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"We definitely want to do something with a full orchestra again in the future. We already had quite some plans but everything changed due to the pandemic."

Interview with Mark Jansen (EPICA)

Getting to interact with Mark Jansen a few days before the end of a year we all want to forget, is an absolute delight. Of course, we would have rather met the maestro face to face on a parisian hotel's comfy couch. But we still count ourselves lucky to have been able to interview Mark via Skype. While in lockdown in Italy, he takes the time to tell us a lot about Ωmega, the eighth studio album from the dutch metal heads of Epica.

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Interview by Guillaume, Nicolas and Sabrina via Skype, the 29th of December 2020, and transcribed by Sabrina.

Vous pouvez également lire notre interview en français

Guillaume: Nowadays, you live in Sicily and we saw that the Etna erupted two weeks ago in Sicily. Is it worrying or something usual?

Mark: It's a usual thing. Etna erupts every year more or less. Sometimes it's a bit heavier, sometimes a bit less. And I live a hundred kilometers away from Etna so I didn't even know it was erupting. People always call and ask if I'm fine and I ask “what's up?” And then I see in the news that Etna erupted. But the last one, I didn't even notice.

Photo Of Mark in Sicily

Guillaume: In the early 2020, you reunited altogether for a week to compose the album, and it will finally be released next february (Ed : Ωmega was released on February the 26th, 2021). Can you tell us what was the whole story of Ωmega during this complicated year?

Yeah, luckily the album was almost all finished recording when the pandemic hit so we didn't have too much trouble with making the album. It was just the last part of recording that was complicated. I couldn't record vocals (Ed : in the Netherlands) so I had to do it at home. Luckily I have a home studio so I recorded with my own equipment but Simone had to find a studio in Stuttgart to record her parts. But for the rest, all the music and all the lyrics were already finished so the pandemic didn't hit us, recording wise, that much. It's just that we couldn't tour so that was a little bit of a pity of course. But it's something beyond our control so we have to patiently wait until we can play shows again.

Sabrina: For a band like Epica who was always either on the road, composing or recording something, how does this forced extra-break feel?

It's a long wait especially since no one knows how long it's actually gonna take. It can be a few months but I personally think it's gonna take longer, maybe one more year, two more years, you never know. It's a little bit hard that you cannot make plans very well. There's always something changing or a new mutation. Personally I'm not really devastated by it, it's just the way it is and things go the way they go. And when we can tour again, we will be more than ready.

Guillaume: We heard from you that the direction of this album is between Design Your Universe and The Quantum Enigma. Did it come to your mind after the composition or did you choose this direction on purpose and in your opinion, what are the differences between Ωmega and The Holographic Principle?

It was a conscious decision to go in that direction but that being said, we always go with the flow. We have a direction in mind and we discuss it upfront but after that, we let things happen the way they happen. Sometimes a song comes that you didn't plan to write this way but when it's cool, we let it happen. And then when we had a decent selection of songs, we started to see what was missing and started writing a bit in that direction to end up with a well balanced album. And that is the difference between The Holographic Principle and Ωmega. Ωmega is more well balanced song wise because with The Holographic Principle, we put the best songs we had in the album. With Ωmega, we looked for a coherent album where all the songs fit together. And mixing wise, we now give priority to certain instruments. Sometimes the guitar is more upfront, sometimes it's the orchestra instead of all the time, everything full force. It gives more space in the mix and more pleasure to listen to it I think.

Guillaume: Concerning the composition process, Simone said recently that “some songs are finished really quickly and some can take forever”. Did you feel the same composing songs for Ωmega and which ones were easy or difficult to compose and why?

For example, “Kingdom Of Heaven”, part 3 was such a long and complex song and a bit longer than the type of song that naturally comes to you with basic chorus and verse structure. So I think the most complex song to write was that one because of its complexity. And the most easy, it's hard to say about a song that I didn't compose myself. For instance I wasn't there when Rob composed Rivers. But for what I personally wrote, the easier one was "Freedom” because that was also the first one I wrote. I wrote the first riff on the road during soundcheck. I had some time and I was playing a bit and I had the riff for the bridge and then the whole song was quickly built around that.

Promo picture from Rob of Epica (2020)

Sabrina: The titles of your songs often read, and even more so on Ωmega, as scientific or academic publication titles, with a short title and a subtitle “explaining” the song a little bit more. Is this how you sometimes see your songs?

