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Interview conducted August 4 2018
Interview published August 8 2018

"Well, we're not the biggest band in the world, but we do all right."

London, England based power metal unit DragonForce was playing at Sweden's Skogsröjet festival and Metal Covenant was given some time with the band's two guitar players Sam Totman and Herman Li.

Tobbe: Reaching Into Infinity, your last record, was out in May 2017 and have you guys already started working on a new album, just a little bit yet?

Sam: Yeah, we've started writing some songs and stuff. I've written about 4 songs, I think, myself. Fred got about 4 or something like that. I mean, they're not finished or anything, but we've started working on it. You can't take too long between albums these days. It's kind of like: just carry on, like: you think "Oh, cool! We've finished the album." and, I mean, you might think like "Doing the album is the difficult part and then doing a little touring is the fun part", but now it's like "Oh, man. We got to start moving already.". You think "Oh, it's gonna be tough.", but then once you start you're getting into it. I think all the songs are kind of cool. So we're getting there.

Tobbe: And that was also the third record with Marc [Hudson, vocals], so how do you look at his growth so far in the band?

Herman: That was the third one, yes. I mean, it happens kind of quickly. It feels like it's a short time, but it's actually quite a long time, so. By the next album he would have done as many albums as our previous singer [ZP Theart]. You know, we've gone to that mark. We've been together for 20 years. But the growth has been great, I think. Everyone, Marc, including us, we're still getting better at what we do.

Tobbe: What truly does motivate a band in this day and age when record sales are decreasing?

Sam: Well, it's better than having a normal job for a start. It's fun, you know. I think, like, there's nothing really difficult about it. I hear some bands go "It's really hard work.". I mean, it's not for everyone, but personally, me, I think it's… I mean, we're lucky enough to make a living out of it. So it's like "Why would I wanna stop doing this and go and do something that's hard work?". I mean, obviously, I think we all still like music, so there's that too. You know, it's fun to play music that you like. And that's all you really need for motivation, you know. It's fun, I guess.

Tobbe: About making a living out of music: A lot of bands say they have to tour more nowadays and does that also include a band of DragonForce's size?

Sam: I don't know actually. It's kind of strange. I always hear bands complain they don't make any money and I'm like "Well, we're not the biggest band in the world, but we do all right.". I don't really know what everyone is spending their money on, but I'm all right. Got quite rich actually. [Laughs]

(Herman:) Well, you know, being a musician you get paid last. So everyone takes a cut, a percentage, and things now makes it more difficult, because everything, transport, flights, everything costs more, so it's just about being smart and spend in the right places. You know, you have to plan everything ahead to make sure you save. It's like running a business. If you're gonna run it like you're a rock star, you're gonna fail; that's it. You run it like a business man as well.

(Sam:) I mean, I guess it's like: since we started, we never had, like, the real great days of, like, everyone's buying your album, you know. We started when the internet was already kind of around, so. I think it's probably harder for the bands that were used to, like, having Ferraris and all that stuff. But we've always kind of been from this internet days anyway, so it just seems normal and we're pretty happy to make the living that we make.

Tobbe: And does DragonForce still count physical record sales? Or is it just YouTube, Spotify and those kind of stuff nowadays?

Herman: Everything counts, everything matters, from Spotify, YouTube to record sales to, you know, obviously the show sales and the ticket sales and merch sales, everything. These days we self-manage ourselves, so we got everyone doing different tasks and everyone has different skills. You know, they're good at different parts, so. You know, we analyze everything and make sure we do things right. But we're always learning now, even about the music business, because it's changing so quickly.

Tobbe: Regular people in the Western world work about 230-250 days a year and how many days does DragonForce work in a year?

Herman: Every single day. (Sam:) Yeah, it depends what you're doing, I guess. We all kind of do different stuff. (Herman:) Technically we work every single day, if you think about it. (Sam:) Yeah, but one day it might only be 5 minutes. [Laughs]

(Herman:) Yes, sometimes it can be less and sometimes more. I mean, the last 3 or 4 months I can just say "I wake up and I go to sleep.", but everything you do is pretty much DragonForce.". If I don't work that day I usually do nothing. I do absolutely none of it, or I do loads of it. It's kind of weird, once you start it's kind of like the hours just go by. But it's stuff that we like to do. That's a difference, though.

(Sam:) I find, like, when I'm making an album I'll be on it, like, 12 hours a day, easily. But it's not as bad as working in a coal mine or something. So it's not like "Oh, man. I got to go up and play the guitar. What a bummer.". It's not really that bad. Everyone does different stuff, but I think you definitely have way more free time than doing a normal job, 'cause, you know, normal job, you still have to go up and go there and that's an hour.

