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Interview with DragonForce

Photo of Dragonforce

Band Photo: Dragonforce (?)

On Friday April 2, I had the chance to interview Herman Li online from the power metal band Dragonforce. Herman and I had a great deal of fun doing it, as you can probably tell from the interview. The interview was a true honor. At first I was kind of nervous, though I couldn't show it, I was. In the end that nervousness didn't last very long. Herman quickly was able to make me laugh and enjoy myself. I actually realized some basic things about life though this interview, it was definately a life changing experience for me (ok maybe not, but it did rule). He did, though, give me different answers than I was expecting, and he always added a bit of humor to his responses. I suggest that everyone reading this should at least check it out.

zMETALlica: I'd like to thank you ahead of time for allowing me to do this interview.

Herman Li: No worries, It's cool.

zMETALlica: Why did you choose the name of the band to be dragon force?

Herman Li: Well, everything is getting tougher and tougher these days. Any names you call the band you gonna get someone saying blablibla. You choose an original name and than people say it's not metal. Steel, iron, fire, whatever, everything has been used.

zMETALlica: Well, it’s just a name of course.

Herman Li: I can easily call the band yellow duck than people say it's shit, we are gay, and you call it Dragonsomething and people say it's the same old shit, so DragonForce it is. We think it's cool anyway.

zMETALlica: Yeah me too, dragons are awesome creatures man.

Herman Li: I always thought metal heads thinks it's cheesy shit, but funny enough normal people don't think the same. You know, just in the metal scene, people always have something to complain about.

zMETALlica: So there isn't really any meaning behind the name at all, or did it just pop in your head?

Herman Li: Well, there are different meanings depends how you interpret it.

zMETALlica: How do you interpret it?

Herman Li: Dragon can be METAL, can be fantasy, can be a Chinese thing, can be a power thing, and can be a computer game thing. We always try to leave thing not static and you can relate to it differently, just the way we do with the lyrics, so you can call us video game metal haha.

zMETALlica: I love video game music!

Herman Li: Well, that's one of our influences.

zMETALlica: Cool, one of mine too actually.

Herman Li: Yes, that's why the songs are so melodic-inspired by arcade games.

zMETALlica: Any game in particular?

Herman Li: All the old late 80's, 90's ones, the ones with great melodies-from Street Fighter to Psychic 5 to Wonderboy, even shoot em' ups.

zMETALlica: They had great music.

Herman Li: I guess more the Japanese stuff. Well, they had great melodies because back than, you don't get all the real samples and real music like the games of these days and with such shit sound to work with then, I guess they HAD to make great melodies.

zMETALlica: Do you have a personal meaning or connection from making music and touring? For example spreading political message.

Herman Li: Really, we started off to want to be cool and score lots of chicks like every kid did when they picked up the guitar and wanna be in the band, hahaha, well, not completely now, but it's still in there hehe. Really, to make the best stuff we want to hear, that our favorite bands back than have never done. Touring is to party, kick arse, and have lots of fun.

zMETALlica: Awesome, its important to love it

Herman Li: I mean, we got beer cans strapped onto our microphone stands.

zMETALlica: Haha.

Herman Li: When you come see us, it's definitely not us just acting like a bunch of guys on ego trips, we have a party together always, we still look at touring the way we always had, we play music to go on tour. That’s what we wanna do, every time we make an album, is to hope to can go out and play and really have fun. It's not like, ‘let's make an album to make some money.’

zMETALlica: That’s great that you love doing music, some people hate touring but love recording and playing.

Herman Li: We hate recording.

zMETALlica: Really?

Herman Li: Well, not hate, but we consider it, homework - you know, you have to do it, than you go out there and have fun. We do feel really good when you listen back to the album looking at all the work you done the last 3 months.

zMETALlica: Do you hate anything about recording/touring? What and which do you hate most?

Herman Li: Recording, cause I go insane. You have a deadline and you know we always want to make things sound as good as possible so that's lots of pressure we put on ourselves when we do the recording.

zMETALlica: Yeah, it can be very frustrating, but when its all done you feel very VERY accomplished and happy, like you said earlier.

Herman Li: We always pushed ourselves to the max on each time, I guess the hard work is what we don't like, but we like really. It's hard to describe, we love it but hate it too.

zMETALlica: At least there is some love in there. Do expenses or the record company set the deadline?

