With only a few months before they hit the shores of Australia, we caught up with Herman Li of DragonForce; a gentleman through and through. We haven’t seen Li or DragonForce in Australia since Soundwave 2015 but that doesn’t mean the band hasn’t been busy.
2016 saw the release of Killer Elite, a greatest hits album, showcasing their best tunes from a career that spans almost 20-years. This release was, of course, followed shortly by a tour showcasing tracks from the greatest hits album, giving fans a chance to immerse themselves in nostalgia and the epic show that is a live DragonForce concert.
Not satisfied with just touring off the back of their greatest hits, DragonForce are releasing Reaching Into Infinity in May this year; an album that will further increase the diversity of the band’s repertoire. Fans can expect to see DragonForce in all their headlining glory…
It’s undeniable, Li is a virtuosic musician. Having mastered one art and clearly understanding the path that lead him there, we picked Li’s brain about other arts he has been involved in…from the gentle art, Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, to shredding tyres with Tosin Abasi, the founder of Animals As Leaders, at over 200 km/h (on a track).
The Neversphere: 2016 saw the release of Killer Elite, a greatest hits album. What was it like for you once that album was put together; two and a half hours of quality tunes sitting there in a track list, looking right back at you?
Herman: I guess the great thing about Killer Elite, the greatest hits album, is we get to do some shows playing from it. Usually, people usually release the compilation, or greatest hits albums, and they don’t really get to tour. We actually planned it with the tour and we did the biggest festival in Europe to go with that, and to be able to play the songs that fans hadn’t heard in a long time, that was a cool thing to do.
You know? Not play the same songs. Because we just came off another tour, which was the Maximum Overload Tour, and we pretty much only played one song from the greatest hits…
The Neversphere: And I’m sure the fans have appreciated being able to go and see some of their favourite songs from over the years!
Herman: Yeah! We always try to change the set list up every time we go out, it gives you even more reason not to play certain songs, to not play the same songs we’ve been playing the last year.
The Neversphere: I’ve seen Frederic use terms like ‘getting out of your comfort zone’ and ‘brutality’ to describe your next album. What’s your take on the Reaching into Infinity, should we expect something drastically different from DragonForce?
Herman: I don’t think we’re going to suddenly turn into a different band. Every time we make another album, there’s always gradual improvements; little things we add and improve on. It’s a continuous evolution.
I would say that this album, just like the other one, we didn’t want to make it in our comfort zone. Being in the comfort zone, usually for me, just means doing exactly what you’ve done before, so you don’t have any worries that it’s not going to work out. You know exactly what to do already.
We pretty much always try to make it more challenging for ourselves, so we get better. If you don’t make things difficult, you don’t get better. So it’s just a continuation. One example is we have one really long, I guess 12 minute, epic song. We’ve had long songs since the beginning, but not that long, there’s a lot of different stuff in it.
The Neversphere: A long song definitely allows for more of a story to be told…
Herman: Yeah, that’s right. Some fans say ‘oh DragonForce songs got a bit shorter!’, well they got shorter and longer. We’re adding a bit of variety, going all kinds of directions.
The Neversphere: How are you feeling about the release, are you psyched, nervous?
Herman: I’m excited! We have some big shows coming up, of course Australia. We’re going to be doing a headlining tour, we haven’t done that for a long time. The last two times we came over was for the Soundwave festival. So this time it’s going to be a real DragonForce show, that’ll be cool.
We were talking as a band just a few days ago about a set list so fans can hear the songs they missed on previous tours we didn’t get to headline in Australia.
The Neversphere: …as you said you haven’t been down here since Soundwave 2015, or at least that’s the last time I saw you in Australia. Australia can be a pretty hostile place sometimes, especially around the time of year Soundwave was run. How have you found touring in Australia in the past?
Herman: It’s always been good to be honest, we’ve never had any problems in Australia. It’s one of the few countries where we never ran into any trouble. The Summer was extremely hot but yeah, we didn’t have any problems; I thought it was cool.
…and I haven’t seen the evil spiders that everyone keeps telling me about, or crocodiles, or sharks attacking people…
The Neversphere: They’re there for sure, but I think people like to talk it up a little bit, it’s not that bad really.
Herman: I need to worry more about the drunk guy who wants to kick my ass for random reasons…
The Neversphere: Well, I have a feeling that they may have a bit of a tough time getting that done…I know that you’ve trained in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu for years but I haven’t seen much on you and Jiu Jitsu recently. Are you still rolling?
