Fireworks Magazine Online 63 - Interview with Epica

EPICA: An interview with Mark Jansen and Simone Simons


Having spent the majority of 2012 touring and promoting their last album, 2013 turned out to be quite an eventful year for Symphonic Metallers Epica. They put on a spectacular one off show to celebrate their 10th Anniversary, the bands vocalist gave birth to her first child the at the end they released the DVD of that Anniversary show. Now in 2014, the band has returned refreshed and reinvigorated with a new album called ‘The Quantum Enigma’. Dave Scott took a trip up London to meet up with Mark Jansen and Simone Simons to have a chat and catch up with all the latest news in the Epica camp.

It’s great to speak to you both again. It’s been almost two years since I last saw you Simone, and about six months since we chatted Mark, how the recent times been for you both? I know for one of you there has been a major change in the last year or so.

S – Yes and he is an utter enrichment to my life in every sense. I am tired like a zombie but I am so happy.

I can imagine how busy you would be with a child; I can’t begin to imagine how busy it must be with a child and a career as a singer. That must be some workload.

S – I see it as a challenge. I mean I have the best of both worlds; I am a mum now and I am singing with a successful Metal band.

Before we move onto the main reason for our conversation, I would like to ask if you were pleased with the response to the ‘Retrospect’ DVD?

M – Yes, we put a lot of effort into it and it was only worth it if the reaction would be good and fortunately they were good. The only thing we heard sometimes was that there was a bit too much aggressive light but then again some people really liked it. All the rest was all positive.

I don’t know if you remember but when we last spoke, but one thing I said was that it was one of the finest light shows I had seen.

M – Yes I do but some people thought it was too much.

On a couple of the close up’s maybe...as you were strolling across stage and got between the cross-lights it was a bit dazzling but that’s small beer.

S – He knows the music, like every second of it, so it’s all very much in synch with the music. Our music is very energetic and dynamic and our light person is a very energetic and dynamic guy and so you see that in the lighting. As Mark said it was a whole lot of work and a special symbol of our career...the retrospect ten year anniversary mile stone.

Your new album ‘The Quantum Enigma’ is due out in May; to quote your own words from the promotional write up, it has quite a heady theme behind the album and it’s lyrics. Can you give me an idea about what ‘...Enigma’ is and what it is all about?

M – Yes, the basic principle is that you cannot observe anything without influencing what you observe. Therefore you cannot know what the state is of what you observed if you don’t observe it. When you put it to science for example, say quantum physics, you cannot observe without influencing it so you don’t know the state. If you look or take it more to the normal life scene, it also means what if we don’t observe anything around us is it still there?

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it...Does it make any sound?

M – Exactly and there is a lot of scientists that say everything...visualization and also sounds...actually it is just in our head. For example a bird singing is created in our head but the question is do we all have the same perception or movie going on or is it just you for example that creates everything and that we are also just imagination for you ha-ha.

It’s a fascinating concept; all three of us are sat in here in the same room with the same surroundings and none of that is going to change. But none of us three know if you two see what I see and you two hear what I hear.

M – We don’t know for sure.

S – If we answer your questions correctly then hopefully we in the same world ha-ha.

M – At least I tend to think that ha-ha.

As is often the case with your albums, there is a concept and a theme that runs through it but it’s not a concept album in the traditional sense of the idea. Can you give me some insight into the subject matter of some of the individual songs and maybe how the settle into the overall theme?

S – It definitely has a mind theme so each corner of the mind is explored; the nicer and less nice sides of the mind, diseases of the mind like Alzheimer’s, dreams as surrealism and art and life and death and everything in between. Reality, surreality, dreams...strong contrasts of everything that your mind creates.

M – If you take ‘The Quantum Enigma’ that is the anchor song; from there you would spread out over the levels. If you take for example, ‘The Essence Of Silence’ that talks about that we a constant stream of thoughts going on in our head and you can choose as a person to all the time follow these thoughts which is what people usually do. Or you can choose not to do it and let the silence enter. That is a great feeling when you can really let it happen because these thoughts go on anyway. Many people think that they are their own thoughts but if they want them or not they come and go. There’s even coming thoughts that you think “that’s not me thinking that, I don’t want to kill that person”. But these thoughts come into your head whether you want it to or not. Many people think “oh this is my dark side, I want to push it away”. That song is about how great it is to let the silence come and that we don’t have to follow these thoughts all the time or think all the time that we are these thoughts. Because if you are born in this part of the world, or another part, you have completely different thoughts so that is not you because what is you is what your essence is. There just all cultural things and experiences built in.

