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Interview with DragonForce keyboard wizard Vadim Pruzhanov

All the way from London, England comes the power/epic metal band Dragonforce. These guys have been around now since about 1999 and have been tearing up the metal scene for a few years now.



All the way from London, England comes the power/epic metal band Dragonforce. These guys have been around now since about 1999 and have been tearing up the metal scene for a few years now. The year 2006 has been quite kind to the band as their third studio album Inhuman Rampage has become a hit and they are now playing to thousands of people every night on tour. 2006 also happened to mark the first time that Dragonforce ever embarked on a proper North American tour. During a recent stop in Toronto, we caught up with Dragonforce’s masterful keyboard player Vadim Pruzhanov. We sat down for about twenty minutes on some worn, yet comfortable sofas and this is what the gracious, exuberant, and funny-as-shit Vadim had to say about the band, the new record, and a slew of other quasi-bizarre stuff.

From the moment that Dragonforce first formed, the group’s goal was to create and establish yourselves as a total and unique style of music all to your own. What drove you guys to have this goal and how do you feel you’re succeeding so far with it?
Vadim: I think back in the days when we were kids, we just wanted to get together and just play something really fast and like, have something really catchy and just tour and gig and have fun. I mean like now, this is what we’re doing and we’re having a great time. And I mean, Inhuman Rampage really pushed everything to the maximum form-wise and um, the fact that, I don’t know, popularity wise everything just went up another notch so it’s going really well for us right now and we’re just fired up for every gig and we just… it’s just really exciting, we’re totally stoked!

It’s a well known fact that your music is not made to be totally serious and it’s kind of based on fantastical content….
Vadim: Yeah I see what you mean, but you know when we write music, there’s a certain aspect of music and writing where we’re serious one hundred percent like with the songs, lyric-wise and the way the melodies are. But when we perform live, we try to you know, not come across as one of these “look at me, I’m so evil,” type bands, we just want to go out and have fun. We like writing and playing music live for people and we’re serious about that but we also want to have fun, you get to see Sam and them and all of us drinking beer on the stage and being wasted and running around and just cracking jokes or whatever on stage. Because I think it should be all about having fun you know, rock and metal music. You know, recording to us is always tough, you have to go through little thoughts and ideas and put things together and work things out, but once you’ve done it, touring is like a party. There’s other bands that I keep hearing about that are so tired of touring, they hate it, but I think we’re having a great time. And obviously you have to make some sacrifices sometimes you know, but what can you do, life goes on man, there’s nothing you can do. We’re happy; we’re enjoying what we’re doing.

So other than the fantastical aspect of the music, are there any themes or messages which you kind of try to convey with your songs?
Vadim: Well it’s sort of like the catchy melodies and really uplifting choruses that make people I suppose happier or whatever; I think just put people in a good kind of mood and a good uplifting kind of positive mood. Because you know like, I listen to a lot of death metal and thrash and that kind of stuff, but I mean there’s a lot of negativity, I completely dig it, it’s sick, but we’re just trying to bring something new, something fresh and something kind of untouched and you know something that puts people in a good mood. You wake up in the morning, the sun’s shining, you put on a Dragonforce record! I don’t know, I just think we’re trying to bring all the fans together and I think on this tour it’s been really noticeable where there have been a lot of variety of people coming to see us, not only death metalists, thrash metalists or ‘80s, but there’s a lot of mixture of punk rockers and maybe emo kids or whatever, but it’s just good to see everyone getting together and rocking out.

Dragonforce is unifying!
Vadim: [laughs] Yeah sort of, in a way, yeah it’s cool! You know, everyone comes down to hang out after the show, drink with us and people are cool with that.

Lyrical content aside, you guys are ridiculously talented musicians, in fact your hyper speed playing and technical proficiency seems to be overlooked at times. How do you feel when people discuss your music’s themes as opposed to the music itself?
Vadim: Well I think since the first record, I think the lyric concept was more like an epic, but I think on this record, the lyric content has changed, it’s more day to day related stuff so more people can relate to the music and lyrics and everything. It’s kind of like these lyrics on Inhuman Rampage, when we write them we try to, there’s no particular message that we try to get across, but we write it a way where people can relate it to themselves, translate it in their own way so, you know, when you’re sort of in a sad mood, like if you break up with your girlfriend [laughs], you can listen to the songs and relate to that. But when you’re in a happy mood you can also think of it as a happy song so it’s kind of two meanings for every song. It’s quite a busy album right? But if you listen to it, you can always listen to the lyrics and there’s always something interesting, always something happening, some people can’t handle it because it’s so busy but you know [laughs], I think it’s cool in a way that there’s a lot of interesting things in it.

