By Kevin and Sam Stewart-Panko
So, England’s Dragonforce – a power metal band for those who chug down energy drinks for breakfast – recently made an appearance in Toronto as part of a short series of showcase gigs to promote new vocalist Marc Hudson and some forthcoming material and I came up with the bright idea of having my son, Sam interview the band. Sam loves Dragonforce and, like any kid, would be thrilled with the opportunity to meet his heroes in person and tell all his friends, who are familiar with the band via the amount of time they spend playing video games, that he met them in the flesh. However, I figured I could skirt any applicable child labour laws by making him work for the opportunity to meet the band. Actually, that’s not it; it’s more like we thought it would be some funny shit to have the Dragonforce, who’ve probably been sick of doing interviews for as long as their interviewer has been alive, answer questions posed by someone who just wants to ask the band what’s on his mind. So, we sat down backstage at the Opera House with guitarists Sam Totman and Herman Li for a few minutes before show time and below are the results. We have to say a mega thanks to Sam and Herman for being totally down-to-earth, great sports and humorously and enthusiastically answering the questions asked of them, even the really obvious ones they’ve probably been asked a million times before.
Have you ever gotten too drunk before a show and couldn’t play any music?
Sam: That’s a pretty good question, considering I just started my first beer, so you might find out [laughter].
Herman: Well, we’ve gotten too drunk, but not so that we can’t play and because it’s our music, we can play it any way we want to play it.
Sam: Exactly. We’ve kind of got a bit better these days. In the past, we’ve gotten extremely drunk and I got to the point where I could do a pretty good job anyway. Now, we’re trying to cut down a little bit and actually play amazingly.
Herman: And now we do play amazing. We have to confess, we have done some shows where we were a bit too “tired” to play, but these days we’re really much more professional. I guess we’ve grown up a bit, unlike the old days, and every note is perfect.
Sam: Well, now he’s going to hold you to that [laughter].
Herman [noodling on a guitar as he talks]: See, I’m even practicing as we talk to you.
Sam: Fair enough.
If you weren’t in a band what job would you have?
Sam: Well, I can tell you exactly what job I’d have: I’d either be cooking fish and chips in a pub, because that’s what I used to do, or I’d be a nurse because I was doing training for that. Hopefully, I’ll still keep playing in a band because I don’t really want to do either of those.
Sam Stewart-Panko’s dad: You went to nursing school?
Sam: Yeah. I know you don’t believe that, but I didn’t really want to. I only did it because my missus was doing the same course and I copied all her work and you got paid to go there, so I thought, “Why not?”
Herman: So, when this is over, if any one of you go to a hospital, he might be around.
Sam: Yeah, don’t go to a hospital in London in ten years time because you might get me looking after you and you might not last very long [laughter].
Herman: I guess I’d be doing the same old type of computer job, basically. Nice and easy.
Sam: But now you’ve probably been left behind the rest of the world.
Herman: Nah, I keep up with the times, y’know.
Have you ever beaten “Through the Fire and Flames” on Guitar Hero?
Herman: On ‘easy’ I’ve done it.
Sam: You actually made it all the way to the end?
Herman: On ‘easy,’ yeah.
Sam: Oh. I haven’t even played it past the first few bars. I’ve only tried like twice.
Herman: That’s because you don’t have a game console.
Sam: Yeah, I guess not having a game console doesn’t help and is probably half the problem [laughter].
Herman: Wait a moment! You do have one, you gave it to me!
Sam: Did I?
Herman: But we left it in America.
Sam: That’s right! But there was no Guitar Hero on it, so that didn’t help matters [laughter].
Have you ever fallen off a stage?
Sam: Ahhh, yes. I have fallen over the stage, I’ve fallen behind the stage, I’ve fallen off the front of the stage, so yeah…it’s lucky I’m still even here [laughter].
Herman: We’ve done probably about a thousand shows, so there’s a lot of chance for things to go wrong and we don’t exactly stand still and we’re always taking a risk by running, jumping, jumping on the PA system and sometimes the speakers are shaking…
Sam: …so there’s a pretty high chance of falling over. He did a stage dive once and everyone got out of the way. That was pretty funny.
Herman: So, it wasn’t really a stage dive, I dove onto the floor [laughter].
Sam: That was in Canada, actually.
Herman: It was, ummm, Winnipeg.
Herman: No, no it was Winnipeg. I remember it was really cold that day.
Sam: It was definitely Quebec, but it was still really funny.
Herman: No, it wasn’t Quebec.
Sam: Oh well, whatever.
Herman: No wait! You’re right!
Sam: Yeah, it was cold and the floor was concrete and instead of being concerned, we were all laughing and pointing at him.
Herman: Well, that wasn’t really the problem. The main problem and what hurt the most was when I tried to stand up everyone was standing on my hair. I couldn’t get up [laughter].
How many video games are your songs in?
Sam: I don’t know, actually.
Herman: “Heroes of our Time” is in a sports game. Obviously, “Through the Fire and Flames” which has been in Guitar Hero, as well as Guitar Hero 3 and Guitar Hero Smash Hits, and Brutal Legend and Rock Band.
Sam: So that makes a grand total of…
Herman: …fuck all…
Sam: …five! I think there may be some other ones as well.
Herman: And we have some music in another guitar game in Japan. It’s quite different. It’s actually the same kind of thing as Guitar Hero but it’s another one by Konami.
Sam’s dad: Do you get publishing money from that upfront or based on the number of games sold? How does that work?
Herman: Yeah, we get a little bit of money, but I can’t really tell you because the contract actually says we’re not allowed to tell anybody [laughter].
Sam: Really? It’s good that you told me because I was just about to start blabbing about it all.
Will you be releasing a new album soon?
Herman: We should have it next year sometime. We’re almost finished recording it, we’re in the last stages of it. We started playing parts of it for the record label and they’re really happy. It’s almost over. We’ve been doing this for…
Sam: …two years, basically.
Herman: Has it been two years that we’ve been working on this album?
Sam: Pretty much. So it should be amazing. If it’s not, we might as well give up [laughter].
How do you think up your lyrics?
Sam: Umm. Good question. I guess the first thing is that the vocal and melody lines have to fit. We write the music first and they have to fit that. When you listen to a song, you can get a feel and think, “Well, that song could be about that” and you get a picture in your head of something it might be and you try and write some lyrics about that.
Herman: They have to fit the atmosphere of the song; like if it’s a dark song or a happy, uplifting or triumphant song. For this new album, we actually had all the topics written for each song so we made sure not to repeat lyrics and themes. This time around, we might even be able to explain to people what the songs are about because sometimes we feel that people get confused and think all the songs are just about dragons and warriors.
Why did you get a new singer?
Herman: [pause] Uhhh, well, we split with our old singer…
Sam: …And we needed one [laughter].
Herman: Yeah, we didn’t have a singer, so we had to get another one.
Sam: And none of us can sing very well, so we had to get someone else to do it [laughter].