that were obsessed with the wrong thing, seeing people call and complain that the drum sticks were an ounce off or something crazy and complaining about that, it made me realize these people are not focused on the right thing. They’re focused on these elements that have nothing to do with music or getting better. And that made me not want to spend money on gear and kind of save my money for more experiences, or if I needed to take off work for a musical job, I would have that safety where I could leave my work and maybe not that well-paid gig.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, I definitely want to talk about that because you’ve utilized the power that money in your savings gives you, and you’ve utilized it quite a few times in your career which has been really good to see.

And I know we talked about it before you made that first demand at your work. So can you talk a little bit about what you did when you were thinking about going down to Hilton Head to play some Broadway-type shows.

Brian: Yeah. So, I got an offer. I worked back in the end of high school/early college with a producer who did Broadway tours and stuff like that. So I did a run with him. And he was living Hilton head. And he said, “We’re doing a production. We need a drummer. Can you come down for two weeks?”

Now, I didn’t have two weeks worth of vacation time. And I was really torn because it’s a dream of mine to play musicals and travel. So that was my in there. And I called you I think and said, “What should I do?” And you said, “When you’re a good employee, you have all the power because it’s hard to find good employees. Just tell your bosses you need two weeks off. And don’t worry about it!”

I had the savings already. So if they said no, and I still wanted to do it, I would be fine. So I went in to work and said, “Yeah, I have an opportunity, I’d really appreciate some time-off for it.” And they let me.

And then, I went down, came back. And while I was down there, I got another opportunity to come back two months later to play for a month-long show.

Now, my bosses did not like that. So when I got back, I said, “Okay, I’m doing it again.” And they said no. And I said, “Okay, I’m still going.” And then, they said, “Okay, you can come back and you can work remotely.” So, it worked out great.

Mad Fientist: I know! That was great. I actually visited you. And you were put up in this amazing beach house with a bunch of other really cool and interesting people. And you’re living on a beach for a month for free and playing, what, a couple of shows a night or something?

Brian: Yeah, yeah. We’re doing at least a show a day; two shows on one of the days.

Mad Fientist: And you’re working remotely, so you’re still getting paid.

Brian: …“working” in quotes. You can’t see the…

Mad Fientist: Yeah, I taught him that that was the key thing when you’re working remotely. Every time you say “working,” you have to do air quotes.

And yes, so had you not had any savings, that would have never been possible because they said no right off the bat?

Brian: Yeah. As soon as they had said no, I would’ve had to say, “Okay, I won’t do that. I will stay here. I’m yours” because I wouldn’t have had an option.

Mad Fientist: And since your expenses were low (since you obviously worked your way into a very low cost of living situation), you had five figures saved up. And that could have lasted you for a long time.

Brian: Yeah, yeah. I’m trying to think. I didn’t have a car payment. When I needed a car, I bought it with cash that I had saved up. So, that was the most important thing about buying a car for me, was not going into debt for that.

I don’t see any reason to want to go into debt. There’s nothing that I want bad enough to be in debt for. So yeah, not having debt and having a low cost of living made all that possible, all that traveling possible.

Mad Fientist: And now here we are in Venice on a small little waterway in Venice. It’s beautiful. I’ll put some pictures in the shownotes. And you haven’t had a job for how long now? Four months.

Brian: Four months it’s been since I’ve had a job. So yeah, I’m tasting the retirement life. I’m not there. I haven’t reached FI. But I’m tasting it, and it tastes delicious.

Mad Fientist: So yes, let’s discuss that decision and how all of this came about.

Brian: So, again, that’s from having the savings, the low cost of living and no debt. It came from me not necessarily being happy at where I was working. Unfortunately, because of the legal reasons with my living situation, the owner of my building started getting worried that there would be people asking questions and stuff about me living there. So, he asked if I could move out, at which I was fine with. We’re still good friends and stuff. There was no hard feelings. But it was the saddest thing for me because I lived there, struggled there for seven years. I loved it so much.

So, moving to just a regular house or trying to find another apartment was just not what I wanted to do. And then, you and Jill offered to have me come out and stay in Scotland for a little bit. And here I am, I still haven’t left. I don’t know how you guys are feeling about it. But I’ve saved up money to try and buy a house.

And then, I realized there’s no reason for me to buy a house right now. There’s nothing holding me there. And I want to travel. And I had the savings. So, I was able to leave my job and live off my savings for a good amount of time I think.

