INTERVIEW: Herman Li and Marc Hudson – DragonForce

DRAGONFORCE, not only the band who define modern power metal, not only the most popular band of the sub-genre but also one of the most consistent UK metal bands to date. They’ve had 6 previous albums of blistering high-speed epic metal, and now they return with number 7, Reaching Into Infinity. We caught up with guitarist Herman Li and singer Marc Hudson to talk about what surprises lurk on the new album, their intimate UK show, and their covers of DEATH and JOHNNY CASH.

You’ve been doing DRAGONFORCE for 15 years now, is there a routine to making a new album and touring?

Herman: No, there’s definitely no routine, it’s always a new challenge every year, every tour. From playing together and also I found a new challenge now ‘how do you do a world tour flying around the world?’ They’re screwing you everywhere on airlines now! You have to calculate every kilo of all the gear you take to do a tour, can you believe it? You don’t just worry about the music and playing now, you worry about everything.

I guess one thing that’s always kept it fresh for DRAGONFORCE is lineup changes like Gee joining, how was his transition into the band?

Marc: It was pretty smooth, as soon as he got the job he did three years of playing live with us, he’s filled the boots of Dave perfectly, does an amazing job. Obviously, we now have a new album which he’s played drums on, so this will be the first time touring an album that he’s performed on.

Herman: He brings a different culture and new interesting elements into touring, it’s definitely not just another tour again. Also, I didn’t know someone could never get sick of pizza at all!

I feel like the lyrics on the last couple of albums centred more towards commenting on society or what’s going on around you but in a very epic and power metal way, rather than the fantasy elements. Would you say this album continues that?

Marc: I think there’s a bit of both, there are some songs that have a completely different theme to what you might expect from listening to previous DRAGONFORCE stuff, But at the same time it’s still at the root of everything. There are a few songs on this album that are just completely DRAGONFORCE, fantasy was the word you used. We like to mix it up and address certain issues or themes but then at the same time not alienate people that actually just like power metal. So it’s a bit of both I think.

The first that hits you in the beginning of Judgement Day is the synths I think, whilst you’ve always used synths well I feel that they really pop in this song and drive home that fun Dragonforce feel.

Herman: Yeah, and that’s just one of the songs! There are definitely different elements in other songs I think that are surprises to the audience. We decided that would be cool as the first song for the fans to hear, and I think there will be more surprises when they hear the other songs.

There’s also a breakdownesque moment later in that song which really catches me off guard in the best way because I don’t recall hearing you guys do that before.  

Herman: Yeah! We get to be cool and do breakdowns! But we don’t do them like anyone else though so our fans don’t have to worry.

Yeah, you’re not turning into metalcore.

Herman: No, I hope we never will.

This is your second album with Jens Bogren, was anything in particular that he brought out of you guys or something he did that made you want him for this album too?

Marc: Basically we really like the result of the last album the way it had a massive sound that the previous albums were lacking slightly. I think he did a really good job, and we all spoke about it together and decided it would be good to go back to him. We like the work he’s done for other bands too, we’ve always been a fan of his stuff.

His work with the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT and AMON AMARTH strikes a massive, epic sound but with the fun tone, especially with DEVIN TOWNSEND. I feel he captured the fun elements of DRAGONFORCE while still making it grandiose.

Herman: Yeah, like you say about DEVIN TOWNSEND‘s stuff he added such a massive sound to the album but you can still hear the personality of the musician shining through, so it’s a great compliment for the music and the band.

There’s a cover of DEATH’s Evil Dead as a bonus track. This isn’t a band a lot of people would associate with you guys. What is their influence on DRAGONFORCE and does it manifest more on this album at all?

Herman: A lot of us are big fans of DEATH, they’re the pioneer of that style death metal. That’s why we thought it would be interesting for us to give our take on it. Also to give tribute to such an influential band and Chuck is an influential guitar player. He is Sam‘s (Guitar) favourite guitar player, we thought why not try something different. We did Ring of Fire (a JOHNNY CASH cover on their last album Maximum Overload) which wasn’t metal song last time and this time we’ve taken a completely different style of metal and added the DRAGONFORCE signature tone to it.

There’s going to be an 11-minute song Edge Of The World on the album, what was that like to construct?

Marc: Because it’s the longest song we’ve done it was a bit of a challenge, we had to think about it differently in terms of how you do it with shorter songs. It’s constructed like a concept song almost, like a story telling-thing. The music takes you through a little journey so there are different sections and stuff. We don’t usually write songs that are particularly progressive, I wouldn’t say it’s super prog but it is at least more in that vein. We had to think about how do we wanna tell a story. What are we talking about? How are we gonna convey that the best? We ended up with a song that’s 11 minutes which is one of my favourite songs on the album, to be honest.

I’ve read that you like to put slower songs on every album to work with your set list so you can have a slow section of the live experience. Is that the case? How much do you keep the live show in mind when writing?

Herman: We didn’t write it specifically that way however, it’s easier to set lists these days now that we have more variety of music. The first four albums tour every song was 6,7,8 minutes so it’s like if you do a festival you play 4 songs you kind of think “I’m gonna have to edit”. It can be a bit problematic and now we have more variety and different tempo and time, it’s given us more variety in the live set.

I have noticed that on the last few albums the songs have been shorter.

Herman: Some of the songs are shorter but we actually have more songs on the album than we used to, we used to have 8 songs now we’ve got 12. So you’re still getting the same amount of music and we realised hey we can make 3 songs out of 1 song.

You’re playing The Black Heart in London on the 12th April, that must feel weird going from the size of shows you normally play going back to that club atmosphere.

Marc: Yeah, it’s gonna be weird making a step up to The Black Heart from what we’re doing now (laughs). No, it’s gonna be cool, we’ve played smaller venues here and there and every time we do we always have a lot of fun. It’s a different atmosphere completely than playing on a bigger stage. I think in a way it’s good because you feel closer to the crowd and you can interact a little bit. The only problem I see is the size of the stage and we have a big drum kit we’re gonna have to figure that out but yeah, should be a good way to start off the year, it’s our 2nd show of the year. It’s nice to play in England for once as well.

When will we see you in the UK again?

Herman: The UK tour kicks off in October, before that we’re going to Japan, The US, Asia, Indonesia, Canada, so we’ll do those before we come back to the UK. One of the shows sold out in a day, tickets are going fast, so we’re expecting a really good tour. We always play abroad and people ask us how come you don’t play in the UK? Well, it takes a while to go around the planet.

You guys really do get around, a lot of bands coming through now seem to be in the position where they’re stuck in the UK and Europe and can’t really break out. Whereas you guys have the entire world really.

Marc: Yeah exactly, obviously we go to wherever the fans like us the most so if we have a huge following in south-east Asia we’ll go there and we have the luxury of already having broken through those countries and them for some reason like us quite a lot. So we want to visit them every album cycle go to as many places as possible.

Cheers for talking to us today guys!
Herman: Thanks!

Reaching Into Infinity is out May 19th. Pre-order via their website here.

For more information on DRAGONFORCE like their official page on Facebook.