MusicRadar interview: DragonForce's Herman Li

He plays all his solos - honest!
He plays all his solos - honest!

Sometimes Herman Li wakes up in the middle of the night and he thinks he's playing the guitar. "It must be my obsessive, type-A personality," he says. "I literally think I've been on stage wailing a solo."

Normally, this might be a little scary, but when you consider that Li is one-half of the monster shred team from the band DragonForce (Sam Totman is the other), it makes perfect sense.

Calling themselves "extreme power metal," the UK-based sextet DragonForce (which also includes keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanox, drummer Dave Mackintosh, bassist Frédéric Leclercq and vocalist ZP Theart), have made jaws drop and heads shake in awe with their machine-like musical assault.

Formed in 1999, the band made steady progress, releasing two albums of prog-rock metal brutality, 2003's Valley Of The Damned and 2004's Sonic Firestorm. But it took a little thing called Guitar Hero to push their next album, 2006's Inhuman Rampage into Gold territory. The track Through The Fire And Flames set the bar vertiginously high for both gamers and guitarists alike.

Ultra-perfectionists Li and Totman punished themselves through take after take to nail the mesmerizing solos on the group's appropriately titled new album, Ultra Beatdown. Whereas most guitarists would've stopped after five or six passes, Li and Totman (working exclusively at Li's home studio) routinely clocked in 20 and 30 takes - sometimes more. "We're trying to reach a level of playing that nobody has ever heard before." says Li. "That doesn't come easily."

Ultra Beatdown certainly ups the ante for supersonic guitar pulverization. On songs such as Heroes Of Our Time, solos and riffs sail at you with juggernaut force. But there's some surprises too: a tango-like rhythm pops up in Reasons To Live, and a '60s-ish psychedelic tinge graces Heartbreak Armageddon. "We're trying to mature as a band," says Li. "As they say, the song's the thing."

With a year-long DragonForce tour looming, Li sat down with MusicRadar to discuss the intricacies of recording, his brand-new Ibanez signature E-Gen 18 guitar, why Fall Out Boy sits next to Steve Vai in his CD collection. And of course he answered your questions.

Part one - on Guitar Hero, recording at home, perfectionism, developing style and speed
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Part two - album production, playing with a sock, "The Book Of Hate," live performances
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Part three - Li on carpel tunnel syndrome, his signature Ibanez, diverse influences
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Part four - Herman answers your questions
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Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.