Mad Fientist: Oh, yeah, yeah. You’ve been living on it for a while, and you hardly made a dent, which must feel pretty good.

Brian: Yeah, it feels great. I mean, it’s a lot to you and Jill for letting me stay with you guys.

Mad Fientist: No, it’s fun for us. We’re super excited to have you. And yeah, it’s nice having some company in early retirement when everybody else is at work, when Jill’s working and all our friends are working.

Brian: So, we get together at the gym, […] Yeah, that’s another thing, when we were talking about appreciating things that you brought up, was how much you appreciate relaxing after you do something like going to the gym and like how nice this is, how much like sitting out and having a glass of wine after doing some work and stuff. So…

Mad Fientist: Speaking of Jill, she’s sitting here taking pictures. And she’s shaking her head now. But how has it been living with your brother-in-law for the last four months.

Jill: It has been wonderful! It’s made me appreciate him a lot more. And he can stay as long as he wants.

Brian: Thanks, Jill.

Mad Fientist: No, it’s been great.

So, we’ve actually done a lot of cool stuff. We’ve gone to Portugal. We’ve gone to London. And now we’re in Italy.

Yeah, let’s talk about Italy. So you’ve been learning Italian over the last few years. And you just spent, what, 2 ½ weeks at an intensive language program.

Brian: Si, si. Yes, that means yes. I have been. I’ve always wanted to learn Italian. Since probably 10 years ago, I wanted to learn Italian. So I figured I have this time. I’m already in Scotland. It’s £20 to fly to Italy. And then, doing the two-week course is just something I would want to invest my money. That was worth investing my money in.

Mad Fientist: Yeah! And then, I got to come over and meet all your language-learning friends. It was really cool. It is amazing how integrated into that society you seem to get in just two weeks.

And I know you’ve said to me personally that that’s a great way to travel. Can you just talk a little bit more about that?

Brian: Yeah! I can’t really say I learned a lot of Italian. I’m pretty awful still. It’s a lot harder than I thought. Duolingo was telling me I was 43% fluent, and there’s no way I’m 43% fluent.

Mad Fientist: This is a good story actually. When Brian was living with us over in Scotland, I would be doing something on my computer in the morning, and he’d be doing his Italian. And then, he’d say over to me, “Oh, 43% fluent!” And I’d laugh and make a joke and say something like, “Yeah, right.” And I thought he was laughing with me, but he actually wasn’t. He thought he was 43% fluent. So, in his mind, he’s just going to come over here in two weeks. And two weeks…

Brian: Just tough it off.

Mad Fientist: Tough it off in two weeks and be 100% fluent. But that isn’t how it exactly works out.

Brian: No, I’m off. I’m even worse than when I came here for some reason because it’s killed my confidence completely. I just panic every time I walk into a restaurant.

Actually, the first night I was here in Italy by myself, I walked out of a restaurant because the lady looked too Italian for me to handle. She wouldn’t have any patience for my awful Italian.

But yeah, traveling, the experience of traveling like this has been amazing. It normally takes a long time to kind of make friends. I have been in Pittsburgh for so many years. And the only way I’ve made friends is through joining bands and stuff. And that’s years of playing with different people. Going to Italy, within the first two nights of being here, I was living with a person, my host family, which was just a guy in his 30’s, a musician as well. We became friends really quickly. And then he took me out with his friends. And it was just a group of us that got along.

So, even more important than learning the Italian, I think, was making the connections and having interactions and just having a great experience like that.

Mad Fientist: I know you met some people. And you may be like one guy needs a drummer in Paris, and you may go and explore that; and there’s another guy in London. Yeah, it seems like you’ve met a lot of good contacts.

Brian: Yeah, it’s great. It’s great having an open life almost. I’m open-ended. I can go anywhere right now.

Mad Fientist: So, you’ve had about four months of this early retirement lifestyle. Is there anything you’ve noticed or taken away from it being an observer of the lifestyle I’m living or just feeling that level of freedom? Are there any thoughts there?

Brian: For me, recently, it’s hard to leave the vacation mindset of it because I immediately left my home and went to another country. So automatically, right there, it feels like a vacation. It doesn’t feel like I’ve just quit my job. I’m still maintaining my life. Everything changed as soon as I quit my job.