The titles of songs for me are the same kind of art as making a lyric or writing a song. I always try for the title to be as appealing as possible. I want it to look nice but that it also gives a good overview of what can be found in the lyrics. So I always try to look for the meaning but also a kind of beauty in it, in the words. That's also why I often add a kind of subtitle because I think I cannot fit everything in the short title.

Nicolas: According to the press release, Ωmega can be seen as the final part of the “metaphysical trilogy” begun with The Quantum Enigma. How do you see it, and do you think Epica will be over with these themes after Ωmega and start an all-new theme for the future?

Well we haven't thought about the next album yet so that's something that will come to our mind in the coming years. For everything that already happened, it's easier to say how it happened. But it's different for what's still to come. We haven't discussed it yet and I personally have zero idea about what the theme of the next album will be and where it will go. It all depends on how Ωmega will be received, how it will sound when we play the songs live. And then as a result from that, we will see what will be the next step music wise and lyric wise.

Guillaume: Since we listened to some older interviews, we learned that Simone is a movie freak, enjoying fantasy horror and Tim Burton stuff. We also learned that you like watching the streaming service Gaia. Can you tell us more about Gaia, its influence in Ωmega and how you manage to combine themes that have apparently little connection?

Yes, sometimes it's quite different and sometimes it's more united. I think, basically, on this album we were inspired by the same themes and there's also a song that we wrote the lyrics for together, which is “Freedom”. So I think that on this album, more than ever before, we were interested in the same themes. And in the past, for some songs we had completely different kinds of themes. And we just wrote the things that we liked to write, we let it go with the flow. And we always plan together on an album so even when sometimes the themes have apparently very little connection, once the songs come together, you always find connections. And about the streaming service Gaia, I love to watch it but like any other streaming service you have quality documentaries and also some rubbish. So you have to filter very well to find the pearls. I love for example to watch documentaries by Gregg Braden who's a scientist who also has a lot of spiritual knowledge. And he combines these themes. I personally am always interested in scientists since I, myself, have a scientific degree in psychology. And I'm also interested in spirituality and I always try to combine these two apparent opposite worlds into one. And on Gaia, they try to do the same thing and it's always fascinating to get very different views on ideas that I have myself. It's challenging to confront these ideas.

Studio vlog press listening session (EPICA)

Sabrina: There seems to be a recurring theme of opposites on this album, light versus dark, good versus evil, alpha/omega, the beginning and the end. Was it something you decided beforehand or did it just happen that way as you all brought the songs you'd written?

We always make the music first and then we start writing about themes that we're all interested in. So I was myself reading books and watching a lot of documentaries with these opposite themes. Especially about the Emerald tablet. I stumbled upon it and I started reading the book. This is a very sacred old wisdom tablet that existed even before books like the Bible and the Quran. And you see also that many books are inspired by it. You see it in different forms in the Bible for example. And it's very interesting where these stories originate from, especially how you can also interpret them in many ways just like the Bible for instance. For me it's also funny when people say that this is the way things are and there's no option for discussion. But even when you read the Bible, there are many possible interpretations. I always like it when people are open minded and open to discussing things. Instead of “this is one truth and this is the way it is”. These kinds of discussions, I run away from because there's nothing to learn and nothing to achieve with these people. So I read the Emerald tablet and it inspired me a lot. I used it in the lyrics a lot and you can see in this tablet a lot of opposing themes like good and evil and light and darkness. But we also have these opposites in each and everyone of us. It's inside of us. And some people are a little bit ashamed of their dark side but there's nothing to be ashamed of because everybody has it. So if you have dark thoughts and think “how can I think something so bad?” there's nothing to be ashamed of, it's completely natural as long as you're not really gonna do it if you think about stabbing someone with a knife or something like that. (laughs) That's something that if you push it away, it will eventually come to the surface. It's very interesting to just observe your own dark thoughts. Then it gets to a place when it's a matter of what you decide to do. Whether you just let it be there or let the bright side of you emerge instead and be a good person.

Nicolas: Can you confirm that you have a guest on Code Of Life?

I don't know if you can call it a guest because it's more like an atmospheric role. But we had that song and we really thought there would be something that could be added with a specific singer in mind. (laughs) Luckily, he said yes and it sounds really amazing. But I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say the name so… (laughs)

(Ed : It has since been confirmed that Zaher Zorgati from Myrath sings on Code Of Life, while Vicky Psarackis from The Agonist sings on Twilight Reverie)

Sabrina: For the first time for Ωmega, you have recorded with a children's choir and we've learned that it's the one Coen's kid is a part of. Who came up with the idea and why did you decide to use it for these specific songs?

