Interview with Herman Li
Electric Ballroom, London – October 13, 2017
Interview by Torbjørn ‘Toby’ Jørstad
Photography by Graham Hilling
Local power metal titans DRAGONFORCE have been roaming through the UK this October, in support of their latest album Reaching Into Infinity. Metal-Rules.com had the chance to sit down with guitarist and founding member Herman Li prior to the band’s sold out show at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, London.
Hello, I’m Toby and this is Graham and we’re from Metal-Rules.com.
What’s it like to be back on familiar shores, touring through the UK?
I think it’s a good thing that we can have a laugh on stage, I mean the humour translates better here. You can be playing in the US and say similar stuff, but the same jokes just won’t work over there. They’re just not gonna get it, it’s a different people and a different culture.
Several shows have been sold out, including this one, do you think a UK tour was long overdue?
Well, we put the UK leg later in the tour this year, instead of starting over here. The reason is we wanted to prioritise other countries first, so the ones we played last on our previous tour, we are now playing first. We gotta keep everyone happy, there’s record labels in the other countries that want the band to visit first on their tour, so we had to do it that way.
Any highlights from the tour so far?
So far we’ve done about 6-7 shows I think, it’s all been good fun. I don’t remember any specific moments [laughs], but it’s just good to be back playing in the UK. Even though we live here, the band is from here, doesn’t mean that we play that much here, maybe once every few years. We did The Black Heart [pub/live venue in London] in April as kind of a warm up-show for the album, so it’s good that we now get to do the Ballroom and there’s still people coming.
So are you travelling around the UK in a tour bus at the moment?
Actually, we do the bus in Europe now, and not in the UK. I was actually hoping we’d get hotels in Europe as well, because it’s more pleasant. The tour bus sounds way more fun when you’re first starting off in a band, but it’s really not that fun [laughs]. You’ve got all these people drunk all the time, in a bus, people are more likely to drink until 4-5 in the morning and it’s just loud and annoying. I’m in a band where people don’t really respect other people’s space, and they just throw their shit around, so for me, I prefer a hotel.
I was going to ask you whether you had some funny tales from the road, but I guess that’s coming later then?
Well, actually we have plenty of funny tales but I can’t tell you [laughs], that was the old days.
Last time we spoke you were about to go embark on the world tour promoting this album. You’ve been through North America, Asia and other places – If you were to sum up the tour so far in a couple of sentences, what would it be?
Well, I’ve got something to tell you actually… We almost died on this tour! Some people almost got severely injured. So we were in Australia, we had finished the shows there and had to fly to New Zealand. We had a hotel that was on top of a very steep hill, and we were loading our gear into the back of a van. Marc [Hudson, vocalist], Sam [Totman, guitarist] and Fred [Leclercq, bassist] went in the van as we were doing it, and all of a sudden the van started rolling down the hill. Sam and Fred were able to jump out, but work couldn’t as the doors of the van slammed shut. No-one could open the door and pull the handbrake or anything, but he eventually managed to jump out and he hurt his ribs and had to go to the hospital. The van hit a tree at the end, with all the gear in it and everything. Some of the gear was ruined, and we’ve been trying to get this insurance company to pay for the gear, but they’re not replying! How about that, so it’s a pain to be dealing with. Luckily the van only hit the tree, and no people or buildings were seriously injured. Marc played the whole New Zealand tour with a sling on his arm, we didn’t cancel.
Did you hit some places you haven’t been to before?
We’re doing Tunbridge Wells and Dover [laughs]! Been to Dover loads of times, never played there. There were a couple of places in the US we hadn’t played before I think, and some in Australia and Indonesia. I mean we’ve done so many shows now, I don’t remember all. We did a festival in China as well [MIDI Festival]. I’ve had so many people asking me questions regarding the new album in interviews, and I say “this is way old now” [laughs], people were asking that in May and we’re in October now! And we recorded months before that!
You’ve got local heroes Power Quest supporting you on this UK tour, they’re also releasing their new album today, was it a natural decision to bring them on as your support while you play here? Did you have any others in mind?
We always have a number of bands in mind, but it’s not easy to find a band that can do it. With the industry these days and the bands we want to bring along as support – obviously we don’t want to bring a band with music that we think suck, or that we think the audience will find horrible. Power Quest happened to be available, pretty much for the first time, with the new album at the same time. Fans have been asking us to play with Power Quest, but it’s never worked out until now, so here we are; it finally happened. We never played with them before, but obviously I know the guys from Power Quest, Steve [Williams, keyboardist] all the way since 1999 [laughs].
