Fireworks Magazine Online 51- Interview with Epica

EPICA


Epica is a symphonic metal band that was formed back in 2002 by Ex After Forever guitarist Mark Jensen.  After their 2002 demo, four albums followed between 2003 and 2009 and now 10 years later, Epica have just released their fifth album entitled ‘Requiem For The Indifferent’.  Dave Scott popped down to Camden to see singer Simone Simmons and guitarist Isaac Delahaye to have a chat about the new record and get all the latest news.
 
You are often referred to as a symphonic metal band with a classical twist.  Do you consider this to be an apt description or do you guys from the band define your sound differently?

I say symphonic metal.  We are a real metal band, the classical influences are quite big but we also like the big bombastic epic sounds so you could also say epic metal that works ha-ha. 

I have heard people use soundtrack metal, epic metal, and symphonic metal. 

The thing is that I think that if you look at the Epica album, or Epica in general, we make albums and not songs.  So if you take one song out of an album it could be...yes this one is a little more going into death metal.  This other one is like a ballad whereas another one might be more score like.  So it is really difficult to term but I think symphonic metal would be appropriate.
 
There may be some of our readers, given the different genres Fireworks covers that may not have heard a lot of Epica’s music.  If you both had to sell the band using one particular song from the back catalogue which would you pick? 

One of the longer and more complex songs, one which include all the elements.  For example, not one of the single songs we pick which are always the short catchy ones. Those are not 100% representative for the band’s sound.  So I would pick one of the longer songs like ‘Serenade Of Self Destruction’ or the first one on the record ‘Monopoly On Truth’.  Songs with strong melodies, choir, grunts, vocals, great guitar lines and heavy drums. 

I agree and for people that have a little more time than five or ten minutes, you know check out a whole album. It’s like people say ‘we watched a video clip of yours’ and it is this commercial short song and they say ‘oh another one of these bands’.  Whereas I think yeah, if you would just have a little more time and check out some other songs as well on the album.  Then you would see it is much more than just these commercial songs.
 
Clearly there are many influences to your sound from soundtracks to classical music to metal bands.  Can you give me an insight into the sort of things that influence you specifically like a certain composer maybe or a certain band?

As far as my songs go I definitely get inspired by thrash metal, bands like Lamb Of God, Soilwork, also Dream Theatre or Kill Switch Engage.  I think that all these bands also grew up listening to the same bands as I grew up with so it’s kind of the same school.  Although they make metalcore and I make symphonic metal it’s the same influence, the same bands like...Rage Against The Machine, Sepultura, Machinehead....all these bands.  Pantera were also very influential. 
 
Simone what sort of things influence what you bring to the table so to speak?

I personally really love singers, more ambient singers like I love Lisa Gerrard.  From the early days when I just got into metal I really loved Tristania, Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, and Within Temptation.  Other influences include stuff like Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman and John Williams.  I listen more to soundtrack music than I would to metal bands because being in a band you hear and have music in your ears all the time.  Those score albums are really like relaxing also.  It is not such a huge impact for the ears. 
 
You have a new album out in March entitled ‘Requiem For The Indifferent’.  I understand from the promotional material I have read that it is about the world economically and socially right now.  Can you give us an insight into some of the various issues dealt with within the songs?

The theme comes from Mark Jansen the guitarist player and main composer.  He is quite politically involved; he reads the newspapers and watches the news.  He feels very connect to the Mayan culture and knows a lot about it.  So we have always little recurring topics on the record, writing about politics, how some people like politicians and dictators have too much power over the people.  And that the people first of all trust their politicians but they sell a different story as to what they actually really have in mind.  Of course the Arabian Spring inspired Mark, there was the financial crisis.  The song ‘Requiem For The Indifferent’ is about the financial crisis but the overall theme, the meaning behind it, is that the indifferent are the people who are not involved in the actual topics right now who think about their own safe life and are very self centred and do not think about society in general and the people living on the planet.  Our hope is that these people will somehow turn around and pitch in, trying to help out and trying to make it a little bit better
It is like the Arab Spring, if no one had cared then they would still be where they were years ago.  It does make a difference if you’re not indifferent. 
 
