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Interview - Herman Li / Sam Totman (DragonForce)

Interview with Herman Li / Sam Totman from DragonForce
by Charlotte "Lotty" Whitingham at 27 August 2014, 12:18 PM

Shredding in the speed of light, over the hills and down to the plains far into the sun, sounds like a Power Metaller’s dream doesn’t it. Well, DRAGONFORCE never stopped speeding their way to success, and there they go with a new release in the pipeline, firing barrages of riffs and uncanny guitar techs for the flavor. Lotty talked to Herman Li and Sam Totman of the band release the new album, UK Tour and more…

Hello, it’s lovely to speak with you both; the first thing I would like to ask is what made you choose tiny venues for your UK tour?

Herman:  The idea behind it was to do something we did about ten years ago when we released our album “Sonic Firestorm” where we did a bunch of small venues where people don’t usually play around the UK. This time we’re doing it again but this time with many more venues. Since our lost tour we have been playing at quite big venues, the same ones such as the 02 Academy venues and other big venues. So we thought this time, we’ll switch it up and go old school where we pack out crazy, tiny venue and it will be completely insane. So we thought we’d do it this way since not all of our fans have seen us play these little venues before so it will be a very interesting thing.

Sam:  It’s like Herman was saying, we wanted to switch it round a bit; we’ve done the same kind of tour for about six years now and this time we’re playing at more venues. So that should be very cool since not everyone can travel to the big cities to see us play so we’re kind of being nice to people as instead of them coming to us we’re going to them.

Herman:  Plus the train is such a rip off.

So you could say this old school approach to the tour will be appealing to a new generation of fans who haven’t seen you guys play in these sorts of venues.

Herman:  Yeah exactly, especially the younger fans; they can’t usually travel so far because if you think about it you have the price of the train ticket plus a few drinks and the concert ticket so that’s quite a lot to get to a show. This time we’ll go and play to them; I’m actually really looking forward to it and the Southampton show has been sold out for ages. The rest of the tour hasn’t sold out yet so if you want to go you better get your tickets soon.

And from what I understand you’ve got a co-headliner show with EPICA in London as a sort of one off show.

Herman:  Yeah that’s right, we’re doing a European tour with them. We weren’t originally going to do the London show but they said “Hey, your UK shows are pretty much sold out anyway so why not do this one”. Our London show on the UK tour is sold out so this other show in London is a like a bonus show.

So your new album “Maximum Overload” is due for release next month and it received a 10 out of 10 from Metal Temple.

Herman:  10 out of 10?

Sam:  Thank you very much.

Herman:  We don’t usually get 10 out of 10; even though people say this album is better than the last one, which gets 9 out of 10, and the next one gets 9 out of 10. So it’s nice to hear we finally got 10 out of 10.

What has the reception from other press outlets been like regarding “Maximum Overload”?

Herman:  Yes it’s been really good; I was reading a German review, translated on Google and we got a 9 out of 10 on that one. All of them have been good so far; I haven’t heard a negative review yet. It’s all been good.

Sam:  It should be because it is good \[laughs].

Herman:  Well just because it’s good it doesn’t mean everyone understands it.

Like I’ve mentioned in my review DRAGONFORCE are the sort of band you either love or hate, I have often heard your music described as sped up Power Metal.

Sam:  Fair enough.

Herman:  I don’t why they wouldn’t like us but hey ho. I have an interesting story where I was in a bar I guess about a month ago, I was talking to a friend of mine and this guy was looking at me; I said to my friend that this guy was going to say something to me for sure. This guy comes up to me and asks me “Why are you so crap?” I said to him “Look dude, I never said I was amazing or good at anything. It’s not my fault you think I’m crap where others think I’m good so it’s not my choice.” He looked at me really puzzled and said, “You know what you’re really cool, let me buy you beer.” So that was an interesting moment.

So after speaking to quite a lot of bands that have a different process to making an album, what process went into making “Maximum Overload”? Did it start with the lyrics first? The artwork first?

Sam:    The first thing you’ve got to do is to start writing some songs; we finish the tour for whatever album was previously released, then we have two months rest and then start to think of songs then take it from there. We then make a bunch of demos that we then send out to other people that way people get an idea of what the new material will sound like and then we go to the studio to record it. Then think of album artwork and here we are.

Herman:  That is a very interesting answer, you forgot to say wipe your arse and eat dinner \[laughs]. We usually write the music first and the artwork comes after we’ve written the songs because the artwork has to reflect the music, the art has got to be inspired by the music. So for the case of “Maximum Overload” the artwork came after the music was written.

Sam:  We always write the lyrics after the music, so at that point we don’t know what the artwork is going to be like and how the general feel is going to be after we’ve written the music. Then you write the lyrics where you get more of a feel of an album title and some artwork. So that’s the order.