So, it’s hard to get out of the vacation mindset and actually get serious about that I need to find my next step in life. So that’s been hard. Your life is so open after you leave work, it seems like it’s overwhelming to organize. I think you really have to work on organization, personal organization. I’m not very good at that. I always told you I would just have meltdowns when we had scheduled shows for the bands I’m in because I’d never write anything down because I didn’t want to believe that I had to go do it for some reason. I don’t know why. It always stressed me out.

So, getting organized is a hard thing for me. So I am going to have to work on that.

Mad Fientist: So, how do you think you differ from your musician friends as far as how you’ve handled your finances? I’m sure you probably don’t talk about that stuff with them, but have you got a feel for how other musicians handle life and maybe not earning a steady paycheck?

Brian: I think out of my musician friends, most of them are trained in classical or jazz background, and then mostly play rock around town and stuff like that. Those guys struggle. I mean I think a lot of them are kind of in the gear mindset as well. Even though they’re great musicians, they still want the next thing. They tend to spend money on that.

It’s unfair for me to say I was just a musician at the time because I did have that job where I was—

Mad Fientist: Do a lot of your musician friends not have a day job?

Brian: A lot of them don’t. A lot of them teach. So they would teach. I would go to my nine to five job and work on customer service. And I know they’re more paycheck to paycheck. There’s not much of a savings. And they also tend to be more oriented towards getting new gear as well which doesn’t seem to make sense.

That’s the funny thing. When I have less money, I would search more for new gear and want that more when I didn’t have money. And then, when I had a little bit of a savings account, I didn’t want to spend it on gear and stuff like that.

So, I think that’s maybe their mindset. I can’t really speak for them. But I know they teach, and it’s more paycheck to paycheck for them.

Mad Fientist: So, what are your thoughts on a day job? Obviously, it’s allowed you to do this. And who knows where this will lead, potentially lots of opportunities and maybe something completely life0changing that you decide to do after this just based on the contacts and the things that you’re doing now. So, do you think the day job, you’re happy? You want the day or you’re out?

Brian: I’m happy I saved while I had a day job. I think that’s why I left it, because I kind of do miss the struggle in a way because it makes you more creative on how to live. When I was struggling, I found this apartment with no shower. And that led to such great things.

But now, I could go into debt or spend all my savings on a really nice apartment and struggle to find a job to maintain that lifestyle, I would prefer to not go back to a day job and maybe have to be more creative with how I spend my money and how I make money. But yeah, I would prefer not to go back to a day job.

Mad Fientist: Yeah… we can transition to what you’re thinking about in the future, but we haven’t really even talked about what you’ve done in the past. So you’re a classically trained percussionist who played operas in Italy. You’ve done musical theater down in Hilton Head. You’ve toured America with rock bands like Love Drug. You’ve played congas with Rusted Root.

Brian: Yeah, I think the ultimate experience was the cowbell. I did get to play cowbell with two of the original members of Blue Oyster Cult on Don’t Fear the Reaper.

Mad Fientist: So, for the people who have seen the Will Ferrell sketch of him playing cowbell in the studio with Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live, that was my brother.

Brian: Yeah, I was slightly inebriated during that. I was hired to play keyboards on another song with the band, Blue Coop. It’s a bass player from Alice Cooper and then two of the members from Blue Oyster Cult. And so, I was playing keys with them on one song. I went up to the drummer and I asked, “Could I play cowbell on Don’t Fear the Reaper?” and he’s like, “We would love to have you, but we don’t have an extra cowbell.” And I was like, “Don’t worry! I got mine in the car. I ran out and got it.” And I don’t know if they wanted it, but I played the entire song over top—even when I wasn’t supposed to.

Mad Fientist: Yeah. Sadly, we still haven’t tracked down the video of that. But I have a picture of you—it was a very bad picture, but I can see you very sweaty and really intensely smacking the shit out of a cowbell.

Brian: Yeah, yeah. It was one of the best experiences of my life, I’d say.

Mad Fientist: So, you’ve done all these various things with music. Where do you go from here? What’s your ideal future looking like in the next six months or year?

Brian: I think it’s exactly what I’ve experienced so far, mixing the two, using music to live the retired life of travel. That’s what I experienced with doing the musical theater stuff in Hilton Head. At night, every day, it was like vacation. But then you’d go for two hours and play a show, which I loved playing. So that was the work. That was what paid me. And then, you were just living a life of retirement basically.

