DragonForce‘s Herman Li is one of the more revered guitarists in modern music, but if you were to ask the musician which guitarist he feels is one of the best guitarists in the world, the answer might surprise you. His choice is late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.
The conversation turned to Cobain when Li was speaking with YouTube host Anthony Fantano (seen below) about the importance of simplicity when it comes to developing your style. And apparently, Li has always been fond of Cobain for his ability to connect the listeners through his playing.
“A lot of people ask me all the time who do I think is the best guitar player in the world. And I come up with different answers all the time. I say, ‘Well, Kurt Cobain is one of the best guitar players in the world.’ And they just go, ‘Oh, my god. What are you talking about? I thought you knew something, Herman,'” admits the guitarist when he usually shares this answer.
But he elaborates, “I say, well, he inspired millions of people to play the guitar — he connected with them. So, obviously, the feeling and expression is way more important than how fast and how much notes you can play in key. If you’re a jazz master or whatever, if you can’t connect with somebody, it’s a different thing. Sometimes the simplest thing is probably the most important thing. And we learned to do complicated stuff because when you’re young, you impress your friends. It’s kind of cool. You’re flexing a little bit.”
The guitarist adds, “I always tell people, ‘Learn the simplest, simplest guitar parts and then make it your own.’ So you’ve got the great simple stuff that you know will always sound good and then build upon that. Learning hard stuff and trying to copy people’s expression is a waste of time, I think, because you’re trying to be someone in a very complicated way. You’re spending so much time to play this really complicated lick when you can just create your own one that’s similar. I would say it’s easier to make something simple sounding like yourself than a complicated part sounding like yourself.”
To his point, there’s likely not a person who’s listened to rock over the years that doesn’t instantly recognize the guitar parts of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are” or “All Apologies” almost instantaneously, and while not all that complex, they definitely have connected with audiences.
While often more complex in his guitar play, Li has managed to connect with fans as well over the course of DragonForce’s eight studio albums. The band’s latest, Extreme Power Metal, was released in 2019.