If you really love music, especially metal, the sound of symphonic metal band Epica, from the Netherlands, will never disappoint. Ever. What’s not to love about fast paced, grinding death metal blast beats, and chunky, shreddy guitars ripping all over the place, transitioning into half time, dark and heavy grooves, with symphonic strings, horns, keys, and pads setting the vibe for the angelic, pristine vocals of mezzo soprano, classical vocalist Simone Simons, to lay down her beautiful melodies and lyrics. With versatility ranging from softly sung, almost whispered, vocals, to operatically belting out notes that will make every hair on your body stand up (in pitch perfect tune, I might add), an Epica performance will surely leave you amazed, as well have turned you into a new fan of their’s if you weren’t already one. Having been a fan of Epica for a number of years, this was probably my 4th or 5th time seeing them, and every singe time, it’s been an amazing show. They always sound wonderful, and they put on a performance that makes it crystal clear that they’re 100% comfortable with themselves, the music, and their instruments. Watching them effortlessly run around, engaging with the crowd, smiling and screaming lyrics with them, yet still performing the songs to a ” T “, gives one such an appreciation for their performance. They seem to be having as much fun with the audience, as each one of themselves. It’s refreshing. That’s what it should be. Fun. If you’re not having fun playing music, then why do it? Epica clearly loves playing, loves performing, and loves their fans.
Before their performance in Seattle, I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with Mark Jansen, guitarist, as well as the brutal voice you hear throughout Epica’s wonderfully contrasting flavors and vibes. Below, is our conversation, as well as some shots from the show. Check it out!
J - Welcome to Seattle! How has the tour been going so far?
Mark - Thanks! Well I think we’ve done about 1/3rd of the tour so far…about 9 shows or something like that. And so far it’s going really well! Almost every show is packed. And also tonight, I heard presales (tickets) are really good. You know, you never know…it’s a Wednesday, not an ideal day, but still many people will come to see the show, so we’re all extremely happy.
J - That’s awesome man! I’m happy to hear that. So, you guys recently put out the new album “The Holographic Principle”. It’s badass! Bought it the day it came out. Do you have a personal favorite song on “The Holographic Principle”?
Mark - That’s really hard to tell, because it changes day to day. If I have to pick one today, then I would maybe say, “Ascension”. It’s very powerful. I love to play it. Also, live, it’s doing very well. But there are several tracks that I really enjoy. I basically like them all, or else we wouldn’t have put them on the album, but I have a few favorites. “Divide and Conquer”, I like a lot. I also like “Beyond the Matrix” live because it’s really like a party going on with that song. So yeah, there are a couple of songs that I really enjoy playing live.
J- Very cool, very cool. I love “Ascension” too. That’s one of my favorites on the new album. I love the fact that everything (strings, horns, piano, etc.) was recorded by real people, as opposed to using a lot of samples. Any chance of some sort of DVD or something, with more behind the scenes looks at recording and touring?
Mark - Yeah, well we shot a few videos already and put them online, and that’s all we were using them for…so, there are no plans for any DVD yet, but sooner or later, we hope to record another DVD with a full orchestra and with a lot of new songs, because the “Retrospect” show was the first 5 albums, and I think that when we have 1 more album after this one ("The Holographic Principle”), we have enough new material for a new DVD. Still make a nice setlist with like, some old songs that we didn’t play on the first DVD. I never liked DVD’s that contained songs that have already been released on another DVD.
J - That makes sense. Give the people something new.
Mark - Yeah, so I think when we have one more album out, and we have so much (material) to choose from again.
J - Ok! Right on. I, as well as pretty much everyone else I’m sure, is looking forward to that. So, I’ve done the same type of writing/recording that you guys do…everyone is separate, and sending files through email. Are there any songs that, while you were at home in your own studio, you pretty much wrote in it's entirety, or wrote at least the majority of, before sending it out to have the others add their influence?
Mark - Yeah, basically all the songs are like that. (everyone being separate) The songs from me on this album are; “Divide and Conquer”, “Tear Down Your Walls”, and the title track “The Holographic Principle”. Also the intro…I brought the basic setup for the intro, and Coen (Epica’s keyboardist) turned it into a really massive, great intro. So yeah, we all sit down in our studios and write the music. Then comes the moment when we send it to each other and then start rehearsing it. That’s where a lot can change in the tracks, and also where we lift the songs up to the next level. That’s also where some songs get dropped, and some other songs we keep on the list. We make a selection after these rehearsals of the 18 tracks that we recorded, and of these 18 tracks, 12 made it to the album. So there’s still 6 tracks left, and we want to keep them together and not release them as bonus track here and there. So, after a while, we’re probably going to do an EP.
