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Interview

Herman Li Says New Dragonforce Album is Most Diverse Record of Career

Photo of Dragonforce

Band Photo: Dragonforce (?)

There is technical and then there is Dragonforce. Listeners try to discredit the band, saying they use too many effects, but an effect can’t make your fingers move with the precision and speed the band possesses. Guitarist Herman Li has made a career out of complex notes. Don’t think Dragonforce is all flash and no substance, though, the band writes very “powerful” power metal songs. Sometimes they’re thrashy and fast, sometimes they’re melodic and slow—whatever the case it, Dragonforce is one of the biggest power metal bands in the world. Even though Mr. Li doesn’t want to acknowledge numbers, last year the band played in front of nearly 200,000 people at Woodstock in Portland, Oregon.

Now the band is gearing up to release another album, “Reaching Into Infinity,” which will drop on May 19. Shredder extraordinaire, Herman Li spoke with me concerning the album, playing live and about their being on another video game. Listen to the interview as you scroll down through the text.

Rex_84: Now that the record is finished, how do you feel about Reaching Into Infinity?

Herman Li: I have to say this every time, if it was a crap album we wouldn’t have released it or delivered it. We are happy with how we finished it and how it sounds. So far, the press and other people that have heard it, they really liked it. I hope they weren’t lying. They were Europeans. They wouldn’t tell me it was awesome if it sucked. In L.A., they would have told me it was awesome, but then say something different behind my back. The Germans would have just told me it sucked.

Rex_84: Germany is the #1 spot for power metal in the world.

Li: Yeah, they have a lot and they know a few things, so I’m glad they said it was one of the best albums.

Rex_84: You recorded with Jens Bogran again. Tell me about working with him.

Li: It’s interesting working with him because now I know him a bit better now. There are certain things I won’t waste my time asking him because I know he’ll just say no. He has his own style and he likes to work a certain way, but he works on people’s strengths and weaknesses. We are really able to work together and cover each other’s ground.

Rex_84: Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses.

Li: I don’t like to record with a producer. I’ve been recording my own guitars since Dragonforce started, so I have a problem listening to people when I record guitars, so I just think, “you don’t know I made a mistake, but I did.” I end up playing it over and over again, over recording. I might play a solo 100 times when I really only need to play it 20 to get it right. That would waste time.

Rex_84: Why would you have to play a solo 100 times when you could probably get it right in the first ten times?

Li: Because there are so many ways to look at it. You think you can do better. Then at the end, you say you’re through, you’re sick of it because you’ve played it 100 times.

Rex_84: Dragonforce guitars are always fast, this album, in particular, it seems faster than before. Is this your fastest playing?

Li: I wouldn’t say it’s our fastest record. I would say, in terms of most notes, the fastest one is “Ultrabeatdown,” in terms of content. If you look at the whole CD, note for note, that one is probably the most. This one is the most diverse. It has more elements beyond just playing fast and long solos. We have the long song “The Edge of the World.” We have some slow ups, some rock ballads. We’ve got some heavy stuff, so we have a large mixture in terms of tempo. “War” is a thrashy tune. We made it more diverse than we have done before.

Rex_84: “Edge of the World” is the longest song you’ve ever done. There is even some different vocal patterns, almost like death metal.

Li: Our singer has expanded his vocals beyond just melodic singing. The more we can do, the more the band can expand, so that came about randomly. He started doing it on stage, live, a few times. We incorporated it into different songs that needed that contrast.

Rex_84: Speaking of death metal, you chose an interesting cover. It is one of Death’s best songs, “Evil Dead.” Tell me about why you guys chose that and about learning that tune.

Li: Of course, we love the band. That’s for sure. We did something cool to it than just doing something that sounds the same. We thought it was cool to do a Death cover. We never thought we would do covers, but we did “Ring of Fire” on the last album and people liked it. This time we thought we would do a metal song, but make it sound like us. That’s the idea behind it. People didn’t expect us to do a Death cover, either. People that don’t like us aren’t going to change their mind. We don’t care. This is for us to do (laughs).

Rex_84: Don’t you think, though, with the expansion of your sound, you will bring in more people. I mean, you guys talk about being a progressive band.

Li: Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. It’s hard to say because people that don’t like us, probably won’t like us. They’ll base their opinion on the old stuff. People’s tastes change. Funny thing is, trend fashion has a lot to do with people’s opinions. Sometimes you don’t like a band because you don’t like a certain guy in the band. There are always people thinking like that. You don’t even know the guy. The guy is probably really cool and really friendly. They might not like your hair or your t-shirt.

Rex_84: “I don’t like Asians!”

Li: Yeah, so you don’t like the band (laughs). All kinds of weird things will make you like the band or not like the band. Unfortunately, you don’t judge on the music alone. It doesn’t really matter; I don’t care. We do what we want.

Rex_84: I just watched your live in Japan DVD. You were in front of a lot of people. What’s the amount of people you’ve played in front of for a festival?

Li: I don’t know. For me, it’s enough people. I never think about numbers. People tell me about all the people at Woodstock. We did Woodstock last year (in Portland) and I don’t know (nearly 200,000 attendees!). It was insane, but it’s not really something I think about. People like to write about how many albums they’ve sold or how many people they’ve played in front of. For me, it means nothing to me. In terms of talking about the music, you can tell people you’re cool and get free gear.

Rex_84: Is it a psychological thing you put in the back of your head? If you had the numbers, like say you’re playing in front of 100,000 people, does it make you nervous?

Li: Not really. I’ll tell you a funny story. I haven’t said this in a while. In 2004 we did our first festival in front of thousands of people in the daylight. I thought that was one of the most difficult things because you see everyone. It’s not like an evening show where there are lights and it’s dark. You see people who are as bored as hell, waiting for the headliner at the festival. You see people into it. Some never care. They are on the floor and look like they want to commit suicide when you’re playing. That was weird. Now we’re used to it. We’ve done so many shows, it doesn’t make any difference. The bigger or smaller, you just approach it differently.

Rex_84: It’s different if you play with a smaller crowd. It’s more intimate.

Li: Yes, you react differently. You perform differently. It will make me more nervous if the crowd is smaller or if the crowd is very quiet. Obviously, if the crowd is energetic, you have to perform better. You feed off the energy. That is no doubt. I’m going to do the show, no matter if there is one or one hundred thousand persons.

Make sure to listen to the entire interview for more information about the band changing its name in the beginning to news about an upcoming video game.

Rex_84's avatar

An avid metal head for over twenty years, Darren Cowan has written for several metal publications and attended concerts throughout various regions of the U.S.

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