Herman Li: Deadline is set by expensive and time. We are really happy with Sonic Firestorm, but I hated when I didn’t sleep for 3 days to finish the record! Haha I slept 2 hours per night, the last 3 days of the mixing/recording.

zMETALlica: Rough. Do you rely on music as a primary income or do you have part time jobs?

Herman Li: Just doing part time at the moment, but that's going out as well.

zMETALlica: What do you do for a living?

Herman Li: Unix system admin, but I don't just play computer games all day.

zMETALlica: I find it weird that a lot of metal bands end up in some field with computers.

Herman Li: Hehe, well, in computers we can keep our long hair.

zMETALlica: HAHA. Do or did you ever expect to earn 100% of your income just through music?

Herman Li: I never expected to be even able to play the guitar when I started. We started off expecting nothing really, just what we wanted to do. Without going too far back, when DragonForce started, we didn't expect that much. Just write some songs, record a demo, have fun, play some gigs.

zMETALlica: I noticed that the band is primarily self-taught, how did you teach yourself, are there any methods or books you used?

Herman Li: I just listen to my favorite CDs and try to play along with it and watched videos.

zMETALlica: You must have had a pretty good ear to start then huh.

Herman Li: Well I had some tab books my friend lent me and all that. Sam and Vadim are classically taught. As for the rest of the band: Adrian went to bass tech. Dave he started really young too. ZP, just like all metal heads, shouts along to your favorite CDs!

zMETALlica: Any advise for guitarist who are teaching themselves?

Herman Li: There is no set rules on how to practice to be a rock guitarist I think, they just have to find the way that works for them. But there is 1 important thing, though, practice the guitar standing up.

zMETALlica: Haha!

Herman Li: No rock star play the guitar sitting down on stage.

zMETALlica: Oh man, when I first started I only practiced sitting down, then my first 'gig' with my friend, I had to play standing up and I was like ‘this Feels weird.’

Herman Li: I know I did the same! At my first gig I had only played guitar for 1 year. And there we go time to headbang and play at the same time. It wasn't easy.

zMETALlica: Haha, How would you define talent?

Herman Li: I can't, I am not a philosopher.

zMETALlica: Good answer haha.

Herman Li: Anything I say I will get stabbed for! Haha.

zMETALlica: Haha. What are your opinions about 'shredding' and guitarists who just solo and try to always play as fast and as technical as they can?

Herman Li: If they like it, do it. They are enjoying it, and that's the main reason to play right? You can be Steve Vai, people will still say you are shit. You can't win.

zMETALlica: There is always a hand full of assholes who will criticize a person's playing.

Herman Li: I mean we are all guilty of that, including me. It's just a thing we all do. Everyone looks at the guitar at a different angle.

zMETALlica: Very true, and that will take a large effect into their writing style as well.

Herman Li: You know it even shows live, for example you have bands that wants to stand still and play everything as perfect as possible and you have ones that put on a fucking great show without playing everything perfect some people like that, some like the other. Right now, DragonForce is trying to combine the 2 together.

zMETALlica: It’s not an easy thing to accomplish and takes a while to get the hang of.

Herman Li: Yeah, takes years, but you definitely won't see DragonForce standing still!

zMETALlica: Haha. What influences came into writing the lyrics?

Herman Li: Everything around us, but we always try to hide the topic.

zMETALlica: Is there anything specific that comes back into the lyrics.

Herman Li: Sometimes it will take a couple and the listener will think it means something else we always let the listeners interpret the lyrics their own way, so they can relate to the songs and find it more special. If I tell you what it means, it will take the magic away.

zMETALlica: That’s good. Do you think that the label you are with now is doing a significant job with promotion, or are you and the band?

Herman Li: Sanctuary is definitely doing a great job. It's great for a young band like us to be put as priority with our new release. They are also working hard on the US as well, so hopefully we will be playing there very soon.

zMETALlica: Kick ass! I can’t wait to see you live now.

Herman Li: We are working on some US shows right now, fingers crossed.

zMETALlica: Sounds great man, it’s not easy to go to different countries, especially when its across an ocean.

