Interview with Sam Totman from Dragonforce on Moe Train’s Tracks
Sam Totman, Monty Wiradilaga, Brian Kracyla
Rockstar Mayhem Festival – Philadelphia, PA
M: First of all, let me give proper respect to one of the top shredders in the scene.
S: Aw, you’re too nice. I’m sure you say that to every band.
M: We’re with Sam Totman of Dragonforce. Thanks for being with us today. First of all, congratulations on having the new album. Did the band think it was a tough task to follow Inhuman Rampage, one of my favorite metal albums of all-time?
S: Yeah, it’s always hard. Obviously, it’s not very hard on the first one ‘cause whatever you do is always going to be kind of original, or original for you I guess. But yeah, it was really hard, we actually thought that when we made Inhuman Rampage, we thought how are we going to make something better than something like Firestorm. You don’t really know if it’s going to be better until you’ve done it. Like when I wrote a bunch of songs for this new album and everybody was like, “They’re rubbish” but I knew what they were going to sound like at the end so I was like, “It’s gonna be cool.” You still don’t really know what it’s gonna be like. I might write a vocal line or whatever, and I might think it’s going to work really well, then when the guy goes out and actually sings it, it might not turn out as well as I thought it was going to be. The whole thing is like an endless kind of job, basically. It took us seven months in the studio to get the final result.
M: So, with the writing process, it’s you and Herman, or is it mostly you?
S: Yeah, it’s mostly me. Herman does more of the gear. I don’t know anything about gear. He works it out to make the album sound good. I do mostly more of the writing and he does more of the gear side of things. Yeah everyone’s got their own job to do anyway.
M: When I heard Hereos of Our Time for the first time I had to stand up during the chorus and put my fist in the air!
S: There you go, that’s the idea.
M: In victory, ‘cause I felt victorious after hearing the track.
S: Good, it’s supposed to make people feel happy.
B: Very epic.
S: Epic, yeah. People keep saying, “Well, what’s the difference with this album?” I say it’s more happier sounding, ‘cause it is. But apparently if you say “epic” it’s a bit less gay. (Laughter)
M: Well, a lot of bands say their next album’s gonna be heavier, faster.
S: Or more melodic, that’s a rather classic one.
M: What’s the bullshit? Isn’t that just saying the same thing over and over?
S: Exactly. How can you be more melodic? It’s either melodic or it’s not. Yeah, it’s stupid, oh well.
M: So what do you say to power-metal purists that down your guys style, that say it’s not the norm? I say fuck ‘um.
S: Yeah! Well, to be honest, the power-metal that we used to like ten years ago, when we first started, doesn’t really exist anymore. All the bands I listened to ten years ago there albums are crap. I’m not trying to be a big-head saying that we’re so much cooler than anybody. I think we sort of come to the point now where I don’t really think that we’re part of a power scene or any other scene. I think we’re on our own. I don’t wanna sound like blah blah blah, I’m cool, but I really think it is, it’s so different. I listened to the a Stratovarius album the other day, which is something we used to really like, I still do, and I was like, this sounds nothing like us now, it sounds almost like an eighties band.
M: You must have punk influences because I a lot of pictures with you rocking out the black Rancid cut-off t-shirt.
S: Yeah, I listen to that as much as metal. People say I’m gay ‘cause I listen to Blink 182 stuff all the time, just as much as I listen to Slayer or something.
M: Well, you wrote a lot of catchy songs, there’s a pop influence with that.
S: Yeah, it’s the same thing essentially. A lot of my vocals and stuff, I listen to a pop music as well, and if you listen to that kind of stuff, I mean, the vocal melodies and chord progressions are not that much different from what we do to say a pop punk band. It’s the same four chords and certain notes that go over those chords that work. A lot of metal people are like, “Nah, that’s gay, that’s gay” but they actually don’t realize that it’s actually the same thing.
M: So when are you gonna have Tim and Lars on stage with you?
S: Yeah, well, they probably think we’re gay. (laughter)
M: With the new album, it seems as if you’ve taken the tempo down a little bit. I don’t know if it was a conscious change or what was it?
S: Yeah, it was in places. Obviously, with all our songs on the last album they were like 200 beats per minute, it kinda made it sound like the same thing, which was cool at the time because that’s what we wanted to do. But now we thought that we’ll put different tempo bits, like for example, there’s more middle sections that are playing over a different drum beat because it forces you to do different guitar solos because there’s only so many licks you can do over a sort of bap-bap-bap drum beat. It’s more to give us more ideas for guitar as much as anything.
M: When you’re writing your dual solos with Herman, what’s the process with that?
S: Well, basically if I write a song, I’ll know there’s gonna be like six guitar solos in this section and I’ll write a bunch of chord progressions and I’ll be like, alright, that’s solo one, that’s solo two, that’s solo three, and then we just decide, alright, who’s gonna do the first one? After that it just alternates. We don’t actually sit there and write guitar solos together. I’ll write a bunch of chord progressions and then we just solo over them.
M: I saw one video of you doing an instructional video of how you guys trade off during your solos. I guess you do certain chord progressions but work other hammer-ons and …
S: Yeah, exactly. We tried to get away from it a bit on this album but on the previous album… basically what we do is just solo over the verse. If you see a song that is normally pre-chorus into the second pre-chorus into the chorus, the solo section is usually just soloed over that, ‘cause then it kinda builds the solo up in the same way as you would build up a vocal section up to the chorus. Obviously, the solo over the chorus is the most catchy and it’s over the nicer chords.
