After first breaking out onto the Dutch symphonic metal scene as Sahara Dust back in 2003, the band later went on to reinvent themselves as Epica with a strong blend of orchestral arrangements, traditional heavy metal guitar work and majestic gothic metal choirs.
Epica currently boasts a lineup centered around lead vocalist Simone Simmons, guitarist and backup vocalist Mark Jansen, guitarist Iaasic Delahye, bassist Rob Van Der Loo, keyboardist Coen Janssen and drummer Ariën Van Weesenbeek, and six albums into their career the band is still running strong.
The heavy metal group’s new effort ‘The Quantum Enigma’ was created with the intention of not becoming stagnant in regard to their approach, and the success is readily found throughout. Sharp guitar work, angelic choruses, evocative synthesizers and engaging drum work raises the bar for the members of Epica.
While the members of Epica are currently touring across Europe, Music Enthusiast spoke with Mark Jansen to discuss their new installment and their upcoming touring plans.
Music Enthusiast: I’ve just started listening to the new album. Yes, I understand that I’m a little late to the party but I haven’t stopped listening to it since! Was there a mutual consensus within the band as far what direction Epica should move towards with this album?
That’s OK! Every day there are new people who start listening to Epica. We are happy and thankful with that and hopefully that will keep happening. There’s never a 100% mutual consensus but we write music the way we feel it so we see what happens without knowing in which direction it will go. This way, we had lots of inspiration and wrote quite some songs. Some didn’t make it to the next round and those who did needed to go through one more selection. That can lead to some discussion as we were also very fond of our bonus tracks. But we made it and I’m still confident we’ve made the right choices.
While writing the music and lyrics for a new Epica song, does each member only focus on their individual roles in the band or is it more of a collaborative effort?
We usually start writing songs on our own, in our home studios, on the road or nowadays it’s possible with the newest technology to write music even in an airplane. (laughs) Lyrics can be written anywhere anyway.
Once we are happy with our music, we start listening to each other’s tracks and work on them with the help of producer Joost van den Broek and before Sascha Paeth. After that we start rehearsing the songs as a band and in this phase it’s still possible to make some drastic changes.
It’s important that we all feel that the song meets our quality standards, works well live, and has a good flow. Once we are satisfied, we sit down with Sascha Paeth to go through all our vocal lines, he usually has a great taste and inspiration so he comes up with some alternatives for the weaker lines and usually he’s right!
Throughout the years, we have always tried to raise the bar. We still feel that our best album is yet to come.
As far as Epica’s motivation lyrically, these songs are based on our environment and natural emotions. Do you feel these reinforce your standpoint from the ‘Design Your Universe’ album?
The more we learn, the more questions it raises but that’s the interesting thing about the puzzle called life. It’s an interesting ride, isn’t it? Full of great experiences and some negative ones but that’s apparently part of the game. I often wonder about all around us, how this majestic piece of art called our universe could get into shape. I feel intuitively I’m getting closer but the whole truth we probably will never know in this lifetime.
Would you say that there was more collaboration between the members of Epica during the making of this album than on previous albums?
That’s definitely true. In the past, we often recorded songs that were completely written by one member and never rehearsed as a whole band. It can lead to great results as well but we noticed that some of those songs don’t work live. ‘TQE’ contains only songs that work well in a live setting as well. This because of the intensively rehearsal sessions in which everybody’s opinion mattered. This definitely lifted our songs up to another level.
Were any of the other members of the band involved with writing lyrics this time around?
Simone and I have always written the lyrics and we want to keep it like that. It’s a trademark of Epica and I think it’s important that singers can sing their own lyrics in order to be fully emotionally attached to them.
How much time goes into the making of each new Epica song from start to finish?
There’s no formula for that. For example, I can write a song in one afternoon and another one in 5 years. A song is done when it feels right. Kingdom of Heaven part 1 for example, took us 5 years to finish. Before it simply wasn’t good enough yet but I’m happy that we were so patient with this one. (laughs)
The theme of this album is based on quantum physics. Did this make coming up with the lyrical content more challenging, or do you enjoy a good challenge?
I usually write about things that I read about. These topics find their way in our lyrics. Life is a big quest and challenge and I prefer to write about those subjects that truly matter rather than to write about swords and dragons.
You also hold a Masters Degree in Psychology. Do you draw upon that experience while coming up with references for new Epica material?
I have studied Psychology as it’s so interesting but if I wouldn’t have done it, I guess I would still write about the same things. I have always kept an open mind but I don’t just believe everything what’s written in scientific books and articles. Actually, I often disagree. That was sometimes very frustrating during my years at university as during my exams I had to write things down the way the professor wanted to hear it in order to pass the exam. That is actually against my nature, I love to go against the flow when I disagree.
Do you serve overtime as the group’s psychologist when they begin to vent?
(laughs) I think we have 6 psychologists in the band and that’s why we are still around after 13 years. You need to be social and willing to accept each other’s downsides; otherwise, you can forget about touring with a group of people.
Were there any songs left over from these latest sessions that could find their way onto a new Epica record?
Yes, but at that time we didn’t feel those songs were ready yet. They needed more time and polishing. Some of those made it through the first selection that time. Let’s see if those will be fortunate this time. Besides that we have written many brand new songs.
Last question. What is Epica planning for their upcoming shows in the United States?
I try to live as much as I can day by day and now we are in the middle of our European summer festivals. After a long season full of club shows, I’m enjoying the festivals a lot at this moment. Once we’re done with them, the focus is put US/Canada tour. We will bring Eluiveitie with us, a great band with an energetic live show. I’m very happy with this package and we will play a diverse set with tracks from every album but also a focus on our latest as many people request songs from it, which is a great sign.
Mark, thank you for your time answering the questions and we’re looking forward to seeing the band when you come to Los Angeles.
Thanks a lot for the interview and see you all in LA!