A good comparison for what you are talking about is the U.K. and U.S.A. There are very similar countries, some people around the world may say almost the same, but when you put two people from those countries together...

M – humour...there’s completely different humour.

Exactly there’s different humour, certain little phrases and subtle things that mean a mass of difference. I have seen you guys talk about this album being more of a group effort compared to previous Epica albums. How and what did you do to change your approach to writing and what prompted the change?

M – Yes we did. We sat together after ‘Retrospect’ and we thought “now with ‘Retrospect’ we have looked back over the last ten years, what can we do now for the upcoming ten years to refresh ourselves, to renew certain things and to bring Epica to the next level?” We were chatting and one of these things were to work more as a band again because with the internet it is so easy to just send files to each other but then you miss something.

I am hearing more and more bands talking about this... saying because of the internet “shit we don’t get together anymore!” Everyone writes their own stuff in their own studio and then the email it to the central person and they put it all together.

M – Exactly, and you can hear it.

S – It also makes you become lazy.

I have asked a couple of bands what fun did you have during recording and a common reply is “none because sadly we hardly met up”.

M – It’s a pity.

I have also heard bands say the same thing following it by adding “we must change this next time get back together again”.

M – I think bands, sooner rather than later, all discover this. But some bands also they have the disadvantage that they have a limited budget and they have to work with the internet. But we are in the lucky position that we still can even though we live so far apart. We fortunately have a decent budget to sit together. It is more expensive but you work on the details much better; it’s one whole now. So that was one of the things. The other thing was we also wanted to have a slight change in sound because after so many years there is a risk of repeating yourself. If you want to sound refreshed you have to also change everything.

S – You have to take risks.


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That actually brings me onto my next question. I understand you took time to work on even the smallest detail such as changing different mics, snares, amps etc. I assume what promoted you to go into such detail was the same reasoning you were just talking about?

S – Well we had the time and we felt the need for it. Due to my pregnancy we were also lucky to have this pause from touring and get together, plan the future which needs to be more planned than ever with babies in the band. I think also due to the fact we worked with Joost van den Broek who is a very thorough person. We had the time, we had the opportunity and we were lucky enough to have the financial support of Nuclear Blast so that we could do that. It has been our most thorough record yet.

And so your pregnancy presented that ideal opportunity to do that.

S – Yes, otherwise we would have gone on tour again and no doubt we would have exceeded deadlines again. This time we had enough time to prepare. It was actually also nice to be off the road because we have been touring basically none stop. Before I got pregnant, we had four months of straight touring and all of us were a little sick of it after a while.

S – Living in each other’s space for really long can, after a while, become strenuous on the soul as much as performing is amazing and so is meeting the fans. Even our drummer, who is “touring forever” and that is his motto, he was even becoming cranky because it was too much. It is very intense to live together in such a short space; you don’t work from nine to five and go home to your wife.

You are kind of in each other’s pockets all day every day. I don’t care whether you are a husband and wife team or best friends, things have to grate eventually for everyone.

M – I will give you an example. When you first start touring and you are fresh then the little things don’t bother you. But after a really long time, and you make an agreement that there are no shoes in the walkway, and then you walk to your bed and trip over a pair...it can really piss you off ha-ha. Such a little thing as a shoe can make you explode almost and then you know it’s time to recharge the battery. It was the perfect moment and we also really wanted to see it only from the positive side.

S – I always told the band that I want to have kids and I told them one to two years and then it happened; it was a surprise to me. We just adapted our plans and it was just the perfect opportunity and everything turned out great. Without me being pregnant, I don’t know if we would have been so extremely happy, satisfied...all of us.

You didn’t just make changes to the way you worked as a band because there were also changes behind the scenes as well I understand. Although Sascha Paeth still played an important role in pre-production, you turned to van den Broek for the new record. Was this another change based on the same looking forward rationale and the fact that it was time for a change?

