För en tid sedan mötte jag upp Herman och Marc på Scandic mitt emot T-centralen i Stockholm.
Två trevliga snubbar och det blev snack om nya plattan, Marcs inträde i bandet och en hel del annat.
Do you consider this album more different than the previous ones? How do you look at it?
Herman Li: I think it´s definitely a different type of dynamics than the last album. I mean, we definitely touch on different kind of musical ways that we haven´t done before. The speed is obviously still there, but we´ve expanded our boundaries on this album. We´ve actually broken our own rules book as we said we would never do certain things in Dragonforce, and we actually did.
What would you say was the major difference recording this album now, compared to when you recorded the first Dragonforce album? Does it get easier or harder or more technical or is it just the same?
HL: Oh, it´s totally different now. The game has totally changed. Now I think we did about
90 % of the production or recording in my studio instead of being split 50/50 in the past, like on our last album and on our first album it was even less. I´ve learned so much about production and on how we record and how to do things. It´s not even close. It´s like a demo band versus a real experienced band.
These days with the technology it´s a lot of cut and paste. Like with the vocals, you can take a word from that take and another from that take and put it all together. Is there a lot of that?
HL: I think what´s different on this album… I´ll take you back to the last album where we actually wrote the songs, went straight into the studio, recorded the songs, came out and learned the songs and went on tour. This time it was kind of reversed. We wrote the songs, we played the songs together like jamming out and find what works as a band together, before recording the songs. It´s a very different process. In the pass we were fucking obsessive, checking the computer and making sure it was perfect, perfect, perfect. This time it was a fucking metal band. We recorded, it sounded great and I didn´t even look at the screen. That was a take and that´s where we were able to transfer the live, organic energy on this album that wasn´t on the last album.
Marc, you´ve come in as the new singer. Did you come in thinking “Oh, I´ve got all these cool ideas!” or did you have a lot more laidback approach?
Marc Hudson: To be honest I think I was neither of those two things. I didn´t come in confident thinking I´ve got all of this stuff and show Dragonforce I´m the shit, it wasn´t like that. But I wasn´t laidback either. I was more eager to please them and on a personal level as well, so like a quiet confidence if you will. I know that I can sing certain stuff, but I was no way cocky in anyway because these guys have been doing it for years and years and my experience is so small. I have a lot to offer but they had to kind of explore my voice with me and through each song. A high note here and an alternative here. It´s like I had the ability but I didn´t fully show it until the album recording got into the swing of it.
Were you a huge Dragonforce fan before you joined the band?
MH: Well, I wouldn´t say I was a huge Dragonforce fan, because I´m not a huge fan of many people really. There´s like one or two bands that I really am a huge fan of, but yeah, I´ve got all of their albums from “Valley of the damned” and I remember buying it when I was 15 years old. So yeah, got all the albums and went to see them in my hometown Oxford a few times like in 2005 and 2006, something like that. I was familiar with all their songs, which is a bonus and it made learning them a little bit easier and I was a big fan of their live shows and was hanging around after the show to get a signature. (laughs)
Auditioning singers, I guess there´s a lot of stuff that has to work? It´s not just you being a great singer, there´s the personal side to it as well and working in a group with five other guys. How much emphasis did you put on that when you were auditioning Marc? What was it besides his voice that made you feel that he was the one?
HL: Well, from Marc´s first video that he sent in, we liked it and we contacted him to sing another song. “Ok, he can sing this one and that one. Now, let´s send him a harder one.”. So the first song we sent was “Fury of the storm”, before we even bothered meeting up with him. After he sang that one it was “Oh, that´s good, not bad.”, because that´s a really difficult song, especially in its original key. Then we met to see how much he could drink and to see if he could be a partner in crime on tour as well. Even though most singers have to be very professional and they can´t drink that much.
MH: It´s the most boring job. (laughs) Every singer I´ve met so far say the one thing, “Stay off the drinking till afterwards!”.
