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 band member.
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.