» Herman Li - DragonForce
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Interview conducted April 04
Interview published April 05 2015

Prior to DragonForce's show in Stockholm, Metal Covenant had a few words with extreme power metal guitar wizard Herman Li about the decline of power metal, last year's installment Maximum Overload and his guitar play and stage performance.

"We play live, and we jump around, spin in the air, and run around the stage, so maybe we're not boring enough for them."

Herman: Metal Covenant, you said. I remember Metal Covenant, the website. Do people reading that site still like us? Probably not anymore, all right. We've moved on to a way that people will hate us because you're not underground enough and maybe now they like us again, right. It's the way opinion works in metal.

Tobbe: Right. Okay, let's get things going. By getting Through The Fire And The Flames on Guitar Hero, a lot of people outside the sphere of metal became aware of your existence. Have those fans now left the building and you're back with your core fans again?

Herman: I think a little bit of both. We've got new fans from Guitar Hero. We've got core fans leaving because we got new fans from Guitar Hero. Some people will hate you if the other people that are not into metal like it or people just getting into metal like it. It's a pretty ridiculous thing, to be honest. But yeah, we've got core fans that left and come back. We have people that liked it and no longer like it and we have people that liked it and still like it. So, it's not something we care about controlling, because the song was actually recorded in October 2004 and we were still touring on the previous album, Sonic Firestorm, then.

Tobbe: Power metal has lost a bit of its fans. I wouldn't say a majority of its fans, but quite a bit of its fanbase, so do you think there is a coming future for your type of music?

Herman: Well, if you think about it. When we first started, we already thought power metal was finished. I would say the heyday, the high state, was Stratovarius' Infinite album. You know, you got the HammerFall thing and then you got all the Italian bands. I don't believe that we're just another power metal band like those stuff, but so says every single band, right. I think the survivors are the ones that don't sound the same, so the ones still standing around, doing world tours, are the ones that have gone beyond power metal. I mean the second generation. You know, it's not the Helloween generation I'm talking about.

Tobbe: So what do you do to try to still stay current at this point?

Herman: Well, how does music work? Do you try to adapt to the changing times? We just evolve ourselves musically because we have to. We'd done 4 albums where basically every single phase is a main theme, but one ballad. So afterwards we edited more styles, because people thought we couldn't play anything else. So we have evolved. Maximum Overload and the last album [The Power Within] was a continuous evolution of what we are.

Tobbe: Most of your songs are fast, so what do you really do to try to minimize repeats?

Herman: I guess we play some mid-tempo songs, that we said we'd never do. I mean, we still find a way to make some of the fastest songs more interesting with the instrumental section and things like that. We're moving in different directions, but some people don't understand it. I remember when the Inhuman Rampage album came out, I was reading our own DragonForce forum. "This is just shit. This album is terrible. The keyboards are doing like weird noises and stuff and the guitars are doing video game noises.". So you can't satisfy anybody anyway, you know, so we don't.

Tobbe: You released your first album, Valley Of The Damned, in 2003 and people were already downloading stuff at that time. Have you noticed any differences in people's mindsets if you're looking at downloading nowadays and when you first started to release records?

Herman: I mean, the generation of people have changed, yeah. A lot of people now these days have probably never bought music before. You know, there are fans that have probably never bought a CD in their whole lives. It's not much that you can do about it. I mean, it's all this Spotify and all that stuff. You know, you try to approach it in a certain way. These days we have finished our last record contract, to the end, all the albums. And now these days we release stuff under our own label and license it to different companies. That's the way it is. What can you do? Music has unfortunately changed into a fast food chain kind of thing so quickly. Just like everything, like video games and movies. We all go in that kind of direction. It's kind of unfortunate. I mean, look, the people's priority these days is not to buy music, buy albums or buy video games. It's buying a new phone, so let's accept that's the way it is. They want the latest phone before the latest album.

Tobbe: It's been a year since you recorded your latest album, Maximum Overload, so if you look at it, what will you try to do differently on the next album?

Herman: Well, it depends on what music it's gonna be. We don't think so much what we're gonna do different now. The reason is, in a year time, we might not think about it that way. It's almost like the snapshot of your life and it has to be taken at that point. You think about it, but it's kind of irrelevant and it's kind of a waste of time talking about it, because you don't know what the songs will turn up like and who we're gonna be working with. All I've been doing the last few months is working on the DVD/Blu-ray release and I'm still doing it. My laptop is there [points at it] downloading Blu-ray images. I uploaded 300 gigabytes, the other day, of videos up to service. So that's what I'm working on right now and then we move on to different stuff.

Tobbe: So when will that DVD be released?

Herman: It comes out in July. That's why I'm in a rush.

Tobbe: Fred [Frédéric Leclercq, bass] told me last year when you recorded Maximum Overload, that he and Jens [Bogren, producer] were on one side and you and Sam [Totman, guitar] clashed heads with them, so will you hire Jens again? [Not to be taken seriously. Uttered as a leading question.]

