Interview with Herman Li and Marc Hudson
April 10, 2017 – London, UK
Interview by Torbjørn ‘Toby’ Jørstad
Photography by Prislla Pattuzzo Macao
We sat down with guitarist Herman Li and vocalist Marc Hudson of DragonForce in London to discuss their new album, Reaching Into Infinity. Read on to find out what’s to expect when their new opus is released on May 19th!
Hello, my name is Toby and this is Prislla, and we’re from Metal-Rules.com.
You’ve been very cryptic in the way you’ve been promoting this album. The album cover was revealed piece by piece on Instagram, and instead of posting tour dates you posted pictures of locations from cities that you’ll play this October. What’s the reason behind all the secrecy?
Herman: It’s kind of a sad thing these days, I have to admit, because the world is impatient and people want all information delivered on whatever social media platform. But also, if you deliver it all at once, a lot of people miss it. The album art posted on Instagram was made into nine pieces, I wanted double that, but we decided to do nine so it fits better with Instagram’s layout. And the city thing was also kind of funny, some people thought we were gonna talk about religion because there was a church in one of the pictures. So you kind of just have the make a bit of noise on social media and make people talk about it, it’s kind of sad but that’s just the way it works these days. I just came from Germany, people went there to see me perform at the Musikmesse, an exhibition of musicians, and there were fans during the signing sessions who didn’t know we had a new album coming out or a new song even, and these are big fans!
Can you explain the title of the album?
Marc [looks at Herman]: I can do the bullshit version if you like [laughs]!
Herman: Then I can do the real version! Try yours first!
Marc: Okay, so the album is called Reaching Into Infinity because music is something that is timeless, infinite, people always go back to it. It’s a method of escapism for a lot of people, to put something on, and get away from your real life and stuff. Also at the same time I think, speaking about music and the number of things you can do with music, all the emotions you can create, that’s also infinite. There’s so many different things you can influence, and that kind of ties in with our album cover, which is obviously some kind of desolate wasteland, but with a kind of portal, which for us was kind of like reaching into the portal of music, blah blah blah.
Herman: That’s the exact same bullshit I got [laughs]. But that’s really what it’s about, the kind of cover where you see an open wormhole with infinite times and it’s also about the speed of music and the timelessness of the music.
Stylistically, how would you say this album differs from other DragonForce albums?
Marc: I think this album is an evolution from Maximum Overload, but I think it also takes bits from other albums that I really liked, so occasionally I can hear a bit of Sonic Firestorm, and in the new song we just released [“Judgement Day”], I can hear some, fuck, what’s that album called…
Herman: Ultra Beatdown.
Marc: Ultra Beatdown! So I think we have evolved from the last album, but then taken things we like from the other stuff, and I think there’s a lot of variety. Vocally there’s a lot of different stuff on this album as well, which people might not expect, and I think it’s just more diverse. Also, having gone back to Jens [Bogren, producer] I’m really pleased with the sound of the whole thing as well, I think that’s also really great about this album.
The single “Judgement Day” probably surprised quite a few fans, with its borderline black metal intro, featuring blast beat drums and tremolo picked guitars. What was the reasoning behind this approach?
Herman: I guess maybe for some people, but I think we did the blast beat thing on the second album, Sonic Firestorm, with “Fury of the Storm”. It was just a different approach this time, we’re putting a spin on it to kind of mix up the dynamics, to make it into a more epic, uplifting song. So I guess the more and more we play with the atmosphere and the changes, it creates contrasts in the music.
What are some of the lyrical themes you’re exploring with this album?
Marc: I think there’s quite a lot of stuff on this album actually, cause we’ve got a few songs that are kind of just the lyrical style you might be used to, just the more traditional DragonForce themes with fantasy and stuff. There’s a few songs like that, then we’ve got the song called “The Edge of the World”, which is like an epic song with kind of an actual concept behind the whole thing, and different sections and stuff, so that’s like a storytelling-song about something specific. We have a ballad on there called “Silence”, which is a more somber song with a serious theme. “Ashes of the Dawn” again is a song about redemption and stuff like that, another kind of uplifting song that kicks off the album as well. So yeah, I think we covered all the bases on this album, really. Some light-hearted stuff and some more serious stuff.
What’s your personal favourite song on the album?