(Herman:) We're flexible. We can move our stuff around. If we don't do it, no one else is gonna do it for us. So you'll have to do it one day; it's just a matter of "You wanna do it today or you wanna do it tomorrow?" and "Okay, today I'm gonna go and hang out with my friends.", but then I've got way more work the next 4 days. (Sam:) It's definitely some work, but I just always think like "You couldn't ask for a nicer or a better job actually." and that's why it always annoys me when people complain about some stuff. You can't really ask for something cooler, really.

Tobbe: Is there really a way to develop the band's music further nowadays? I mean, if you kind of follow your path it's still gonna be speedy power metal, right?

Sam: Yeah. I mean, that's what we started off playing. It's what we originally did and we enjoyed it. I mean, I always look at other bands, that I liked when I was young, and I've seen what they have done. You know, like, someone like Slayer kind of carried on exactly the same and for me personally I think that's cool, right? I'd prefer listen to the new Slayer album than, say, the new Metallica album or something. I wouldn't listen to either actually. [Laughs] But you know what I mean anyway. And the new Metallica album is kind of like the old stuff anyway …whatever.

But I like a band for what they are. That's just my personal thing. I kind of wanted to carry on doing that, like: I don't really wanna hear Slayer do a country album or trying to be like Dream Theater or something. If I wanna hear that kind of music, I'll go listen to another band. So I sort of think as a fan myself of bands, I don't think people want us to change too much and at the same time I don't really wanna change into something else. If I wanted to do a different style of music, I'll just do another band, you know what I mean? So you won't really hear us changing.

But it's nice to bring new influence of course. Over the years we've had lots of different… You know, most of us are sort of experimenting stuff. It happens in, like, say, the middle section of a song, like: we'll get to the bridge part and then we're gonna do something that could never be a song itself. (Herman:) We've evolved, adding more stuff to it, but the framework is always melodic, energetic, fast and a lot of guitar playing in it and we're just adding different elements, because we can't do the same song all the time.

Tobbe: You guys started out as DragonHeart once, 19 years ago, and will you do anything to celebrate your 20th anniversary next year?

Herman: No. I thought about it "What can we do to celebrate?" and "You can't. There's nothing really to celebrate.". (Sam:) Celebrate how much hair I've actually got left? [Laughs] (Herman:) I don't know. It's like: we're gonna release a new album, so we can't really go and do, like, an old songs tour. If we're gonna do anything like the old songs, like celebrate the old songs, we need to do, like, a full album we did with the old singer. So that's not happening. Maybe 25th anniversary.

(Sam:) And we've kind of played most of those anyway over the years, so. And we aren't really like: I mean, us two for sure, we never celebrate our birthday, we never party at the end of the tour or anything. [Whispers] We're just miserable all the time. [Laughs] So we're not really that kind of celebrating type of band. Some of the other guys like that stuff, but not me and him.

Tobbe: Your former singer, ZP, is now with Skid Row and in terms of his voice, where does he fit the best, in DragonForce or in Skid Row?

Herman: I mean, I haven't seen him play live for Skid Row, so I can't really… (Sam:) I watched him in a video and he sounded quite good actually, I thought. It was funny, 'cause I looked at him on the internet and everyone was going, all the guys on Blabbermouth and stuff going "Oh, this sounds like a pile of crap!" and I was like "Well, that actually sounds quite good.". I think he sounded pretty good with us too. He was always, like, a big fan of Skid Row. He was always singing Skid Row on our soundcheck and stuff, so I guess he's probably pretty happy.

Tobbe: It's hard to predict the future obviously, but when seeing what kids are listening to today, do you think there will be a market for heavy metal when our generation is not here anymore?

Sam: Yeah, I mean, when you look at, like, Iron Maiden gigs they're pretty huge. I think it will always be around. I mean, I'm, like, pretty old now myself and every single year or decade that I've been through, people are always going "Heavy metal is dead!", but it's like it's a fun thing to say, more than 'cause it's true. Look at the festivals. I mean, Wacken or something is bigger now than it was 20 years ago, so if anything, that's probably more popular.

And I think that it'll definitely always be around. It's not that many new styles of music that can be created anyway, I don't think, these days. Like there's not any completely new things coming out, so it's maybe like the world has made all the different music that it can and now those styles will carry on. It seems like rap will always be around and metal will always be around, so.

Tobbe: I don't hear many young bands cite DragonForce as an influence and is your music just too hard to play for younger bands to get influenced by?

Sam: Actually I think it might be. When we started we were like "Oh, when we get older there's gonna be some young guys that are really handsome and play our music, but much better.", but it hasn't really happened. There's still not any bands that came along and sounded just like us, so.

Tobbe: Have there been times during recording sessions where a song has almost suffered quality-wise just because you wanna kind of show off a little bit more than you actually have to?

Herman: No. (Sam:) No, not really. If we wanna play something, we'll just put it in there anyway. That's why every song is so long on the early albums, 'cause we were like "Oh, I got to do one more solo.". Now we've kind of, like, made it more simple. We never put anything in that we don't like. We've cut bits out quite often actually, like when there are too many guitar solos.

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