So, I think combining those two things would be my ultimate dream—travel, playing music. I feel most confident and most alive if I’m in a new place, and I’m there with the purpose of playing music. So if there’s any way I can do that—which I know there is, I know people that do that. I don’t know how to get into that right now. That’s what I’m trying to figure out while I have this free time.

Mad Fientist: What you came up with was a really good idea. Well, one, we have some friends in London who are in the Weston Theatre in a musical capacity who we’re going to chat to about it. But you also had a really good idea of taking lessons with people in the job that you want.

Brian: Yeah, exactly. So, at this point in life, after school, after studying, it’s all about who you know pretty much. So moving to a city where there’s things that you want to do, you have to get involved in that community in that city.

So, for example, moving or going to London and taking some lessons with somebody who’s in the theater industry, that’s the perfect way to get into that industry.

Mad Fientist: …because you said, they get a lot of requests to play. And obviously, they can’t do everything. So when they can’t do everything, they think, “Oh, who could do this? Oh, yeah, Brian, my student, because he’s amazing. And I know he’s amazing because I’ve taught him.”

Brian: Yeah! I mean a lot of the times back when I was in middle school and high school when I was taking lessons from the big guy in Charlotte, he would say that. He would say—not based off of my playing. He would say I’m easy to work with. That’s very important I think, being easy to work with. I would get a job because of that, because I show up on time, and I’m easy to work with.

Now, I would like to get a job because I’m good at playing too. But…

Mad Fientist: That’s something I’ve learned as well just in my career as a software developer. A lot of people can do the job, but a lot of people are just really terrible to work with. Like I told you before, you’re in the top 1% of drummers anyway. The fact that you’re not an egomaniac, and you are easy to work with, is going to make it an easy choice for a lot of people.

So, yes, we have talked about all the amazing musical things you’ve done, but we forgot that you were the drummer of Junk Star way back in the 90s, right?

Brian: Yeah. Yeah, that’s where it all started actually—North Carolina, Junk Star, circa 1998.

Mad Fientist: I don’t even know. No, no, because I was in middle school, and you were in elementary school. So it was my eighth grade talent show.

Brian: Yeah, I was in elementary school. Holy crap, yeah!

Mad Fientist: So, Brian was in elementary school. And he was our drummer. He came up to middle school for the big talent show. And we played a Nirvana song, I think?

Brian: Yeah, Territorial Pissings. We had to change the name because they wouldn’t let us play.

Mad Fientist: That’s right. We weren’t allowed to say the name, but we played it. And yeah, everybody’s like, “Who’s this elementary school kid that came up here and destroyed it on the drum?” So yeah, I forgot to highlight that incredible achievement.

Brian: I had a drum solo. I just remember I had a drum solo. And then you came around while I was playing my drum solo and started petting the back of my head. It made me screw up while I was in it. I said, “What is happening?”

Mad Fientist: It’s all about the performance.

Brian: It is a performance element. People just ate it up, yeah.

Mad Fientist: We sadly didn’t win. I think we were quite loud.

Brian: We got the loudest. I think we won loudest.

Mad Fientist: We were loud. And I was singing which was a big mistake.

Brian: Puberty, you were going through puberty at the time.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, it was squeaky. It was high anyway. Had I been pre-puberty , I think it would’ve been alright. But it was either borderline or after. And there’s no way I could scream like Kurt Cobain. So…

Brian: No. No, you couldn’t.

Mad Fientist: So, you’re thinking touring as a musician. Now, is that musical theater? Is that more in the rock band sort of area? Do you have a preference?

Brian: I think I like the professionalism of the musical theater industry. I mean with musical theatre, if you get an international tour or national tour or something like that, you get benefits. You get a retirement fund. I never had that. That would be super exciting.

And I love the idea of playing the same show every night and trying to get better at that, and then being in a new city with a group of people that you’re traveling with. I like that.

Touring with a rock band, that would be great, but I think that would be more of a struggle and less organized, less professional—not that it’s not professional, but less professionally oriented where I wouldn’t have retirement, I wouldn’t have health insurance from the rock band tour.

So, I’m happy to do either of those as long as I can maintain my life.

Mad Fientist: So, you’re tapping into your savings. You really haven’t made too much of a dent, maybe 15% or something so far. And it’s been a good 4 ½ months of living off of it. And I know you said to me that you’re thinking about maybe going part time when you go back to the States. So maybe talk about what your immediate plans are.

