Interview: DragonForce’s Herman Li and Sam Totman talk ‘Maximum Overload,’ touring plans, Babymetal

Posted by on July 24, 2014

DragonForce is a power metal band based out of London, England. They will be releasing their sixth album, Maximum Overload this August 18th (EU) and 19th (US) via Metal Blade Records (US) and earMUSIC (EU). This is the second album to feature new vocalist Marc Hudson, and the first to feature a cover song. Although it may be a slightly departure from what some may think of the classic DragonForce sound, the the end product was a cohesive and technical power metal album that still maintains the frills and fun that make DragonForce a stand out figure in the power metal world.

This is the second album with vocalist Marc Hudson. Being that you already got one album out of the way with him, has it been easier in terms of writing for Maximum Overload?

Sam Totman: Definitely, it was like a million times easier this time. The last album, Power Within, all the songs were written before we even knew who the singer was gonna be, so we had to do a lot of adjusting to suit his voice to make the best result. But this one, I knew exactly where his range is, and where the good parts of his voice are, and what he can do and what he can’t. If you’re gonna write songs for someone else to sing, to know their voice is really important, it makes life so much easier on you, and you can just get a better result. You know what note you can go up to on a certain line, and that kind of thing, so yeah. He’s got so much better as well, he was a really good singer to start with, but he didn’t have much experience in the studio or live. So he done a whole world tour with us as well, he’s done the last album, and this one went so much more smoothly, and It was really cool, I think his voice improved actually.


Also on the note of singers, you were joined by Trivium’s Matt Heafy on this album, how did that come about? Who approached whom?

Herman Li: The way we were recording the new album, we got to the point where we needed different kind of backing vocalists in certain songs, like “The Game,” “Defenders,” and also “No More.” Somehow, we just thought of Matt’s name all of a sudden, and we just asked him basically. He was really cool, he recorded so much stuff, so many different vocals and rough, and harmonized his own voice, and black metal, thrash metal versions, it was really awesome that he was able to take the time while he was off tour to do the backing vocals spots for our songs.


I definitely thought he added something that you guys never had before.

ST: Yeah, in the past we really did it ourselves, or got one of our mates to do it, because obviously anyone can shout into a microphone, but we thought if we got someone who did it professionally, it was gonna sound a bit better, and it makes it more interesting for the fans for someone that they know. I think we’ve got a lot of fans in common with Trivium, they’re a cool band and we’ve toured with them before. We just thought it was something fun to do.


So you worked with Jens Borgen this time in the studio, how did that change how you worked in the studio?

HL: Jens in an interesting guy, it was definitely a different environment to go to Sweden in the middle of nowhere. We were not in the city, we were not even in the village, we were just like…

ST: The middle of nowhere

HL: …in the middle of nowhere, working with him. That was good, it got the distractions out of the way. There’s no friends that said “you wanna come out to a show or go to a party tonight” or anything like that. So that was good, we got to concentrate on the music with the change of environment. At the same time we produced our albums before so many times, it was good to make a change and have new challenges ahead when we were making this album. So we learned a lot working with a professional producer of that caliber. We trusted him with this album, and we concentrated just on the playing, much more than thinking about production all the time, or how we’re gonna finish the album. So that really helped the album, we just performed better with someone else like that on this album.


I also read that you were working on some of the solos on Zoltan Bathory’s (Five Finger Death Punch) yacht. There has to be a story there, how did that come about?

HL: *laugh* So I was up in LA around January, and I still had some guitar solos to finish, so I went to LA before I came back, and I went to hang out with Zoltan because we’re friends, and I don’t know, I was on his yacht and I said “hey, do you think it would be cool if I come and do some guitar solos on your yacht, because I still have got to finish some work and I’m sick of sitting in a room somewhere in a studio,” and he said “great idea.” So I set up my portable recording studio on his yacht and I thought we were just gonna record in the marina, that was it, but he said “no, we’re gonna take the boat out, and you’re gonna do the solos while it’s moving at sea.” So he just, he’s crazy, he always like to do crazy things, so that was fun. He’s filming me, and the boat was moving, kind of waving left and right, I’m trying to keep balance doing the solos, but we did it. That was on “The Game,” and “City of Gold,” those were the two solos I did on the yacht.


That is awesome. Not sure what else there is to say about that.

HL: *laughs* I don’t know how many people have done recording like that.


Yes, not every band is recording on a yacht, out at sea.

HL: We’re gonna release some videos of that soon, before the album comes out. Yeah, we got those on video.