Marc: I really like “The Edge of the World”. But, when we were first doing the demo and heard the album progress, I really liked “Judgement Day”, that’s a good song. But for me, “The Edge of the World”. There’s a lot of different vocal styles, so I’m being biased cause it’s me doing the thing, but I like to hear that change.
Herman: I never have a favourite song. Yeah, so sorry, If you google that, you’ll find the same answer. I always see an album as a whole, so the songs work with each other. So it actually takes some time when picking a setlist, because I always see it as a full album.
Marc, the song “WAR!” features a singing style from you unlike anything we’ve heard from DragonForce before. Was this challenging for you?
Marc: Not really, no. It was really easy. That vocal style isn’t even singing to me, it’s just like shouting almost. So for me that came really easily. I was kind of thinking about who do I want to sound like, what kind of thing was I going for, and that’s just the first thing that came out. I might sound a little Slayer-y, a little bit lamer maybe [laughs], but yeah, so that was quite easy for me, but quite fun to do as well.
Who’s idea was it to push your vocals in that direction?
Marc: I think that song was really calling for that. We did think about whether we should do this with clean vocals, but it’s very fast so it could sound a little unusual maybe and take away from the theme a little bit, because it’s a really aggressive theme behind it, lyrically and everything. That was just the voice that was called for in the song.
The song “Silence” seems to tackle particularly dark and sad themes, with lyrics such as “Mother, these are the final words I write”. Can you comment on the creation of and the themes of that song?
Marc: The theme is basically suicide, and people struggling with things. That was a song that Fred [Leclercq, bassist] started writing the lyrics for, then I kind of got involved with it and then it became that. It’s not a theme we’ve addressed before, it’s something new, and I think at the same time it’s gonna hit home with a lot of people. I’m sure there’s a lot of people dealing with stuff like that, and like we said we have this whole thing about escapism, a catharsis, making people go “oh, there’s a band singing about that, I can listen to that”, and then when it’s over, it’s over, you can escape it for a while. I think that’s kind of why we did it.
The 11-minute epic “The Edge of the World” is your longest track ever, beating “Soldiers of the Wasteland” with over a minute. Can you explain the idea and story behind this song?
Marc [looks at Herman]: Me again, right?
Herman: Oh, you can do it [laughs].
Marc: The story behind this is actually taken from a story previously written, it’s not something we created. It’s from the Epic of Gilgamesh, a story that predates the Bible by a long, long way. It’s probably been used before, but it’s not really that, we just took that as an influence. As we went along, we thought “ah, this is cool the way it’s developing,” and we kind of changed it, so we didn’t stick hard and fast to the story. But we took it as a concept that we could divide into pieces that would then give the music kind of different directions here and there, depending on what’s happening with the story.
What are the prophecies of Babylon that are referenced in the song?
Marc: Man, that’s the line I didn’t want in the song [laughs]!
Herman: It’s a nonsense line.
Marc: Anyway, it’s a Babylonian tale, from that place. That’s where this tale originates from, but I don’t know what the prophecies are [laughs].
The second bonus track “Evil Dead” – is it paying homage to the 80s-horror cult movie of the same name?
Herman: No, it’s actually a Death [American death metal band] song. So Chuck Schuldiner.
I thought I could hear some “Spirit Crusher” at the end.
Herman: So it’s kind of paying homage to a legendary guitar player who influenced a whole new generation of musicians, including us. He’s Sam’s [Totman, guitarist] favourite guitar player as well. I guess we chose to do it to be different, something that people wouldn’t expect from us at all; especially from DragonForce. So we put our own spin on it, we also did pick this more kind of underground song.
You recorded this album in studios in Sweden, France, the UK, and the US. You must’ve had a busy schedule in between touring last year?
Marc: Yeah, we were busy, we had the job of recording basically everything at the same time as we were doing festivals and stuff, so that was where it became a little bit problematic here and there, trying to give our best there and coming back to do all the other stuff. But, like you said, using the different studios, we were doing it as conveniently as we could for ourselves. So I would do vocals where I live, in my studio, and then it just made things a lot easier because we could just send stuff to each other.
Did you get together as a full band at all during the recording process?
Herman: Well no, you can’t really because the songs develop. So before recording it, we always end up changing it anyways. We usually play together after we finish recording it, because otherwise, you start going “oh, I don’t even like that anymore” [laughs].
