Over the last few years Dragonforce have established themselves as one of the premier bands in today’s metal scene. Their latest release, Inhuman Rampage, is an exceptional example of their over-the-top brand of music, which combines extreme power metal with catchy choruses and wild soloing. Perhaps their most unique musical influence would be old video game soundtracks.
During this summer’s Ozzfest 2006 tour I had the chance to catch up with one of the band’s guitarists and founder, Herman Li. Li recently received the Dimebag Darrell Best Young Guitarist award at Metal Hammer UK’s Golden Gods awards. Check out www.dragonforce.com for more info on this innovative young band.
IC: How is it in the world of Dragonforce at the moment? How is the Ozzfest tour going?
HL: It’s been cool. Been on the road [for a while] now. So far so good. Pretty hard though.
IC: What’s it like to break into the US market finally?
HL: Well, you know, for us we always viewed the whole thing as an international thing, so it wasn’t just the US or just Europe or Japan. We just play our music and hope to get the same attention in every part of the world and hope they’ll like it. I don’t think we broke the market yet, but we’re definitely going up, so that’s cool.
IC: How did you get involved with Dragonforce and how did the band get started?
HL: I started the band in 1999 with Sam, we’re the two guitar players. We wanted to do something with melodic singing – something catchy and melodic. That’s when we found our singer ZP and that’s kind of how we got started. We recorded our demo, which came out in June 2000. I think that’s the first time people really heard of us, and that’s when we started playing live and touring.
IC: Who are your greatest influences – both in terms of composition, as well as your guitar-playing?
HL: I listen to anything from stuff like Steve Vai, death metal bands, thrash metal bands, progressive stuff like Dream Theater and Symphony X, to guitar players like Brett Garsed. Really there’s no limit – anything that I listen to could be an influence.
IC: I understand video games are also a big influence on your writing.
HL: Yeah, that as well. We heard that music a lot when we were playing those games. They became part of our influence and they just pop up in our ideas every now and then. When we listen back we go ‘wow, that sound a like this and that.’ You think of influences after you write the music I think.
IC: What is your favorite video game?
HL: (laughs) I don’t think I have a favorite video game, but I love those old “shoot-them-up” arcade games I used to like playing. Musically, those are the better ones…
IC: How do you and Sam Totman [guitar] approach solo sections in your songs? Do you have a strategy in mind or do you just go for it?
HL: Sam works every single solo out. He kinds of writes it before he starts playing it. So he works it out with the chords and then he’ll practice it and record it. My method is just pretty much improvising takes until I find one that I like. I like the magic of surprise of improvising. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
IC: Both you and Sam contribute some crazy solos to the band. Do you ever feel a sense of competition between you two?
HL: Not really. We say it for a laugh in interviews and stuff. But we really try to make each other sound better, more than trying to be better than the other guy.
IC: What kind of gear do you use?
HL: Ibanez guitars – I’ve been using them for over 10 years. Sam is also using Ibanez at the moment. I use Laney amps and I use Rocktron effects with it. Both Sam’s rack and my rack are all midi-run. It makes live playing easier when you have a big stage and we also allow the guitar tech to do the switching for us.
IC: I understand that you’re a fan of the Digitech Whammy pedals. Which kind do you have?
HL: It’s the one you can buy now, which is a Whammy 2. It has midi capabilities as well. So everything is racked up together – the Whammy pedal is also controlled by midi the switching. So I don’t press the whammy pedal on, my tech will press it for me when he sees me going on it. It just makes the live show much [easier]. You don’t have to think about the pedals.
IC: Dragonforce is quickly becoming one of the biggest names in modern metal. What are your plans for the future?
HL: We pretty much just do our thing. We don’t expect anyone to like it anyway, because it’s sometimes too over-the-top with the guitars and the drums and all that. But we do our thing and it’s cool that people are getting into that kind of stuff.
IC: Inhuman Rampage, as the title suggests, is a very intense album. Where do you see the band’s musical direction going to for the next album?
HL: We’re pretty much going to keep pushing it. We’re going to make sure that it’s melodic and catchy musically and try to make it more exciting with different things. Like this time the keyboards have really changed a lot. We used less classical strings and that kind of stuff and tried to make it more futuristic sounding this time.
We try to really kind of push and put new ideas in and add it all together, but without changing the style of the band. There’s always going to be the element of energy and the speed and stuff like that. We won’t cut down on solos either (laughs).
IC: You guys are known for your wild and energetic live shows. What’s the craziest thing that has happened on the road recently?
HL: I don’t know, man. It’s hard for us to say. Every day we have a few drinks and party on, so it’s hard to say what the craziest thing is… (laughs) you’ll just have to come to the show and stick around afterwards and see what we actually do.
IC: Is there any advice you can give to aspiring musicians?
HL: Now in 2006, it’s important to be a quite good player, obviously. But with modern technology, if you want to be a recording artist you have to learn production, understand recording, and the business side as well. We like to have a good laugh, but we produce our own records and record them. You have to look after your music all the way from the beginning (writing it) to the end, because that’s your sound that’s going to be on the CD.