An Interview with Frédéric Leclercq of Dragonforce - October 20th, 2011

Interview & Photo by Mike Bax

As part of a small preview tour, Dragonforce booked live shows in L.A., Toronto and New York as a means to showcase new vocalist Marc Hudson (replacing departing vocalist ZP Theart) and preview a few of the new songs on the upcoming Dragonforce studio album.

Sadly, Marc Hudson picked up some sort of a virus on route to the L.A. show and was so sick with it that the band had to cancel their sold out show there. This was just two days before their scheduled Toronto appearance. Even though Marc was still quite sick, the band was determined to perform in Toronto.

Originally, I was to speak with Sam Totman and Marc, but with Marc so ill, he was trying to save his voice for the actual performance. Scheduling went late for pres, and Sam wound up getting pulled into another interview. Subsequently, just after watching the band sound check, Frédéric Leclercq was walked over to me for a face to face. We were lead upstairs to a cave-like environment at the back of the Opera House, boasting two Coors Light sofas, a couple of really old cinema projectors (so covered in paint and dust, I doubt they’d be able to pivot anymore) and were told we could make ourselves comfortable. Up until seeing this room, I didn’t even know it existed yet I’ve been in the Opera House numerous times before this interview.

The enclosure we were situated in had a low hanging ceiling, and very little light. Halfway through our interview, someone turned the upstairs lights off completely, leaving Frédéric and I sitting in pitch darkness. Armed with a bunch of questions I had written for Sam and Marc, and ultimately being unable to refer to them as we were in total darkness, one of my most ill prepared interviews unfolded. Thankfully, Frédéric was very easy to talk to, and we sat in the dark together chuckling about the situation repeatedly.

As I was setting up, Frédéric was talking about the last time Dragonforce was at the Opera House. It was the first venue that he played in Toronto with Dragonforce and this must have been at least five years ago.

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Mike: Welcome back to Toronto, Frédéric.

Frédéric: Thank you very much.

Mike: When was the last time you were here?

Frédéric: I think it was in 2009.

Mike: That would be touring Ultra Beatdown, right?

Frédéric: Yes.

Mike: I haven’t seen you play since you did the Mayhem Festival date in Toronto. The outdoor show summer 2008. I actually had never heard your studio stuff when I saw you perform that day.

Frédéric: Oh, ok. That’s a good way to see us. Did you like it?

Mike: I did.

Frédéric: There you go! Good.

Mike: I enjoyed seeing you poke around the side of the stage afterwards to meet your fans and get photographs with them.

Frédéric: We like to do that. We’ll do that after most shows. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our fans. I think it’s normal. When I was a kid, which I still am because I’m very young (laughs), I would go to shows and expect a little something, you know - an autograph or getting a picture taken; even just to shake a band members hand and say thanks. So we do that. Plus, it’s a great way to meet girls.

(Laughs)

I think it’s just nice to be nice.

Mike: I think it was harder to meet bands back in the day. There was more mystique around the band members. It was harder to get accurate photographs of what they like without the internet. Fans can see what you all look like on your Facebook. It’s way more transparent.

Frédéric: Yeah, that’s true. We are forced to be a lot closer to people now. With people using Facebook and Twitter and updating about everything, it must feel like they are very close to the artists they enjoy. Sometimes we feel obliged to talk with them on Facebook.

Mike: You guys are obviously into that. I’ve seen some dialogue on your social networks.

Frédéric: Oh yeah, of course.

Mike: I would like to talk about Marc Hudson, of course. This is his first recording with your band. It’s been an interesting year and a half for you all. ZP Theart is gone and Marc is now in. How long did the process of engaging Marc and Dragonforce take? When did you first meet him?

Frédéric: As far as I am concerned, I met him this year. The guys all live in England, right? I was in France doing my thing, which for me was being depressed, spending a lot of money, and drinking a lot of alcohol.

Mike: That’s what you do in France, man – spend money and drink a lot!

Frédéric: Ah, for me it was not in a very nice way.

Mike: Ah. A woman?

Frédéric: Yeah, the relationship I was in went bad. I wasn’t really paying attention to a lot of what was going on with the band at all. They told me they had found Marc and I was like, “Fine. Cool. I really couldn’t care less right now”.

Then I met him for a photo session, and I thought he was a really nice chap. Obviously, I’d seen that YouTube application that he did at this point, so I knew he was a good singer. But when I first found out I really couldn’t care less. I was like, “It could be anyone. It could be a dog for all I care.” I was absolutely not into it when it happened. So it went down and then we obviously rehearsed together to do those two Iron Maiden shows this summer and also the new recording, which is happening right now. We are still in the studio doing that. He’s great, he’s got a really good voice and he’s a really nice kid, so it’s actually really good and the band is tighter than ever. We are very close to each other. We hang out together now, which is something we didn’t do a lot before. Right now, we end up after the show hoping to be together in a normal and positive way, so it’s been very good for us.