HL: So we got to meet him and talk and chat for a few hours and that was cool and then we put him in the rehearsal room with us to see how he would perform. So after he´d done that, we did five songs twice and that was good but it still wasn´t over so went to see his band play and how his live performance was, like if it was awkward or if he did some strange things while singing. Then after that, there was another test. He had to go to my home studio to sing some new songs and see how fast he could learn those new songs and how he would sing them and see if he got pissed off when we started pushing him in the studio. “You have to sing this again! No, the melody goes this way, why don´t you try this!” and just see what kind of ideas he would bring to the song. After all that we were able to confirm him as the new singer. We worked with other singers too and talking to other guys, so it was about eight months, right?
MH: Yeah, I think it was eight months from when I sent the first video to when you phoned me up and said I got the job.
As I understand it, all the songs for the album were already written when Marc entered.
HL: Well, the basic frame work. While we were doing the auditions we were still writing them. After he joined the band and we could integrate his voice… and to be honest, it´s never written until the album is over, so when we realized what more he could sing and how his voice was different, we had to make certain changes in the songs to get the best out of his voice.
If there´s new stuff written and you´re supposed to sing on it and give your take on it, is there like a guide voice to listen to or one of the other guys singing? How does it work?
MH: Well, first I was given the songs with a vocal line on guitar and then the lyrics which were just guide lyrics and not final. Sometimes I listened to it and it was like “I can´t still make out how it´s supposed to be.”, so Sam would do the guide vocals on top. This was only the first two songs, so I had Sam mumbling into a microphone with the words.
HL: Yeah, in my kitchen. We did it in France. It was quite psycho. (laughs)
MH: Yeah, so I had it on my Ipod on repeat so I was listening to Sam just mumbling and I was going “Oh man, this is hard work.”. (laughs) Eventually when I came into the studio, I actually tried it out and went “Oh, so that´s what it´s supposed to be.”. That´s how I learned some of the first songs.
Cool! There´s ten songs on the album or nine, since there´s an acoustic version of a song too. How much was written and do you usually write an abundance of songs and pick from those? I guess there´s gonna be some bonus tracks too.
HL: On this one we wrote… I guess ten. There´s one that is a Japanese bonus, but that one was written 12 years ago. We don´t write that many songs. We don´t wanna dilute the making process and we don´t wanna write like 20 songs. The songs are so complex in Dragonforce. So many melodies and so much that needs to be put in and so many instruments that we just can´t write that many songs. We write the songs and make sure they are great or they won´t be on the album.
Could you see yourselves doing like what Van Halen did on their new record with a lot of demos that were written in the seventies? Pick old ideas and turn them into new songs or is it always a fresh start?
MH: That´s a bit what the bonus track is. Before Herman and Sam was doing this side project Shadow Warriors.
HL: We took a demo we recoded. Some fans heard it and liked it so we turned it into a bonus track. Some ideas get left over from the past, end up being used, but mainly the majority, like
95 % are all fresh written because what happens is you reflect us now as musicians. Not the past. I think it´s important that we put out music that reflects a current snapshot. Not that I´m saying that you can´t take an old idea and turn it into something great, but we don´t have anything left over. (laughs)
The artwork then? I read on the net actually, that a lot of people thought the artwork was really simple compared to the previous albums. What was the idea for the artwork on this album?
HL: We wanted to make a contrast to the last album which was very complicated. I really like the last album cover and I think it´s really intelligent. The guy who did it is a well known fucking famous artist. He´s all about the shapes. It´s a new chapter with the band right now. I wouldn´t say we´re reinventing ourselves or anything like that, it´s just continuation and that´s why we kept it kind of simple.
How are you gonna pick songs for the next tour? Do you change it around? Do you dig deep and pick stuff you haven´t played for years?
HL: Well, we´ve got new songs. (laughs)
MH: This time Herman and Sam are going through all of the old songs to find out which ones my voice is best suited for and also at the same time, get the ones that the band likes and make sure we rehearse them. I don´t know how many new songs, but we have a list of songs for the new tour. There´s brand new stuff and old stuff is there and it´s gonna be good.
How do you choose what to play from the new stuff? Is it like a giant band meeting and everyone gets a vote?
MH: It´s definitely not that. (laughs) It´s more like an e-mail that went around.
HL: I think Sam, me and Fred… I told Sam to write that e-mail after talking to me and talking to Sam and not talking to Fred… (laughs) and we pretty much agreed on it. Something that would add dynamics to the setlist that we didn´t have on the previous tours. This time there has to be things that break up the tempo, so the dynamics of the new show will be different.