Do you think this affected the overall quality of the album in any way?
Marc: I don’t think so, I mean everything is recorded at the same sort of quality wherever we are. So I’m pretty happy with it, the sound is good.
What was the most challenging thing about the creation of this album?
Herman: Getting the cover concept to work with the music, that wasn’t easy. I mean, “challenging”, there’s really no easy album to make. One is easier in some way, but not in another. I guess doing the shows as well and making an album at the same time.
Marc: Yeah, the process of doing both parallel.
Marc, power metal being a very vocally demanding form of music, what steps do you take to ensure you’re able to perform consistently while on tour?
Marc: I guess just “know your songs”, practice them a lot. Know your limitations as well, so know when you can go for it and when you shouldn’t go for it. I think in general it’s the same as playing guitar, you just keep on top of it in your own time, so that when you come to the shows you go “I can do this”. I know what I’m capable of doing, and then, yeah, just keeping on top of it, like a when training for a sport.
Do you have any rituals to take care of your voice?
Marc: I have crazy, really irritating rituals that ruin my day most of the time [laughs], I have to sing quite a lot before I go on stage. I warm up just before going on, and if it’s a long day I’ll warm up earlier on in the day, and sometimes I just have a third one just in case [laughs], cause I’m and idiot and I need to check everything works before I can do something, so kind of like an OCD [laughs]. So that’s my thing, sing all this shit that I have to sing later on so that I know I can do it.
Herman, do you have any pre-show rituals?
Herman: No, no rituals. I try starting to warm up one hour before the show, and play along to music I like to get my brain thinking of music; to be in the zone of music.
This was your first time recording with Gee Anzalone as your drummer, how did having him affect the recording process?
Marc: Didn’t affect me at all, because he was done first [laughs].
Herman: Gee, when we were doing the album, we sent him the demos of the songs, without the drums so he could express himself and work his way into it. He’s been touring with us already for a few years and we did the live DVD [In The Line of Fire – Larger Than Live] together. He’s a great player, and I really enjoy working with Gee, he knows his stuff; his gear, he takes care of himself, he doesn’t need any babysitting.
Marc: I don’t know, should be fun, should be a good one. It’ll be a small, sweaty show. I’ve already been to the venue, just in the daytime, to check it out and see how big it is.
Herman: The main thing with that was just doing a fun show while we’re in London, before we head off to Asia. You know, the band is a London-band, so it’ll be a bit of chaos at the Black Heart. I’ve only been there once as well last week, just to see what it’s like.
What can the fans coming out expect to see and hear from you guys?
Herman: We’re playing about an hour and a half. We’re gonna play two new songs, because another one of the new songs will be out on Wednesday [“Curse of Darkness”] so we’ll play that one. Obviously “Judgement Day”, we already played that once two weeks ago in Austria, and we’ll be playing it now as well. So a couple of new songs and obviously old favourites, so it’ll just be a get-packed-in and have-a-laugh kind of thing.
Was “Judgement Day” well-received when you played it in Austria?
Marc: I thought it was really well-received actually. I was really surprised, because most songs that people haven’t heard before, especially with them, they hadn’t heard it at all because we played it before we released it online. So you would expect them to be confused, but at the end everyone was getting into it along with the other stuff, so that was cool.
You have an extensive touring schedule laid out already, hitting South-East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and the United States this summer before hitting UK shores again in October. Is there any place you’re looking forward to playing the most?
Marc: Indonesia should be fun.
Herman: Yeah, it’s a good way to kick off the tour. The fans there are so crazy, they are so into metal, it’s unbelievable. So it’s a great way to start the tour, the Philippines also, we did the Summer Slam festival last time. The headliner’s for that one was Megadeth and we were just before Megadeth. The fans there are so crazy, so sometimes you come back to Europe and you go “ahh, okay”.
Marc [laughs]: Yeah, it’s quite different in comparison.
Herman: Yeah, they really appreciate you making it all the way down there for them.
Is there anything you would like to add in the end?
Marc: Uhm, buy the new album [laughs].
Herman: Come and check us out in October! One of the shows [Dover] sold out in like a day; it’s looking like it’s gonna be selling fast, so get your tickets early!
Thank you very much for your time!
Curse of Darkness:
Reaching Into Infinity will be released via EarMUSIC on May 19th on CD, LP and a special edition CD and DVD.