I’ll be looking forward to that. Speaking of “The Game,” I also read somewhere that it is the fastest BPM wise, of all the DragonForce songs. Was doing something like that intentional, that you just wanted to kick it up for this album?

ST: Yeah, it is the fastest song we ever did, but we didn’t do it just for the sake of it, you know, we wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t think it sounded good. But I was sittin’ there, I went over to write some songs with Fred (Leclercq), he lives over in France, the bass player, and we were listening to Sepultura Beneath the Remains and like Reign in Blood, and some thrash stuff, and we were like “These guys, I wonder what speed these guys are actually playing it, it sounds even faster than us,” so we worked it out and some of their songs are like 240 (bpm), “so lets try and write a song that’s a fast as that and see if it works.” Obviously we’re not a thrash band, we’re melodic, but there’s a lot of thrash elements in our music, so like “let’s try one at that speed and see if it even works,” and that was kind of how it started, and it did work quite well. Then that fact that it went first on the album, it just felt right, it wasn’t really like there was any particular reason behind that, we just thought that this was gonna be a good opening song. Like I said, we wouldn’t have done it we didn’t think it sounded right, we’re never gonna speed it up to like 300 unless it sounds good. But we’ll see what happens, I always thought 200 was about right, then we tried some at 220 and that worked, and we’ll see what happens really.


Well maybe you’ll try 260 on the next album. 

ST: Yeah, exactly, I definitely don’t mind trying it if it sounds good. I was always a bit worried because you might lose the beat though, you’ve got to hear the difference between the snare, and you want to know whether it’s an off-beat or an on-beat kind of thing. I read a few comments on YouTube where people said “I can’t tell what the beat is,” but that depends on what kind of music you’re into as well, I suppose. Now when I listen to a lot of our songs at 200, I think that’s not even that fast anymore, but it actually still totally is.

HL: On the last tour, when we played “Fallen World,” after playing “Fallen World,” which was 220, when we played another song that was 200 BPM, it was like “this is totally slow.”


You’re gonna get used to playing a little faster than normal. Speaking of speeding songs up, you did a cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, seeing how it turned out do you think you’re gonna consider DragonForce-izing more covers in the future?

ST: No, we always from when we first started the band “oh lets never do a cover,” because we thought it was kind of stupid, it just wasn’t what we were into, “we’ve got plenty of songs of our own.” Now that it’s been 10 years down the line, we thought “lets do a cover now because nobody has ever heard us play one before,” so that’s kind of why we decided to do this one now. So I mean, I guess like, we probably won’t unless people are like “that was so cool, I wanna hear more.” I think it was kind of cool that we took a song and made it completely different, turned it into one of our own songs almost. We’ll see what people say, we had fun doing it definitely, so we’ll see how it goes.

HL: No plans for cover album yet.

ST: If we get lazy, maybe we’ll do a cover album one day.

HL: Don’t do that, because you still have to work out a bunch of guitar solos for a bunch of songs.

ST: Still quicker than writing your own though.


I see that you guys are booked up, touring wise, until about January-ish. Do you have any plans on coming back and doing a US tour?

HL: Absolutely, this time we’re starting the tour in Europe. The reason is, the last two albums, we started the tour in the US and North America, so people in Europe have been saying “how come you guys are always doing the tours in US to kick off the tour?” So we had to do it this way, *laughs* we didn’t have a choice. Yeah, we’re working on some US dates, a US tour actually, with another band, really good band, as well. So hopefully we get to announce that soon when the album comes out it’ll be really awesome billing. So if they like us, I’m sure they’ll like this band too, and vice versa. It’s gonna be awesome.


Cool. Recently I did an interview with Par Sundtrom of Sabaton, and was asking about bands he liked to tour with, and if he had any stories, and he specifically mentioned DragonForce and you two. Do you guys have any stories about hanging out with them?

ST: I’ve got a good one actually. Which one did you get? We’ve got loads. They were our special guest for like two tours, 2006 and 2009. They thought it was a good idea. When you have bands come on, the last day of the tour the bands always come on and do a joke on the other band, right? So we kind of knew they were gonna come on stage and do a joke to us, but we already found out they were gonna do that, so we found out they were gonna come out on stage in the nude, but because we knew they were gonna do it, they came running on stage and one of our roadies grabbed one of them and gaffer tapped him onto the drum riser, so instead of running on stage in the nude for just a quick few seconds, he got stuck there for 2 or 3 songs and he was like “ah man, this sucks.”

