The mighty DragonForce are heading to our shores in June to play a set of headline dates that are not to be missed. The electrifying British power metallers are also releasing their seventh studio album, Reaching into Infinity, on May 19th, so mark those calendars. Thanks to our good friend, John Howarth of Nuclear Blast, we got to have a chat with the band’s mega-talented, lightning-fast lead guitarist, Herman Li, about the new album, touring, and some of his interests besides making music.
SR: Your new album, Reaching into Infinity, drops on May 19... Can you tell us a bit about the album and the inspirations behind it?
HL: Each DragonForce album is about evolving and getting better. So it’s never this dramatic change – we’re always making small adjustments to improve and evolve, as a band. I guess it’s a continuation Maximum Overload – it has the melodic, fast, catchy feel with some new ideas we’ve tried to incorporate into it. This album has the longest song we’ve written on it. It’s like a twelve-minute epic – something we haven’t done on previous DragonForce albums. So there’s always a bit more of everything.
SR: Frédéric has described the experience of making Reaching into Infinity as ‘emotionally charged’ and ‘intense’. Is that because you’re perfectionists, or was something else going on during the making of the record?
HL: I believe that every time we’ve made an album it’s been hard. There’s never been an easy album. Maybe the second album was a bit easier. But now, even though there’s stuff we’ve learnt and got better at, we’re not just going to do the same thing and have an easy way out. So, we make our lives as difficult as possible, it feels like, every time we make an album. And we force ourselves to improve by putting ourselves in a not-so-comfortable zone.
SR: What’s your collaboration style like?
HL: For this album, for example, Fred and Sam got together to discuss the music. Then I discussed it with them afterwards. I’ll send my guitar riffs in so Sam can hear them and decide if they’re any good – and vice versa. So we’re always discussing the best way to make the song sound good, not just make ourselves sound good.
SR: You’re coming down our way soon for a tour. Are you looking forward to it?
HL: Yeah, we haven’t done a headlining tour in Australia for quite a few years. So, there are a lot of songs we haven’t played for Australian audiences before that our fans want to hear. We’re going to fit as much as possible in and mix up the set a little – make sure we play some of our old songs, too.
SR: Do you have a traditional opener and closer for your live shows?
HL: People usually want to hear Through the Fire and Flames, and I guess they won’t leave the venue until we’ve finished playing it. But opening song? Not really – it depends on the tour. Usually, we start with a new song for the tour, but that’s not always necessarily true. We adapt it for the country we’re playing in.
SR: A bit about you now. You’ve got a reputation of being one of the fastest and most electrifying guitarists in the business. When did you first start playing and how did your style evolve, over time?
HL: I started playing the guitar when I was 16, so pretty late in the game, so people say. But I don’t think it was too late now (laughs). I was just watching videos while I was learning to play the guitar to see what I liked seeing players do and go towards that direction…and having fun while doing it. The band just started off as a fun band – just to have as much fun as possible doing what we were doing. And that’s stayed true pretty much up until now. That’s why, when people see us, they think, ‘Oh, this band is having so much fun! I have to have fun, too. I can’t just stand there and cross my arms and just stare.’
SR: You’ve cited Michael Romeo as a major influence. Who are some of your other musical heroes?
HL: I really love him, but he’s just one of many of course. I mean, I’ve been listening to guitar music for so long. I love Dream Theatre, so I love John Petrucci… And of course Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Tony MacAlpine – a lot of instrumental guitar players. But I also love a lot of the 80s rock guitar players – I thought they were really cool. I didn’t care about their hairspray and all that, but I thought they were always fun onstage, and they were always doing fun and crazy stuff on the guitar that was missing for years and years…you know, really playing the guitar beyond just playing notes.
SR: Could you explain what the Hot Hand is?
HL: A lot of people ask me, ‘What are you wearing on your hand?’ I have a ring on my hand, on my middle finger. It has a blue light and I’m kind of swinging my hand around onstage and doing weird stuff with it. Basically, it controls my guitar sound like a pedal, but instead of using my feet, I can use my hand, my right hand, to modulate or change the tone of the sound or pitch of the sound or make wah-wah sounds based on my hand movements. It was made famous by one of videos, Heroes of Our Time, when I was playing it.
SR: You use the Ibanez EGEN. Can you tell us about your current touring rig and tell us what it is you like so much about the model?