Mike: That’s great to hear. How would you say… this might be a little unfair to ZP, but did you approach the album differently this time? Like a fresh start with Marc as your new vocalist?

Frédéric: Hmm… we’ve been jamming the songs together. That’s something we haven’t done before, so that is already something new for us. Sam has been writing most of his songs and I’m writing some of them. I’m part of the production this time around. I’m taking care of all the harmonies and everything in that sense. But yes, Marc has bought a bit of fresh blood to it for sure. With ZP, it was the old, “Uhnh, let’s go record the album”. It was just kind of doing the old formula for us. So this time we have changed it up a little bit. Fresh. Fresh is a good word for it; I like that.

Mike: When did you start working with Dragonforce, Frédéric?

Frédéric: 2005.

Mike: So you would have come on around the touring of the second album (Sonic Firestorm) if I am getting my timing right?

Frédéric: That was right before Inhuman Rampage, and I was wrong earlier when I said the Opera House was a first gig. The first gig was actually in Quebec. That was actually my first gig with Dragonforce. They asked me to join very quickly. Their bass player at the time just left and they were just looking for some help with a couple of shows at the time. I said, “Sure, why not?” It was Quebec, New York and Tokyo, so I just helped them out at first. And then they had this European tour with Edguy and I was ok to fill in as well and went along with them for those six weeks.  After about a week, they asked if I would like to be in the band as a permanent member. And they weren’t really excited or emasculating anything when they said it or anything, you know? They were like (tilts his head up a little bit and talks quietly) “So, you’re cool.  Did you want to be in the band?” and I’m in the same stance right? “Yeah, ok. Why not?” It was almost like it didn’t even happen, you know?

Mike: That’s funny. You guys don’t come off like that on stage at all, right? The jumping around and the funny faces… Dragonforce is very playful when you perform as a band. You wouldn’t think that behind all that is this sort of indifference like you are describing.

Frédéric: It’s very… in English you say… it’s nothing…

Mike: It’s no big deal?

Frédéric: Yeah. That’s it. They were like that. I’m French. I get much more enthusiastic when I am interested in something. But with them, it was kind of funny. I was just the same… “Yeah… I play bass… whatever…”

Mike: What were you doing before you joined them full time? Were you in a band?

Frédéric: Yeah, yeah. I’m a guitar player, actually. I was in another band I still have called Maladaptive where I do the singing and play lead guitar. It’s more my kind of music. And before that I used to be a band called Heavenly which is more power metal, and I was the guitar player in that band as well.

Mike: You mentioned being in the studio now polishing up another album… it’s not going to really ‘sound’ different… I wouldn’t expect a Dragonforce album to veer too far from it’s core sound… I’m curious how you would describe the new album. What would you say it’s shaping up like?

(At this point, the lights go out upstairs and Frédéric and I are literally sitting in utter darkness on a couch. I can’t see my questions. I can’t see Frédéric who is two feet in front of me. I can’t see my digital recorder. Thankfully, this was just an audio interview.)

Frédéric: Ooo. Mood lighting.

(Laughter)

The new material has a little less keyboards this time. I’m trying to bring something a bit different on the bass. I was never really happy with the sound of the bass on the last two albums, and with me producing this time I can pretty much say, “I’m sorry, but we are going to have to do something differently about the bass”. I think it’s sounding more like Sonic Firestorm - more metal, it’s less experimental, if you will. There are a few different mid-tempo songs like ‘Cry Thunder’, the one that we are going to play onstage tonight, and that we played live with Iron Maiden. Also a very fast one is on the album that we are going to play tonight as well called ‘Last Fallen World’. I think that is the fastest song we have ever done, actually. It’s definitely very metal. It has that old Manowar vibe to it. That’s my way of seeing it anyway. But I like Manowar – the old stuff.

And, by the way, you’ve got a really nice T-shirt on. Ghost is amazing. I noticed it earlier. I love them.

Mike: I saw them at Graspop this summer. I love their album. They were supposed to play here a few weeks ago, but I think they are having some Visa issues, as they pulled out of the tour.

Frédéric: Yeah, I read that. It’s amazing. It’s my album of the year, for sure.

Mike: I love it, too. It’s a total throwback to Merciful Fate, but I’m ok with old Merciful Fate, and am really enjoying their material.

Frédéric: Yeah, yeah. Merciful Fate and Blue Oyster Cult.

Mike: Totally.

(Laughs)

Frédéric: Sorry, I totally got us off topic there.

