The chemistry of a working band is a delicate thing.
Working through the balance of personalities, egos,
and experience can sometimes become as complicated as
covalent bonds. However, replacing an original member
of a band isn’t always a recipe for disaster. From the Sam
and Dave drama of Van Halen to the revolving lead
guitar chair in Megadeth, many bands have gone on to
success after altering some of their band’s original DNA.
DragonForce had dealt with band members coming
and going before but when it was announced in March
of 2010 that original vocalist ZP Theart would be
leaving the band, it created some uncertainty among
their fans. After all, ZP had been the voice of the band
on every album and in turn created some big shoes to
fill. Founding guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman,
along with the rest of the band, decided to take a different
route when it came to choosing the next singer
for the band. “In a way, we had the whole world to
choose from. When we were starting out, we didn’t
really have much. There wasn’t much internet [access]
at all and there definitely wasn’t any YouTube,” Totman
notes. Thanks to those technological advances, the
band encouraged anyone who was interested to send in
an audition video.
After sorting through the piles of entrants, one singer
stood out. Enter Marc Hudson, a 23-year-old guitaristturned-
vocalist who impressed the band with his expressive
and melodic style. After nearly a year of working
with Hudson, the band announced in March of 2011
that they had found the new voice of DragonForce.
PG caught up with Li and Totman to discuss life with
a new singer, 30-fret guitars, and the story behind the
group’s most diverse album yet, The Power Within.
Take me back to when the cycle for this
album started. Was ZP’s departure a surprise
or did you see it coming?
Totman: It was something that just sort of
panned out. I guess you could say we saw it
coming. We knew it was going to happen
before we started the album, and had a plan
together for that since we were going to be
working with someone else. I was still writing
songs and once we found the singer that
we wanted, it was just a matter of putting
it in the right key for his voice. Once we
found Marc, it took quite a while to learn
what parts sound good and what his range
is. It’s been quite a learning process to get
the best out of him, but I think we got it.
Li: I think musically we grew apart. For
me, it was more like the band naturally
moved that way.
Once it was announced that ZP was leaving,
you made the auditions open to the
public. Why did you choose that route
over a more private audition process?
Li: For this kind of music it’s not just a
“rah, rah, rah” type of singing. It’s quite
hard to find vocalists in this style and we
thought the only way we could find the
right one is to do a worldwide search. In
addition to people sending in their videos,
we also approached professional singers in
this genre at the same time.
Totman: I just thought it was a really cool
idea. We could basically choose from the
whole world since we were quite established
now. It wouldn’t have mattered if they
lived in a different country because you
can always make albums by sending files
around. When we found Marc, we knew
that he was the best out there since we had
so many people to choose from.
How long did this whole process take?
Li: It took a long time. In terms of Marc,
he sent in the video and we liked it and we
asked him to sing a few more songs. One
was “The Last Journey Home,” from the
last album [Ultra Beatdown], then “Fury of
the Storm” from Sonic Firestorm, which is a
really fast song with lots of words. We then
met up with him just to see his personality
and if we would be able to work with him.
After that, we moved on to rehearsing with
him and trying out new songs before moving
onto the recording studio to record new
songs and see how his attitude works in the
studio environment. All of that took almost
a year before we confirmed him to be a
Was a lot of the material written before
Totman: Yeah, it was. I wrote and demo’d
some songs on my own and since it didn’t
have any singing on it, I played the vocal
parts on guitar. I just didn’t know what
key to put them in. Once we got Marc, I
changed a few vocal lines.
Li: A lot of the songs were written, but
because we had a new singer we had to
integrate him and find the energy again
together as a band. In the old days, we
would just write the song and go straight
into the recording studio, stare at the computer,
record it, and then go on tour. This
time we had to jam and rehearse the songs
again with Marc to create the energy.
Herman Li—shown here with his signature EGEN Ibanez guitar and a particularly strong wind fan—took an
improvisational approach when recording his solos for the new DragonForce record. Photo by Scott Uchida
Sam, what is your typical writing process?
Totman: I have a mini Pro Tools setup on my
laptop and I just program the drums with a
drum machine. Then I play the basic chords
and vocal lines, just a simple version of everything,
basically. Once the structure is done I
will give it to everyone else and have them put
their touches on it as well. I might do a drumbeat
but I wouldn’t put fills in all over the
place. I will just give it to Dave [Mackintosh,
DragonForce drummer] and he can work out
what fills he wants to do. Even though they
are simpler versions of the songs, it’s still quite
complete without the extra touches. This
time, once we got to the point where everyone
had demos, we did actually jam on them quite
a lot, which is something we don’t usually do.
That was cool. We got these little bits and
pieces that came out of that.
Did the extended break since the last
album reinvigorate the band and allow
you to experiment more?
Li: I guess we had more time actually playing
the songs and jamming them out rather
than going straight into the studio and
recording without playing together. This
time we really played the songs before the
album was finished. It gave us the time,
but we had to do it. It was really important
because we had a new singer. We couldn’t
just throw him into the studio and give
him a song and tell him, “See ya on tour.”
We needed to make Marc feel at home by
playing together and getting to know each
other’s personality. It’s almost like a social
event as well, just playing the music and
exploring his voice. By doing that, and
some shows before the album comes
out, we aren’t throwing him into this big
world tour that he has no experience in.