It was Coen's idea obviously because his kids are singing in the choir. For him it was a personal wish come true to have a children's choir on the album. He is the choir person in the band anyway and he has a big veto right on the choir. Even though we discuss everything in the band, he's the main guy for the choir. So if he has a vision of the choir we listen to him because it's his responsibility and he's always doing a great job. So when he came up with the idea for the children's choir, we were right away enthusiastic about it and he also chose the parts in the songs where he thought it would fit well and he made excellent decisions I must say.

Nicolas: you once said you were disappointed when songs get released as bonus tracks only and that's why you prefer to release an EP following The Holographic Principle. Do you also have some unreleased tracks from the recording session of Ωmega, for a future EP sometime in the future?

This time we focused purely on the album tracks so we already made an early selection of the best tracks for the album and we worked really hard on them. So this time we only have one track leftover instead of a couple so that's not enough for an EP obviously. But we will somehow release this track in the future.

Studio vlog acoustic version (EPICA)

Nicolas: You said Epica is for you just about heavy metal. Is it the reason why you don't get involved in the acoustic version of certain songs?

Oh... I am involved in those acoustic songs but I was in lockdown in Italy so I couldn't be there. Many people asked me why I was not in the video but I was involved by internet. I also made arrangements for the acoustic songs so I sent a lot of files by internet but I couldn't physically be there. I wasn't even allowed to leave my home at the time so I had no choice.

Nicolas: Do you think some day, you could record some acoustic versions for older songs?

Yes, maybe in the future, we will do an acoustic album, that's one of the possibilities. But it's an old idea that we had for a long time that somehow didn't happen yet. But I think that sooner or later, we will do something like that for sure.

Guillaume: Even though you are living far from each other, have you considered playing concerts broadcasted on the internet?

Yes, at a certain point, if it takes too long before we are allowed to play shows, we have to go with the new options that we are left with. And that's the internet show. It's not my preference for playing a show but it's better than nothing. So if it takes a while for things to open again, we will definitely do something with livestream.

Nicolas: 7 years ago, you recorded a show with a full orchestra, followed by its release on Retrospect DVD. Today, Epica is more orchestral than ever, you release the orchestral version of every album. So do you plan to do another live show with a full orchestra sometimes during the Ωmega tour?

Yes, we definitely want to do something with a full orchestra again in the future. We already had quite some plans but everything changed due to the pandemic. So, for now we have to see what other possibilities we have. At the moment, it's simply not possible to make too many plans about things that involve so many people. So we will see what happens in the future and from there on, we can see if we can realize our ideas or if we have to put them in the fridge. (laughs)

Omega's artcover (2021)

Nicolas: What can you tell us about the meaning of the art-cover of Ωmega ? We noticed there are six representations of the same person in front of the maze, in different states (sleeping, searching, questioning, finding,...). Is there one representation for each member of the band?

Listen to Mark's answer

Everybody in life has a unique perspective. So every person that lives on this planet has a unique view of the world. This is why it is so important to be open minded to other people's ideas because nobody has the same perspective as somebody else and it is what is represented in this album. But it's also about the way the same person can have a different point of view at various periods in their life. Certain circumstances in life can give you a different perception or a new wisdom or a revelation that makes you think in a different way. And I personally see life as a big labyrinth. You get bored in it and then you have to find your way. And people who are very curious want to explore all the corners of the maze or see how to make it to the next level or to the core. And some people are fine with it and stay in one corner their whole life, which is also fine. But I'm personally a guy who tries to explore all the different corners, all the different options and see how far I can go. And it's all that's represented on this art that Stephan Heileman made. When we have an album ready, we always send him the music and the lyrics as well as a short description and then he makes something out of it. He always surprises us in a way because we don't want to give him too many directions, just a few ideas and then he comes up with the rest of it on his own.

Music video for Abyss Of Time (EPICA)

Nicolas: Today, most of the bands release only one video per album, and sometimes some additional lyric videos. You, on the contrary, already released two full videos, including an animated one, even before the release of the album. Is the visual part of an album always important for you? Do you plan to release a third video?

There's gonna be a total of four videos. Two are already released and two more are coming (Ed : at the time of the interview, “Freedom” and “Abyss Of Time” were already released, “Rivers” and “Skeleton” Key have been released since). For us, the visual aspect of an album is very important, especially now that the album gets released so late after we finish it. It's nice that we can release the videos already because otherwise, the wait would have been very long for us. And also, the fans can already hear some music and slowly get used to the sound of the new album. So for us, it's a very positive aspect that we can at least work on and release all the videos.