J - Oh cool, that’s a great idea!
Mark - These songs could have been on the album. It was hard to pick the right ones for the album. It was not a matter of quality, which ones were on the album, just a matter of which ones fit best together. So these 6 tracks, I can’t wait for them also to be released. I think they’re also really well worth listening to.
J - Nice, I can’t wait to hear them, man! It can get pretty crazy when writing/recording like that, when everyone is all over the place, so it’s awesome that you guys make it work so well. You’re from the Netherlands too, right?
Mark - I’m originally from the Netherlands, but I live now-a-days in Sicily, Italy.
J - Oh wow, that’s beautiful. So, what do you do when you’re back home, and not doing anything that has to do with Epica?
Mark - I like to ride my bike. I like to swim. There are a lot of swimming possibilities in Sicily. Everywhere around you, there’s sea. It’s usually good weather as well, so that’s what I like to do. I also like to walk with my dogs. I have 3 dogs.
J - Oh that’s awesome, what kind of dogs?
Mark - All 3 are stray dogs…but one is a kind of German Shepherd mixed with something else. One has some kind of pit bull I think, and the other one is mixed with Dalmatian. But all of them are stray dogs and were in need of help, so we said “Join the family”. The shepherd is my personal favorite. She’s the first one we got, and she’s really my best buddy. And beside the 3 dogs, we’ve also got 2 cats, and they’re also stray cats. (laughing)
J - That’s just great. Ya know, sometimes, animals can be better than people! (everyone laughing)
Mark - It’s true! You know, they really enlighten your life. I would not like to be without them. They bring so much joy into your life.
J - That is definitely true. So, If you could put together a dream tour for you guys, with 3 other bands, who would be on it?
Mark - Hmmm…3 other bands. I would certainly pick Megadeth. That was the first metal band I started listening to. Then Opeth would be on that tour too because they’re one of my favorites. And then the 3rd band...would be hard to pick because there’s so many great bands…
(Coen, Epica's keyboardist, interjects from the next room)
Mark - Huh?
Coen - Mayan
Mark - Coen suggests “Mayan”, a band that I released 2 albums with.
J - Oh Ok! That’d be sick. Then you’d be pulling’ double duty then!
Mark - Finally “Mayan” could play out!
J - Hell yeah, that would be awesome. Cool, cool. What direction do you see yourselves going in after this latest record?
Mark - The next step, we haven’t discussed yet, but one thing is pretty much certain, is we will work with the same producer. And hopefully, the same mixer. We really like this combination of this producer and this guy mixing the album. Jakob Hansen. And the producer’s name is Joost Van Den BroeK, and they are really great working with us. Joost…this guy….really motivates us. Gets the best out of us. Yeah, together, that’s why this album, in my opinion, became so good. He really kept on going…to get the best from us, to reach this goal, and I’m pretty sure that with this guy on the next album, we can make it happen again. Our goal is always to do something better than we did on the previous record. But it will be hard to start to find things to do better. There’s so many little details that we did better on this one, than “The Quantum Enigma”.
J - But that was an amazing album too!
Mark - Yeah, people, say that’s going to be really hard to top that one.
J - So like, how do you top that album AND this one? It’s like, where do you go from here?
Mark - Yeah, Yeah…now the pressure gets a bit higher, because we have to top this one.
J - So when do you plan on doing that? Next year? Or are you going to take some time off?
Mark - Actually, we never did take any time off in all of our career, but uh..we discussed it, and maybe it’s time, after this long tour, to maybe do a little break. To recharge the batteries. Do some things in life that we hadn’t been able to do for a long time. Yeah, you know, you see bands like Nightwish take a year off, and then get back together and are totally refreshed and all. So yeah, it’s a possibility that we do that to. And then it’s time for that new album you were asking about.
J - Nice! haha I’m sure you guys could use a little break. What’s the last thing that you were listening to?
Mark - Probably some demo albums of guys that come to shows and give us the album.
J - So you actually listen to the demos people give to you? That’s awesome! Good to hear that it doesn’t just get thrown away or tossed aside.
Mark - Yeah yeah! Sometimes…I have to be honest….sometimes, it’s complete shit. But there are also some pearls amongst them, and you really think “wow, these guys”.
J - Well, that’s awesome to know! I dont want to take up much more of your time, I know you've got to get ready for the show. I just want to say thanks a lot for taking the time to sit and talk with me man! Really appreciate it! Good luck with the show tonight, it’s going to kick ass!