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"Keep thinking yourself, don't just believe every news you get there, keep an open mind and read also other sources of information."

Interview with Simone Simons and Mark Jansen (EPICA)

When talking with Mark and Simone from Epica, you always get an interview mixing two different styles : the former has a warm and easy going personality when the latter has a dry but great sense of humor. It's also nice to note the extra effort made by both of them to punctuate the conversation with a few french words. In the end, interviewing Epica is also the promise of a very interesting interview we will not forget anytime soon.

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Interview done by Guillaume, Sabrina and Nicolas in Paris, the 1st of July 2016 and transcribed by Sabrina.

Vous pouvez également lire notre interview en français

Guillaume: During our last interview together in 2014, Coen told us that The Quantum Enigma was the best metal album ever.

Simone: That sounds like Coen yes, very modest! (laughs)

Album cover of the Holographic Principle (2016)

Guillaume: So could you confirm that The Holographic Principle is the new next best metal album ever?

Simone: From Epica yes, let's keep it modest! (laughs) I think we once again exceeded The Quantum Enigma. You know, we set the bar really high for The Quantum Enigma and we were thinking "What can we do to even maintain that level or improve the quality?" . We've had five guys in the band writing songs like crazy in between the touring and the back lounge of the bus, on the airplane, on the toilet (laughs) to come up with a huge selection of songs. We had like twenty seven songs and from there we could chose the best ones to record. So we recorded eighteen of them. Twelve are on the record, six are on stand-by but we will all use them. And for this production, we worked with a bigger orchestra. We had a brass section, we had all instruments on proportions you can imagine. We had our drum tech bring a huge truck or percussion instruments and all the guys were like hitting the drums and everything, to make our album as live as possible. We have a heavier sound, the guitars are more up-front to have Jacob mix it as a real metal album. So in a nutshell, it's the best Epica album.

Mark: It is possible that some fans will say it is the best metal album but we would never say it ourselves! (laughs)

Simone: We will leave that to Coen!

Nicolas: The traditional first question. Can you explain why the album is called "The Holographic Principle" and what is the main theme of the album?

Mark: I can explain that! (laughs) It's a theory of some quantum physicists that are really into the idea that the universe might be a hologram. And as the technics develop, we come to the point where we can put on a mask where we really find ourselves in a world completely similar to this one and we don't notice the differences anymore. It's just that one is the virtual reality and the other is the actual reality. And then there's a moment you might realize that this reality is also a virtual reality on its own and might be a layer of a higher reality. And then you go really wild. (laughs)

Simone: And then you go crazy! (laughs)

Nicolas: Is it a concept album? Are all the songs about this topic?

Simone: Almost yes. It's the red line that goes through basically each Epica album from The Phantom Agony until now. We only had one officially announced concept album but I talked to another journalist before and he asked me if it's a concept album. We write songs first and then the lyrics come after. And if you really want to do a concept, like tell a story from the beginning until the end, you're a bound to a chronologic order and theses songs, even though they have the holographic principle in them, they're mixed and matched through the whole record. We also have other topics as well. We talk about the refugee drama going on all around the world and "Divide And Conquer" is about politics and power.

Mark, during our interview in Paris, the 1st of july 2016

Guillaume: About that, I was wondering if there's a relation between this political song and the holographic principle.

Mark: There isn't, that one of the side step songs. That song gave such inspiration to write about something that have been keeping me busy already for a long time. All the western world divides the middle east and conquers the countries and take their ressources. I had the feeling I had to write something about that too. It didn't really fit into that concept but that's why we don't literally write concept albums. Cause we want to always have the freedom to make a side step.

Nicolas: We had a question about this song so we're going to stay on this topic.

Simone: You heard a familiar voice in it maybe? (laughs)

Guillaume: Yes! The shot noises at the very beginning of the song and the political speeches caught my attention. After some research, I understood that the speeches were from John Kerry, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mark: There are Hillary Clinton and Obama too. But you got three of them, that's already good!

Simone: Yes you get ten points for that! (laughs)

Guillaume: And they were called "liberators" of Libya at the time.

Mark: And I don't totally agree on how it was presented in the western media.

Guillaume: Yes exactly. And it's also very controversial because we know that today Lybia is not really free. They have a lot of problems because of the many ethnies and political parties. Is that your point too?

Mark: Exactly that's my point and I think in here, I think in France here it's exactly the same as in The Netherlands, you get the news on television and they tell us we are here to bring freedom or democracy to the people. But if you watch other tv channels like Russia Today you get a completely different point of view. And they say that the European leaders decide to go there to conquer the countries and take their ressources to make the big corporations rich. And who's right?

Guillaume: Yes and it's also the same problem with Isis.