M – Yes exactly because Paeth is a great person so whatever happens I will never say something negative about him. The thing was, when you work so many years with somebody, you used to a sort of a comfort zone and you don’t get out of that zone anymore. You know what he can do and he knows what we can do; there’s no certain trigger that makes you have to go out of that comfort zone. Van den Broek is a young guy, he’s a rookie, and he still, in the few years he has been doing this, has gained a lot of experience. He has this sort of energy that he really keeps on going, works very hard and tries to get the best out of everybody. It’s that sort of energy that you can only find with some young people and I think maybe also some older producers still find that but it’s fairly unique and he has that. He knew how to use that energy and he really made us so enthusiastic. He got us in this flow and there was this interaction, exchange of energy and we made him enthusiastic in return.

S – He kind of woke us up because we were, after so many years; you get into a rut sometimes. It was new and exciting times for us. For me being pregnant, a new record coming, what are we going to do, which direction are we going to take. Having somebody like van den Broek is definitely a great new source of energy and some of us, myself included, are extremely chaotic and it is nice to have someone keep the overview of everything. He was involved from A to Z...from the beginning when the songs were still demo tracks until the masters were recorded. He even went to Jacob Hansen in Denmark because he wanted to be part of everything.

That was someone else I wanted to ask about, there’s obviously another new name that came onboard here and that’s Hansen. I take it again this decision was linked to the general decision to make changes?

M – Yes, we did a mix pitch; that’s where you have several mixes sent in for one song where we first sent them the material for one song, all of them got the same song, and actually we got a little bit nervous about that. Only one guy was left and he hadn’t sent us the material yet and all the others didn’t quite hit the mark. So we already said if Hansen doesn’t send a great mix we are fucked ha-ha. Then he sent in this mix...ah we were so happy.

S – Save the best for last, it was meant to be like this. A way to get out of that rut is to think out of the box, out of your comfort zone and take some risks.

Fresh faces also help to bring a fresh impetus.

S – That too. Take Rob van der Loo who is the latest addition to our band, he has also been a positive input and influence of creativity, energy and just hanging out together. He is a great guy, he is a great musician...and he can cook really well ha-ha. He cooked for us once in the studio and we were all like “ooo yeah...are you coming again tomorrow?” ha-ha.

My promo copy didn’t come with any sleeve notes or credits and I haven’t seen any mention in any press releases of any guest appearances despite it seeming to be the popular thing in Symphonic Metal right now. Did you have any special help making the album?

M – We didn’t make use of any guests. We just have of course the huge choir and orchestra.

S – That’s probably enough guest I think ha-ha.

M – We obviously have Marcela Bovio, from Stream Of Passion, who does backing vocals and from Textures Daniel de Jongh also did backing vocals.

I recognise those names from before. Which orchestra did you use for the album?

M – I don’t even know if they have a name for that orchestral group. They are guys that sometimes work together but they work in different orchestras.

Oh I see not one big entity but people drawn together from others?

Yeah and it was good because there was somebody who passed away in the family of one of the players which was really sad. But the good thing was that they were able to ask some new guys “can you able to fill in”. Otherwise, even if you are working to a really strict deadline and something like that happens and it’s just one orchestra, you have to wait.

Kind of finishing off this section on change, I have seen on Facebook that you guys have referred to this album as the start of a new chapter for the band.

M – Yes.

That’s the main reason for the approach, but where do you think this change will take you?

M – That’s the big question of course ha-ha.

S – It is also more of a mind set as well I guess.

That is kind of what I am thinking about. Does it give you a whole new perspective as well as new goals and new challenges?

M – Yes.

S – We have taken all the experiences that we have collected over all those years and put them to good use for the future. We have all made mistakes as well and we have a great team behind the scenes to go with it. We have a great manager who’s got great vision as well as energy without end. That is great to have someone push you to the next level as well.

M - Also festival wise we have noticed that over the years, we have slowly got a bit higher on the bill. So our ultimate goal is of course to headline a major festival.

Which one would you take if you had you pick?

