If there is a city which enjoys a good rock show, it’s Belfast. Many a legendary act have come to city, leaving only an adoring public and a cemented legacy on these shores for years to come. We tend to produce to odd musical heavyweight of our own too. While taking inspiration from classic axe-weilders, Lodon’s Dragonforce have always been a dynamic mix of old and new. Known around the world for their outrageous duelling guitars, they are a band with a reputation for the extraordinary. “The Power Within” is the title of their forthcoming new album, with the ten track monster the bands fifth studio album, and first with new singer Marc Hudson in the fold. As they prepared to unleash another thundering spectacle upon an awaiting Belfast crowd, we chatted to founding member Herman Li.
► Welcome back to Belfast, a city that the band have played several times over the years. Do you have any outstanding memories of the town and the audiences?
Herman Li : I actually remember each time that we have played here. The first time was in the Limelight I believe, and that was absolutely insane. The place was absolutely packed. That is why each time that a tour is announced that we always try to play here. Sometimes you have to miss it, because of logistics, but the fans have always been good for us here in Belfast.
► You also played in Belfast at the Odyssey Arena on the Iron Maiden tour. Then, after the album’s release, Dragonforce then did an extensive tour,visiting many countries including Chile, Mexico and Brazil.
We actually just did Belfast,and London dates. They were supposed to be warm-up shows for Marc (Hudson, Vocals). After that we went back to the studio to finish the album. Most places – Columbia, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina – we had played before. Ecuador we played for the first time and it was really good, though I actually got sunburnt in Mexico. Last night when I came off stage in Dublin, there was skin falling off my face. I looked like the Elephant Man
► The bands latest album “The Power Within”, is the first with Marc Hudson on vocals. How does it differ from previous Dragonforce releases? What did he bring into the band’s sound?
With Marc he is such a great singer but he also posesses a great range .This allowed us in some of the songs to explore his lower-mid range. For example “Seasons” and others like “Holding On” have a higher vocal, like a Rob-Halford sound. The new album allowed us to mix things up. So I guess that compared to previous albums it is both more dynamic and also diverse. Tonight we are playing a lot from that album, as the fans want to hear that. We are also playing tracks from all our previous releases. Our setlist changes actually almost every night, which makes it less predictable, and more fun to rotate some songs.
► What do you like best about your profession?
I guess being on stage playing the songs. That is the most rewarding. And the audience responding to them of course.
►By contrast then, what is your least favourite thing?
I guess the worst is being on a long 12 hour flight, and not being able to do anything. Just sitting on your ass, and having to watch some crappy movie.
► Do you get much time to explore the cities and countries that you play – as a tourist?
We make an effort to do that, in Mexico for example we went to view the Pyramids. We climbed that, and that was great.
► Who are your personal musical heroes?
I love guitar players. Satrianni, Steve Vai, there are so many. When I was growing up i loved Dream Theater and bands like that. I loved the prog stuff. Also loved the guitar instrumental stuff. The metal stuff as well – Metallica, Megadeth, Testament. There are so many players that shape your life.
► Do you have any spare-time interests or hobbies outside music,or is it all-consuming?
I guess martial arts is one of them.I dont really get the opportunity while on tour though to pursue that. Im trying to attain a higher level on the guitar all the time so that would be more of a priority right now.I also used to play computer games,i dont have the time for that now.So i guess music and computer stuff.There is so many things that you can do on a computer these days.
► Is there a side of you that the public never sees?
Yes, I prefer to retain a private life, people can know what i like to do martial arts etc but I never post on social network sites my current position or activity.
► Do you think that your fans and music critics expect too much from you because of the Dragonforce legacy and previous releases?
Oh definately they expect a lot from us. Every single album, every single show, every video. There is a huge expectation.
❝We just didnt care what people had to say.No record label is going to tell me how to make the album.❞
► How do you cope with that high amount of pressure?
I expect a lot from each member of the band and myself. I have high expectations and I like everybody to step up to the plate. You have to evolve and get better. People think that after playing guitar for over 20 years that you dont need to bother. You still need to practise, there is always another level to reach.
► When then are you completely satisfied with your work? Is it when you have completed an album? Do you return and listen to your work? Or do you prefer to look to the future and move on rather than dwell on the past?
Yes I actually listen to the bands previous work, because you have to analyse in order to look to the future. I do listen to the new album because i really like it. The songs are really good and the way that we put it together.
► How do you explain Dragonforce’s longevity in a field and industry where so many others have failed?
Its difficult, there are so many forces to break you apart. You are always trying to create something, and theres so many forces trying to destroy it. There is luck, changing times. It all depends how you set out originally to do what you want to do and not follow people or a trend, you will be ok no matter what happens. Alternatively if you follow something, and try to chase after something…
► Innovation rather than imitation then?
Yes there is no point being a follower. Some people are great at imitating and can make some great things. At least for us, we try to get better to evolve and improve. One thing is sure though no matter how lucky you are, you still have to work hard. It is even more unpredictable now because the world is moving so fast.
► The music industry has also significantly changed in recent years – with downloads, the demise of record companies etc. Do you feel that you have more control now, compared to when you first started?
On this album (The Power Within) particularly as it’s on our own record label. We got out of our contract. Im not going to say exactly, it is well known how a record label works. Dragonforce had their own label then for Europe. The problem is that you do all this work and then they screw it up. Different countries with different people working for the label. Some countries, Holland for example, have been great. In other countries however the major labels just cannot be bothered, if there is nobody into metal in the office they just leave it. Before we always had control musically, we just didnt care what people had to say.No record label is going to tell me how to make the album.We have retained that but have also control over other aspects.When the album is released we can now pick who is going to be responsible for its promotion, the people that you want to work with.
► Plans for the band for the rest of the year. I understand there are some European dates coming up?
We will be playing in some cities that we have never played in before. Marseilles in France for example, we have never played there before. Headlining some shows in Poland, and we are finishing in Moscow. So its a long way to go.
► Finally what are your career goals for the next 3-5 years? Do you plan that far ahead?
We have definite plans to make the next album, as the feedback on this one has been very good. To just keep going and to do what we like doing. That is the important thing. For this kind of music, for doing music generally everyone in the band has to have a passion for it. Nobody forces you to be in a band, some jobs you have to go to because you have to pay the bills. Here we are enjoying it, and as it also pays the bills – then that is great.
Dragonforce’s second album “The Power Within” is out on Now!