HL: He was completely tied up, I don’t know what riser, but he couldn’t get away, and we wouldn’t let him off, and then we pushed it in the front while we kept playing the song. Then we played another song and he was completely naked, attached with tape. I think they did it with transparent tape, like the kind you use for boxes.

ST: And then we got we got them. We got the singer’s vocal mic and we like somehow re-wired it to one of the microphones out the back, and then we were just pretending he was making speeches like, saying all kinds of crap.

HL:  So instead of saying “Hey I’m really happy to be here tonight,” I think we just said something stupid, like “I like it up my ass” or something.

ST: They were cool, we toured with them a bunch of time, and they’re a bunch of cool guys actually.


They seem like it, they were a blast to see live and it was great to talk to Par. It seems like you guys had a lot of fun. Do you have any bands that you’re into right now, or anyone you’re specifically listening to a lot of?

ST: We went to see this band Babymetal the other day, that was kind of crazy and different.

HL:  That was a fun thing.

ST: Have you guys heard of them over there yet?


Oh yeah, they’ve been all over news and stuff, they’ve been getting a lot of traction lately.

ST: Yeah, we went to their gig the other day, that was something different. That was cool, and the funny thing was, it was actually a little weird to see like, a lot of their music is kind of power metal almost.

HL: Songs with similar arrangement to us, with all the blast beats and the big choruses, and stuff like that. That was fun.

ST:- I don’t know what else, what else have I been listening to lately?

HL: A lot of Place Vendome lately, with Michael Kiske singing on those three albums.

ST: – The band Hate, they’re a band from Swedish, a hard rock band, they’re really cool.

HL: – New Marty Friedman album, Inferno is really cool.

ST – That’s really awesome too. A lot of music, just can’t think of them right now.


I always like to this, do you have any opinions on streaming services like Spotify and Pandora because of how they have been affecting the industry lately?

HL: I mean, what can I say about it? It’s just how the world goes. They say it helps artists, I don’t know if it really does, whichever way it does. Me personally, I don’t use that.

ST: I don’t know what they are. *laughs*

HL: But, I’s rather buy an album than go on Spotify, I like to get the album myself. That’s the way I work.

ST: Then I get it off Herman and put it on my *laughs* I’m just a bit out of touch, I still listen to CDs. I’m just a bit out of touch, which is probably pretty stupid, but you always stick to what you grew up with I guess.

HL: I don’t like to have loads of stuff, but an album I like to look at the CD and check it out, and I can put it in my car as well instead of plugging in my phone, which is a pain in the ass. So the streaming service, I don’t really have any comments on that.


I see them as so polarizing from artists, I always like to see how people are thinking about it.

HL:I actually do have something to say. I read on our social networking stuff recently from fans that, in the last month or two, that “oh the album The Power Within is no longer on Spotify, I can’t believe it. Blah blah blah blah blah” Well I guess you can go buy the album if you really want to hear it if it’s not on it anymore, for whatever contractual reason that it had to be taken away, but if someone really liked the album, they could have bought it I guess. It’s totally on CD, so I’m kind of surprised people are complaining about it, if they really want to hear the album, they can just buy the album I guess. “I really like the album, I can’t believe it isn’t on Spotify anymore, I can’t listen to it anymore.” That’s not the only way to listen to music.


Have you guys been using any new gear in the studio on this last album? Or on stage? 

HL: Yeah, because of the way the new songs on Maximum Overload are pretty diverse, we actually have more tones on the new album in terms of the kind of getting the right dynamics of different songs, on the new tour we’re now using a different pre-amp, we changed out pre-amp to the Boss GT100 Effect Processor, which is really cool. It’s got harmonizers and stuff like that, so we can have certain guitar parts all three parts instead of just like two parts. It’s just a really good sounding, diverse gear, so we added that to our touring rig, and we have more 7-string guitars on this album. More Ibanez 7-string guitars, Sam has a new 7-string RG Prestige.


One last thing, do you have anything you want to tell the fans before we end this?

HL: If they’re our fans, thanks for being our fans, if they’re not our fans, check out the new album, maybe you’ll become a fan *both laugh*

HL: We honestly think that from this album, and the responses we’ve been hearing I guess the last month from doing press around the world, we’ve been in Europe and in Japan, this really is a diverse album. A lot of old fans, that may not have listened to us in awhile, they’ll kind of get into, and maybe get some new fans will as well.

ST: Basically, we think people should check it out because we think it is pretty cool. Well, we like it anyways.

HL: Don’t listen to me. *laughs*

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