8:30 in the morning, I’m there to eat breakfast and interview a rock star, and I’ve finished my wrap. With Herman Li, lead guitarist of DragonForce on the phone, we launch right into talking about the band’s recently-released new album, Reaching into Infinity.
“I believe you would say the new album is a continuation of the last album,” he begins, “and if you like, every DragonForce album is a continuation of the previous one. That’s just a natural evolution of the band. We’re more diverse with every album that we do, with more elements that we haven’t done before added to it, to add to our existing style.”
Following on from my review of the album, I ask whether there had been a conscious effort to give a nod to the 80s.
“It’s always been one of our influences, that kind of music. I guess at certain times it shows a bit more, and sometimes it doesn’t. So it’s just the way it naturally came out on this album.”
Getting onto the topic of personnel, we chat about Gee Anzalone, who plays drums on his first DragonForce album with Reaching into Infinity. “Gee brings a very positive energy to the band,” Li tells me earnestly. “He’s always eager, he’s always into it, he always can’t wait to get out there and do it. It’s a great thing to have someone who’s so into it, and it really helps the energy of the band to let that out sometimes. We’ve done a lot of touring and a lot of albums, so sometimes you need someone to bring the atmosphere in. So Gee definitely, apart from being a great player, this is also one of the other positive things about him.”
The discussion moves on to particular track from the new album, The Edge of the World. “That song was written by our bass player [Frédéric Leclercq]. He said that it had been around for a while, and he didn’t really know what to do with it. When we did the demo of that song and started working together, it really worked and that’s when we concentrated on it to make sure it fit with the rest of DragonForce’s music.”
There’s also a cover on the special edition of the album: Evil Dead by Death. “On the last album we did our first cover, which was Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash. We just thought people liked it last time, us messing up someone else’s song,” Li laughs, “so let’s do it again. We decided Death was an influential part of DragonForce, so let’s try and do something while still sounding like us in tribute to Death.”
Like Maximum Overload before it, Reaching into Infinity was produced by Jens Bogren. I ask Li what positive experiences they had with Bogren to go back to him for this album. “Jens is a great producer, he has great ears. It worked so well last time so we thought hey, because we always make our lives more difficult by having new challenges on each album, let’s get our producer again, Jens who we worked really well with. Now we can face new difficulties and challenges on the new album, like the eleven-minute song and all the new dynamic stuff that we decided to do on this record.”
The conversation moves on to the current tour, and the sold out show coming up in Tokyo. “The Japanese fans have always been great to us, that was sold out like six months ago.” Even Li seems astounded by the success of the Tokyo show. “It’s pretty crazy. We always try to do something special for different territories for the shows, so they’re going to get some songs that other places aren’t. But Australia also get the different songs, because we haven’t done a headlining tour there for a while. We adjust the setlist a little bit depending on where we’re going.”
We continue talking about Australia, and Li tells me, “We share the same humour as Australians in DragonForce, so we’ve always had a great relationship with the fans. We meet them after the show, we always have a good chat, and we have a lot of friends there, too. Throughout the years we’ve made friends there. So it’ll be a fun time again.” We’re about to move on when a thought occurs to Li. “Sam used to live in Australia for a few years. He was in Sydney for I think two or three years.
“Yeah, everyone’s always asking, ‘Are you from Australia?’ anyway, so he’ll just say ‘Yes,’ you know. He’s from New Zealand. A lot of people can’t work out the different accents between Australia and New Zealand anyway.”
I can sympathise, I tell Li. Even when I was in New Zealand, half the time I couldn’t tell the difference. I didn’t know what the fuss was. More seriously, I tell Li how much I’ve appreciated the band taking time to interact with the fans on previous tours.
“We like to show the real side of us. We’re just normal people, just like everyone else. Like a next-door neighbour, if they’re not crazy,” he adds with a laugh. “We don’t have an ego or a chip on our shoulder.” It’s clear that despite the impressive and often acrobatic antics of DragonForce’s shows, Li approaches the experience with humility. “We just do the music we love and that’s about it, really.”
Still talking Australia, I mention it’s the first time the band have played in Canberra. “That’s right, we never played there before. This’ll be the first time. We try to go as many places as possible each time. Unfortunately this time we had to miss Adelaide,” Li mentions apologetically. “We just couldn’t find the availability and the time to do all the cities we want to do.”
Asked what he’s expecting from the Canberra show, Li answers frankly, “I have no idea. We always have a good time there, so it’s not like ‘Oh, what’s going to happen this time?’ Every show we’ve done in Australia has been good, from headlining shows to the Soundwave Festival we’ve done the last two times we came.”
As we approach the end of the interview, we move on to bigger questions. I ask Li what are the most positive changes he’s seen over the years, as a founding member of DragonForce. He reflects a moment before answering. “The more we do it, the easier it gets to work with each other. People are sometimes the hardest thing to deal with. Working with each other, seeing each other every day of the year. And the more we’ve been doing it, the longer we’ve been doing it, the better we are at dealing with the people inside the band and outside the band. That’s one thing we learn about, working with other people. It’s not an easy thing for the whole world. It’s pretty crazy.”
On the band’s future, Li is sure of his position. “Let’s hope we’re able to carry on making good albums. We always said if we stop making good albums, we’re just going to stop it, so we don’t have to hear one day, ‘Oh DragonForce was great for however many albums, and then they made another ten shitty albums.’ I don’t want to hear that. As long as we enjoy what we’re doing and we’re doing what we like, then we care about doing it.”
Bringing it back to Australia, Li sums up, “We’ve got everything covered to come down to Australia and kick some arse. We heard great feedback on the Internet, through social media, it’s so immediate. When the album comes out, you can hear what people think. So we look forward to playing the songs they’ve been asking for on the Internet. It’ll be fun.”
Does social media make it easier for DragonForce to give the fans what they want?
“I don’t know about that. There’s good and bad parts of it. It’s good to hear fans’ feedback straight away. You’re waiting for the shows to happen and you can work out, okay maybe we should play this song because everyone’s talking about it. But of course it takes a lot of our time. Social media is time-draining thing, in my opinion. It gives less time because the information has to be thrown out so quickly.”
DRAGONFORCE ARE TOURING AUSTRALIA THIS JUNE via DESTROY ALL LINES!
Tuesday, 20th June: Capitol, Perth 18+
— with SILENT KNIGHT
Wednesday, 21st June: 170 Russell, Melbourne 18+
— with TERAMAZE
Thursday, 22nd June: The Basement, Canberra 18+
— with IMMORIUM
Saturday, 24th June: Manning Bar, Sydney 18+
— with LORD
Sunday, 25th June: The Triffid, Brisbane 18+
— with CHRONOLYTH
TICKETS ON SALE NOW