Obviously you mention about the economic crisis in album, and it is without doubt a tough time economically right now throughout the world.  Has this at all caused you to scale back, say if you had released this album 4-5 years ago if you would have done a much bigger tour or more videos? 

Well we are kind of a known band now so we are settled in, kind of on the safe side.  I did an interview in Greece, and they asked me when we come if we are lowering the ticket prices compared to the time before.  Because they said lots of bands do that, they take about 10 Euros off their tickets so that people are actually coming.  Of course for Epica, we are a band now and we have to make money.  Also to realise a show it costs money, it’s not for free.  We have a crew working for us, you got travel expenses, you have to pay for the hotels and stuff.  A lot of people don’t actually realise how many thousands of Euros it costs to actually make a show, just to break even that means even we don’t get money ourselves.  So it is a long road.  If you do this full time you have to make some money with it otherwise you have to find another job to pay the bills.  We all have houses now, some of us have children so it is a grown up world.  But I think we will still go to Greece and maybe even lower the tickets.  It is not all just about making money, it is also about playing.  We also lower the price of the merch sometimes. 
It is something which is in the back of your mind of course.  Let’s say like Hurricane Katrina when the oil prices went up and stuff like that.  You tour the US before and after, just in your diesel alone, your gas expense you see that go up.  But it’s always changing.  It’s a constant evolution of things.  It shouldn’t stop you from touring or doing what you do.
 
Getting back to the album, are you planning to release any singles from this album?

Yes, ‘Storm The Sorrow’ is going to be a single.
 
I have to say I’m thrilled about that, on the first listen, that was one song that stood out straight away.

It’s a great song.  It has been on repeat for me as well and I showed my parents that song and the ballad and they like it.  We are going to record a video as well in Amsterdam in the middle of February. The video should be released about the same time as the record is going to be released although our videos probably won’t be played on the TV’s but YouTube is a huge avenue.  YouTube is the new TV.
 
Absolutely, I take it you guys do a lot of stuff through that medium if you can.  Is that a good avenue of exploration?

Yes, in fact everything is on YouTube.  You do a show and two hours later your whole show is on the internet ha-ha.  The only problem is that often especially when using mobile phones the audio sucks you know.  They don’t get a real representation of how it actually sounds.  That is why we also recorded ‘Storm The Sorrow’.  We played it already live twice when we had two shows in January in Holland.  We knew fans were going to record it anyway so we recorded it ourselves and also wanted to throw it on the internet with good audio qualities so that people would get a better view or sound.
And also now for as a promotional tool for the new album we tried to do something different.  We also basically used YouTube for that.  We released one song ‘Monopoly Of Truth’ layer by layer.  So basically we take the first layer which is the drums, then you have drum and bass, then you will have drum bass and guitar and so on and so on.  You always get a little more of the same song so you can actually hear how it is built.  Of course the first layers are still short and they get longer and longer until you get the full blast. 
 
If you don’t mind me asking, what contributions towards the new record, both writing and recording, did you both make?

Well besides writing lyrics and vocal lines I was also responsible for the artwork, I’m the one communicating with the artwork designer which this time has been Stefan Hielemann who also did ‘Design Your Universe and ‘The Classical Conspiracy’.  Besides that I do all the promo because being the singer, your also the face of the band. 
Yeah well I wrote just a couple of the songs, co wrote guitar lines with Mark on his songs.  Then I’m doing these layers.  Also all the tour flyers you know it’s a company so basically everyone has to do something.  But I actually also really like all that business side of the whole thing.  It’s like very interesting too.  You start out as a musician, I actually studied music.   So you start like that and then you see...hey it’s interesting if I do this or that.  I also like the visuals.  It is so important these days to visualise your band.  To make it very interest, like with artwork and stuff like that.  
It’s about the whole package; it’s not only about the music anymore.  You have to make the visual part of it also interesting.  It’s important; everything is on the internet so it’s like your business card.  The website, YouTube, Twitter Facebook, all of that.  We are all ourselves on the internet, the social media.  We don’t have assistants or the record company posting for us, it’s all us. 
 