Does it actually bother you when the press focuses on the lyrics more than your music?
Vadim: Not at all, I mean like, people can always find something interesting that they like and something to discuss and there will always be critics that will criticize the music and everything and I think that’s cool because you know, when the band gets somewhere, that’s when people start talking about you. And no matter what they say it’s pretty cool because then name gets around and people then can read it or hear music for themselves and make up their own opinions. So I don’t mind it, lyrics, I think when we write lyrics, there are a few mountains and worries, but if you listen to the whole concept, you can actually imagine that you can actually think of more than one thing. If you’re an epic kind of guy, you like Dungeons and Dragons, you can also relate to that, but if you go into work everyday and you’re sick and tired of it, you can listen to it in that way.

With how good you guys are on your instruments, for the growing, blossoming keyboardists out there, how did you get to be the wizard you are on the keys?
Vadim: Well I don’t think I am, I think I’m pretty crap actually [laughing]. I think that there’s plenty of keyboard players that are better, but I’m just trying to bring something different I suppose, I mean like, I got the portable so it just gets me more interactive with the audience. I’m less bored now, it’s less like an office job, you know, I use to just stand there and now I get to walk around the stage. It’s cool, because I don’t know, there wasn’t any keyboard heroes that I would look up to, I mean there’s loads of great ones but I grew up listening to a lot of guitar players, but yeah keyboard’s just something that I like. I wanted to bring something special to the keyboard, there’s a lot of people that play keyboards who are really shy and afraid of playing it because they think it’s gay and that’s what I use to think, but now I’ve come to think that keyboard is actually much cooler than guitar. I just think it’s unusual and people just look at it and they’re like “what?” They’ll get puzzled first of all but once it clicks, they’re going to love it. I just bring some tasteful stuff and do some keyboard solos, it’s important not to overdo things.

Alright so what’s the writing and recording process like for you guys? Is it a group effort or is it individual? How do you guys bring it all together?
Vadim: Well we all sort of write songs in our own houses on our own time and then get together and discuss things and move things about and improve things. It’s usually the main bit that we write first like the chorus and everything else kind of evolves around it, you have like ten different parts for choruses and pre-choruses and verses and like middle sections and you move them around and see how they fit. It’s chaotic when we write stuff, things changing all the time, songs are evolving and growing. You have this six month for example, period of time, you start with some kind of chorus that sounds this way and then in three months it’ll sound totally different so it’s always exciting for us. That’s why we leave the songwriting until just before going into the studio, to keep the songs fresh.

So everyone in the band gets to contribute their own piece?
Vadim: Yeah, yeah, everyone’s got their own ideas.

Due to your fantasy themes, Dragonforce has often been grouped into epic metal, but you guys have said yourselves that you think you’re more extreme power metal. What do you feel about genre defining and where do you think you fit in?
Vadim: I can see why people called us epic kind of metal, but I mean we’re not into dungeons and dragons; we’re just more into writing music. I mean, you’re always going to be labeled by some genre and there’s always going to be people that will call you something. I suppose extreme power metal kind of fits in because we do things kind of differently, just the way we perform and music wise and when it comes down to the live show, that’s where it all shows I suppose. I don’t know, I think someone else actually called us that and we just say yeah fair enough, let’s just call it that. It’s just the intensity in the live shows I suppose, you never know what’s going to happen, someone might break something and my keyboards have broken every gig so far. It’s always like intense; you never know what’s going to happen so we just let ourselves go live. I’m down with just calling us metal but if people call us extreme metal I’m totally down with that too.

I want to focus on your music for a little bit. The third album Inhuman Rampage just dropped, the music once again has evolved just like the last album from the first one. How did the writing and recording process differ for this disc from your others and how do you feel about the end result, Inhuman Rampage?
Vadim: Yes, this record is more sort of like I said, intense, we had more time I think to record it, it was a six month period of time, but it was quite an intense recording as well because we had a tour with Iron Maiden and headlining tours in the UK and in the middle of that we had to just do recording so we just wanted to get a really busy and heavy and chaotic record but at the same time with loads of catchiness and melody. We had computer game noises and guitar noises, we even had names for every type of noise like elephant noise, glass breaking noise, car noise, alien noise, something like that. I don’t know, it was a really busy period of time, I did most of my parts at night time because I couldn’t do them during the day, so I stayed up all night doing the parts and then going to the studio and recording them and choosing the sounds. I still look back and I could still put some more things into it, fill some gaps, in comparison to the previous albums, I think this is more complex, I don’t know, it’s just some people couldn’t handle listening to it because it so far out, but yeah, I think it’s pretty cool because there’s melodies, there’s catchy songs, there’s instantly, like really pleasant choruses and the record ends with a ballad, like the ending of movie and you’re right in the back with your girlfriend or whatever. You’re sitting there and enjoying the album and you’re about to get it on and anyway. [laughs]

