Overdrive caught up with Drangonforce shredder Herman Li ahead of Dublin Show!

Posted on by Oran

Overdrive had the pleasure of talking with Herman Li about Drangonforce’s new album, replacing their drummer and just how much he was shitting himself when opening for Iron Maiden!Dragonforce-03

The Power Metal outfit know as Dragonforce will be pulling into Ireland’s capital for an exclusive show in Dublin’s Whelan’s on September 21st and they have a serious amount of new material as well as some old classics to unleash for the lucky crowd that get their hands on a ticket! Find out what Herman had to say about it all.

OD – Maximum Overload was released here in Europe on August 18th talk a little about the title of this record and were there any other titles in the mix before you decided on this?

Herman – Well, we’re always discussing about titles and stuff, but nothing that actually I can remember that was worth using. We thought “maybe use the title of one of the songs, not a single, but one of the songs on the album”. It wasn’t really that great, I thought, to do that.Dragonforce Herman Li

OD – Was there anything behind that title, Maximum Overload, or was it that it just fitted; that it sounded really cool and it was what you guys wanted?

Herman – Well we thought it sounded cool but also it fits with the music, because of the way our music is really intense. It’s a very dense type of music; there’s a lot going on, sort of “maximum overload”. It fits into the way DragonForce always has our album titles in the past such as Sonic Firestorm! Inhuman Rampage! Ultra Beatdown! You know? (laughs)

OD – You recorded the album in Fascination street in Orebro, Sweden with Jens Borgren (Opeth, Devin Townsend, Amon Amarth etc), and the first time you to record outside your own studio with Karl Groom, can you talk a little about the decision to work with Jens and how was the overall experience?

Herman – Yeah like, the idea was to really make it a bit of a challenge, instead of stay in the coffin zone and keep doing what we’ve been doing and what we know how to do. So that was kinda the reason we needed that change, to see what would happen. And if you work with a top producer, you learn some new tricks and how to do things. So that was a really good experience. That was probably the easiest album we’ve made in the band’s career.

OD – Did you have all the songs 99.9% together when you arrived at the studio or were you sending tapes to Jens? Was he kind of aware of what you guys were writing to get a feel for it, or were there a lot of changes in the studio?

Herman – We did demos of every single song and we sent them to him before he even, I guess, took on the project, you know? Before we said “yes” and he said “yes”, he had to listen to the songs, so we sent them over. Like, they were demos, so you can’t say what per cent they are at – some songs change a bit, some a little bit more, but nothing drastic changed, you know? The songs are still the way it was. I mean, he had some ideas he put in, so we kind of discussed that and worked from there.

Dragonforce live

OD – There is a cover version of Jonny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” on the album and I believe that you had all collectively written down a possible 3 songs that you might consider, were there any other songs that didn’t make the album.

Herman – People suggested other songs, but none of them were really a song you could change into our style. Hearing it, you can go “Oh ok that’s DragonForce playing this”. So Johnny Cash was really the one where we thought; “Hey – we know that this is gonna sound like this; that people can hear its DragonForce”. So that’s how it went, because, like, we never did a cover before, because we always thought it was pointless playing a song like its original, even though you offend less people. But then again, it doesn’t really make it that exciting. So once we thought “oh that would work”, and “that would work”, so that’s why we went with that. Otherwise we wouldn’t even bother doing one, to be honest.

OD –So why the decision to do a cover? Where did it come from?

Herman – Well, because we’ve never done one all these years. Even though it’s not original to do a cover, it would be for us. People would be a bit like “What??” People would be a bit shocked by it. It’s weird – I read somewhere in the internet that people are saying “oh this is terrible – you guys are writing 3-minutes songs now”, even though it’s a cover. That’s quite interesting.

OD – When writing the guitar parts for the new album was there any particular different approaches that you took, as opposed to previous album? i.e. Sam with melodies/riffs and you concentrating on solos etc, or was it just a group effort?

