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 that 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.
The Tracks and Greg from Dillinger speak about camaraderie, DIY or Die and more at Bonnaroo.
DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN INTERVIEW WITH MOE TRAIN’S TRACKS
Greg Puciato, Monty Wiradilaga, Brian Kracyla
Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo 2009
You never know what’s going to happen during a Moe Train’s Tracks interview, as Greg Puciato, frontman of Dillinger Escape Plan, has his own interview with a dazed and confused girl, we speak about the camaraderie of the scene, how “DIY or Die” fuels his band, their new lineup, and next year’s upcoming album. Enjoy.
M: What’s going on man?
G: Nothing, just hanging out, just walking around checking some stuff out.
Random girl: (to Greg) Can you point me in the direction of the Rendezvous Tent?
G: Umm. (Laughter) What is your name?
RG: I’m Caroline.
G: Caroline, I’m Greg from the Dillinger Escape Plan, and we are doing an interview right now.
G: Um, and I have no idea where I am right now either.
C: I’m supposed to have a rendezvous at the Rendezvous Tent.
G: That what you do at the Rendezvous Tent, right, but you don’t know how to get there, which poses a problem. I don’t know either. (to random passerby) Do you know how to get to the Rendezvous Tent?
RP: I don’t know how to get there.
G: What good is trying to rendezvous with someone if you can’t get to the Rendezvous Tent?! (all laughing) Caroline, good luck trying to get there.
C: Thank you.
G: Wow! How many drugs did that girl take?
M: Welcome to Bonnaroo.
G: Seriously, that was amazing. She was higher than a kite.
M: (Laughter) I think that’s the general consensus with most people here right now.
G: Most people I look at here, if they don’t have sunglasses on, you can just look in their eye and be like, “You’re on some other thing right now in some other place.”
M: Exactly. Earlier today, when you guys came on, it was like, “Wake the fuck up Bonnaroo!”
G: Dude, I can’t believe how siked people were. I thought for sure, in general at this fest’ because it has a reputation for being more of a hippy peace-love type of thing, that as soon as we come out and start screaming at people and doing cool shit, people are going to turn around and just walk the other way, but people were siked, at one in the afternoon on the last day! It was honestly, we were talking about it after the show, the best big show that we’ve ever played in the United States.
G: Yeah. We felt like we played well. People seemed stoked on us.
M: Yeah, the reception was definitely great.
G: This type of vibe, it just doesn’t exist that often in the U.S., this type of festival vibe. It felt very European. In the United States, when you think of a festival, you think of Ozzfest or Warped Tour, and it’s like the same thing all day long. But this is cool because yesterday was Nine Inch Nails and today, if you wanted to, you can see the Dillinger Escape Plan and then Erika Badu.
M: She’s still on right now.
G: I really wanted to see her…
M: I’ll cut it short then.
G: It’s okay. It’s cool because it seems like, for a very long time here, people have been very into the mind-set of like, “I’m only listen to metal” or “I only listen to hip-hop”. Now, it’s cool to see so many people turn out for such an eclectic thing.
M: Exactly. It’s just always weird to see the different the different scenes clashing.
G: No, it’s cool, it’s very cool.
M: In watching your set it became evident how camaraderie really works its way into your music. You don’t see often where you can throw your mic into the crowd, let them sing, and when you call for it, they throw it right back to you.
G: I think something about our music, we’ve been around for ten years, I think there’s some aspect to it, besides the obvious insane energy and aggression of it, there’s a vibe of everyone knowing that it’s not the easiest thing in the world to listen to and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to get. For as many people who are siked on it there’s a lot of people that just probably hate it. I think that makes the people that are into to it have this really us-against-the-world type of vibe. We’ve always tried to be really hands-on with our fans and really communicative and never to-cool-for-school and always talk to them and do cool stuff with them. If they right to us online we try to write back to every person. I think, over the years, it’s created now a point where we have this really cool synchronous type vibe with our fans. It’s neat man, it’s really nice.
M: It’s also basically crossed the line from camaraderie to trust.
G: Yeah, that kid could have stole the mic and ran away with it, but he threw it back. That’s the other thing, I think when you have confidence and you give someone some responsibility and your cool to them, they feel obligated to be cool back. If that kid had tried to run away with the mic I probably would have jumped on him and killed him. But it feels good and it’s interesting, I have a lot of people say that our shows, even though they are so aggressive and so violent, it feels like the overall vibe is still positive in a way. So, yeah, that’s really cool.
M: Absolutely. Also, not just that, but you doing stage diving and your guitarist stage diving with his guitar! Now that’s trust.