With the title “Maximum Overload” I got the idea of computer themes; was this intentional? I particularly noticed in the track “Extraction Zone” the guitar work sounding similar to the theme song in retro video games.

Herman:  Actually there are two meanings for it; one meaning is the music for “Maximum Overload”, it describes how we play our music and also on the album cover we talk about what’s happening today where we are all overloaded with information; useless information and no-one can really concentrate, learn or do something about it themselves because they are constantly distracted by this information. So that’s the two meanings “Maximum Overload” gives. In “Extraction Zone” there are definitely video game sounding guitar noises.

Sam:  We always thought that stuff was cool and people have commented on it calling us Video Game Metal. On the last album we veered away from that so for this one we thought we’d throw it all back into one song especially.

You mention the overloading of useless information; would agree that the Internet and social media have a role to play?

Herman:  Back in the old days the Internet was there to help the bands; particularly new, young bands that want to get out and get known, that was when the Internet was younger. Now the Internet seems it’s at a stage where the control has gone back to the big companies with regards on what you listen to because they have ways of controlling and manipulating the Internet, people using it. In terms of social media just because you have subscribed to our band page doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the information about us as a band, it’s all controlled afterwards. It’s kind of a complex situation; I remember MySpace was the biggest thing and that went downhill. I was accessing the band’s MySpace page and updating it but I started to think “Why am I bothering? People aren’t going to be looking at this.”

This is the second album with Marc Hudson as the vocalist; would you say he has settled with the band now?

Sam:  He’s \[Marc Hudson] come such a long way; I can’t remember how long it’s been since he joined the band. He definitely feels like part of the band; we’ve toured around the world with him and he’s been part of the band for two years. He had experience making the first album with him as vocalist that wasn’t something he had done before so when it came to create the second album everything was much easier and all the skills he learnt from the first album came out much stronger.

As guitarists; who are your musical influences? The solos are out of this world like none I have heard before.

Herman:  Pretty much everything I have listened to; in terms of guitar players it’s the solo guitar players. So they aren’t really in bands these days; Steve Vai and Joe Satriani you know legendary guitar players that have been playing for a very long time. We try and mix it with everything we listen to; metal and video game themes so I would play those on my guitar. So it’s a weird combination of the two.

Sam:  I’m the same; I mean I never really got into that Guitar Hero stuff but I do appreciate the stuff they do and it’s amazing. It was more the guys in the bands I was listening to, for example IRON MAIDEN, METALLICA, MEGADETH all that kind of stuff. I really enjoyed their solos so I took some influences from those and then make something of my own I guess by making it a lot faster and crazier. Like Herman said I’m also influenced by video games and such, when I was younger I used to play the things I hear from video games on the guitar just for fun. So in some ways that came out in my playing.

Are there any particular video games you were influenced by?

Sam:    I don’t how many I’ve played over the years or how many I got into. One that comes to mind is “Last Ninja” as that had a really cool soundtrack. That was the first tune I learnt to play on the guitar. It’s an old one but it’s a great one.

You seem to have inspired so many young guitarists; how does it feel to be an inspiration to a new generation of guitarists?

Herman:  When it comes to doing music or the band we never thought ‘oh we’re going to kick everyone’s ass, inspire the world etc.’ With us the music is art first, we don’t care about the stuff within the music industry that comes with it; we just try and create the best music. If it inspires people, gives them ideas and they want to play guitar because of us that’s cool because we all need that and even us, we continue to listen to music searching for inspiration so we are able to play the way we play and get better. I think it’s important that we can be proud of somebody’s inspiration maybe not for the whole time but for at least part of someone’s music journey.

If DRAGONFORCE did come to an end and you guys retire, would you go on to teach guitar?

Sam:  To be honest I don’t think I will; my friends have said to me over the years ‘You know can you teach me guitar’ I’ll admit I’m not that good at it so I tell them to listen to the music. I didn’t have much lessons apart from classical lessons which I admit didn’t really help. So I couldn’t be a teacher personally.

Herman:  I offer a guitar clinic, which you could say, is a form of teaching already; my advice to any musician reading this interview is to learn how to teach yourself first. Everyone is good at some form of art, a well-known artist is very well respected and they didn’t take lessons for ever, at some point they learn to teach themselves to evolve and have their own style. So it’s not only important to learn how to play, it’s important to know how to teach yourselves; that is a skill I think is required.

To round up what advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own band?

Sam:  If you enjoy doing it, then do it anyway, I understand there are bands out there who just want to play and not get anywhere with it, which is absolutely fine but if you’re going to be serious about starting and want to make something from it the only piece of advice I can really give is to make sure there is someone in the band who can take care of things on the business side and managerial duties from day one. You need someone with that kind of mind; if there isn’t anyone in the band then ask a friend to do it.

Thank you very much Sam and Herman; I look forward to catching you at your Southampton show.

Cheers Charlottle, thank you 


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