Herman – It really depends on the song. Some songs – like it’s really hard to say. We’ll sit there on solos, and say “you do this and that one, because I did the other one which sounds similar on the backing track to this”. We try to divide it up so that everyone gets to do the solos with enough backing music from the band. It really depends – it’s not really got a rule. Like Sam came up with a load of double leads and things like that when he was doing the demo, and some of the stuff is not written when you’re recording the album. We don’t really concentrate so much on the guitar solos and stuff like that until later on in the recording. It’s a kind of a late thing to be honest. We kind of usually concentrate on the structure of the song and the singing first.

OD – This will be the second album with Marc (Hudson, Vocals), did you find that Marc was more relaxed with the writing process for “Maximum Overload” now that he has been with the band since 2011?

Herman – To be honest the previous album “The Power Within” was a really difficult album to make because of that transition (taking over from ZP Theart in 2010). It was taking longer than we thought it would be. To get used to working with someone new, and finding a way of working, that was, to be honest, nobody expected it to be that long. So this one was really easy, to be honest. It’s been the easiest when it comes to doing the vocals of any albums that we’ve done.

OD – It was reported that Dave (Mackintosh, Drums) had left the band earlier this year, was there any bad blood with this decision or did you part ways amicably?

Herman – Well, it was a really smooth kind of thing to be honest, because Dave talked about it for a while, like “you know, I’m thinking about this”. But we’re good friends and everything still, and you know, everything was advanced warning and making sure we had the guy coming in, the new drummer, before he was gonna do his thing. Like, I spoke to him just last week and stuff like that.

OD – You have recruited Gee Anzalone (Braindamage & Kill Ritual) who is due to make his live debut with you in September. Is Gee a permanent member of DragonForce now or will he be just helping out on the touring of the new album?Dragonforce GeeAnzalone-UFIP

Herman – Oh he’s a permanent member. I like the guy – he’s really cool. I mean, I know you HAVE to say that! But without being non-genuine, I like the guy – he’s cool. He’s a really amazing drummer. We’ve been rehearsing solid the last 10 days, and I’m like WELL impressed by the way he plays and his stamina. So I mean, there’s definitely gonna be tours and it’s gonna be cool. He’s different from Dave of course – I mean, he plays differently.

OD – Can fans expect something a little different from the new album or have you stuck to the traditional DragonForce format of previous album?

Herman – It’s DragonForce, but we always try and add a little something different from the previous album. If people are into metal and stuff, they would understand the music. They would hear the difference. Like, The Power Within was a warm-up…a re-warm-up, compared to this one. I mean you have the even faster songs, the slower ones, you’ve got pretty much all your old DragonForce and extra, and a few ones that are like, you wouldn’t expect us to do. More diverse songs like “Symphony of the Night”, which is more haunting, more classical. We haven’t really done songs in that style. And then you have “The Sun is Dead” , which is a little more proggy. We try to mix it up, with the melodies and dynamics of this album.

OD – The album artwork is very elaborate and packs a serious punch! Can you talk about the premise behind the artwork?

DragonForce - Maximum Overload. Out now!

DragonForce – Maximum Overload. Out now!

Herman – We were in my house, Sam, Fred (LeClercq) and I, and we drew that on a piece of paper…the guy in the middle with streams of info, like, be it social stuff or screens or whatever so we kinda just drew it. And then Fred found the artist to make it into something much better-looking than what we can draw. CadiesArt – it’s a Brazilian kid. CadiesArt – that’s his company. (See link below)(http://cadiesart.com/home.php)

OD – With the design of this album cover, did you have a vision of what you wanted or did you give 100% creative control to the artist?

Herman – There was lots of back and forth between the band and him. He was sending stuff and he also put in some ideas himself and we kind of worked on it. Basically, there’s so much stuff on the art, because he’s overloading the artwork as well. There’s hidden codes in there, and ones and zeroes that actually mean something in reverse. You know all that stuff – a bit like the Iron Maiden album “Somewhere Back In Time”.

DragonForce - Full album artwork

DragonForce – Full album artwork

OD – While we are talking about album covers, can you tell me what your all-time favorite album cover is?


Herman – I don’t have that many, but I guess I do have the vinyl picture disc of the Steve Vai “Passion Warfare” album. Steve Vai Album coverI got that signed – I have it in my house! I see that all the time.