G: Yeah. To me, we just try to take the vibe of playing in a basement to twenty people where we came from and try to get that to translate to bigger places and the only way to do that is to be as hands-on and as physically in people’s faces as possible and force them to wake up a little bit. It sad to see so many people have such a rock star complex that the only time that they engage their fans is if they do some kind of scheduled meet-and-greet or a signing or something. You know, hang out for a little bit and shake some people’s hands or jump into the crowd or do something. I do know man, you (the rock star) are no better than anyone else. This is going to be over for us one day and who knows what we’re going to be doing. So to try to act like you’re cooler than school is silly.
M: Hippies versus hardcore kids…
G: It’s two sides to the same coin because the whole hippy vibe and the punk rock thing, which is what hardcore came out of, are both very socially aware movements. The
re both very communal, we’re all in this together versus some type of exterior force type of vibe, and one just took a much more aggressive approach than the other. It’s kinda like one is Malcolm X and one is Martin Luther King Jr. They want the same thing but one is like, “I’m gonna smoke you out” and the other is like, “I’m gonna kick you in the fucking face!” But we want the same thing, so I think that’s why it translates. It’s not like we’re just knuckleheads trying to incite the crowd to beat each other up. I’d like to think it’s more intelligent than that.
M: What do you think about the term “DIY or die” and how’s that relate to your band?
G: Well, for us, that’s pretty much exactly how we try to do everything. We don’t have a manager, we self-manage ourselves. We are very hands-on, there’s no merch’, there’s no poster, there’s nothing about our band visually, sonically, how we are represented in press, anything, that we are not the seed of and have the final say in. As much as it drives us nuts and we spend every waking moment of our lives working on this, I know that there is absolutely nothing out representing us that we didn’t see from its inception to its finality. I think that it’s another thing that our fans appreciate. If they get a t-shirt from us, they aren’t getting it from some graphic designer that works for the record company that we were just like, “Yeah, whatever, that sounds cool, how big is the check we’re gonna get?” That thing has to look like something that I would wear, that means something to me, that’s looks cool. I think, especially in the climate now where the record industry is just collapsing completely, that the people that can do the most DIY are the only ones that are going to stay afloat.
M: That’s basically how the trend in music is going these days.
G: It has to be. It has to go back to that. If you’re forced to be in a position financially to cut back every bit of slack you possibly can and to try to do as much by yourself as you possibly can, it’s gonna weed everybody out. The only people that are going to stay alive are the people who really give a shit and the people who care enough to put in the time to do everything themselves. The days of being a kid, and thinking that your rock star fantasy is going to come true and someone else is going to wipe your ass for you and do everything for you and you’re just gonna get a check at the end of the day, are completely over.
M: Hit the road and promote yourself.
G: Yeah man, go out and do the shows. Don’t suck live. Don’t write shitty music. Put out cool shit and you’ll last.
M: So what’s your favorite lyric, the one that means the most to you?
G: You know what, it’s probably a lyric that’s going to be on our upcoming record because, for me, lyrics are snap-shots of where you were in your life, and you don’t want to be there forever. So when we sing songs from our past records it’s like looking at a picture of myself in an auditory way. I’ll be singing a song, and I’ll remember writing that song, I was twenty-three, I was in my basement, this is exactly what I was talking about. I might not relate to it now. Hopefully, you’re in a different place, especially when you’re yelling and screaming and pissed, you know. You shouldn’t still be pissed six years later at the same thing. The trick is to find a kernel of that memory and hone in on it, you can still mean what you saying and you’re not just spitting out consonants and vowels. That’s for someone else to decide. I know that’s a shitty answer, but I don’t have a favorite one of my lyrics. I know they’re all pretty piss-poor, to be honest with you. (laughter) If you want to listen to lyrics, you should probably listen to Dylan or something.
M: So when’s the new album coming out?
G: February or January of 2010, which sounds like a long time but it’s realistically like 6 months away. We do three more weeks of touring and then we go home and start recording in late July, early August. January, February at the latest, we’ll get it out, and we’re siked man.
M: What can we look forward to in the new album?
G: Well, we got a new drummer, and that’s the biggest difference. Our new drummer is just on fire! He’s twenty-four and honestly the best drummer I’ve ever played with. He wants to crush everyone. He’s got this fire in him that he needs to prove to the world he’s the shit. That’s kinda cool because he’s pushing us, and we’re really hard on ourselves so to be pushed by someone who is brand new is a really good feeling. I can honestly say, after being in this band for a decade, that the stuff we’re writing now is the most inspired stuff we’ve ever written. It’s hard to know whether you’re still going to be able to do stuff without becoming a caricature or parody of yourself. The fact that we can still have something to say, ten years into it, with essentially the same style music, to me is nice, the fact that people still give a shit. I think everyone will like it. Anyone that likes us should be pleased with the new record.
M: Awesome. We look forward to it. Thanks a lot for being with us.
G: Definitely dude.