Brian: Yeah, I do need to get back, start practicing again, and start figuring out the actual plan for how I’m going to make what I’ve discovered here—you know, being here and enjoying how you live, how you guys live, you and Jill. After discovering that, I want to figure out a plan to make that work. And I think that will involve part-time work, so that I don’t have to deplete that savings. I don’t want that gone. I like the safety net of having that.

Again, like you’ve taught me, you have power when you have that safety. So, I don’t want to get rid of that.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, power and choices, definitely. So, I know you’re not really pursuing financial independence or early retirement or anything like that. But you obviously are good at money to be able to do something like this when a lot of your peers probably, as you said, are paycheck to paycheck.

So, do you have any advice for someone on the path to financial independence or early retirement?

Brian: I mean for me personally, I think the hardest thing about living in America is you get taught that your happiness involves acquiring things. It’s hard to look past that. But not spending money on silly things like gear and stuff, and spending money on life experiences and then saving the rest to get to financial independence I think is super important.

Yeah, that’s what I learned from listening to the podcast and reading your blog and stuff like that. It’s helped me. I don’t think I would have saved without you doing Mad Fientist stuff.

Mad Fientist: Really?

Brian: Yeah, I don’t think. No, no. I would’ve gone into debt.

Mad Fientist: Oh, really?

Brian: Probably. I think I probably would’ve just not cared at all about money and just, yeah, fared that way…

I never grew up with it, but it’s just something you see everywhere. So I think it would’ve been hard for me—

I see friends like buying the brand new Mac. And they can’t afford it. It blows my mind. And it blows my mind I think because I’ve seen how you work with money and you deal with stuff.

Mad Fientist: So, yeah, that just reminded me, you have been pretty cold in our apartment sometimes.

Brian: Yeah. Well, Jill, thank God, bought us onesies that keep us warm because we don’t use the heat that much.

Mad Fientist: So, my life obviously to me feels really normal. I guess when Jill question things, that makes me question them a little bit. But still, it’s not like I have that much feedback. So, is there anything else in my life that’s really quite extreme or weird or bad?

Brian: No. Yeah, the heating is weird, but I think that’s a Scotland thing. It seems like everywhere in Scotland, the heating is not great. But people tend to keep it on more I think.

That’s a funny thing. Going to Scotland, I never heard so many people be like, “Should we turn the heat on? Should we turn the heat on?” everywhere we’re going. In America, it’s just like, “Oh, the heat’s running constantly. It’s got to maintain the 72° temperature in the house, Fahrenheit.” But no, it stays pretty cold. That would be the strangest thing I’m thinking.

Mad Fientist: But the onesies have changed everything.

Brian: It changed everything in my life, yeah, yeah…

Mad Fientist: …which I’ve talked about this with Mrs. Frugalwoods. And that episode is going to come out after this one. So stay tuned for that. But probably the best investment that Jill has ever made, she bought it—Brian and I didn’t believe it. And we’re always freezing, and she was always warm because her parents bought her a onesie. So, she bought us onesies as a surprise. And they’ve obviously paid for themselves with the amount of heat we’ve saved. But the amount of enjoyment is just priceless.

Brian: Yeah. I mean, they look great. I took the last band picture I did for Love Drug, I used the onesie as my costume. I wish I had that back when I had no heat in my apartment. I used space heaters for five years in my apartment. So, if I had that onesie, I could have freed up one of my three outlets for something else.

Mad Fientist: Well, it’s been great. I really appreciate it. We’ve gone through three glasses of wine since we’ve sat here. I have been stopping the recording every now and then to refill. And it is getting cold. It is January in Venice which has actually been a really nice day. It’s nice and sunny as you’ll see in the pictures in the shownotes. But it is a bit chilly. So we are going to sign off.

So, yeah, I appreciate you taking the time to sit here and chat with me. And I look forward to your new interim music. I’ve commissioned my brother to add a little bit of jazz to my intro because I’m tired of just talking and not having any background music. So in addition to the brilliant 3-second intro, we’re going to have a little synthesizer background music hopefully to accompany my intro for the guests. Hopefully, we’ll get that done for this episode—which yeah, maybe we will.

Brian: Yeah, I appreciate you letting me live with you and feeding me. I appreciate everything honestly. It’s been great.

Mad Fientist: No, it’s been great. We’ve loved having you. So yeah, thanks for doing this. And so long!

Brian: Ciao!

