7 Questions with Sam Totman of DragonForce

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by Ryan Meehan

It’s astonishing to realize that DragonForce now have a history going back 15 years, and that they’re about to release their sixth album. But such is the pace at which music and life move these days that what was seemingly a highly promising young British metal band just yesterday are now an established full force (ahem) on the scene. In fact, their reputation is such that anything new from this lot is regarded as a landmark moment in the ongoing story of metal. But the new DragonForce album is a revelation, one that will surely entice them to another level of achievement.  It’s called “Maximum Overload,” and that’s precisely what you get from the 10 tracks on the main album, plus the five bonus songs for the special edition and a DVD. “We have our own style and sound,” says Herman Li, who founded the band in 1999 with fellow guitarist Sam Totman. “And we didn’t want to move away from that. Once you’ve got your trademark approach in place, that’s what fans come to expect from you. But we also wanted to challenge ourselves. We didn’t want to rehash what we’d done before, but take it all in a fresh direction.“  With “Maximum Overload,” DragonForce haven’t so much reinvented themselves as reimagined their aspirations. The result is an album full of command, energy and vitality. It’s got strength in depth and breadth. Sophistication allied to an attention to detail that goes beyond what’s been done before.  We are grateful to have guitarist Sam Totman of DragonForce as our guest today in 7 questions.

RM:  This is your second record featuring vocalist Marc Hudson, who joined the band in 2011 after the departure of founding member ZP Theart.  How much more fluid were the writing and recording sessions for this disc considering that at the time Marc had already done work on a full album with the band?

ST: Yeah it was definitely much easier this time because after doing the last album and touring the world for the last 2 years, he definitely feels like a real part of the band now so we have all learned so much about where his strengths are and he’s learned a lot himself just from experiencing all this stuff he had never done before.  From the writing side, that was easier because I know his voice so much better, when you’re writing vocal lines for a singer, if you know where the best part of their voice is, where the highest part and lowest part of their range is, you can write songs based around that which definitely makes for a better result in the end. The last album, most of the songs were written before we even knew who was going to be singing them so there was a lot more work changing keys and parts of vocal lines to suit his voice.

RM:  You worked with producer Jens Bogren on this record, and Herman has said that he was “a slavedriver” who would challenge the group in all of its facets of its existence.  How intense were the sessions for the LP; and as one of the most well-rehearsed bands in the world why did you feel that you needed that enhanced sense of discipline in order to achieve a superior product?

ST: I was actually the person least in favour of working with a producer as we had produced the last 5 records ourselves with (what I think!) was a really good result so I was a bit worried that it might turn out worse or I wouldn’t be happy with it, but at the same time I realized that maybe carrying on the same way forever might get stale without us realizing it. ! overall though it was a really good experience, we ended up with a result that we were all really happy with that kept the key parts of our sound but with a bit of a fresh sound to it too! I found working with Jens fine, he liked to start pretty early in the morning but I didn’t find him any more of a slave driver than any other engineer or producer. I guess we were so used to working on our own time schedule and taking breaks whenever we wanted, working for a constant 8 hours or more a day was a bit new to us.

RM:  When it comes to the songwriting process, because the music is so fast do you ever have to slow things down a bit to decide what is the best direction to take the song from a structural standpoint?  Or have you found that you will always work at the speed of Dragonforce from the inception of the idea all the way through until completion?

ST: Well even though most of our songs are around 200bpm, the vocal lines and chord changes are still not particularly fast all the time so I don’t even think “Oh wow this song is so fast!” So the simple answer to that question is … No!  Normally I always decide on the tempo of the song before anything else so working at whatever tempo that is kind of makes sense and I think slowing it down would actually make it more difficult to figure out what’s the best structure to use! Having said that though, on the new album there are definitely a lot of new tempos and musical Ideas which I think are really cool and I think people will find pretty interesting!

RM:  What can fans expect from “Maximum Overload”, the new record that will be available August 18th on Metal Blade Records?  What’s the biggest difference between the material on the new disc as opposed to the songs on “The Power Within”?

