Epica: venturing into different realities

Picture by Tim Tronckoe

Amsterdam, the Netherlands – 2/7/2016

By Laetitia
This month, the new record The Holographic Principle of the Dutch symphonic metal band Epica will hit the stores. During the press day of the band in Amsterdam, we sat down with vocalist and guitarist Mark Jansen and Simone Simons to talk about recording the album, different realities and the band’s journey into science.

What was the starting point for the new album?
Mark: “Daniel, our sort-of-manager, said that this would be a good schedule for a new record. After this, things speeded up and the other band members started writing more. I already had quite a few songs written down, but the rest began at that point.”

Did you have a certain goal in mind with this record?
Mark: “The goals is always to create an album that is a bit better than the previous one. It’s a healthy aim, but since The Quantum Enigma was received very well, we asked ourselves how we could do this. So we made a list and concluded that we could record all the instruments live, instead of using samples. We gave the guitars a more prominent spot in the mix than before and we accentuated the music differently. Also, when it came to the writing process: we did more together, delved deeper into the details and tried to make it perfect.”

So you recorded the violins, percussion and so on live.
Simone: “Yes, we organized a day for the percussion. Our drum technician works at a music shop, so he loaded a truck full with cool instruments and he could go nuts with that. So they spent a day drumming. You can especially hear this on the song ‘Dancing In A Hurricane’. ”

Mark: “We already recorded the strings live on The Quantum Enigma, but this time we included the other instruments instead of using samples like on TQE. This is the big difference.”
While recording the previous album, you worked with Joost van den Broek and this time again. Never change a winning team?

Simone: “We liked working with him. During the recordings of The Quantum Enigma, we wanted to refresh the whole process a bit, to motivate ourselves and to get the best result out of ourselves. Joost is a cool guy, very professional, organized and very motivated, which also motivates us. He has been involved with the recording from the start and it’s good to have someone who can save and guard the overview. That is something you sometimes forget as a musician. He recorded the vocal lines with me and he knows how to get the best result out of me. That’s very nice, since it is a very intense process.”

Mark: “He also tells us how things are. He will tell us if something isn’t right. You’re always a bit more careful if it is from one bandmember to another. As an outsider, he can say when something isn’t good enough.”

Picture by Tim Tronckoe

Simone, during the recording of the Quantum Enigma, you said that Joost knows how to challenge you vocally. I assume it was the same with the recording of The Holographic Principle. How should I see this? Does he come up to you and say: ‘Well Simone, that didn’t make sense at all’:
Simone: “No, not like that. When the guys wrote the songs, they included the vocal lines in that. Joost, Sascha, Mark and I would see if it fits my voice. For example, they write with the vocal reach of a man in their minds, which is different from the vocal reach of a woman. We work on the rhythms and diversity. The variety was very important: classic, rock, pop, jazzy, bluesy, whatever would fit the song, but also what would fit with my voice. I’m not a piano with an infinite reach but I am very happy with the result.”

You said that during the recording of the Quantum Enigma you focused more on writing as a band. Did you continue this approach whilst recording The Holographic Principle?
Mark: “Definitely. You notice that as a writer, you’ll hit the wall at some point. You don’t know how to continue and the input of others can take the song to a next level. That is undeniably the result of a group process and you definitely hear that in the before and after version.”

I personally found the album quite catchy. Especially ‘Beyond the Matrix’ was what we call an ‘ear worm’. Was this done on purpose?
Mark: “Funny that you should mention this. Another journalist told me that he didn’t really hear a catchy song on the record. I was like: no catchy melody? I cannot imagine that Beyond the Matrix is not catchy.”

Simone: “I think it will be a great live song.”

Mark: “We call it our Sabaton song. But yes, that is done on purpose. We are always searching for the balance. Having an album full of these tracks wouldn’t be right, but one or two are necessary. We considered how every song would fit in the whole record.”