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37 comments for “My Brother – Using the Power of Money to Pursue Your Passion

  1. Colleen @
    February 8, 2018 at 8:23 am

    Awesome Brandon!
    We were in Venice in November on our family of five Round the World adventure. We continued on a Repositioning Cruise from Savona to Buenos Aires. Traveling with teens and a ten year old. Tonight we’re off to the deep Amazon.
    P.S. I’m still sorry for the spilled beer!

  2. gofi
    February 8, 2018 at 9:28 am

    I’ve heard all your podcasts but this one is probably the funniest (and the warmest). My best to Brian – and I think I can do without the heat in Denver, if you can in Scotland :).

  3. Jørgen
    February 8, 2018 at 9:45 am

    Fun interview. Sounds like you had a blast :-) There’s nothing like humor between brothers!

  4. Philo
    February 8, 2018 at 10:59 am

    I really wish you had released it with the sounds of filling the wine glasses! Maybe even a quick note about what you were drinking (I love wine.) If you’re going to record while outside, there’s no need to sterilize the audio of all of the nuance.

  5. Junkstar
    February 8, 2018 at 11:01 am

    Good hear both your voices again. Salad spinner for a washing machine… You can’t make that stuff up. That’s awesome!

  6. Jared
    February 8, 2018 at 11:16 am

    Listening now – always enjoy your new episodes! Thanks for posting.

  7. Matt
    February 8, 2018 at 11:18 am

    Could you send out a notification when you get the transcripts posted? I love to read and also like to keep hard copies of financial gold in my financial planning notebook.

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 14, 2018 at 2:34 pm

      Transcript has been posted!

  8. FIRECracker
    February 8, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    Wow, so impressed that your brother was willing to sacrifice and work hard for his dream, even living in a place with no heating or running water. A lot of people talk about their dreams but as soon as they have to sacrifice, they run away. Amazing grit! Clearly hard work and perseverance runs in the family :)

  9. Ricky Rodriguez
    February 8, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    Very cool interview! To have that opportunity with your brother Brian is priceless! I hope you get to do many, many more!

  10. Steve
    February 8, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    Venice sounds like a great place to have a podcast episode. It’s very cool that your brother didn’t mind talking to you for it. He’s living his version of the ultimate dream, and I think that’s fantastic. I’ll be looking out for his career to go full force.

  11. Sarah
    February 8, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    I came here looking for a link to a recommended onesie. Seriously. But all around great episode, too.

  12. Jane
    February 8, 2018 at 5:58 pm

    Yo Brian,
    I travel to a large city to work 4 days a month. I sleep on the massage table and to clean up, you guessed it, I use a bucket !!
    I consider it very efficient.
    Here’s to ya roaming in Venice,
    simply wonderful

    • Brian
      March 2, 2018 at 5:08 am

      Heyyo Jane,
      Bucket life is fun! Glad to hear others are enjoying it as well! Very efficient. Thanks for the comment!

  13. Wes
    February 8, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    So why didn’t you include a link to a site so we can buy these incredible onesies? Or are you going to brand them so everyone can buy Madfientist onesies? ;-)

  14. Craig
    February 8, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    Great podcast! Gotta love the stories of “roughing it”.. .. Some would NEVER put themselves into uncomfortable situations, BUT this is what makes memories and reminds the soul that you are ALIVE… Live it and love it…

  15. Accidental FIRE
    February 9, 2018 at 7:19 am

    That’s pretty hardcore to live so spartan for 7 years. Kudos to your bro!

  16. Chris
    February 9, 2018 at 11:03 am

    As a Pittsburgh hippy high school and college of the early 90’s, I thought jamming with Rusted Root would have to be your career high point, but jamming in the middle school talent show sounded pretty epic as well.

    Fun listen, thanks for sharing your story!

  17. Charlie
    February 9, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    Just because you’re paranoid.. don’t mean they’re not after you!!!!

    When you guys discuss the talent show made me literally laugh out loud. The 90’s were so awesome.

    You guys should get the band back together and put up some music videos on Youtube! The Madfientist rocking out some grunge music would be quality entertainment!

  18. Teri
    February 9, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    Great interview. Thank you for sharing.

  19. Sheila
    February 10, 2018 at 11:12 am

    I loved this podcast and will try to get my 19 year old to listen to it to show him there are so many different and wonderful ways to live your life. We get fed one version of a life and buy that this is our only option. So glad that podcasts like this can open us up to new options. Your parents should be proud of how they raised you. They obviously did something right!