Mike: No worries at all. You just talked a bit about your two new songs. Do you worry that fans will record them at shows and post them to YouTube in advance of the album’s release, perhaps sullying these tracks by posting crappy audio and video before the studio versions are available?

Frédéric: We have been asking people to kindly not film our new stuff when we are doing shows like this. The album is coming out in February of next year, I think. I think we are going ask them again tonight to not film. Plus, Marc is sick right now. We don’t want the fans to get the wrong idea about his vocal capabilities. I would hope that true fans of our band can find a way to manage to not film us when we ask. “Can you NOT film and let’s all have a good time?” Hopefully they won’t film us. If they do, well, they’re not really that nice.

Mike: I was talking with Opeth a little while ago, and they purposely didn’t play anything new while touring this summer, to avoid that problem. It’s a catch 22 for the fans… bands don’t want to preview new songs because fans feel they are entitled to film EVERYTHING these days.

Frédéric: We just hope we can trust them. We couldn’t say anything like that for the Maiden shows obviously. Playing at the O2 for 20,000 people… “COULD YOU PLEASE NOT FILM US????” Forget about that, right? (Laughs) For our shows, that are actually just our fans coming to check out the new material, we are asking them to be nice and not throw footage of our unreleased stuff online. Let’s see. If you see something on the internet tomorrow… then maybe some of our fans are not that nice after all.

Mike: Does Dragonforce ever do any cover versions?

Frédéric: One day we’re playing in Melbourne, and Herman went for a pee. And we were all on stage, and he was ready to burst, so he ran off… and we started to jam ‘Unskinny Bop’ by Poison. I just started playing the bass bit for fun… Sam started to do the guitar bit, and ZP was really into all of that eighties stuff, so we just started to do it. Obviously Vadim was just looking at us like we were mad. We were actually talking about doing covers just a little while ago. It’s something we were thinking we should maybe do.

Mike: I own all of your albums and I don’t think, even on the re-issues, that there is a cover version available in your entire body of work.

Frédéric: No, there isn’t. You’re right. Melbourne was the only time that really happened. Before my time, I think the band was playing Iron maiden covers. This would be at the very beginning of the band. We were talking before doing this album about getting some new bonus material together, and the idea of a cover version got thrown about for a while - maybe the Ramones or GG Allin. Try something different rather than just an obvious cover of something like Maiden or Helloween. We haven’t done it this time, but we might do it down the road. It’s something we’ve been talking about.

Mike: When the album comes out, are you planning anything this far out for touring?

Frédéric: It’s too early to tell right now. I know that we’re doing Australia. We are going to play Soundwave over there. That’s all I know for now. Hopefully we will come back and do North America and Europe and South America – places we have been before and need to visit again. Hopefully we can go back to Japan, which is my favourite country in the world. I love it there.

Mike: It’s a pretty awesome place for bands to play, I hear. Today, I put a thing on my Facebook that I was coming down to this show, and someone sent me a message and said, “Aren’t they the Guitar Hero band?”

(Laughter)

It made me laugh. That must be stereotypical for you now, seeing as ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ has become the benchmark song for that game in a technical difficulty fashion.

Frédéric: It’s something we hear more and more. It’s not that bad anymore, because we don’t really talk about it as much anymore. But we still get that all the time - fans saying, “Hey, I have to tell you something. I can play your song on medium difficulty level on Guitar Hero”. It’s interesting. That song has touched a lot of young people because of that game. It’s been good and bad at the same time for us for different reasons.

Mike: It opens you up to a different audience – a younger audience, but still… these people are getting introduced to your music and coming to your shows. That’s just good marketing.

Frédéric: Yes. They will come to the shows with the plastic guitars from the game and we will be completely puzzled for the whole show watching people hold these guitars up in the crowd. They are all waiting for ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ to start, and then they can air guitar to the song. It’s different.

Mike: When I think back to bands like Judas Priest in the late seventies and Maiden in the early eighties… these bands weren’t getting radio play or anything. It was a different time for them and they struggled to find an audience. It’s interesting in this current musical climate to see the new and different ways bands are finding an audience, like your band and Guitar Hero. I think it’s kind of a cool thing that you have that particular vehicle working for you.

Frédéric: Yeah, yeah. That’s true. I’m not sure if it’s really good in the long run. I guess we’ll see. It’s a bit like having a top forty hit - fans might not like it, you know? We’ll see how it goes if those people actually stick with us for the long haul, I guess. Some of our fans don’t really like it that we, in essence, have a pop single with that song because of that game.

*****

At this point, we got smothered by the opener’s sound-check. It was still so bloody dark that I had to use my iPhone as a flashlight to gather up my stuff… and we headed back downstairs together for a quick photograph.