Mark: Yes it's the same with this all Isis thing and it makes me really sad that a lot of fear is being spread and there's terrible things happening. That's for sure. But we don't get the whole truth by the media in Europe. So it's good to watch different channels and also think for yourself and talk to people in the countries. I have lots of contact with people from Syria and Tunisia and you get quite different stories from these people than what you can hear on television. And these people live there, they know it first hand what's going on there.

Guillaume: Do you have the feeling that the medias in The Netherlands are European oriented?

Mark: Definitely yes, and not only European Oriented, they get also news straight from America that they copy/paste. They just broadcast what America wants them to say. Some things are okay, but there are also things that are questionnable, to say the least. (laughs)

Guillaume: And the shot noises that we hear at the beginning of the song are from Benghazi where there was an attack?

Mark: Yes it was from Benghazi and it was a movie that really got me. I was watching it and there was a guy, he's posing and shooting and then suddenly, he gets a bullet in the head and he falls dead on the floor. At first he's playing really cool for the camera and then boom suddenly he's dead. And I got the goosebumps watching this. And I thought this is so confronting that we should start the song with that. It's one big mess there and there are so many different sides of the story. So I just wanted to say: "keep thinking yourself, don't just believe every news you get there, keep an open mind and read also other sources of information." Media is also owned by corporations and they're not going to tell things that are conflicting with the interests of the corporation they are owned by. There are people that say medias are independent but of course they are not. There are a few that try to get the truth about things but most of them don't.

Guillaume: The song "Universal Death Squad" also seems to refer to the war, is that right?

Mark: Yes, in a way, it refers to these robots who get power to decide themselves to shoot. And they are really developing these kinds of robots which are not controlled by any humain being. They just make up their mind and kill. They have the power of decision built in their machinery. They're programmed in a way.

Guillaume: You're talking about drones?

Mark: Drones are already an example, but they're also working on these deciding and killing robots, they're getting developed. That's the next step. First there's the drones then there's those robots. They send robots instead of people.

Sabrina: It's really terrifying.

Mark: Yes it is!

Promo pic of Epica (2016)

Sabrina: Once again, the album fits “perfectly” within the regular limit of 75 minutes (it lasts 73 minutes). You already told us that you have six other songs recorded. Was it easy to chose which songs would go on the album and which ones would be bonuses?

Simone: It was not easy because we wrote and recorded all the eighteen songs to be potential songs on the CD. Also you always need to keep in mind that there has to be a good flow on the record. To keep the attention of the listener and to not overflow the listener's ears with too much information. That's why there's almost always a ballad in the middle to calm everything down. But we have eighteen songs in total and they're all going to be released at some point. And each member of the band had their own personal favorite so we made a list and I think the producer also made a list. And democratically, we saw which songs have the most votes and they we started like a puzzle, putting them next to each other and listening to it to see if it feels like an album. And we also had some listening sessions in Germany before the definite order of the songs were known and we asked the journalists what they thought and to give us their honest opinion. And we decided the final track list after that.

Nicolas: I felt like there are some progressive metal pieces in the new album, especially in "Beyond The Matrix" and “The Holographic Principle”. Do you agree?

Mark: Yes definitely. We've always been a band that combines different styles of metal. We've got death metal, a little bit of black metal and definitely also some progressive metal parts.

Nicolas: And there's also a kind of Disney part in "Beyond The Matrix".

Mark: Yeah I know which part you're talking about. (laughs)

Nicolas: But we love Disney so it's not a bad thing. (laughs)

Simone: It was more Disney before, we dialed it down.

Mark: Yeah it was sweeter before and we thought it was a bit too much. So we made it slightly less so but it's still a little sweet I agree. But when we took it out, the song didn't work so we put back in and it works. But it's funny that you point that part because we had this other song that was completely a Disney song but it didn't get selected to be recorded. (laughs)

Simone: No, we kept that for the Disney metal for kids! (laughs)

Nicolas: Oh so we won't get to hear it? (laughs)

Mark: No that was too much Disney. We also like Disney but it shouldn't be too much.

Simone: Yeah it was a great song but not good enough.

Guillaume: Can you tell us bands that influenced you in black/death or progressive metal?

Listen to their answers

Mark: Yes I've always been a big Dream Theater fan, Opeth, especially the older Opeth when they were more death metal. There's also this one band I recently discovered, it's with Damian Wilson on vocals.

Simone: Threshold?

Mark: No, I can't remember the name. (probably Headspace) But I mostly like progressive bands that are not too progressive, who still have good choruses and a good structure and that just go wild here and there, not all the time. That's what we try with Epica as well. We try to keep an open mind.

Simone: I'm a big Opeth fan as well. I love Rammstein too, even though you don't hear them in Epica. I listen to other bands and respect them for what they do and I do my own thing with Epica. And I like to listen to other styles too. But there are mainly children songs playing in my home. (laughs) But I like Nina Simone so I listen to jazz as well. We recorded a few acoustic songs where you can hear that influence a little more.

Guillaume: Are you listening to these bands during composition and recording process?