OD – Matt (Heafey, Trivium) appears on the album as a guest vocalist. Can you talk a little about how this came about?

Herman – It wasn’t planned. We were at the point where we’d recorded most of the instruments and we were just listening to the songs, like, what we’d done so far. And we thought “OK these songs need something extra. We need some kind of different backing vocals”. Not the usual big “choir”, you know, not the big symphonic choir like stuff we do in the chorus. We needed something else. We needed some RAAAAAHHHRRR!! – some death metal /black metal screaming, you know? And we thought, “hey – why don’t we ask Matt, because he can sing AND scream and shout and do all that kind of stuff?” That’s how I came about. We know Matt from just touring together a few times; he’s a friend of ours. We share a lot of common interests from like, food, jiu-jitsu, martial arts, and different kinds of stuff. So we always chat now and then; random stuff, you know? Luckily, he happened to be off-tour for like, a week, and he actually spent a couple of days doing that. To be honest, if you just heard HIS stuff by itself, you’d go “wow!” Just, the stuff he sent, all the harmonies, he did all the screams, black metal, death metal…….he goes “I’ve just done 6 different screams. You choose the one you like”. He was back in Florida doing that. I would send it (the samples), to him on a Monday and get it back on a Tuesday.DragonForce 1

ODDragonForce will be taking to the stage in Dublin’s Whelan’s on 21st September, can you talk about any insights into what we can expect from DragonForce live show in 2014? Will you be playing a majority of new material from the new album or can we expect a selection of tunes from the back catalogue?

Herman – There’ll be a lot of new songs. I mean, we really like the new songs. Our theory is: people won’t like a band playing new songs if the songs are crap. So, we believe the songs are really good, so our fans who come to these shows are gonna like it. And of course, we’re gonna play the old songs. Like, we’ve been rehearsing these songs we haven’t played for, I dunno how many years. Six, seven years, eight years. So we’re like, really going back to some of these songs that we haven’t played. So it’s gonna be a mixture of new songs and songs we haven’t played for ages. So some of the songs we were doing ALL the time, you know, we’re swapping them out for the not-so-obvious songs. To satisfy the fans is more important than the few people that only know 2 songs from the singles or videos. Heh – I know it sounds kinda mean, but……(laughs).

OD – Regarding merchandise for this tour, can we expect to see any limited edition items such as vinyl, shirts etc?

Herman – There’s the tour shirt of course, we’re gonna have that. But because I’ve been rehearsing every single day, I’ve got these emails that I don’t even have time to open them. But what’s gonna be on the tour – we’ve got a bunch of new designs basically!

OD – Finally, do you have any funny stories from touring with Maiden?

Herman – It was weird. When they asked us about doing those shows, Mark hadn’t done a single show, and I like, just said “Yes!” anyway…..because, you know what – you DON’T say “No” to Iron Maiden gigs to start with! He would just have to sort himself out and be ready by the time the show lands. If my first show was playing with Iron Maiden, I would shit myself, but you know, I would rather shit myself than not do it. And I thought “OK well, you know, it’ll be OK”. But then I realised that when the tour started, when the shows started, the main problem was me! I was more nervous than him! Like, “Fuck! Shit” Iron Maiden! This is serious shit!” You have to go out there, and like, an Iron Maiden audience are not there to listen to crap music. They know what’s good. So if you’re crap, they’re gonna know.

Herman Li - Shred Master!

Herman Li – Shred Master!

So actually got the biggest challenge, and I was more actually nervous than anyone else. So, if you saw me at those shows, I was really fuckin’ obvious! I was shitting way more than Mark. I wasn’t exactly smiling and laughing before the show. And you know how nervous you are by how much you remember of the show. If you don’t remember anything, that means that you really were on the edge. You were in for the kill.

DragonForce play an intimate one off show in Whelan’s on September 21st with support from Conjuring Fate. To get tickets, please hit this link or go to MCD for more information on stage times etc. Check out the video message the guys put together for the Irish fans!

Interview – Oran O’Beirne

Transcription – Shaun Martin