I’ll keep that in mind the next time I see an Epica post go up on the Facebook page. 

Yes it’s all us.
I think we’re maybe, on the level that we are, one of the few bands who don’t have management and we do everything ourselves. 
 
As a band you’re often refining your sound from album to album.  Have you done anything different this time that you have not done before. 

Yes, the mixing or mastering is different because of the...actually you can explain it better Isaac because I am a singer and not so technical as you are ha-ha.  . 
Well the mastering was pretty similar but the mixing is different in a way.  The bands I mentioned before, like the influential bands, are always very compressed.  Therefore you get it in your face and it’s a very direct sound.  But it also means that all your instruments are kinda in each other and its one big sound.  It’s very typical and its fine you know.  It sounds brutal, it sounds very massive.  This time for Sascha, the producer, he really wanted to have a very clean and very uncompressed sound.  You can hear everything as there is so much stuff going on in the music.  Often if we got mixes we were like, ah you forgot this or that, because there is so much stuff you have to think off.  So yeah you can just layer everything on top of each other then you have this big massive sound.  Or you can give everything a little more space. 
 
You mentioned Sascha a few moments ago; he has worked on all your albums.  Apart obviously for continuity, is there any other reason you keep returning to Sascha rather than say another established producer with a different technique or style?

Because we are happy and it is a good team.  Sascha is not only the producer but he is also involved in earlier stages.  We always go to him to do pre production, selection of the songs; he gives us a little bit of direction with which songs still need a little bit of work and vocals lines that need to be changed.  So he is much more involved than most other producers.  He knows the band from the beginning and he knows our evolution.  He somehow gets the best out of us and we are happy with that and the working style. 
But he really respects the band and the music.  Even if, and he said it in an interview yesterday, even if he doesn’t like a certain part or whatever, it’s not his personal taste.  But he knows okay it’s the band, it’s this band that wants this sound and this kind of music. 
 
You do sound very different to a lot of the symphonic bands, particularly because of Mark’s death growling and grunting.  Do you find you alienate more fans from the symphonic community by having it, or you gain more death metal fans because of it?

I think we just about manage to have the best of both worlds.  If people don’t like the grunts there are plenty of songs without grunts.  We have the ballads.  For the people that think our music might be a bit pinkie and girlie ha-ha... they still have Mark how shall I say... scaring the little girl’s away ha-ha. 
 
It is quite a trademark and it does stand you guys out. 

It’s like err, why would we change it only because we hope more people might like it.
That’s not how we write music.  It’s not what it’s about.  It’s about writing music that we like and it is a huge plus if other people like it as well.  But I always say that within the music of Epica there is something for everyone. 
 
You have already announced a tour; I have seen dates of Germany, Holland and France.  The obvious question is will your UK fans get a chance to see you this year?    

Definitely, we just finished this European tour, like planning routing all that stuff.  Like last time, we want to have a little UK tour not included in the European tour because often we only have time to go to London.  We want to see more of the UK, also go to Ireland.  There are no official dates yet but we are kind of booking the whole year so hopefully sooner rather we come to UK.  Of course we go to London but we might go to Sheffield, Nottingham.
Last time we did this UK round, it was really nice because we can take our time to go where ever we want.  In a whole tour it is mostly like one or two dates then you have to go. 
 
On past releases you have some amazing collaborations, I’m thinking Roy Khan (Kamelot) and Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica).  Simone you yourself have appeared on some Kamelot tracks.  Is there any one artist on group you would like to collaborate with on a future release?

I wouldn’t mind playing with Rammstein one day that would be cool. I mean it’s not like Epica at all but they sometimes have female vocalists and I think that would be interesting.  Before Epica was there I always loved Kamelot and their female vocalist they have there.  I sang on a couple of albums in fact three albums so many dreams came true already. 
I would love to have worked together with Pantera or something.  That would have been cool.
 