Simone: No mostly it's like when I'm in the shower. But besides Epica, I don't really listen to that much music because we're constantly surrounded by music. I mostly listen to it when I'm on an airplane or in the tour bus. But I like to have peace as well. I listen to the songs that the guys compose and that's my inspiration for lyrics and vocal parts.

Sabrina: When you start listening to the album, musically speaking it sounds more upbeat and happier than the previous ones. But when you listen to the lyrics it sounds just as serious and political as the previous ones. Was there a delibarate will to create such a contrast?

Mark: Well there's a big difference between Isaac's songs and my songwriting for example. I use many more minor chores and scales and Isaac the major. And that's what makes it sound happy because that's his taste. I think that's really nice for the ballads. So we have the best of both worlds. A whole album with minor would be too much but a whole album with majors would also be too much. There has to be a balance.

Simone: We call Isaac mister major (laughs) because we sometimes have to tone down the majorness to make it not too happy.

Isaac on the stage of la Foire aux Vins de Colmar, the 5th of august 2012

Nicolas: Now we would like to talk about the art cover by Stephan Heilemann. It's amazing. Can you describe some of the different elements for us? What is the signification of the binary code?

Simone: Yes, it's the universe, our perception of the universe and reality. You see the black hole, the lines of computer code. You see a woman representing mankind, looking into the universe. You see the triangles and those unnatural shapes and the leaves on the other side that represent this clash of nature against our digital time.

Mark: One funny detail that almost nobody sees is there's also a flat Earth on the cover. But the flat Earth has a ball on top of it so it's flat and round at the same time. Because there's this serious discussion on the internet with people saying that the Earth is flat and the other saying that they're completely out of their mind of course. So we put it like the Earth is flat and round at the same time. (laughs) That's a version of things that we almost never see elsewhere. Because from our perception, the Earth is flat and if you look at it from the universe, the Earth is round. So what's right? (laughs)

Simone: Well if you cut it in the middle, it's flat. A sphere always holds all shapes within it.

Nicolas: Is the art-cover, like for "The Quantum Enigma", only part of a bigger painting?

Simone: We did also include a bit of the Quantum Enigma in the artwork or the booklet, because they are both connected through the quantum physics. But it's not like you know, when you unfold the booklet, you have the artwork. It's going to be a normal booklet but with details of the Quantum Enigma.

Guillaume: A fan on your Facebook page suggested that the tracklist on the back of the booklet, has the shape of a keyhole.

Mark: (laughs) I didn't see that!

Simone: Well yes if you align it like that in the middle. But what I noticed is that if you align to the left, it almost always has the shape of a E.

Mark: But I like the idea that it has the shape of a keyhole, we can make a really nice story about that! (laughs) We can say we put it intentionally like that and it's the key to the answers of the universe. (laughs)

Simone: To the Epica universe! It's funny how everybody perceives things differently.

Mark: With this keyhole, if you find the key... (laughs)

Simone:'ll know my room number! (laughs)

Sabrina: Let's talk about the special event in France next year! You’re gonna play for the first time at the Zénith, in Paris, and it's announced like a big show. What can you tell us about the forthcoming tour? More pyros, some big screens? Will there be anything different from the previous tours?

Mark: Yes, we are working on something very special that's never been done before. And there are some light prototypes that are being developed but we can already bring them on tour.

Simone: French product! These holographic lights are amazing, it's going to be our new show whenever we will have the means to transport it. Because here in Europe, we can have extra trucks with us but when we're flying to the US, we have to figure out if we can transport them because they're very impressive things.

Mark: And we already did a video shoot with this light and it fits perfectly with the holographic concept.

Nicolas: So you made a video for a single.

Simone: Three videos!

Mark: We shot them both in one day from morning till night. Simone even shot until 3 AM in the night.

Simone: There was a lot of make up involved! (laughs)

Universal Death Squad (EPICA) lyric video

Sabrina: And can you tell us for which songs you shot or is it a surprise?

Simone: It's a big surprise. But we're probably going to release a lyric video first and then an official single. And then another one after the release of the album. Probably next year. We have a lot of cool things coming up for the fans!

Guillaume: And the Paris show will be the last of this tour?

Mark: Yes and also the biggest that we do on this tour!

Nicolas: You should record it!

Mark: Yes (laughs) There was this show that we did at the Elysée Montmartre once, it was such an amazing show. It's such a pity that we didn't record it. But we never know which ones are going to be the most magical beforehand.

Nicolas: We're going to make a lot of promotion, it's going to be sold out and you'll have to record it! (laughs)

Simone: We will probably bring our camera team. To the bigger shows we bring our camera team, to record at least a few songs, maybe the whole show. They're also the ones that record our videos now. But that's something we still have to discuss because we still are creating the light show for the live and everything and if the pre-sales are going really well then we can maybe invest more money in special effects. But we will make it a night to remember for sure. (laughs)

Nicolas: We'll be there!