Dragonforce interview with Herman Li
By Wojtek Gabriel, July 2012
The most successful British power metal act Dragonforce has gone through an important line-up change with a new singer joining their ranks, but when you put the new album on you will hear from the very first note that they still stick to the proven formula. They have developed a signature sound, based on those crazy tempos and solo duels, which are obviously elements that you can find on "The Power Within" as well. On the other hand the album is packed with the most varied bunch of tunes they have ever had on their releases, including some mid tempo material (I'm not kidding) and even an acoustic tune. If you're on the fence about going to one of their shows this coming autumn, reading our interview with a half of the crazy shred duet - Herman Li may help you make up your mind.
It would be weird to use the word "slow" speaking about Dragonforce songs, but you've got some compositions on the new album which we could call mid-paced, like "Cry Thunder" and "Seasons". Are you fed up with only playing extremely fast stuff all the time?
We are not fed up with playing fast but instead expanded and tried doing some songs in tempos we haven't done before to mix things up on the new album "The Power Within".
On the other hand you wrote "Fallen World", which is the fastest Dragonforce song up to date. Are you trying to outdo yourselves when it comes to speed? Where's the limit? Will you be able to play this song live?
We thought since some songs gone slower, we also have to go faster to balance the force. You can't just go one way; we are putting it in all different directions. Some heavier songs, some softer, more melodic, faster and slower. Generally more dynamics and changes, so each song on the new album has its own theme, which sounds different from the rest. "Fallen World" is the fastest tempo wise and also heaviest with the use of 7-string guitars throughout.
In case of the previous albums you could read some reviews where the reviewers said that your songs were similar to each other. Did those reviews had any influence on your decision to put more variety on the new album?
Not really, people say all kinds of things and you can't really do what people say and become lost and turn into a follower. We have developed our signature sound and we stick to sounding Dragonforce instead of trying to satisfy these people who are not really fans. The variety on the new album is just a natural growth of the band. None of our previous albums sounds like each other anyway if you get into the detail.
"Ultra Beatdown" sounded a bit like you wanted to show off all your abilities in every single song. On the new album the compositions are less busy. Seems to be a conscious decision?
We spread the ideas out. So instead of throwing everything including the kitchen sink into every song like we did on "Ultra Beatdown", on "The Power Within" we arranged them in a way so that each song gets different elements for its own identity. "Ultra Beatdown" was a total full on intense album and I like it for that.
The songs are also shorter than usual. Why?
It's just the way the songs turned out I guess. We approached the recording and writing differently on "The Power Within" by jamming the songs as a band in the rehearsal room. You can really hear the energy of the music come across on the album like we've never done before.
The only 7+ minutes song is "Wings of Liberty" which is a more complex tune and these pomp-rock keyboards give it a symphonic feel at times. Was it a one-off experiment? Actually this kind of symphonic backgrounds works pretty well with your music...
That is the symphonic song of the new album. I wouldn't say it is an experiment, since we have done a lot of 7 minutes songs with symphonic keyboards in the past but this one did turn out different from the rest.
I've mentioned "Cry Thunder" which you chose to film a video-clip for. As it's a bit slower than a typical Dragonforce song, why did you pick this one in particular?
One of the reasons we picked this one is because it sounds obviously different than our other songs. Maybe you are right, I am sick of idiots saying this song bla bla sounds exactly the same as "Through the Fire and Flames" bla bla if we picked another fast song. Haha! But seriously, "Cry Thunder" really fires the crowd up with its catchy hooks and energetic feel.
The album closes with an acoustic version of one of the new songs. First tell me what was the idea behind recording an acoustic track, and then when you decided to do that, why did you use one of the existing songs and not write a new one for that purpose?
We originally did it as a bonus track. It was never meant to be an album track in the first place. But everyone who heard it thought it was so well done that it ended up be on the album. It also shows a different side of Dragonforce like never before. People who think we can only play fast should give this a listen he-he!
Has your way of writing songs evolved since you released "Valley of the Damned" or do you still compose your material the same way?
Totally different, we are continuously evolving in everything we do. We always try to find new ways to do things better and "The Power Within's" creation process has been totally different from all our previous albums.
"The Power Within" is the first album with Marc Hudson on vocals. When ZP left was it easy for you to find a fitting singer in the UK?
I wouldn't say it was easy although we had many great singers to choose from. There are just so many things that have to click together as a band and individually between each member. From music to personalities if you want it to work out long term.
Does Marc have a power metal background? Was he familiar with Dragonforce's music at all?
He is totally metal! He knows his stuff!
Apart from singing abilities what other qualities were you looking for in the new singer?
Everything, the whole package of course! Music abilities, getting on and working well together are the most important.
Did you try to steal singers from other established bands?
I have spoken to a few well known singers in the metal scene during the search. I wasn't counting anything out, I searched the whole planet ha-ha!
Now that Marc has been in the band for quite a while and it seems to work perfectly on a musical level, how does it work on a personal level?
We get on really well; the whole band's energy has turned to be the most positive we have ever been. We have never felt this kind of unity before, it's great to be able to talk to each other honestly and get on well together in all levels.
How did you like the live versions of old Dragonforce tunes when you heard them performed by Marc for the first time?
Of course they were great, otherwise we wouldn't go out and play! We rehearsed with Marc a lot before touring and we are really happy with how he is able to sing the old songs so well live in the same key we recorded them in. Marc is very melodic, he has great tone and pitch too.
Had the new material been written before Marc joined? Did he have any input on the song writing at all?
Some, we spent a lot of time in the studio and rehearsal trying different things to make sure Marc can put his own stamp onto the songs.
The cover art is quite simple this time around. It's the first thing you see before you get to the music, so why didn't you want the package to be more attention-catching?
We wanted to approach the album cover differently than "Ultra Beatdown".
You produced the album yourselves. Are you 100% happy with the job you've done on the album?
We produced all previous albums ourselves too and if we weren't happy with it, we wouldn't release it. We are that crazy!
Actually you do a lot of band-related things on your own. Is that so because you don't want to pay anyone from outside of the band for their services, ha-ha?
I am a perfectionist and pretty insane at how I like certain things done. Sometimes it's hard to find someone who would pay the same amount of time and attention to details as I would. I enjoyed working on different projects and not just be a guitar player. I've learnt a lot of new skills from doing that. I really like to absorb as much knowledge as possible and don't mind being a student of anything I like.
You're releasing the album in the UK on your own label, but Roadrunner still handles the rest of Europe and some other labels the rest of the world. Please explain?
We released it ourselves in the UK and Europe and in fact Roadrunner never had Dragonforce for continental Europe, ever (only France for a couple of albums). This was the last album under our original Sanctuary Records deal and there were license deals in place for North America (Roadrunner) and Japan (JVC) for this album which meant we could not sign with another label even if we wanted to. We'll see how it goes and wait until the end of this album cycle before making a decision about signing with labels.
You and Sam were already proficient shredders when the band was founded. Have you progressed a lot when it comes to guitar playing skills? If so, what did you improve on the most?
We have improved a lot in every area of our guitar playing. There is absolutely no doubt on that. We have really evolved on each album.
Are you already thinking about the direction of the next release?
You're doing another UK tour in autumn. Is it more satisfying for you to play in the country you live in or abroad?
The UK has always been good to us; we have some of our most loyal fans there. It's great to be playing at home and we can't wait for the tour. With so many great bands on the bill, the fans are in for a treat!
You've already achieved a lot as a band. What are your next realistic goals?
Play the best live shows we have ever done and make even better album each time. That's exactly what we've been doing and will continue to do so. Dragonforce have that hunger to want to get better all the time, that's the path we believe in.
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