In 2008 you recorded ‘The Classical Conspiracy’ which was the live album with all the classical interpretations as well as Epica songs.  Have you any thoughts to doing another event like this?

As for now no plans but certainly the desire to do it again.  That was a special show for us lot’s of preparation in fact half year of preparation and rehearsing.  It was quite a big operation and a big project but definitely worth it. 
With that lots of people said yeah you should have filmed it.  So I think that will be the next step. If we do it again, you need to have a DVD for that. 
 
A similar themed question, obviously you have also written ‘The Score’ which was the film soundtrack to Joyride.  Do you as Epica have any thoughts or plans to doing another full soundtrack?

Well no direct plans again but also the wish to do it again.  Also for me, to add vocals to it because vocals were not included in that.  It was just Mark.  So it would be lovely if we could do the full thing for a movie, something in the vein of Lord Of The Rings. 
 
Our readers always like to a little about the people behind the music.  Simone obviously Epica is your first major band, what sort of connection to music did you have before you joined the band. 

I had kind of a lot of CD’s, I loved listening to music.  I was introduced to rock and grunge when I was I think 12 or 13.  I got into Deftones, Radiohead and that kind of style.  It slowly changed into metal when I got my first boyfriend; he was a true metal head.  At first he scared me so then I got listening to Mystic Circle and Cradle Of Filth.  Then I got into After Forever, Tristania, Lacuna Coil, Within Temptation, Leaves Eyes, The Gathering and all the first bands with female vocals.  I got in touch with Mark on the After Forever website and the rest is history. 
 
Obviously Isaac has experience of being in another major band.  Would you ever consider being part of a side project or even a solo album?

Yeah definitely, I love other styles as well as metal.  But if I would do a solo record, I would want to keep it within the metal scene.  It would definitely also be symphonic metal without grunts probably.  Other styles could be a classical record maybe, a jazz record even.  I also like pop music; I like everything except for R n B and hip hop.  So that pretty much sets the rest of my life to make records in every style that I’d like to. 
 
Isaac, obviously you were in God Dethroned, how does being in Epica differ from being in your previous band?

Well first of all in the metal of the band.  God Dethroned is death metal which as a genre is much smaller of course.  However, it basically is exactly the same stuff you do on guitar or in fact Epica maybe is even more technical and more difficult to play.  However if you add all the Epica elements on top of all this brutal stuff your sometimes playing, then it sounds totally different.  It’s just in a different context and that’s the interesting thing. 
 
What sort of interests do you guys have and what do you like doing away from the music scene?

I am a big movie freak and I love watching movies.  I love nature and I also love photography.  I also have got my own blog where I upload stuff besides Epica.  Food of course which is great, family, friends...very normal actually. 
 
I seem to associate your name with candy from somewhere. 

Ha-ha yes I’m the candy queen of metal.  I just love sweets. 
 
What about yourself Isaac what interests you away from music?

Basically what I really like if I’m home from touring is catching up with friends and family, that’s really important.  That’s because if you’re on tour that much, it’s really hard to keep up with your social life.  You miss lots of things so it’s really for me very nice every time I get back to home to appreciate that.  You appreciate it much more than if you would have a more regular life. 
 
You have already accomplished a lot as a band?  Where will Epica be in five years?

Maybe you can tell us ha-ha...because we don’t know.  We want to continue writing records with a little bit of regularity like every two years we come with a new record.  With touring, we tour about two years per record so hopefully our sixth record with be out by then and we have hopefully conquered more countries.   Places we haven’t been like Japan, Australia, they are still on the wish list.  Maybe another movie score or a huge concert with an orchestra. 
Like I said I studied music, so you kind of hope in the back of your head that one day I can live off making music because that is like this dream that I had since I was sixteen.  And exactly that happened so I am very fortunate for that.  I think in five years if I can still say that I can pay the bills doing my hobby basically then I think I am very happy.  Of course you always hope it is going to get bigger and better and this and that but even if it is just like this then it is fine. 
Yes we can’t complain because we’re doing pretty good.

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