Interview: Herman Li of DragonForce

I managed to catch up with DragonForce guitarist Herman Li during his downtime before their album release tour for Extreme Power Metal gets underway! I was able to get an insight into the new record and what’s going on in the world of DragonForce and Herman at the moment!

Hey Herman, how are things going? How’s the feeling at the moment regarding this new release then?

Things are pretty hectic at the moment! Lots of things happening as it’s our biggest album release ever for the band. But things are all good! As you’d probably imagine, we’re being bombarded with emails and things to do at the moment, and by the time one thing is done, we have two more things to do!

Haha, I guess you wouldn’t have it any other way! So, I wanted to start off this interview from a specific angle. I’ve noticed there’s been a few changes in the DragonForce world regarding your members. Frédéric Leclercq recently left on bass so you guys have Stevie T filling in on this upcoming tour, and Vadim Pruzhanov also left last year so you guys had someone to co-write keys on this upcoming record? Are these changes a representation of what’s next for DragonForce?

Well the changes are mainly down to the fact the band has been going on for a long time and people’s lives come first. You can’t expect people to live the same way forever. But Sam and I have always been there from the start and are still here, so the fans can still expect that typical DragonForce sound without things changing too drastically! We wrote most the tracks, worked on designing the artwork and the general concept for this new record.

I had a quick spin through the album, and it was clearly evident that the core DragonForce sound of battling guitar melodies, symphonic vocals and all-round power metal aesthetics wasn’t going to change. But what was evident, was the extra emphasis on that video game style influence on your music.

Well of course. We’ve always had that sound which we love and that wasn’t going to change. We did bring in Coen Janssen from Epica to play keys and he really understood our sound, but also brought that symphonic style to our tracks. We co-wrote the track “Last Dragonborn” with him, which was based on the video game Skyrim, which was fun to write!

Haha, I thought there was a connection between the name there. The album artwork and the title of the album Extreme Power Metal really does show off the epicness and the heavy video game influences in your music. I remember the days of you showing people how to make pac man noises on your guitars, it’s true to say that this theme has been core throughout your music.

With this album we just thought, let’s just put everything we love into this record. No boundaries at all. The last two records were quite serious, so it was a nice relief to just be a bit crazy and silly with this one. We said to the artist that we wanted us on the cover with our instruments as weapons, and lots of flames and that whole 80s neon thing! The artwork is kinda like Starship Troopers mixed with retro future style! And the title says what it really is. Extreme Power Metal. We had a lot of fun with this album, and we want everyone to share our fun. That’s why the past few shows we’ve done, we’ve been playing guitar solos on top of these giant arcade machine props!

DragonForce (c) Amplified Gig Photography

The record certainly feels really fun to listen to! Speaking of which, the Celine Dion cover… Wow, that was unexpectedly good! Where did that come from?

The really fits in with the whole feel of the album. That early 90s/80s feel but all fun and metal! It’s exactly what you’d expect DragonForce to do when covering a song. Talking about the video game noises, we’ve got whacky cat noises simulated by a guitar in that track!

I wouldn’t have expected anything less! Moving away from the record slightly, a thing I’ve noticed you doing a lot of recently, is using Twitch to reach out to your fans. Could you touch base on that?

I’ve always been a massive video game nerd. So, I was watching people play games a year before I started streaming. I thought hey, social media is one thing, but Twitch allows me to share my video game hobby for fun, to my fans. I also don’t take any money from these streams like most gamers do. Any donations that people give go straight to charity, my local dog shelter charity. But yeah, the interactions through Twitch are great, I can play guitar for people and I can do all kinds of other things. It’s an experience to hang out with fans and we even recorded a part of the new album with people out on Twitch. We’re actually going to be live-streaming our first show of the tour on Twitch, with proper production quality! Twitch is a great way for us to give back to the fans.

As a fan, I really value that commitment you have to us! And I think it’s really great how personal we can get with the band. So, with this upcoming tour, the production gone into it looks insane! What treats can us fans come to expect?

Yeah, we trialled production at the few German shows we did over the summer. We got a huge replica version of the dragon from the album cover which has a few tricks up its sleeve… We’ve got these huge arcade machines for us to use as stage props. They’re actually very high and quite dangerous, we need to put some safety barriers on them! We’ve also got a great line up with Lovebites + McRocklin & Hutch come out with us on this tour. But yeah, DragonForce shows have never been your typical tough guy metal show. They’re always very fun and crazy. We’ve got these huge video game screens that you can see us on, tones of lasers and smoke machines!

DragonForce (c) Will Tudor Photography

That sounds awesome, I can’t wait to come down to a show! Lastly, and quite cheekily might I add, what’s next for DragonForce – do you see yourselves rolling on doing this until you can do no more?

Haha, that’s way too far ahead for me to think about now! We’re just having fun with what we’re doing, and it’s really been fun working with people not just in music but also in the gaming world too. We’ve got a number of projects like the one where we worked with Audica to bring a song into virtual reality. We have more and more friends in the video game industry which is opening up other routes for the DragonForce brand. Not just big brands but indie games too, where we’ll support developers for free!

Well thanks Herman for taking some time out of your busy day to speak to me. I’m sure I’ll catch you on a stream sometime soon and I’ll hopefully catch you at the London show!

No worries Dhylon, it was nice talking to you! And well, London is gonna be a mega special and crazy show, with even bigger production than the other ones!

Extreme Power Metal is out on September 27th

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