You’re nominated for LOUDWIRE’s Metal song of the Year-award with “Ashes of the Dawn”. Do you reckon you have a fair chance at winning that award?
Who cares? Does anybody care about these things? Who’s got the best song [laughs]? I remember people kept asking me what I thought about being nominated for the Grammy’s best metal performance with “Heroes of our Times”, and I just said “I don’t know, someone else like Metallica is probably gonna win it since they’re a bigger band.” It doesn’t really matter, right?
“Heart of a Dragon” from your debut album has made a return to the setlist – what made you specifically choose that song?
We try to mix the setlist up with new songs and old songs, that’s all. We haven’t played that one for a while, atleast not on a UK tour. It just fits well with the songs before and after in the set, I mean it’s not a masterpiece or something to show off us being the best musicians in the world or anything, it’s just a really fun song. People actually really like it, I was surprised! We start playing it and people go “yeah!” and I’m like “wow!”
Do you have any other older classics you plan to bring out or that you wish to play live?
Well, we’ve been playing one hour and 45 minutes to two hour sets this tour – In the UK we can’t do that, because of early curfew. So this is how we’re doing it now, we play these songs on this tour, and we might never play them again, so if you miss it, you’ll never see it. So then we might do some older ones again on the next tour, and after that we won’t play those for years again. We don’t wanna play the same set all the time you know; some songs have to be in the set, but others such as “Once in a Lifetime” or some of our ballads, we think are just as good as the other songs and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be played. Like “Revelations” or anything you know, stuff from the first and second album, but there’s only so much time we can play. Every time we have a new album we have to play new songs too, and then some songs from the new album that we’re not playing now, we can play on the next tour. We’re actually playing almost no songs from Maximum Overload on this tour, we’ve done “Ring of Fire” and “Three Hammers”.
You guys are also doing a bit of a fun solo/jam session in the middle of your set this tour… how did the idea for that come along?
That’s to celebrate Sonic the Hedgehog. What anniversary does Sonic the Hedgehog have this year, I can’t remember [26 years]. So yeah, we’re celebrating Sonic the Hedgehog with something special, a little video game compilation jam on stage.
You’re also playing “The Edge of the World” from the new album, how has that song been received by audience, being an 11-minute epic and all?
Surprisingly, or, I shouldn’t say surprisingly since people paid to come to the shows, but it has gone down really well. Especially with the pacing as well, it’s not like all the other fast songs, so it works well. It’s a catchy song, it’s got a nice dynamic.
When you choose songs to play live from a new album, do everyone in the band get their say, or is it more like one ‘dictator’ type taking the charge and choosing the songs?
We work together the best way possible, everyone gets their say, and we mostly agree these days actually, on setlists and songs and stuff like that. Laziness does not get counted, so if someone says “I don’t want to learn that song again”, they’re out of the conversation [laughs]. Only logical reasoning gets through, so I think we’re pretty good with setlists. Relearning old songs isn’t that difficult, new ones are a little harder.
Shortly after this, you’re embarking on a European tour with Twilight Force, which for many power metal fans is probably somewhat of a dream line-up. This question is twofold, number one: what band that you haven’t played with yet, would you like the most to open for you?
I don’t know. If we haven’t played with someone, I’d have no idea. We have played with all these bands before, except Power Quest. I don’t know, maybe Rhapsody, we’ve played with those at festivals. We had Angra opening for us on the Sonic Firestorm tour [laughs]. It’s country-specific these days, who sells more tickets and stuff. Then we opened for them in Greece, cause no one cared about us over there back then.
And similarly, what band would you like to open for?
We’ve never opened for Dream Theater before, that would be interesting. It’s different but still similar, so I think people would like that.
After you finish your tour dates in Russia, what do you plan to do then?
There’s no real holiday in DragonForce, but I mean we’re gonna try to not do anything for a little bit. But I’ve actually have got some plans to do a project. Something I’m writing, and planning to do.
A solo project?
We’ll see. I’ll try and finish it by the middle of next year, I’m doing almost everything on it.
Anything you would like to add in the end?
I don’t know, what is there to say? Some people have so much to say on social media and all, I really don’t. You don’t need my airtime, there’s enough people blabbing already.
Thank you very much for your time, and good luck with the show and the rest of the tour!