M – Hmmm...Dynamo Open Air. It doesn’t exist anymore but as a kid it was my ultimate festival. It was one of the biggest festivals.

S – That was in the nineties. I think they did one extra edition just one year they had it again. But not the old school stuff.

M – As Dynamo does not exist anymore I would take either Graspop Belgium or Wacken Open Air Germany. That would be great to headline one of them.

S – You have the whole stage to yourself and play forever,

M – To headline Download wouldn’t be bad either.


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I really liked the cover from the first time I saw it, who designed that for you?

M – That was of course Stephen Heilmann.

I thought as much. Is that one bit of continuity that you were happy to continue with?

M – Yes because with Heilmann, we sent him the lyrics, a brief overview of what the lyrics are about and he does the rest.

So that’s it, you give him the concept and he does the rest?

S – Yes, we are fully confident in the fact that he will come up with the right result, he has done so up to now ha-ha. He has got a brilliant mind and he somehow fits to us. He understands us and there’s no need for much in the way of communication. We didn’t have to change much one with this one either.

M – Just really small things. It was almost nothing.

S – What you see now was basically the original cover with very minor changes.

M – The cover just came in and we were like wow.

S – Yes, we were happy...it was spot on.

Are you planning any different formats for the album?

M - Yes, we will have an earbook with some extra tracks...we recorded some acoustic tracks. That was very exciting because we didn’t rehearse these songs; it was just in the studio trial and error, something’s worked...something’s didn’t and we threw them away. The things that worked we kept, we built the acoustic songs out of the existing versions. That resulted in some very spontaneous music and actually when the album was finished I listened to the acoustic tracks more often than the album songs ha-ha. The acoustic songs were also, for me, really refreshing. I would also like to ask people to look for the additional bonus tracks because we really had a hard time this album to make a selection. Actually all of these bonus tracks could have been on the actual album.

S – All the songs are great, some of them were just style wise a little bit different but we still loved them. Each of the band members made their own list of the songs that they wanted to be on the record and that is how we did it. We luckily had kind of the same view on the tracks as well so we didn’t have a private war behind the scenes.

M – We had one song which has one of the strongest choruses we have ever had and it’s not on the album.

I must admit, with many of the Symphonic Metal bands going heavier, I did see Epica on the release schedule and thought to myself “if Epica go heavier, more hostile and brutal...What will Jansen come up with this time” ha-ha. Although in places it is quite brutal musically, I think this is more accessible than the previous album.

M – I think so too because I think the previous album was more Progressive and that’s not really easy listening. That is why we thought we would go back to the basics; a strong melody, a strong song and everything that’s not needed...out. We really focused on the song itself and that is also why we worked twice as long on the songs compared to the previous album. When you say that it is more accessible I think that is one of the reasons.

I think there is a bit more of a soundtrack feel to it, it has more of an orchestral feel. Of course when you and Isaac Delahaye decide to let rip, you guys go. But whilst it feels a bit heavier in patches musically, the overall album has a lighter air about it.

M – Because there are also some really atmospherical parts, those parts that are heavy are in your face.

Even when you two axe men let go, that passage is usually followed by some bright vocals or arrangements which lift the whole thing. I do believe you are growling a little less this time as well?

M – Yeah ha-ha. I only growl when it favours the songs.

S – Or when he’s angry and he has been very happy ha-ha.

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Is that how you manage it, when you need to exhale the fire ha-ha?

M – I can put all my fire in Mayan and now with Epica I am happy ha-ha. But I just put it where it was really an addition to the song, when it was really needed for the song. There is no use to just put grunts on there for the sake of it.

I know you guys are a melting pot of ideas when it comes to new releases. Is there anything you thought of doing but when it came down to it you couldn’t for whatever reason?

M – No, with this album we thought everything we want to do, we are going to do. So we had a chat about the money this time and for this album we thought whatever the cost, we will do it. Of course it became quite expensive but I am really happy that we did because if anything we would not have done that could have done to make this album better, I would have regretted it for all my life.

Given the album isn’t out for another couple of months I suspect this question is a bit early... but I’ll ask none the less...what touring plans are you formulating to promote the album and most importantly do we have much chance of seeing you in the U.K., maybe not this year but possibly next?