Continuing with the music, this most recent CD continues with the technical guitar based melodies, but one thing I noticed is that there are many new guitar sounds and effects plus there’s a big increase in keyboard and keyboard solos. How did this happen? What’s with the increase?
Vadim: Basically, we didn’t want to have, you know if you listen to the previous records of ours, there’s like gaps before going into the main bit, but this time we tried to fill the gap, we tried to go for a weird kind of sounding effects, because like, when we started recording and started writing Inhuman Rampage, we thought, we had like never really touched piano, strings or choir sounds even though we did in the end a little bit. But it’s just, we tried to go for all this alienate sound that people would actually hate. You know, I think keyboards like stand in a certain point in a song, like in a mix, they take up a certain frequency so we just sort of, chose all the unusual, weird atmospheric sounds and sometimes like computer game sounds. And it’s like, solo wise, I tried not to overdo it because there’s a lot of keyboard players in other bands and I see keyboard players who use the exact same sound for every solo, for every album. I mean, they’re talented musicians and they write great solos and they’re technically really good players, but the same sound gets repetitive so I tried to go for like an abstract, weird kind of feel to the songs. Even some of the solos, I mean it’s like coated and really wacky but no one cares really. [laughs] But you know what, no one really knows so they can’t care. [laughs] Just like weird kind of unusual sounds, we just said fuck it, let’s just go and experiment with stuff and make a real extravaganza of an album full of everything that everyone can listen to and not get bored of it. So when I got this new keyboard with a variety of sounds and I tried to mix things up and try new things and it worked out for the best I think, I’m quite happy with the result and it sounds pretty sick I think.

So the goal as a band is kind of to constantly push yourselves to the… ultimate?
Vadim: We just hope we can bring something new to the fans, something that people can love and listen to, you know, something uplifting and fast and brutal at the same time. We love touring, we just love meeting people and hanging out, it’s cool, we love doing what we do and we’ll carry on doing it until people get bored of us.

So speaking of fans, obviously your reputation is growing massively in North America now, but what’s your following like in your hometown of London, England? What’s it like when you step on stage there versus anywhere else?
Vadim: I think it’s kind of the same in the UK, the press and the media really started to notice us when we did the small shows, five hundred to six hundred people capacity and they were all selling out, it was something like ten shows in a row selling out and the press and the media started putting us in magazines afterwards, before the album came out no one actually cared so we had to do the hard work ourselves and everything like that. You know, it’s cool because the UK is kind of good, like kids are getting into us, but in America surprisingly, it’s like wow. When we moved here, like the first tour we’ve done, the shows were sold out and the kids were going crazy, it was sick! Europe is a different deal and Japan has been cool, but America and UK have done really well for us and we’re having a blast. We’re going to be doing a UK tour later on, but so far, Canada and America is going to be chaotic… party time every night!

In 2005 you guys switched labels and inked a deal first with Roadrunner Europe and eventually North America. What made you guys change labels? What happened?
Vadim: To be honest I don’t really know because we usually have our manager and everyone dealing with that part of the business, because, probably the other guys know something about it but I just play an instrument. I don’t know, it just changed and it worked out for the best and you know, Roadrunner just helped us out quite a lot. The other guys in the band are more into the technical side; I’m just more into the music.

Have you personally noticed any changes though like with the band since you’ve changed labels?
Vadim: Yeah, I think we’re being pushed much quicker and we’ve been touring more places and like it’s been going really well, it’s rad… tubular! [laughs]

So it seems that in the Dragonforce camp, there have been a lot of changes over the past year or two, a lot of big ones, a lot of small ones. What do you guys do to get through the changes and what do you have planned for the next year or so?
Vadim: Well hopefully like for the next year, well this year it’ll be all touring and next year hopefully some touring and I think, but I’m not sure we might be coming back to the U.S. And we’re going to have to record a new album I suppose, sometime around the end of next year I guess. So yeah it should be cool, we’re excited and everything like that and apart from that, we just want to tour as much as possible and just hit as many places as possible, just bring the metal to the audience and puzzle them and surprise them and drink lots of beer and just get down with it.

With all the changes, what holds you guys together as a band, as a team?
Vadim: I think it’s just the bond we’re having on stage and just like, we’re touring together and we’re touring these amazing huge venues, over two thousand people capacity being sold out and it’s just great, we’re all having fun on stage, we’re all having fun together and even though it’s tough sometimes, I mean every day you wake up and you gotta rock out but it’s cool man, we enjoy doing it. And I suppose this energy from the crowd, the audience, the kids, the support and all the people around us it kind of makes us want to carry on and keep doing it man.

Any last comments?
Vadim: Like word, tubular, stellar… [laughs] No, no, but for all the kids out there that haven’t heard us you know just download it. [laughs] No I mean buy a record. Come down, check us out, stick around after the show, we usually hang out for a bit outside our tour bus and we’ll sign autographs, just come down, check us out and I hope you like the show and see you on tour!

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