DragonForce- 06/03/2006

It was in September 1999 when guitar players Herman Li, Sam Totman and singer ZP Heart formed the band Dragonheart. The threesome with different backgrounds met each other in London and pretty fast after this they found the required musicians to complete the band. Two years later the band has to change it’s name to Dragonforce. In 2000 the band releases it’s  first demo wich is called “Valley Of  The Damned”. The band uses the World Wide Web to promote this demo and put it on their own website for free. This demo was in the highest ranks of the “mp3.com power metal charts“ for two years and was downloaded more than half a million times in that period. With this demo they grip the attention of record company Sanctuary/Noise and soon after that they sign a record deal. In 2003 the band release their debut album ‘Valley Of  The Damned and which is followed by their second album ‘Sonic Firestorm’ in 2004. With this album the band get the chance to tour Europe for the first time as a support act for the American band W.A.S.P. During that tour I saw the band for the first time in the Effenaar in Eindhoven but unfortunately I didn’t pay much attention to the supersonic metal the band played that night. It will take till the summer of 2005 until I see the band again at a number of summer festivals they attend. This time the band does leave an  impression! Evidently, the band has now gained a lot of experience playing for larger crowds.  In between all the festivals the band managed to record their third album ‘Inhuman Rampage’ which was released in January of this year.


During their European tour to promote their latest album the band also visits Amsterdam to conquer The Netherlands. A couple of hours before the sold out show in The Melkweg we have a chat with both guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman.


Many things have been written about Dragonforce but can you tell us a little about the history of the band?

Herman: “Nothing exciting really, we played together for the first time in September 1999, me and Sam and ZP have been in the band since then.” Sam: “We met up in London and knew each other from another band we were looking for someone that could sing normally, and we found ZP through an advertisement. He played in a black metal band before that. Zippy was the only one that we could find so we had to keep him haha! He was alright anyway so it worked out quite good in the end. And then obviously it’s easy to find a bass player, and that’s it really.”


How did you launch into writing the material for ‘Inhuman Rampage’, did ideas come easily so that you just had to write them down or was it more of a careful composing thing?

Herman: “The writing is not too hard, it’s just all the other stuff that goes on top of it.” Sam: “It takes forever for us to write because nothing is completely written until the album is actually recorded, you’re still writing as you’re mixing the album. We would write like a basic song with the melody and the structure and everything, but in a way that’s only half of it. And then when we’re in the studio there’s like a thousand things that come on top of it and you count that as a writing process too. The writing isn’t finished until the album goes to the mastering.”


Did you have a certain idea of what you wanted to do on ‘Inhuman Rampage’, any elements you wanted to add especially?

Herman: “We basically just wanted to make it better  than ‘Sonic Firestorm’ in every single way that was possible, we wanted to be more intense, faster more melodic and catchier, better guitar playing and so on. It’s hard to say, I don’t want to get all technical and sound like a nerd!”


You recorded the album at the Thin Ice studios in Surrey and in your own studio in west London, and some of the sections in hotel rooms?

Herman: “We took a month off to do the recording and we brought along a computer, and sometimes when he’s not too drunk and playing his guitar Sam would record something.” Sam: “It was more like putting down some ideas, not like we were recording the final thing.” Herman: “Some of it actually did end up on the album though. There are some many guitar parts on the album we don’t remember which one was played when now!”


Were the songs completely written before you went into the studio or did you finish them there?

Herman: “We never say the song’s written until it’s finished, the whole song can just change if you add a blastbeat on the drums you know.”


Where did you find the time to do it? You played a lot of festivals last year.

Sam: “Before we did the festivals we started recording the album and that was ok because we had a lot of time. And then the festival period was quite hard, we would come in after the weekend and we would be feeling like shit.” Herman: “Yeah, we said that we would start recording the month after the festivals and then we didn’t do anything the whole month, the last thing we wanted to do was play more guitar.”


So were you in the studio for a long stretch or in and out?