Herman Li: Well, we got to go to Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan on our debut, so anything is possible.

zMETALlica: Very true. How does your band stand out from the rest of the bands in your genre?

Herman Li: Of course we are pigeonhole as 'power metal' these days but in some way we fit and do not fit. If you compare to the current scene of the power/melodic/speed metal scene. No one can play guitar like that, with such a long guitar solo section with double guitars. You know the energy along with the extreme metal drumming, blast beats mixed with double leads. Long songs, you know, all that mixed together and the songs are still very catchy with the singing and everything the problem is, just because the songs are catchy, people say it's unoriginal.

zMETALlica: I think if someone says u aren't original then they don't know much about either music or the music and the band.

Herman Li: People say all the songs are happy, but if you look at sonic firestorm, tracks 1,3,4,6,7 are pretty sad sounding. There isn't another album like sonic firestorm, so if that don't make it original. I don't know what you suppose to do. Along with the energy and everything we show on the album.

zMETALlica: Hey, at least get feedback. Speaking about the new album, how will this be different from previous works?

Herman Li: Well, the new album really takes it further than valley of the damned. Everything has been put up a notch really. Kinda breaking the boundaries of the current scene, basically all instruments more over the top with losing the melodies and all that. Also there is much better production. We learnt a lot from recording last time.

zMETALlica: What are your opinions about downloading and 'sharing' music?

Herman Li: Well, downloading is like tape sharing in the old days. I only found out of many bands cause my friend lend copied me a tape etc. Good albums people buy, crap ones people copy! That’s what I think... and all those extra videos, DVDs are cool, but in the end it's the music of the album, which counts the most to me. You know, you only check out those bonus CDs, videos, and interviews once, after that you don't care. You want the music.

zMETALlica: How would you feel if your new album got leaked out onto the Internet?

Herman Li: Already been leaked long ago.

zMETALlica: How do you feel bout it then?

Herman Li: The only thing that pissed me off was the leaked one was not the final version and it was off a CDR, which was a non-final mix and non-final master.

zMETALlica: So why does that get you mad?

Herman Li: Because: come on guys, at least make a good rip so the mp3s can show the amazing production! HAHA.

zMETALlica: Hahaha, true

Herman Li: It is not final, they are not getting what it really is, the final one, the one in the shop sound way better.

zMETALlica: So then wouldn't they wanna buy the real copy?

Herman Li: They don't know it's not a final one. Some people thought track off our demo was the album ones back than, cause we released our first demo on the internet, which got like over half a million downloads from mp3.com.

zMETALlica: O wow. Mp3.com (RIP) - how I first heard of u guys.

Herman Li: Same songs re-recorded came out on the album and people thought the demo quality was the album. You know, all that shit, but in the end, I am happy they checked out the band.

zMETALlica: Yeah, that’s a good attitude.

Herman Li: At least they might come to the gigs you know.

zMETALlica: Yeah exactly. When you were starting out did you have a 'dream' or 'goal' as a musician?

Herman Li: Yeah of course, I rather go on tour than go work in an office. Things are looking really good now. We are off for 6-7weeks of touring in 4 weeks time.

zMETALlica: Cool. Are there any bands or people you look up to in music? Why?

Herman Li: Many, from production to players, there are so many.

zMETALlica: Name a few.

Herman Li: As a guitarist, my favorite is still Steve Vai. Apart from an amazing player he is an innovator. He’s great onstage and great in the studio with production and everything.

zMETALlica: Have you ever meet him?

Herman Li: Yeah, I got a backstage pass from Tony MacAlpine on their last tour here.

zMETALlica: Very cool, what was that like?

Herman Li: It was cool. I meet him before as well, but just a couple people back stage was really cool. I was kinda nervous actually, I usually am not but that time I was!

zMETALlica: Hehe I would be too.

Herman Li: He is so much taller than me you know, if I piss him off he can beat me up hehe.

zMETALlica: Anything else you want to say? Any comments?

Herman Li: Well, I hope everyone get the chance to check our the new album Sonic Firestorm and catch us on the new tour, otherwise, just get it, it's the best shit you'll hear!

DragonForce's 'Sonic Firestorm' will be released on April 19th, 2004 through Sanctuary's Noise Records label, exceeding the established boundaries of melodic, speed / power metal.

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