Sam Totman
Model(s) Used: STM
Band: DragonForce
Ibanez: How has the current tour with Killswitch Engage, Chimaira, and He Is Legend been going for you guys?
Sam: Yeah, it's been really cool. Everything's been sold out, and the crowds have been really cool. You know, we've done a couple of tours now, so it's not like "wow". It's become a bit of a routine, but I still really enjoy being out here and stuff. Yeah no, it's been good.

Ibanez: Are there any particular shows from the tour that have really stood out for you guys?
Sam: Yeah, like the last one in Seattle was really cool. It was one of the biggest ones, and it was like this really nice old theater, really big. And the crowd was really into it. So yeah, there's been a few. I think it's more like interesting venues, like we had one in Texas that was an outside sort of thing. It's more noticeable when you play an interesting venue. The crowds have been pretty much good everywhere. They've all been really into it. Yeah, it's cool.

Ibanez: Who were some of your biggest influences musically?
Sam: Not so much probably people as much as bands I listened to I suppose. I was into all the old favorites that every metal guy is into, like Slayer and Maiden and all that kind of stuff. Then I got into a bit of death metal and thrash, and then I got into a bit of hard rock sort of later, like when it wasn't really popular anymore. Like I got into the sort of stuff like Bon Jovi around '94. When I started listening to it, it was kind of funny, but I actually thought it was quite good. When I started getting into it, it was already out of fashion. In a way, I think that's kind of what's made our sound the way it is today. I never really have gotten into the whole power metal thing, like it was in the old days, Helloween and stuff. I never really heard them much. That was basically what I grew up on. Whoever was in those particular bands that I was listening to, I would learn solos off of them. I learned a couple of solos from Death and Obituary and obviously the old Metallica stuff. I didn't really pick out a particular guy. I just liked the bands and was a big fan of what they were doing in general.

Ibanez: So you were basically a lot more focused on the entire package rather than one particular guitar guy?
Sam: Yeah exactly. I never really got into the guitar guys like Satriani. That wasn't really my thing.

Ibanez: Did you take any kind of lessons when you were younger?
Sam: Yeah I did. Like I started out when I was about ten years old or something. My parents said, "You have to learn an instrument", know...that's what parents do. They make you do stuff that you don't want to do. So I said I would learn the guitar, and I took classical for a little while. I didn't actually enjoy it that much, but I kind of just kept going anyway because I had to. Then when I got to be about fifteen years old, that's kind of when I discovered rock music. That's when I started kind of enjoying the guitar, and I got an electric.

Ibanez: Was there anything that you practiced to develop your speed and playing style?
Sam: Not really. I think it was more a matter of just learning solos from people that I liked. I'd hear solos that I thought were cool, and I'd just try and learn them because it was fun. I think that's how it happened really.

Ibanez: Do you play primarily by ear?
Sam: I mean I used to get the old tablature books and stuff. Before I got them, they were really expensive where I lived in New Zealand; I used to just figure out stuff from tapes. As I went along, I got a lot better at it. When I started off, I would think I was right and be completely wrong. So to gain speed, I would just start off learning the solos that I could do at the time and move on to something harder and carry on like that.

Ibanez: Do you still practice or do you not have a lot of time now?
Sam: No not at all. I never do [laughs]. I just kind of got to a point where I could play what I wanted to play that sounded good. Obviously, there's people out there a lot better than me. Like I'd love to be able to play like Steve Vai or something, but I can't be bothered putting in the amount of time...I don't know if I ever actually could play like that. I guess if I decided to try as hard as I could to be as good as him, I might get a bit better. Right now, I'm at a level where I can play what I want to play. That's kind of good enough, so I thought I should leave it at that [laughs].

Ibanez: Is there anything that you're really picky about on a guitar feature-wise or setup-wise?
Sam: Nah not at all really. Basically, Herman kind of takes care of most of my gear for me anyways [laughs]. I've just never really been interested in the whole gear side of things anyways. Obviously, I like a guitar that's really nice to play. That's why I like Ibanez. I just like really low action, thin strings, kind of a wide fretboard, basically what I'm playing now. I've never really played anything that I like more and found easier to play. So basically what I've got now is cool.

Ibanez: When did you start playing Ibanez guitars?
Sam: I don't know. I mean the first time I played one...I never actually owned one until quite recently I suppose. I remember when I was at school, one of my friends was really into them, and he used to buy them. I couldn't afford them anyways. I remember thinking at the time that they were really nice to play, but I just had some crappy old piece of shit because I didn't have any money [laughs]. Yeah.

Ibanez: What models do you play primarily?
Sam: I've got that V-Blade thing that they made me and the Iceman. I don't really like normal shaped guitars.

Ibanez: Any particular reason that you chose those models?
Sam: Not really. I just like the ones with kind of a funny shape. I always liked the Iceman because of Paul Stanley. I always thought he looked cool when he used to play it, and I just kind of always liked V-shaped guitars. I don't like them as much as I did, and I actually play the Iceman a lot more now.

Ibanez: You do a majority of the writing for Dragonforce right?
Sam: Yeah.

Ibanez: Do you play primarily by ear?
Sam: I suppose the first thing that I get together is the vocal melody and the chords that go underneath it. That's your basic song. If the singing is boring, it doesn't matter how many flashy guitar bits you put in the space in between. I'll just think of something in my head, some little tune. Then, I'll play along to it with some chords. Then, I'll think whether it would work good for a chorus or maybe a verse. Then, I'll get this whole bunch of bits and pieces, verses, choruses, and middle sections. I'll create kind of a patchwork of which parts go well with each other. So that's your basic song done. After that, it's just kind of a matter of thinking up introductions and little guitar melodies and harmonies. That just comes from sitting with the guitar and kind of playing around with different ideas. I'll do kind of a demo on the computer and put all the drum parts in with a drum machine. I'll play the vocal melody on the guitar. Then, I'll get a demo with ZP where he comes in and sings the parts. It's all sort of changing all the time. Sometimes the vocal line on guitar won't actually sound as good when he sings it, so we'll switch it around and find something that works better. That's basically how it gets done. It's not really like I sit down and write the song from beginning to finish. Sometimes I might start with the end first. The intro might get written at the last point. It's kind of like building a house or something.

Ibanez: So you guys go through a lot of demo processes where you kind of build the song like that?
Sam: Yeah, well we just do one sort of basic demo before the album is recorded, which is drums, guitars, and vocals pretty much. Then, we give that to Vadim, and he uses that to write all his keyboard parts. We don't usually do a demo with his keyboards on it, other than his songs. He actually writes some songs himself on the keyboards. It's pretty much just a basic chord structure, drum structure, and vocal melody that gets on to the demos.

Ibanez: What are you guys' plans for the rest of the year?
Sam: We've got a few gigs in Germany after this tour. Then, we go to Australia for a couple of weeks and New Zealand. I think we're doing some gigs in Asia. We'll do a couple of festivals, like Download festival in England and Rock Am Ring in Germany. That's kind of a big thing. After that, we'll probably just get into trying to make another album.

Ibanez: So you guys will probably start working on a new album by the end of the year?
Sam: We'll probably start work on one. We've already got a couple of ideas that me and ZP have been working on. I've started some demos, and he's started some demos. It's kind of like we do a bit whenever we can. We never write anything on tour. Once we get some time off and get home, we'll probably get stuck into it.

Ibanez: Any parting advice for young musicians?
Sam: I suppose not really. This is always a weird question. I think if they enjoy what they're doing, they'll probably keep doing it. If they don't, they'll probably quit and go play a sport or something instead [laughs]. So yeah, just have fun I guess.

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