HL: It’s basically my signature model, but it’s exactly the same guitar that I play – the high-end model. Literally every spec’s done the same, so if I need a guitar, I just tell them to send me one that’s made to sell to the shops. They’re identical to what I use onstage. So when people see me doing flying kicks on the guitar, and playing in water – in a pool – it’s the same guitar, with no modification. It can take the abuse, let’s say, from stage diving with the guitar and all that. I don’t recommend that you play it in water, but I have done it.
SR: You guys have been called Nintendo Metal and speed metal and all kinds of things. Do you see yourselves fitting under one particular category or another?
HL: Oh, I guess all these different names are kinda cool to hear, because that means people are actually listening to us and can get something different out of it – relate to it in a video game way if they’re a video gamer…other guys who listen to the old school stuff think it sounds like Journey meets Slayer, or something like that. Rock metal is what it is, really – catchy music. When we make music, we don’t really categorise it like that.
SR: So you’ll be here in June. What are some of your favourite memories of being in Australia and what are some things you want to do that you haven’t yet?
HL: Last time we came was during summer, which was for the Soundwave Festival. That was amazing. We always have a great time doing a festival there. We’ve done one headlining show there, which was one of the side shows during Soundwave. But this time we really get to come back and do a headlining tour. I know Australian fans kept asking on social media, ‘Why don’t you just play longer or do your own shows?’ So, finally, we’ve done it for them, so we’ll hopefully get to see them when we play in June. And hopefully, we’ll get to play more of the songs that we didn’t get to play when we didn’t have enough time.
SR: You’re consistently described as one of the most high-energy live bands in the game. What keeps playing fresh for you?
HL: I believe it’s to have fun. It’s really to have fun and not be thinking of it as a job makes it fresh each night. And then we’re free to do kind of silly things on stage sometimes. People who’ve seen us live know we don’t take ourselves seriously. It keeps the whole show flowing and makes it more natural than when it’s too rehearsed. I mean, we obviously rehearse the music, but for the stage show, everyone gets to be themselves… We don’t have a uniform where everyone has to dress in black. Because everyone thinks they dress cooler than the other band members, so let’s stop the arguing and just dress the way you want (laughs). So you get to really reflect your personality in the band and the fans can connect to you in different ways. We try to keep that as true as possible so people can get to know us for who we are.
SR: What’s one piece of advice you’d give an up-and-coming musician now?
HL: Well, it’s hard to say one piece because I have a lot to say (laughs). But let’s keep it to one piece. We’ve talked about having fun already. I guess in some ways, you need to have really thick skin if you want to do what you want to do, because it seems like everyone’s an expert these days. Everyone knows better than you. You have to stand for what you believe in. With music, it’s hard to say what’s right or wrong. Just because somebody’s a jazz musician doesn’t make him better than everyone else – better than a rock guy who plays three chords, you know? It’s how you connect with people. By being true to yourself, you can connect with people who are like-minded.
SR: Your Twitter says that you love martial arts, technology and Porsches. Who’s your all-time favourite martial artist, what’s the last piece of technology you bought yourself, and what’s your dream car?
HL: I guess one of the biggest and most influential martial artists has been Bruce Lee. He’s the ideal mixed martial artist and is probably the father of mixed martial arts now, as we call it. The last technology I bought was an NVIDIA graphics card, which was a GTX 1070 for those who care, so I can run the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. And cars. Well, I’d like a car that I’m not going to die in – which means it’s not too fast. So, I’m actually happy with my car – it’s good enough for me. It’s a Porsche 997 Carrera S. I know there are better, faster cars out there – I was in the passenger seat of a GT3 two weeks ago. I mean, they’re really cool but hey – you can’t really drive on the street in these cars.
SR: If you hadn’t become a musician, what do you think you would’ve become?
HL: I’m really into technical details and perfection – a bit of a nerd. Maybe computers and stuff. I enjoy technology.
SR: Do you have a message we can send out to your Australian fans ahead of the tour?
HL: We always say we’ll come to Australia and we always try. Hopefully I’ll see everyone this time, ‘cause we’ve done what they asked. They wanted a headline tour, and we’ve done it. So we hope to extend the songs and play as much as we can as we physically can, given the speed of the songs. We hope to see you all there.
Tuesday 20 June – Capitol, Perth 18+
Wednesday 21 June – 170 Russell, Melbourne 18+
Thursday 22 June – The Basement, Canberra 18+
Saturday 24 June – Manning Bar, Sydney 18+
Sunday 25 June – The Triffid, Brisbane 18+
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