DragonForce – Breaking Their Own Rules

Sunday, 27th July 2014

DragonForce is no stranger to the metal world. A few years ago, they weren’t even strangers to most of the world through their contribution to the video game Guitar Hero. Of course, there were plusses and minuses to that end but the band has carried on just the same through several albums since then. Their penchant for speed and over-the-top guitar solos, alongside their addictive choruses, have helped spread their message even past that of the normal traditional/power metal baseline.

Their latest album, Maximum Overload, has all of the familiar features of a DragonForce record. But there are also some “firsts” for the band. It’s the first time they’ve recorded with an outside producer, it’s also the first time they’ve recorded a cover song. DR was able to chat with both of the band’s guitarists, Sam Totman and Herman Li, to discuss these “firsts,” as well as working with Matt Heafy, and of couse, some Guitar Hero.

Dead Rhetoric: DragonForce is pretty well established at this point, do you feel that there are any real components that define the band?

Sam Totman: I think we just write songs we enjoy playing. We don’t think too hard about doing this or that and try to make other people happy. We just try not to repeat ourselves too much and write the best songs we can that make us happy to play.

Dead Rhetoric: It seems like there are a lot of firsts on Maximum Overload. It’s the first time that you used an outside producer. What caused that change after doing it yourselves for so long?

Herman Li: We’ve produced all our previous albums so this time instead of staying in our confort zone, we thought we would challenge ourselves and do something different. Working with Jens Bogren was an interesting experience as he works differently from us and he has a different background in music. It was good for a change. It’s good to make changes in life instead of doing the same thing all the time.

Dead Rhetoric: I heard he was hard in the studio, was that correct?

Totman: He made us get up pretty early in the morning, but as far as being hard, it was kind of good. In some ways, it made it easier. If we were on our own, we would play a guitar part like 5 million times until it was exactly perfect but he would say, “yeah, that’s good enough,” and not to say it was bad, but when you are on your own you can try too hard to make it perfect.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it a challenge at this point to push yourself to write what you like or does it still just come naturally?

Totman: We are writing what we like, but there are certain chord progressions that I really like to use. Obviously we can go and write a bunch of weird chords and put it in a chorus, but we want it to be very catchy. It’s definitely harder to write songs than it used to be, but you are always getting new influences and ideas as well. That’s actually why I teamed up with Fred [Leclercq] on the songwriting this time. We did a little bit on the previous album together, but in the past I would do stuff on my own so this actually helped out a lot. When I got stuck for an idea or he got stuck we would recommend things to each other. That made this record a bit easier than the last one.

Dead Rhetoric: Was it any easier songwriting-wise with it being Mark Hudson’s second time around?

Totman: Absolutely, it was so much easier. Most of the songs on the last album were written before we knew whom the singer was. The more you get to know someone’s vocal range, you know what key to put the song in because you know his voice is best in this area for the chorus, or I know he can go up to this point if I need him to. I write vocal lines on the guitar, and knowing their voice really well is a huge help.

Dead Rhetoric: “Ring of Fire” isn’t a song you hear metal bands covering a lot, how did you go about really changing it over to a DragonForce song?

Totman: I thought when I first heard it that it was going to work. The vocal lines and the chords of the original could be kept at the same tempo. The chorus and chord progression could definitely work for a DragonForce song, so I did the chorus first and worked back from there. I changed the verse into a minor key so that it had a flow from verse to the chorus, since the original was all in major and I didn’t think it would work for us. We wanted it to sound like a DragonForce song rather than just playing it exactly like the original. The intro leads were what the trumpets were, and I put that into a minor key to make it a bit catchier and it makes it sound more like us. It all came together in about 15 minutes, to get the basic structure anyways.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s really cool that you took the time to turn it into your own your own song. There are far too many times you hear a cover song and it sounds exactly like the original.

Totman: I’m so happy you said that. That’s what I keep saying in interviews; that’s exactly my reasoning. When I hear some metal band covering “Master of Puppets” or “The Trooper” I think, what’s the point of that? No one is going to want to listen to that more than once, or I personally don’t anyway. I heard Sonata Artica’s version of The Scorpions “Still Loving You” and I didn’t even realize it was a cover. Part of our idea behind this song was that we wanted people to like it, whether or not they knew or liked the original.

Dead Rhetoric: When you went through the process of picking out “Ring of Fire, ” what were the other songs that came up?

Totman: There were some bad ones. People were thinking of it without thinking that it needed to be a DragonForce song. Fred came up with “Pet Semetery” by The Ramones, which I think is a really cool song. But you can’t really play that song with a fast drum beat and make it sound good. “Earth Song” by Michael Jackson was also brought up, which is kind of epic as well. But we couldn’t turn it into a DragonForce song, so that’s why those got kind of voted off.

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