This new label of yours, Electric Generation Recordings, are the reasons for it pure financially or what´s the idea behind it?
HL: As we all know now, the labels are disappearing and getting swallowed up and we just don´t wanna have this album coming out and suddenly the label disappear and then you can´t do a tour, there´s no promotion, fans can´t get hold of it. We´ve always been in control of our destiny because we write our own music, do our own production and the live show and all that, we plan it ourselves. We don´t pay some guy to do it, so this is just the natural way again to make sure that the album gets there. We go and do promotion and interviews.
Creating your own label, will that mean more work for you?
HL: Well, we got more work than we actually expected. (laughs). There was a lot of work and a lot of planning ahead and we had to make the album and talk to our manager to make sure everything was balanced. Yeah, it´s definitely more work but that´s here in Europe. In the US and Canada it´s still Roadrunner and they do a great job.
There are a lot more artists doing what you´ve done now and turning it into more of a DIY attitude. Give it a few more years and it feels like there will be no labels or just two in charge of everything. It´s a weird situation. Kids today just download stuff to their phone and when I was a kid and I still do it today, there was the artwork and the liner notes, the thank you list, the producer´s name and all that. That whole thing gets lost these days.
HL: Yeah, and of course we´re releasing the album on vinyl. Unfortunately all the new technology is supposed to make the music sound better, but it became worse somehow, at leat to my ears as I´ve been listening to music in different ways. It sounds like shit on the Ipod with the compression and vinyl sounds really warm and nice so we release it on vinyl so people who wants to hear music will appreciate it.
Yeah, it´s pretty cool that sales for vinyl is going up every year. But it´s still that if no one buys your record there´s no label that will be able to give you the money to go on tour or whatever, so it is weird. No matter what people say, an album is a piece of art that you put your blood, sweat and tears into. It´s gotta feel weird for people to just take it and not pay for it.
HL: What´s interesting is that when we were mixing the album and we were deciding on the song list, I was thinking “Does it even fucking matter that I´m thinking of a song list?”. Do people care these days? Maybe they just wanna hear two songs. But I´m happy the way we did the song list and maybe someone will really appreciate all the work that went into it.
Yeah, people are downloading just songs and I remember reading last year about Tommy Lee saying that there was no point in recording a new Crüe album because people just want songs and other artists have said the same. They´ll record one song and release it and then another and not do albums anymore. That´s weird as well since the whole experience of listening to a whole album is to listen from beginning to end. Another thing. Being six members in a band, if you have to vote for anything it would be easier if you were five. With six you could end up with three against three.
HL: I don´t think it really works that way to be honest. I think everyone in the band do what they´re good at. So certain things that you´re not good at, you wouldn´t interfere. On this album everyone worked hard with what they´re best at. I think that´s one of the big changes on this album, there was more effort from everybody. I´m not saying I did everything before, but Sam and I always did the most of the albums, beginning to the end. Now we were able to get everybody to do their best.
I read that John Petrucci from Dream Theater is a big influence on you. Have you listened a lot to him?
HL: Yeah definitely!
What is it about his playing?
HL: I was really into “Images and words” when that album came out. I had it on tape and I don´t know how many times I listened to it and I´ve still got the tape. Dream Theater back then showed me a different side of music that I´d never heard before. I mean, I had a few Rush albums, but they weren´t taking it in that kind of way, so I learned how to play fast. Actually from watching the video to “Pull me under”. That made a difference to me.
You then Marc, are there any favorite vocalists?
MH: Yeah definitely! I don´t like to put it down to just one person because there are so many I can think of. Michael Kiske from Helloween…
I´m actually talking to him tomorrow.
MH: No way. Say hi from me! (laughs)
HL: “Who the fuck is this guy?”. (laughs)
MH: Michele Luppi from Vision Devine, Sebastian Bach, Bruce Dickinson. I just kind of like the high range vocalists.
Touring wise then? Where are you gonna go first?
HL: We´re gonna go to America first and then we´ll go to other continents and make our way back to Europe after the summer. We´ll be in Sweden around October.
Too bad you´re gonna miss out on the summer here.
HL: To be honest, Sweden is always one of the most fun countries we play in. We´ve always had a blast and I´ve got friends here.
Ok, thank you guys!
HL: Thank you!