Dragonforce - Sam Totman

DRAGONFORCE is a special kind of animal mainly due to the high speed riffs and the sometimes too-high-to handle bpms but the truth is that “Maximum Overload” sounds refreshed and is more than just good enough to bring back some of the fans that may have lost interest after the first two albums. METAL KAOZ got the chance and talked to Sam Totman who was in a really good mood reflecting the current status of DRAGONFORCE who are prepping to get the new album on the road.

Dragonforce - Sam Totman

Hi Sam and welcome to METAL KAOZ. How are you?
Hi Dimitris, thanks for having me. I am pretty good although I ate a bunch of chocolates and I feel a little sick (laughs). Usually I feel sick after drinking a lot of booze but today is because of too much chocolate...

(laughs) After all, chocolate is another kind of booze, so I can relate to this…
Yeah, so where are you calling from?

I am calling from Chicago.
I remember that DRAGONFORCE have played there and I think it was at House Of Blues. I love Chicago - it is one of my favorite cities and I am not just saying this because you are from Chicago.

I have been in Chicago for the last four years, so I didn't catch you here, but I have seen DRAGONFORCE in Belgium and Greece.
Oh, really? You have seen us in Greece? That was a long time ago...

If my memory serves me right, DRAGONFORCE opened for IRON MAIDEN back then…
Yeah, I remember that show; we played very badly (laughs). Something happened that I cannot remember, but it surely was not one of our best performances.

Anyway, this is old history, so let’s talk about the present; how long did the making of “Maximum Overload” take?
It’s hard to say because we started writing, then we had a break, then we wrote a little more, did some live shows, then did some recording and then stopped... So, considering the breaks I’d say that it took us about six months but I would call this just an estimate; it was split between times and there were instances when we were doing more than one thing at once. For example at one time Dave [Mackintosh] was in Sweden recording the drums and I and Herman were in England recording guitars, so it is really hard to say how long actually everything took. It was a long time, that’s for sure.

Is it just my impression or does the album sound heavier than the previous ones?
I am not sure I know what the term ‘heavier’ means, although we did use seven-string guitars on some of the songs that is a bit more in the past, so maybe this gave the album a thicker sound or something?

Let me rephrase this; I think there are more riffs in the album that make it sound Thrash-ier…
That is definitely true; we love Thrash and there were always some Thrash riffs in our albums but were normally covered by the lead guitars or the vocals. In this album, we let the riffs be the main focus, so this is why it sounds like you said. Plus, in previous albums, I did all the writing but this time I worked with Fréd [Leclercq] and we said "let’s make some Thrash songs" 'cause we thought it would be fun.

And I think it worked really well!
Oh, thank you.

This time you worked with the producer Jens Bogren, so what was his input in the making of “Maximum Overload”?
Well, when we sent him all the demos, he came up with several suggestions to do this and that, he had cut a few things out and extended a couple of others. Some of these suggestions/changes I liked and some I didn't and in the beginning I was saying "no, you cannot change this or that" and then "maybe you can change these a little bit" (laughs) because, you know, it’s hard to accept changes especially after having been used in working on our own with no one telling us to make changes. It’s difficult to accept someone else’s opinion. But he did have some good ideas and the reason for working with a producer was not because we wanted someone to change our music and our songwriting (I think we can write songs on our own), but to give us a different sound overall from the drums to the guitars and the mix. This is what Jens brought to the album and I am really happy with the result, although I was a little bit skeptical in the beginning and was scared that I wouldn't like it. But it turned out perfect!

Yes, I think it does sound great. Did the tour for the previous album help you to learn the singing capabilities of Marc Hudson and take full advantage on them during the writing of “Maximum Overload”?
Oh, yeah absolutely. I mean, if you are writing the vocal parts for a singer, you have to know his voice inside out. So, this made the songwriting much easier because in “The Power Within” the songs were written before we even knew he was going to be the singer. Then we had to change all the keys, some vocal parts to suite his voice better but this time we knew exactly how high and how low he can sing and where the best part of his range is. And it also made the process faster because we didn't have to change things around to make them fit to his voice. I also think that Marc has improved so much over the last years while touring with us and now he feels like is part of the band.

Speaking of vocals, you have TRIVIUM’s Matt Heafy doing some guest singing or guest growling and I think this fits very well to DRAGONFORCE’s music, so have you thought of doing more like this?
Since “Inhuman Rampage” we always kind of have some growling but those were usually in the background, behind the main vocals, doing the same thing with the lead singing but the difference with this album is that these are in between the lead vocals and, in fact, this was Matt’s idea. We just asked if he could do some backing vocals, singing these lines underneath Marc, and when he sent the recording back, he said that he tried some other ideas and it was the ‘in between the leads’ I talked about. So, we liked it and kept it this way. In the beginning we were thinking that he would do something very quickly but he was very onto this and sent us a bunch of ideas, and I agree with you, it sounds really good and it also gave an idea what we might do in the future.

Cool, and what’s the story about doing a Johnny Cash cover? This is the first time I see DRAGONFORCE doing a cover, although it is not a cover but more of an overhaul… (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah, you are right. We had never done a cover in the past because I personally believed that 90% of the covers are the same with the originals, so this is kind of boring. Not that is bad but these songs usually feel like bonus or b-side tracks, so in the end, you listen to them once and that’s all. I mean, I’d rather listen to the original. We thought if we would play a cover, we should try something that people will enjoy to listen to, even though if they don’t know or even like the original. So, we thought it would be fun to do it after 10 years of being in DRAGONFORCE and at the same time I wanted a song that people would like to listen more than once. There are one or two covers that I really like and one of those is SONATA ARCTICA’s version of “Still Loving You” from SCORPIONS and to be honest I didn't even know the original, so I thought this is what I like to do; play something that is fun and for people to treat it like another DRAGONFORCE song.