Herman: “We were in the studio for a six month stretch but not every day, were quite lazy, but it’s good to relax and come in fresh. When we recorded ‘Sonic Firestorm’ we were in the studio for two months like, every day. Sam: “You just hate it after a while and it’s not good for having ideas if you don’t really want to be there and you’re forcing yourself.” Herman: “And we had jobs back then, we quit working after ‘Sonic Firestorm’ so back then we didn’t do that much. And we didn’t do much at work either. I’d finish a guitar solo at four in the morning, stuff like that.” Sam: “So we like to be in and out of the studio. It’s alright if you’re a band that has everything written before you go in and you know exactly what you’re going to do. Because we don’t exactly know what we’re going to do, we have to be in England. We can’t just go somewhere for three months, we can spend a whole day on one little thing!” Herman: “And the problem is there’s too much distraction like internet and video games!”


Did you have a larger budget for this album and, if so, did it change the way you worked?

Herman: “They didn’t have much choice but to give us a larger budget, otherwise we wouldn’t have finished the album because we thought it wasn’t good enough yet. But they were clever about it this time, we did this with them like four times and this time they gave us this totally unrealistic deadline, so they made us work a bit faster and we finished it three deadlines after!”


Was it what you expected?

Herman: “Yes, we had quite a lot of time to finish it. We weren’t happy with it until the final day, we had to mix it more than 3 times!”


Was it not hard to produce your own album, as it meant having to criticize your own band members?

Sam: “In a way it’s better, I think some people prefer to be criticized by their own band than by some guy that walks in. It was fine because we all kind of have the same idea of what we want and there’s never really any big disagreement about things. You know, it was a constructive thing, no one is childish about things.”


You just ended your tour with Edguy, how did it go?

Herman asks Sam “Did you enjoy it?” Sam: “Well, it was cool in England because we were headlining! And it was good to reach a new audience in Europe.” Herman: “We played material from all three albums.”


Do you have any favorite songs on the new record?

Herman: “I like all of them really!” Sam: “We try not to put any crap songs on the albums. When we do an album we don’t want one song to be worse than others, we try to make every song good. It’s easy to have three good songs and then a lot of crappy ones!” Herman: “All the song we’ve ever written has been recorded. We don’t write more songs than need be on the album. We just concentrate on those nine songs all the time, that’s why we don’t have any cover songs” Sam: “That’s boring anyway!”


Can you explain the title ‘Inhuman Rampage’?

Sam: “It’s like a rampage because we go rampaging through the album from start to finish! It never stops and then there’s a ballad at the end. We kind of put that there because it’s like the end of a movie, we’ve gone at a fast pace and then there’s a song to chill out when the credits go up. It’s good because if someone thinks this ballad’s gay then they can just turn it off because it’s the end of the album anyway!”



You seem to be going faster and faster, are you going to keep on doing this or are you going to make the fastest metal album ever?

Sam: “We already did! I haven’t even heard any album that’s faster than our first album!” Herman: “But I think it’s about the intensity of the instruments and not just about the fastness of the drums. The drums don’t go that much faster than with other bands, it’s the way the instruments work together. I think this makes our music more intense and it sounds faster.” Sam: “We’re always going to be a fast band, we said from the beginning that we don’t want to make any mid-pace songs except for the ballad, we always have a ballad on the album. We think half-speed songs are boring. When I was listening to thrash a lot, (I still do) I always thought that ‘Reign In Blood’ was such a good album because it was fast the whole way through. But that’s not something we’re consciously thinking about, we just like to keep up the speed from start to finish. I always thought the fast songs were the best ones so why not make an album that was all fast!”


Do you think you opened some doors for other English bands?

Sam: “Not really because there’s no English bands that sound like us anyway!” Herman: “There are some American bands that have been influenced by us but in the UK not really.” Sam: “A lot of people put us in the power metal-genre but there is no power metal scene in England anyway, so the people that come to our shows in England are not what you would call typical power metal fans they’re just sort of normal metal fans and punk kids and so on. It’s a really different-looking audience than when you come to Europe. So in a way we’re not part of a scene there.” Herman: “And it’s not very easy to play what we play so it’s not like there’s bands like Dragonforce popping up everywhere!”


Did you get any feedback on the new album yet?

Herman: “Yeah it was great everywhere pretty much, the people that hate us still hate us and the people that like us still like us, we really cut it fine in the middle.”



Do you have a large fan base in England?