Herman: Yeah I still train whenever I can get the time off tour. Sometimes on tour I train with people whenever possible. I’ve trained in Australia before actually. Last time was 2009 at a…I think it was a Machado school, kind of an MMA gym…
The Neversphere: Are you going to try to train this year in Australia, your tour schedule looks pretty hectic…
Herman: Unfortunately this time, we don’t really have much time off. We have one day off, and we probably need that one. I’d love to get a light roll, that’s always good, with other people…the more you roll with different people the better you get.
The Neversphere: I know you’ve talked about preserving your fingers before while training Jiu Jitsu; you tape them heavily to protect them. But sometimes other injuries happen. How do you manage injuries, and how have you tried to mitigate them over the years?
Herman: I take glucosamine tablets when I’m training heavily. I know when I was training 5-6 days a week, I’d take those pills for my joints. But to be honest, I think by being extremely light and smooth with your technique – feeling, having good feeling; knowing exactly what the other guy’s going to do…you can kind of avoid a lot of the injuries I think.
To avoid injuries, I just roll with really good guys. Brown belts, black bets…the really high level guys, the injury is almost non-existent with those guys. It’s kind of cheating, but I’d rather get my ass kicked than get injured.
The Neversphere: Yeah, that’s a much better option that going with the crazy, fresh white belts…
Herman: I don’t really like that. Before a tour, I don’t really roll with white belts or lower blue belts.
I also think a lot of Jiu Jitsu guys don’t like to rest and the resting is the best way for you to heal. But it’s hard when you’re addicted to Jiu Jitsu, you don’t want to rest.
Doing no-gi is good too…
The Neversphere: I like to draw a parallel between music and Jiu Jitsu. Do you feel that mastering the guitar has helped you on your Jiu Jitsu journey, and conversely, has the grind of Jiu Jitsu added anything to your musical side?
Herman: I believe that playing the guitar…certain things like that are really skilful, technical things…it’s kind of the same way you learn. You need the same mind set to learn. With learning the guitar; practicing things slowly and feel things. Jiu Jitsu is so much about the technique, but you need to feel the energy, the way it’s flowing. I think it’s definitely helped, playing the guitar, by having an understanding of how to learn something.
Learning to be a student is really important in the guitar as well as Jiu Jitsu, you need to absorb it. Two years ago, I started learning performance driving, performance car driving. Learning how to drive on a race track really fast, taking the perfect corners, coming out fast. All those skills are just like marital arts, it’s like an art form.
I really enjoy learning the perfect technique, the absolutely perfect execution of something.
The Neversphere: You’re talking my language man. Those are my three favourite things; metal, Jiu Jitsu and driving.
Herman: Oh really? Yeah, it’s fun. I get the car on the race track. I was on the track two weeks ago…and four weeks ago.
The Neversphere: Yeah, I saw on social media that your were out driving Porsches with Tosin Abasi from Animals As Leaders recently.
Herman: Yeah that’s right! He has a Porsche and we talked about it. He asked me, ‘do you ever go to the track with it?’ and I said ‘Yeah! I take lessons, I’ve been instructed on how to drive, come out!’. So he did a session of virtual reality, practising at my house, and then we went to the track after.
It’s great fun! Two weeks ago I was learning from an instructor on just driving 911s, to understand the weight distribution because the engine is in the back. It’s different compared to other cars. Learning to drive a mid-engine car with no traction control, you really learn the art with no computers to save you…
All these things are so similar; driving, music and martial arts.
The Neversphere: Before I let you go Herman, I have to ask; who was the superior Porsche driver you or Tosin??
Herman: [laughs] We weren’t really racing or anything, I would say…Tosin is a fearless, fearless driver. I’m a much more careful guy, a gradual, small build up kind of guy.
I mean, I back off after 140 miles per hour on the oval bank…
The Neversphere: WHAT?! 140 miles per hour? That’s incredibly fast!
Herman: [laughs] I don’t go any faster. Once you go faster, you have to maintain the speed on the oval bank, if you back off your rear end will come round in those turns.
The Neversphere: That sounds both terrifying and like so much fun at the same time.
Herman: It was a blast, it was a blast…
DragonForce 2017 Australian Tour Dates
Tickets available now
Tuesday, June 20
Capitol, Perth (18+)
Tickets: Destroy All Lines
Wednesday, June 21
170 Russel, Melbourne (18+)
Tickets: Destroy All Lines
Thursday, June 22
The Basement, Canberra (18+)
Tickets: Destroy All Lines
Saturday, June 24
Manning Bar, Sydney (18+)
Tickets: Destroy All Lines
Sunday, June 25
The Triffid, Brisbane (18+)
Tickets: Destroy All Lines