S – Yeah we want to come to the U.K. very much. We have some great summer festivals lined up so we are gonna do the try out and start out easy at the festivals then Autumn and Winter we are going to tour the hell out it ha-ha.

I have seen one place you are playing Pinkpop...

S – Yeah, third time.

So come on what’s it like to be on the bill with Metallica?

M – Great ha-ha. Of course for us this is a boyhood and girlhood dream coming true. Metallica of course, when were kids, were our heroes now we have played two festivals with them.

You are both known for collaborating on other projects, I am guessing you have had you hands full with the new album and a few other things as well I can imagine. Have either of you been involved in anything, or anything coming up, that you can tell me about?

M – Yes, I am also working on something completely different; it is for my girlfriend who is an Opera singer. It more of a Pop Opera, I wrote some songs and at the moment they are still working on the arrangements. So that is a funny and different thing coming up.

That really is turning your hand to something else.

M – Yeah because on one side you have Mayan which is very extreme, you have Epica and then you have this. They are all completely different.

S – It is nice to have changes. I have done a guest performance for Timo Tolkki as well for one of his upcoming albums, the second Avalon album I believe. I recorded it not so long ago.

You were supposed to be on the first Avalon album weren’t you?

S – Yeah but I was extremely busy with Epica touring. We didn’t find the right song that fit me so it took a while.

Mark, just turning to you quickly about a side project, how did the release of Mayan’s ‘Antagonise’ go and were you happy with it?

M – Yes, very happy. You have to see it as actually a fun thing. For example if there’s some room left we might do some tour but it is basically for fun and to do something different. We recorded it quite fast and we didn’t have much time to really think things over so it was a very spontaneous project. The album came out so well that it also surprised us, it got some great reviews. So yes very pleased...we became “CD Of The Month” in one place so it was a big surprise for me how well the album went.

Epica appears to go from strength to strength each year. Taking a slightly reflective look what with your Tenth Anniversary having passed and your sixth studio album due out, how does it feel looking back with everything you have so far achieved?

M – I just feel proud.

Did you ever think you would make it here? Obviously when you start out you always have high hopes but did you ever see you making ten years, six albums and still be going as strong as ever?

S – Back then, I was like a little girl. I thought it was like a challenge, a fun thing to try. I gave up school and I didn’t study so for me it was a full time thing. I think deep down within I had a good feeling about it and I just took the risk even though my parents were not so happy about that. Now they can see I made the right decision and it’s not just a hobby or a job, it’s a lifestyle.

Did you ever see it getting to ten years and clearly going much further?

M – As I don’t look that far ahead I can honestly say no. But on the other hand, when talking about my personal side, when I go for something...I go for it totally so I am also not surprised. I knew that when I would really go for it like I did then there would be a good chance of doing it for a long time. I am really happy that it worked out and also that the team is still a solid team. We were sitting together with a woman some days ago who was doing some group work.

S – She explained to us the different ways of communicating and that there are different styles of people. She works with schools, with big companies and even with couple’s therapy. Her husband also helped us a little bit in exploring communication through social media which of course we have a lot of experience in already.

M- She said, for example, you as a group are so tight yet you are open for criticism and still open to learn from each other. She said that is fairly unique for a group that has been together so long and yet still so open minded to each other. I think that is the secret.

I must just ask about one thing before we call it a day; I noticed there was an appearance by Epica at the Winter Olympics during the figure skating. Did you have any idea that was going to happen?

M – Not at all.

Did you see it live?

S – No.

M – Actually I did.

What did that feel like; you are watching the Olympics and suddenly recognise the music?

S – I would love to know if he consciously knew it was Epica or if they just found our version of the song on Youtube...that I would like to know.

How did that feel when that came on and started?

M – It is really cool because we are a band that is not on the radio or the TV very often so whenever something like this happens I get really excited.

S – You should read the comments below. It’s really funny with people mentioning that’s my favourite band.

Thank you so much for your time today. Very quickly is there anything you would like to add or that I have missed.

M – I would like to thank you for the interview and I would like to add that we will come back to the U.K. for sure.

S – Yes for sure and I would just like to add my regards to the British fans.


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