ST:  Every album we`ve done, we never really think too hard about the direction or what people might like or anything like that, we just write a bunch of songs that we think sound good and that make us happy to play them! Of course we are always getting new influences and new ideas but the basic sound of the band I think is still definitely there, the big choruses, the speed , the guitar solos etc., but that’s just because we still really enjoy that style of music! If we really wanted to turn into a country band then maybe we would because I don’t think I could carry on writing songs that I didn’t really like just because it was to make a living or keep other people happy or something like that!  So I guess there’s not a huge difference between this record and the last one, there’s just a load of new stuff added to the stuff we already are known for! (If that makes sense!) Basically if you like any of our old stuff you will love this. and if you didn’t like us in the past you might now.

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RM:  The first video from the new record is for “The Game” and features Matt Heafy of Trivium…How long have you guys known Matt; and how were you able to get him to participate at a time when he’s currently involved in so many other projects?  What is it about that track specifically that made you want bring Matt into the mix?

ST: Yeah we met him ages ago, in 2007 we did a tour with Trivium and again in 2012 and you always see the same bands at festivals and stuff like that so we always kept in touch. And actually yeah. we didn’t really wanna ask him because we know from our own experience its quite nice to finish a tour or album or whatever and go home and rest and not think about music for a while just to kind of refresh your mind a bit, so we didn’t want to give him extra `work` to do! So we got Fred to ask him and luckily he was totally happy to do it and he actually sent us even more ideas and stuff than we asked for which was cool.  As far as choosing the track, well we always had some rough shouting vocals on all our albums since “Inhuman Rampage” so we knew that song was one that needed some, normally we would just get myself, Fred or one of our friends to do it, but we thought well why not get a `professional` screaming guy! And we just decided that his voice was really cool and let’s try him!

RM:  The new album features a cover of Johnny Cash’s classic tune “Ring of Fire”, and I understand that was a song that you personally selected for this record.  Why did you decide to choose that as the first track the band would eventually cover; and what is it about your version that makes it such a unique take on a song that has been such a popular part of music culture for over half of a century?

ST: Well one of the reasons we never did a cover in the past is that I had so many albums in my collection where bands I liked would do a cover for a b side or bonus track or something and 90% of the time they just play it pretty much exactly the tempo, same everything and I was like “Well, what was the point of that.?”  I would listen to it once and go “Ok it didn’t suck, but it’s not better or different than the original!”  So we wanted to do a song that people could enjoy if they like Dragonforce, even if they don’t know or like the original.  It kind of just came by accident to choose that song though, I was watching TV one day and it came on and even though it’s a totally different style of music, the chord progression and the tempo of the vocal line, I could hear instantly and imagine in my head that it would work well as a super-fast power metal song, so even though there’s been a few covers of that song over the years, I didn’t really care because there’s definitely been none that sound like this one.

RM:  What does your live setup consist of nowadays with regards to guitars and amplification?   Do you tend to favor the Ibanez Iceman over all of your other axes, or does it strictly depend on the song you’re performing?

ST:  Well Ibanez were nice enough to make me my own signature model which was really cool, so even though I still love trying out other guitars, this is really been perfected down to exactly what I want and what I need to play our stuff! It’s called the STM model and uses DiMarzio pickups . We got a few songs on the new album and previous records that use a 7 string guitar, so I’ve been using an RG Prestige model for those.

As far as amps, I’m now using the boss GT100 which is really cool and flexible and has a great sound, going through a Mesa Boogie 250 power amp into a Peavey 4×12 cabinet.

RM:  In one sentence, how would you best describe what Dragonforce represents musically?

ST: Everything you could possibly ever want in a metal band.

RM:  What’s up next for DragonForce in the remainder of 2014 and beyond?  Anything big in the works that we should know about?

ST:  Well right now, the world tour is pretty much planned until 2016 but not all of it is announced yet so I can only let you know that there is an apart UK Tour in September, Loud Park festival in Japan in October, the European Tour in October November and January.  There will be a lot more dates announced at some point but people can have a look at our website or Facebook or whatever to see if we coming anywhere near them! Which we probably WILL be!!

Official Website:  http://www.dragonforce.com/

DragonForce on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/dragonforce

DragonForce on Twitter:  http://twitter.com/dragonforcehq

Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.

Meehan

 

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