I won’t ask about a favorite song, but which track stands out most for you?
Simone: “That’s difficult, because they all have their own face. The Holographic Principle is the title track and it’s also the song that includes all the elements of the record. So, I’d say the title track. ”

Mark: “I’ll go for another one. I like the combination of Universal Death Squad with Divide and Conquer. These are two strong tracks after another and I like to listen to those two combined. It also features our new sound and you can hear that very well in these tracks. I’m very proud of it.”

Picture by Tim Tronckoe

I did a bit of research on the theme. I guess the Holographic Principle refers to the idea that our universe is a hologram.
Mark: “Yes, the theory implies that everything in our universe can be a hologram. We moulded that into a concept. If you have one those virtual reality masks, I never wore one, but Simone did.. ”

Simone: “Yes, a friend of ours had a prototype (the first and the second version) of the Occulus Rift. My husband could take the first one home and we could all try the second version there. It was very odd. Your vestibular organ gets confused, so you need to get your balance back. You can look up and down and turn around completely and wherever you look, there is something. It wasn’t a completely developed one, it still had some pixels.

For us as musicians, when you are on tour, you’re laying in those small bunk beds. So I can imagine that it’s nice to put on those glasses and you are suddenly at a beach somewhere or Skype with your family in a very realistic way. It may have a lot of advantages for people who sometimes want to escape reality, or to watch concerts or movies. Personally, when I look at the games my husband plays, it’s to realistic. I’m a Mario Bro’s/Nintendo/Dos gamer. I can see that these are actually games.”

Mark: “These masks will improve so sooner or later, you’ll put them on and you will be in a reality that looks like this one. So you wonder what it means for this reality. Are we in a virtual reality, or is this just a layer of a higher reality? That was the starting point for the lyrics. It’s not a concept album, in the sense that the songs have to be in a particular order for the story. We want to have the freedom to change the structure around for example.”

Picture by Tim Tronckoe

How did you stumble upon this theory?
Mark: “I like to watch series on the universe. So when the show stopped I looked it up on the internet and you find a theory and another one that is even more fascinating. I found the scientist Leonard Susskind and he gave seminars on the universe as a hologram. He’s kind of like the bad boy of physics, which I appreciate to start with. When you start reading about it, you think, that cannot be true, but the more you read, the more it becomes a serious option.”

You both write lyrics. So Simone, Mark comes to you with this concept, how did you go about writing songs with this theme in mind?
Simone: “Mark is the type who reads the books and watches the documentaries. He’s more the factual side of things. I lean more towards the philosophical side. It’s interesting for me to consider how it would be. Movies are a big inspiration for me. This time it suited very well that I’m a fan of the Matrix and Inception. I’m fascinated by dreams and analyzing my own dreams. These are all forms of different realities. The Matrix fits very well because there is a reality that is simulated by a computer and the ‘real’ one. In which one do you choose to live? It’s an option we also have today. Think of different forms of art, but also the digital world. We’re all glued to our phones, including myself.”

If I look back on the albums of Epica, I have the idea that the focus of the band shifted from religious/society issues to science. How do you perceive this?

Mark: “We’ve pretty much said everything about religion that we wanted to say. Otherwise we would be repeating ourselves. So you search for new themes. I also notice that religious subjects divide people. You get fierce reactions from a small group people, not that this would stop me, but it’s not my style either to repeat myself for the sake of provoking these people. I still stand by my lyrics and had my say. The scientific side is something many people can work with as well and in a very positive manner.”

Looking back on Epica’s discography, which song still stands out to you?
Mark: “Kingdom of Heaven”.
Simone: “Design your Universe. We play it quite often live. It’s song with a nice message and the music.. It’s also a fan favorite.”
Mark: “Otherwise our light technician will get angry. He always wants to hear Design your Universe, haha.”

What is in the cards for Epica for the remainder of 2016?

Simone: “The release of the record, our own Epic Metal Fest in the Netherlands and in Brasil. A North America tour and a European tour with Powerwolf. Bigger venues, a bigger production. We have a very nice light show in the works.”
Mark: “Yes, these are prototype lights that are not on sale yet. They are still in development, but in a far enough stage that we can use them.”
Simone: “It may take some holographic forms.”..