Who is the Johnny Cash fan in DRAGONFORCE?
No one, really (laughs). I really like this song but I will be honest with you and tell you that I don’t really like any other Johnny Cash songs. And Herman had never heard it before (laughs). I know this kind of sounds silly but I want to be honest. Still, for what I know about - which really it’s not much - Johnny Cash must have been a pretty cool guy, but yeah, I've never been a big fan and actually I don’t think any of us is (laughs) and this is why it was really fun doing this cover. In any case, I think I should check more of his music, although the other songs I've heard are a bit soft and mellow for my taste but “Ring Of Fire” has a very good melody in the chorus and I thought it would work with DRAGONFORCE.

Is there any chance to add this in a future setlist?
Yeah, I think so and if people like it, we will play it. After all, it’s pretty short, so since we will be soon starting rehearsing, most probably we will learn it.

In the special edition of the album, there are five bonus tracks, so my question is why didn't you add more in the regular tracklist and use less as bonus ones?
To be honest I have no idea. I think this has to do with the record company but I really don’t know. I remember getting asked to choose ten songs for the album, so the rest would be as bonus. But I have to tell you that we wrote fourteen songs for the album without thinking about using any of them as bonus ones. I mean, we didn't write ten good songs and the four shitty ones to have as bonus. The reason for not getting the four songs into the tracklist was because they didn't fit into the order of the songs. But these songs are equally good as any other song of the album.

What about the albums cover artwork; I was thinking that the title “Maximum Overload” has to do with the digital age we are living in and how the human brain is overloaded by all the things going on. Am I right or is there something different about it?
No, you are exactly right. It kind of shows the society - how everyone is stuck on his computer or phone and the way information is coming to you. I know there is nothing we can do about it but still sometimes it is a bit too much. Even in gigs you see a lot of people with their phones, so they don’t pay much attention to the music. I also think that there are a lot of people, like some of my friends for example, that do not appreciate the music as they should because there are so many distractions; you know, someone gets an album and then gets home and starts listening to it while he is on FaceBook or playing a video game, checking YouTube etc. When I was listening to an album, I did nothing else; no TV, no nothing.

Yeah, and this is why some of us still love vinyl; you have the big cover artwork, the lyrics sleeve, so you’re taking time to check these while spinning the record. This is a way different process and this was exactly like that back in the day.
Exactly, even though you can never say what is better or worse because everyone likes better what he knows. And of course, there are a lot of things good about the modern age but there are some things have gone missing and this is unfortunate I think.

This is a long debate, so let’s stick to DRAGONFORCE that has a new drummer in the lineup; so what Gee Anzalone has brought to the band?
This is pretty exciting because Gee is such a great drummer. We knew that Dave was going to leave the band for a long time, so it wasn't a surprise and we are still very good friends with him and there was no drama or anything there; he just didn't want to tour that much. Two or maybe three years ago, me and Fréd were looking at YouTube videos of drummers and we saw one playing one of our fastest songs and it was Gee. So, we thought if Dave was ever going to leave the band, we should get this guy because although we didn't believe that Dave would leave. So, when this happened we said “Let’s try to find the guy from YouTube” and everything fell into place. In fact, we did know him a bit because we had met each other a couple of times when we were in Italy for some festivals. It was really cool that he was not in any band, so he joined DRAGONFORCE. It feels really exciting to play with someone that is so good and don’t get me wrong, Dave is a great drummer.

What about the band’s touring plans; you have announced some shows from mid-September to the beginning of February of next year, so where does the US fit in this schedule?
I think this will definitely happen the first half of next year. We kind of know when it is going but I cannot tell you anything because the US tour has not been yet confirmed. This is will be announced in the next month or two, so whoever is interested, they can look the official DRAGONFORCE webpage for this. And we will be doing this with another really cool band that I am sure the DRAGONFORCE fans will enjoy too. I am sorry, I cannot tell you, but you will find out pretty soon.

I guess Chicago is included, right?
I don't have the dates in front of me but I am sure we will play there. After all, Chicago is included in every North US tour, unless it is a really short one which I don’t believe it will.

Cool, so I have a couple questions more for you and the first one is about SHADOW WARRIORS; do you think you will do something under this moniker in the near future?
Hmm, I don’t know, do you like that band?

It was different alright, but I surely didn't like the drum machine…
(laughs) Yeah, and the funny thing is that it was my idea; I mean, I always wanted to make Pop/Punk band like BLINK 182 and because we were too ugly for this - we were not young and did not have nice spikey hair - so let’s be ninjas (laughs). It was kind of fun and I thought it was really good but it was really silly because it wasn't quite Pop/Punk. Anyway, I don’t think I will be doing something like this, unless I get extremely bored and have some free time from DRAGONFORCE. And we have recorded three songs from the demos, so there is one more to go.

What about DEMONIAC; have you ever considered resurrecting this band?
Nah, not really. The rest of the guys from the band live in Australia and New Zealand and have families, so I don't think they would be into doing something and we are so busy with DRAGONFORCE, so there is no time. I really like it though but I don’t think we will be doing this again.

Ok, Sam thank you for taking the time to speak to METAL KAOZ! So we will see you live in Chicago, I hope.
I just looked and yes, we do play in Chicago, so see you there. I’d like to thank everyone who has been supporting the band all these years and I think they will like the new album. Also I think the ones that used to like DRAGONFORCE in the past, then they might be interested again.

This is what “Maximum Overload” did for me and rekindled my interested…
Oh cool, man, so I was right about this (laughs). Thank you Dimitris, it was good to talk to you.