Herman: “Yeah we’re one of the main bands now. I wouldn’t say we’re as big as bands like Iron Maiden and stuff but we play venues of 2000 people and they play our clip on television channels and the album reached the normal charts.”


You must be pretty popular in Germany?

Herman: “Well it’s getting started there, they are pretty old-fashioned! In Germany they haven’t really caught on with the faster stuff.” Sam: “And I think in the beginning they didn’t really realize that we’re doing something different than for instance Stratovarius. We’ve got blast beats and blackmetal vocals and stuff. Everyone expected that Germany would be the first country where we would make it big but they seem to be taking the longest to catch on. Germany is getting started now. And they’ve only got like one music channel there, in England they play our music on five different channels! VH1, Kerrang TV etc.” Sam: “I think it’s changing a lot, it always used to be like Metal is big in Europe and not in England but now it depends on what sort of metal you’re talking about. Bands like Trivium are massive there. And that’s good for us.” Herman: “That was a really long answer, that was good!”


How do you feel about the illegal downloading of music?

Sam: “Oh we think it’s cool! We do it ourselves anyway.” Herman: “So we can’t really complain about it when you do it to us, it doesn’t bother us.” Sam: “It’s a normal thing now, it’s just part of the world.” Herman: “We don’t go on internet collecting our music collection but it works for us really well, it’s how the band got known in the beginning. We don’t need all the media bullshit and lies, you can just listen to the album on the internet and see if you like it or not.” Sam: “The downloading thing happens to every band. We were going to do a show in New York a couple of months ago which got cancelled in the end but we’d never played there before and our album had not even properly distributed there and the show was sold out within three hours! So that must have been due to the internet.”


Don’t you feel you’re losing money this way?

Sam: “We’re not in it for the money anyway. Of course it’s nice if you get some but if we wanted to make lots of money we would have kept our jobs. You don’t play the guitar to get rich.”



Do you still have jobs?

Herman: “No we stopped after the ‘Sonic Firestorm’ tour.”


So how did you get involved in the music business and what do you listen to yourselves these days?

Sam: “We’ve all been in bands since we were kids, and it kind of just all evolved from there. Once you start signing record deals you’re part of the music business.” Herman: “It’s like a natural process.” Sam: “We listen to everything, not just metal. I listen to everything except rap and classical music. Mainly rock and metal I guess.”


Do you have any ideas for a next album or maybe a DVD or something?

Herman: “Well we don’t want to do a DVD for a while, if we do it we want to do it properly. And there’s a rockumentary and a video on the album anyway. When we make a DVD we’ll do it properly.” Sam: “I also think you should wait with making a DVD until you’re quite big as a band, otherwise you’ll have given everything away and everyone knows everything about you already and there’s no mystery anymore. There’s no rush, we have touring to do!” Herman: “You should see the show first before asking, you don’t know if you really want this on a DVD haha!”


How do you see the future with the band?

Herman: “We’ll just keep going like any other band and try to make the best album we can.” Sam: “We just want to go on tour and have a laugh and get drunk and just have some fun really. We have a lot of fun you know! Well, right not now because I’ve got a hangover but in about an hour we’ll be having fun again!”


Is there anything you want to say to the readers/fans?

Sam: “Thanks for coming to the gig if you’re coming and if you don’t, well come next time!” Herman: “Thanks for selling out the shows in Holland!” Sam: “Oh and thanks for buying the album if you bought it! And if you didn’t but you downloaded it then thanks for doing that too! Oh and we’re playing at Waldrock this summer!”


Thank you for your time!

Herman: “Cheers!” Sam: “Are you going to stick around to watch the show or are you going to run? Haha!”


(Martina & Eugene)



Current line-up

ZP Theart – Lead and backing vocals

Herman Li – Lead and rhythm guitars, backing vocals

Sam Totman – Lead and rhythm electric guitars, backing vocals

Vadim Pruzhanov – Keyboards, Piano, backing vocals

Dave Mackintosh – Drums, backing vocals

Frédéric Leclercq - Bass, backing vocals


DragonForce albums:

2006 - Inhuman Rampage                  

2004 - Sonic Firestorm 

2003 - Valley of the Damned