Dragonforce Interview

Originally from Hong Kong, Herman Li has forged himself a reputation as one of metal’s fastest and most flamboyant performers in recent times. His band – the multi-national but British based Dragonforce – have also been making huge waves around the world.

A whirlwind combination of speed, power and epic melodies, the band has fast become one of the UK’s leading metallic exports; while their Roadrunner Records debut ‘Inhuman Rampage’ has achieved Silver status for sales of over 60,000 on home soil alone.

Fresh from the band’s biggest and most successful British tour to date, Herman took a few minutes out with Ryan Bird for this rapid-fire Q&A session. Buckle up.

How old were you when you first began playing guitar?

I was 16 years old.

What type of guitar did you start out on?

I had a Squire for 1 year than I traded it in for my first Ibanez.

What inspired you to pick up the instrument?

I suppose it was because I simply ran out of exciting videos games to play!

Who were/are some of your favourite players?

Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Tony MacAlpine and many many more.

How did it feel to scoop the Dimebag ‘Young Guitarist’ award at the Metal Hammer Awards back in 2005?

It was a surprise, I never expected to win anything. I still don’t expect to win anything these days but we won four categories in Guitar World magazine’s readers poll in the US this year!

Did you ever meet him? Do you consider yourself a fan of his playing?

Sadly I never met Dimebag, but I learnt a few Pantera riffs and solos years ago, which was great.

What about Pantera as a whole? Do you consider them a personal influence?

I really like the Vulgar Display of Power and Cowboys from Hell albums.

Have you been surprised by how quickly things seem to have escalated for Dragonforce over the past 18 months or so?

At the beginning of the year yes, but not so much now. We been around for like 7 years, it’s not like it suddenly happened. We’ve been building it up for years, but signing to Roadrunner made a big difference.

Your profile in the USA seems to be building nicely. How was Ozzfest?

Our first time in the US was a sold out headlining tour before the Inhuman Rampage album was released there. There has been a really strong underground following of DragonForce in the USA for a while now. The sold out tour really opened people’s eyes and that’s what got us on Ozzfest. Ozzfest was a great experience. We made loads of friends there.

Were you nervous going into the tour? You’re not exactly your every day metal band – especially when compared to the usual Ozzfest roster.

Absolutely not nervous at all, as every band on the main stage sounded totally different to each other.

How did you kill time? Perhaps the occasional tipple was consumed?

We didn’t waste time on tour playing video games or watching movies. Every day is a party! We hardly had any days off. When there was no Ozzfest show on the day, we were doing a sold out headlining show.

Any particular “rock star” moments?

Ozzfest was 2 months long, it’s not easy to pick out a moment!

A couple of years ago you were set to make your US debut at CBGB’s. How did you react when you were first told you’d be playing the venue?

I complained that the gig was too small and would be sold out in a few days. No one listened to me. The show sold out within three hours after the tickets gone on sale.

Your recent UK tour was a huge success, taking in larger venues than many thought you ever would. How did it compare to previous treks?

The December tour was better in every single way compared to the January one. We had more experience, the tour was sold out, we had our own production, our own crew, new gear and people we like to be with. We were 100% behind the support bands (Firewind and All That Remains). We love those guys and asked them to do the tour. It’s great touring with people we like.

Did you enjoy having larger stages to play with or is there something about smaller ones you missed?

We are always better on bigger stages. There is nothing good about smaller stages apart from if you are tired and can’t be bothered moving.

Did you find that with larger crowds came more female admirers, or more fat and hairy male ones?

Definitely more female fans, hehehe.

Go on then – just how DO you warm up?

I didn’t, then I did, and now I don’t again. I decided on the last tour that it’s better to save my finger muscles for the show, because by the last song my fingers are pretty much fucking dead!

What’s the Dragonforce war plan for 2007?

To go around the world another time! We’ll probably hit Russia, America, Australia, Europe and hopefully a few festivals. Plus we’ll probably make a new album! Woah!

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[Photos by Kirsten Lane]