  20. Katie
    February 11, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    If you guys are ever in the Philly area, we’d love to have a glass of wine (or beer) with you! My husband is a jazz percussionist and had a very similar experience as Brian, except he is married to me, a tech professional/nerd/saver. He also toured with an Opera company in Italy (stayed a convent- for free!) and many other fun things, however he has not had the pleasure of being able to play cowbell for someone. I am the girl (although actually older than you too, we were in high school in ’98!) about it. Love connecting with like minded souls.DH got into musical theater by starting with a local group- and eventually got to travel to England and Italy doing like things.. Best of luck to you!

  21. Shannon
    February 15, 2018 at 12:59 am

    Hi Brian,
    Thanks for the awesome interview.

    Have you come across Glenn Morrissette of tosimplify? He use to run a blog about his RV/van life, he’s a composer/musician (Sax). I’m not sure if the blog still exists but he is on instagram. He might be a great contact to have? His composing work seems to be mainly LA based but he’s traveled all over the world playing in big bands.


    • Brian
      March 2, 2018 at 5:11 am

      Hi Shannon,
      I have not come across Glenn Morrissette, but I will check his stuff out! That sounds like an amazing life. I appreciate the information. Thanks so much!

  22. Roxanne Lembke
    February 15, 2018 at 8:58 am

    Loved this episode! You and your brother are hilarious. Definitely have him back on the show!

  23. MissSaraBee
    February 16, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    Hilarious and inspiring podcast!

    Brian, you sound like you would be an excellent candidate for vanlife. After your experience in the loft apartment, a customized sprinter van would probably be luxury. Some of the comforts of a house, with all the portability of a car!

  24. groceryboyjr
    February 16, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    Wait a minute, wait a minute….

    North Carolina?

    So I’ve been a Mad Fientist fan for a couple years now and you guys started HERE, in NC? So…what…we might be cousins or something?

  25. wendy
    February 16, 2018 at 10:48 pm

    That was great Brandon! Cool to hear what your brother has done – that’s some hardcore frugality.

  26. Pam
    February 17, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    Loved this podcast! I didn’t know you started out in NC (where I am now)… I will be visiting Scotland in early May and would love your take on best things to see – we have about five days… staying in Edinburgh but will make a side trip to Aberdeen at least.


  27. Matt B
    February 19, 2018 at 3:02 pm


    I’m hardly a polyglot (I speak Spanish, ok Portuguese, and a bit of Italian), but if you want to learn another language, here’s my best tip: find podcasts about stuff you’re interested in, e.g., music, maybe personal finance, etc., in Italian and listen for at least 30 minutes a day. Every. Single. Day. (As a musician, I’m sure you get this idea of repetition being key.) At first you won’t understand a thing, but after a while (think months), you’ll start to parse the language and understand a bit more and gain in confidence to interact with native-born speakers. This for me was the only way I’ve ever been able to achieve any level of fluency. Buona fortuna!

    • Brian
      March 2, 2018 at 5:17 am

      Hey Matt B,
      Thanks for the advice! That makes perfect sense. I completely agree about repetition. Do something enough, and one day it just starts to click. I have been trying that with Italian cartoons, but I think that listening to podcasts on stuff that I am interested in is an even better idea. Grazie mille!!

  28. Eric
    February 28, 2018 at 11:49 am

    What a great episode! I love the idea of chatting with people who have a way-outside-the-box mentality about money. Your brother clearly fits into that camp. Not everyone needs to be a financial guru in order to live their dreams. Very fun and uplifting interview.

  29. Dan
    March 2, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    I just got around to listening to this and it was very entertaining. You and your brother were pretty damn funny! His recounting of how he’d do the basics in his apartment were great. Well done!

  30. Carrie Milne
    March 4, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    I want to know about these so called onesies. I totally need a pair. Can you hook a girl up?

  31. Stock Street
    March 4, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    You guys are funny! Haha. I was just in Venice over the summer…I love it. However, there are so many tourists!

  32. Brian Powers
    March 29, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    Very funny episode. Well done!

  33. Nilda Rivera
    March 17, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    I am new to the Mad Fientist podcast so I recently started listening from the first episode. I didn’t think that I would write until I finished listening to all of them. THIS podcast with your brother had me laughing out loud out in public!!! HILARIOUS! I can’t wait to listen to the rest and catch up to present day.

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