M: Sometimes it seems like you guys are almost having a battle with the guitars. I’m sure it’s always mentioned to you about the video games, that you have that influence. It seems like you guys are having an epic battle!
S: I think that yeah it sounds like a battle when it’s finished but I just think that six guitar solos one after the other is a cool thing to do. I thought it sounded good when I listened to bands when I was growing up. It was usually like one guy would do one solo and the other guy would do one and that would be it. I thought that was sort of cool. You’d hear one guy play it and then the other guy would play it, it’s was kinda like a duet between a singer and a female singer. So I thought, let’s increase that, take it to like six each. It’s not really a battle, it’s just to make it sound good, but then when you listen back to it you kinda say it is a battle.
M: Speaking of battles, I’ve seen a lot of battles caused by you guys, not by real guitar but of course by the video games, Guitar Hero III. How’s it feel to have Through The Fire and The Flames be the holy grail of all songs on that video game?
S: I think it’s cool. It’s obviously, I don’t want to sound like I have a big head again, but there’s not that many bands that have got as much complicated guitar playing in them. You can listen to someone like Steve Vai who’s a hundred times better than us but then, in my opinion, I don’t think he’s got very catchy songs, you know, he doesn’t have very catchy chords. The guitar’s great but there’s no great singing…
M: No fists in the air!
S: Yeah. So, yeah, it should be the holy grail of that game. I’m starting to sound like a real wanker now.
B: Have you actually tried to play it (on the video game) yourself?
S: I tried it once and I was pretty crap at it. It’s not really my style of game to be honest, not because it’s for the guitar, it’s just not my style of game, I prefer other games.
M: What like Final Fantasy?
S: Yeah, or I like strategy games, Company of Heroes, that’s really cool. Shit like that.
M: Thinking about video games being a new platform for bands to get their music out, on MySpace last time I looked you had 11,614,019 listens. That was last night, you probably have 20,000 more by now.
S: Really? That’s cool.
M: What does it mean for the music biz to have new outlets like this?
S: Well it’s cool yeah. Obviously, you sell less records now then you would have in the eighties, we would have sold probably something like 5 million then, because it’s just the way the music business is going. I suppose it all kinda works out, everything balances out. Supposedly more people will hear it but less people buy your records these days. In the end you have the same number of fans I think.
B: More people go to the shows.
S: Yeah exactly, so I think it’s pretty cool.
M: The metal scene is pretty interesting. We mostly cover “indy” music festivals, Bonnaroo, Cochella, that kind of stuff. They have their own scene, metal has it’s own scene. How would you describe the metal scene and the people in it?
S: Lots of fat dudes and no chicks.
M: And black t-shirts. (Laughter)
B: I stuck out like a sour thumb walking around in my white shirt!
M: Speaking of chicks, how’s that situation going?
S: Pretty grim. Well, obviously you only need one each day, unless your really greedy, but you can usually find one. It might not be amazing…
M: You get drunk enough it doesn’t matter.
S: Exactly. They’re not going to be stunning at a festival like this (Mayhem). But we’re not fussy, you can’t be.
M: I know you’re a big fan of the beer. We were going to bring you some Coors.
S: Coors Original is the only one I like. Coors Light doesn’t do anything.
M: When are we going to see you on stage with a beer helmet doing a solo?
S: When I really need one because I’m completely bored, it’s getting there. It’ll serve two purposes.
M: What if we brought a beer bong, would you do a beer bong on stage?
S: To be honest with you, I wish I could because I think it looks cool and you look quite tough but I actually can’t do a beer bong. I can’t skull back a beer. I can drink like twenty in a night or whatever but actually can’t skull back beers.
M: Have you tried though?
S: Yeah, totally, but I always puke. I wish I could, I think it looks really cool. I’ve been bombed out since I was a kid, I couldn’t do it.
M: What is your crowning achievement? Is it the Ibanez Sam Totman Signature guitar or what? And by the way do you have an extras you can spare?
S: I’ve only got like two myself! They said I could have a bunch of them but there kinda both just sitting around my house. Yeah, I suppose that’s quite cool.
M: What was your first guitar?
S: It was a classical one actually, ‘cause I learned classical music. Then about ten years later this skinhead guy I lived with smashed it over my head! (Laughter) That was my first guitar, I felt really bad.
M: You felt bad?!
S: No, I got it when I was ten! This lovely guitar that my parents bought me when I was ten years old ended up getting smashed on my head by a nutter.
M: Finally, I think Dragonforce is the epitome of being triumphant. Your music makes me want to pump my fist in victory and I envision the mighty Pegasus soaring over the clouds of Olympus!
S: Yeah, that perfect. That’s what we want to do.
M: What is your vision of the story of Dragonforce?
S: Basically the same as that. It just supposed to make you feel happy. I like the music that makes you feel happy so that’s what comes out when we write songs. It’s something that’s uplifting. If you’re sad, it’ll make you happy. If you’re happy, it’ll make you even more happy.
M: There you go. Thanks a lot for being with us, appreciate it.
S: Yeah. Cool.