English power metallers DragonForce are back in a major way – with a new album (The Power Within) and new vocalist (Marc Hudson) in tow. During their extensive promotional schedule in support of the new record, master shredder Herman Li spoke to Loud from London about the making of the new record, what Hudson brought to the table and the new lineup playing one of their first shows with Iron Maiden, while also taking the time to apologise to Australian fans for withdrawing from this year’s Soundwave Festival.
Q: You said in a recent interview that this new record was your “most metal” yet. Were there any bands you were listening to that perhaps inspired this direction?
A: Not really, I just think the way we approached the music on this album, the production and just the way we approached recording. I mean, the last two albums, of course they’re metal, but we wrote the music and recorded it straight away, before playing it together as a band and then just went on tour. So now, on this album we played the music together, jammed it out, just like the beginning, and then recording the songs. So you really get the organic feel of a band, of a metal band, into the record, instead of just writing music and just recording it straight away. Which can get a bit sometimes… I don’t know, over-produced maybe?
Q: Do you feel it’s the most diverse album you’ve made thus far?
A: Yeah, because the last two albums we pretty much went shredding full-on, full speed ahead on every single song and pretty much every song had so much stuff in it. I mean, every kind of thing we could think of, from guitar tricks to keyboard melodies, every kind of thing. But on this album we kind of changed tempo on all the songs, to make them have a different feel and approach each one with a different theme. So some songs are more symphonic, some songs heavier, some songs more melodic. So we kind of divide it out, everything we can do, into different songs, so every single song gets the same treatment on the album. It definitely makes it more dynamic. We even have an acoustic song, (which) we actually never done, so we’re showing stuff that we haven’t done before as well.
Q: Are you mindful that because the band are renowned for being so over-the-top and fast that it can be difficult to push things to new heights with each album?
A: Yeah, definitely. On this album, we went and wrote some mid-tempo songs,which is a bit slower and we approach it in a different kind of dynamic way. And then we also wrote faster songs, so we got the usual fast song and then even faster, so we can really kind of show the comparisons, that we can do everything faster if we want, even more extreme, and we can do what we have been doing. But we can also do other kinds of music in a metal sense.
Q: You also have a new vocalist on this album. What new elements did he bring to the table?
A: Marc, although he’s a newcomer he’s really talented and yet (has) such a large range. He can sing really high, all the way to low and his middle range is really good too. So with that, we’re able to use his voice in the different songs, exploring the possibilities of how to make that song sound better in the low range and mid-range. So we just kinda bring more feeling and it helps with the dynamics as well. That’s kinda putting the whole band together, the way we rehearse we’re able to make use of the best of each band member.
Q: Did he have much direct input into the writing of the album?
A: We were writing the music while we were still auditioning singers, so a lot of the music was written. But what happened was, when he joined the band, we were jamming the songs together, getting the feel of the right songs and he would kinda give us the idea of how he would sing them differently and how many different ways he could sing it. So that’s how he comes in, where his contribution comes in, so we can put the whole thing together.
Q: You’re audibly very pleased with the end result.
A: Yeah, yeah, I’m very happy, so I’m not like bored of talking about something I like, which is very cool (laughs). A lot of people are asking me, “Are you bored of talking about it?” I’m like, “No, I like the album, so I like talking about it” (laughs). I don’t want to sound like this idiot that you meet in the pub, and he just keeps telling you how great life is, you know, you just want to punch him in the face. I guess I like the album (laughs).
Q: You’ve played a few shows with Marc already. How does his stage presence differ from that of his predecessor?
A: Yeah, I mean Mark’s only done about a handful of shows, up to now he’s played about six shows. He’s got so much, so much better. I can’t expect a guy to come in and act like he’s done a thousand shows, but he’s definitely really good now. He’s got a different kind of feel, stage presence. ZP’s (Theart) more the hard rock presence and Marc is definitely more kind of a technical, musical, metal presence.
Q: I believe one of the new lineup’s first shows was with Iron Maiden.
A: Yeah, that was one of his first shows; (it was) actually meant to be the first show, because I kind of tried to scare Marc, so I told him this was his first show, without telling him I booked like three warm-up shows before it. I’m a nice guy (laughs). That was actually really good; I was a bit worried (before) the warm-up shows, because those were his first few shows, but when the Iron Maiden thing happened, everything just kind of worked perfectly. So I guess it’s also easy, well it’s not easy, but if you’ve done a few shows and you play on a really big stage in a big arena, that hits you and just makes you perform the best you can, whatever happens, you know?
Q: The nature of DragonForce’s music seems to lend itself to theatrics and arena-sized venues. Is that an actual, realistic aim within the band, to reach that kind of level?
A: I mean, who wouldn’t like doing arenas? We’ve done lots of touring and festivals before and we’ve played a lot of places. DragonForce, I think, I like to see the audience and they like to see our fingers moving, jumping around and all that. So I think it works in different ways. We can play a small place and just really go crazy, jump in the crowd and all that. In an arena, you would approach it differently, because certain things you do, people can’t really see you doing it. You have to make sure you play properly at the same time, if that makes sense (laughs).
Q: It would be a worthy excuse to bring the trampolines back into your stage show as well (laughs).
A: Yeah. But if you play a small place, it’s more important to really get into the crowd’s face, get up there with your guitar and if you play a wrong chord, it doesn’t really matter. But in an arena, you can’t do that, because the people can’t see you play a wrong chord, because something happened, you know? (laughs) It’s all happening. You can’t play properly, (because) there’s some guy like pulling my pants or something.
Q: (Laughs) When are we likely to see the band touring these shores again?
A: We should be back later this year actually, we’ve been working on that. If everything goes as planned, we should be hitting Australia (the) middle of this year. I just hate to say all this stuff and it doesn’t get fully confirmed. But yeah, we’ve been working on this for a while, so fans can expect us to be back there. Our summer in Europe, that will be your winter? We’ll be back in winter – we’ll bring the flames down (laughs). We have to make sure we deliver the best show DragonForce (has) ever done in Australia, so that’s the plan.
Q: Good to hear. Shifting topics, do you have a favourite guitar solo on the new record?
A: I really like the solo on “Die by the Sword”, because strangely enough that solo, I don’t play anything technically demanding or fast. It’s got kind of a different feel, maybe because I don’t do that kind of thing that often and I really like the melodic (nature) and the feeling of it. Nice bends and stuff, instead of just trying to be shredding and doing the usual metal stuff.
Q: Who are some of your main influences as a guitarist, particularly ones that may surprise some people?
A: That would surprise people? That’s an interesting one. I like Gary Moore, Eric Johnson, that may surprise people. An Australian guitar player called Brett Garsed; not many people know him, he’s kind of a fusion rock player. I don’t know; I’m not surprised by anything these days (laughs). I don’t know if they’ll be surprised, maybe they’ll just go, “I’ve never heard of these guys before” (laughs). I like the new Tony MacAlpine, that album is great.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: I guess I have to apologise to the Australian fans for not being able to make Soundwave earlier this year, because we were supposed to be playing originally. So hopefully we’ll make it up with the new dates coming up. So the fans can keep an eye on the new tour dates and also the new music video coming out soon. That will be for the song “Cry Thunder”. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but it’s a cool video actually, I just saw a cut of it today.