Herman: Yeah, I don't need someone to kiss my ass in a recording. I like someone with their own mind, that can stand up and fight for what they want. And the same thing, I'm not gonna be a pushover either and we can't work with a pushover producer. I think he was good. There were questions and there were challenges we had to deal with.

Tobbe: So what did you actually learn from having an outside producer?

Herman: It's much easier. [Laughs] I mean, we were destroying our brains when we were doing Inhuman Rampage and Ultra Beatdown. Those were difficult albums to make. This way actually let us play guitar. I mean, think about playing the guitar than think about everything else, you know. Technology has moved on and skills and production have moved on. I think when we did it back then, it was cool. We might still do it again, but right now I'm thinking it will be better to get someone else to do it for now.

Tobbe: Do you think most metal fans will see the difference if you have produced it or if Jens has produced it?

Herman: Will they see the difference? Yeah. Well, I will see the difference, I don't know if they will. I'm interested in production and I've learned a lot of this stuff and I'm like a total nerd, but I think, for a DragonForce album, to keep the peace between all band members at the same time, it's good to have an external producer, because they would blame me for everything if things doesn't work.

Tobbe: This was Marc's [Hudson, vocals] second album, so what has he brought to the band that wasn't there earlier? Really, really brought to the band?

Herman: I mean, he has improved his singing. You know, he had the range, but he wasn't that confident on the previous tour. If you watch the videos from two years ago and now, it's a different kind of game in terms of vocal ability and all that. You know, there's so much you can learn, that he doesn't actually know himself, because you have to be there to look back in your life what you knew back then.

Tobbe: How hard did you push him for this second album of his, in comparison to his first one?

Herman: This one was much easier to make than his first one. The first one was really difficult. It took some time, because we had to find a singer and then work with him in the studio and he had completely never done it before. So this time he was able to record a lot of stuff by himself actually, which is a surprise, you know. We've never let usually people record stuff by themselves. Singers anyway…

Tobbe: If, I say if, Marc quits the band, hypothetically, would you ever ask ZP [Theart, former vocalist] to rejoin?

Herman: Well, we never know at what stage that would be. I can't tell you. At what stage in our life would it be, you know. It's hard to say.

Tobbe: Sam has always been the main songwriter of the band and you and Vadim [Pruzhanov, keyboards] wrote more stuff earlier, but on the two latest albums, Fred and Sam have written almost all the music, so 2 questions; Why don't you write as much music anymore and is this something you talk about?

Herman: Because there's so many tasks to do in the band and in order to move forward and do so many things, that's kind of how we share the work with different things we have to do. That's the way it is. I mean, we've tried different ways of doing it, but listen, I can't say "All right. Everybody's gotta learn a new skill with the computer. Who wants to be the final cut video editing expert? Who wants to be the expert in Pro Tools? Who wants to be expert in, whatever, Photoshop?". You know, it's always trying to find a way for people to use different skills to be good at.

Tobbe: About your guitar play. On the albums it's very skillful and talented, but it's very hard to hit every note correctly when you play live, so how do you adjust your guitar play on stage compared to the studio work?

Herman: Hmm, I think it's actually quite easy these days. I mean, maybe in the past, it was harder. An example is, when we started playing the songs like Fury Of The Storm from the second album, we thought that it was so hard, but now it's like the easiest song. We can do it like, not even looking at the guitar. It's just a continuous thing and there's no one saying you have to play the solo exactly the same, so it depends on the feel. I guess people have to see the show to really make their own judgment. Last night some guys came to the show and said "Wow. That was a really good show, but I wasn't gonna come, because I was reading on the internet that you guys can't play.".

Tobbe: That's ridiculous, but still a lot of people say that you guys can't play live.

Herman: Well, there's so many things. And to be honest, what I've got to say about this. We play live, and we jump around, spin in the air, and run around the stage, so maybe we're not boring enough for them?

Tobbe: Right, like some guitarist just standing there.

Herman: I mean, a lot of bands, in the music videos, are so energetic and they're headbanging, but then they go on stage and are just standing there. I mean, you get disappointed.

Tobbe: Yes, it's very boring. Eventually your guitar play will deteriorate a little when you get older. Do you have any plans for that when that time comes? You won't be as fast as you are now when you're 65.

Herman: You think bands will last that long these days? The good thing is we do have a few slow songs these days and by the time we're 65, maybe we have a collection of 50 percent mid-tempo songs and maybe we even start playing the ballads again. The reason we don't play ballads these days is that people don't wanna hear us play ballads, I think. We learned it for the tour, but we ended up not playing it.

Tobbe: So where do you see DragonForce in 10 years?

Herman: Hard to say. I mean, I really don't look that forward. We're not gonna hang up yet, for sure. But we always said if the music is gonna be shit and no one wants to do it, it's no point for continuing and forcing something that doesn't exist. So for now, we still have a good laugh. Yeah, you see us on stage, we're jumping around and having fun.

See also: review of the album Maximum Overload

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