Epica’s latest album, entitled “The Quantum Enigma”, may very well be their finest effort to date. ThisIsNotAScene caught up with Mark Jansen (guitars) and Simone Simons (vocals) on a sunny afternoon along one of Amsterdam’s many canals to discuss the band’s upcoming record, the Retrospect project and the potential pitfalls of using social media when you’re in a famous band…
“The Quantum Enigma” is seen by you guys as a fresh start for the band. Care to explain?
Mark: Of course! There are a couple of reasons why we see the new record as a fresh start. With “Retrospect” we looked back on the first decade of our existence and what we have achieved with the band so far. Our musical style evolved quite a bit over the years and we really want to add some new elements in order to keep things interesting and fresh for our ourselves and our fans. The key element in this was getting together in a single room again and write music together as a band like we used to back in the day. We really missed that kind of chemistry. On “The Quantum Enigma” we worked with a new producer. He had a couple of new ideas and he really managed to get us out of our comfort zone, which was very helpful as well. We also used a new guy to mix our album, which gave it a fresh sound. All those things combined gives us the feeling we’ve opened a whole new chapter in the band’s history.
So what made working with Joost van de Broek, the new producer, such a different experience compared to previous experiences?
Simone: Sascha Paeth from the Gate studio is almost like a band member for us. He simply knows us too well. We really needed someone from the outside in order to get us going again. Joost has a very hands on approach and he was involved with every aspect in recording the album. He has a very energetic and upbeat personality, which stimulated us to really push the envelope on “The Quantum Enigma”.
Mark: His enthusiasm for the whole project was really contagious. It really helped me and the band as a whole to give it our all.
What was it like to record an album in the Netherlands again?
Simone: Well, I live in Southern Germany now days, so recording an album in Wolfsburg (that’s where the Gate studio is located.ed) or in the Netherlands doesn’t really matter for me as far as as the distance goes (laughs). We actually recorded a song for a charity project at Joost’s studio before and we really felt comfortable there. It was really nice to be together as a band, because we live so far from each other and we all have our own studios at our respective homes. For me personally it was also a great opportunity to visit a couple of relatives (laughs).
Mark: The atmosphere in a studio is also very important when you’re recording an album. That notion really struck me while working on “The Quantum Enigma”. The whole positive vibe really propelled the record.
Simone: We actually made dinner for each other. We really felt like a cohesive unit again. Even when band members were done recording their parts they stuck around for mental support. The whole experience was really that good.
The album also marks Rob van der Loo’s recording debut for Epica. How does he fit in the band?
Mark: He comes from pretty much the same area as most of the other band members. He knows and understands where we’re coming from, so that made him a great fit since day one. Rob loves to cook, so that’s always a plus (laughs). The guy is also a great musician and killer bassist. He was the perfect choice for us and we never looked back.
What’s the main concept behind “The Quantum Enigma” and where do you get the inspiration for all those grandiose concepts?
Mark: “The Quantum Enigma” is basically about the notion that everything that happens around you is influenced by your own perception. The world we know is only real to us because we give it a certain meaning. The way you perceive the world around you and the meaning you give to certain experiences is based on your own reference framework. It’s a really thrilling concept and I could talk for hours about it. I read countless books about this subject and Discovery Channel is also a great source of inspiration. My obsession with this drives my girlfriend up the wall sometimes, but it’s all for a good cause (laughs).
So when you have the first sketches for a new concept ready and you present it to the other members, how do they generally react?
Mark: I didn’t need to explain the concept behind “The Quantum Enigma” that much really. Simone writes at least half of the lyrics and she instantly understood where I was aiming for.
Simone: We both had our our favourite instrumental parts to write lyrics for. We both decided which parts we would work on individually and work from there. Mark gave me a free hand what I could write about. Because of my pregnancy I haven’t done as much as I would wish, so Mark wrote some more lyrics this time around. He explained the overall concept to me and within that framework I started to work on my own lyrics.
Would it be a fair statement to say that “The Quantum Enigma” is a concept album in the best Rush and Dream Theater traditions?
Mark: No, not really. It’s more like a record with an overarching theme than a full blown concept album like “The Wall” by Pink Floyd. Making such a record is something we don’t want to do at this stage. Making an album with a full story really puts limitations where you can go musically speaking. I really like to have that freedom to add or drop song to the very last minute. This is something you don’t when you’re working on a real concept album like “Operation Mindcrime” by Queensryche or “Tommy” by The Who. I may revisit that idea sometime in the future, but it’s not something I’d like to do with Epica at this point.
How do you look back on the whole “Retrospective” project?
Simone: I’m really proud of what we’ve managed to pull off. It’s the culmination of twelve years blood, sweat and tears. It was like a dream coming true. It was a great experience to celebrate this with our Dutch fans. The sheer scale of the whole project was dazzling. It involved choirs, a string section and a three hour setlist. It was an exhausting experience, but absolutely worth it. I’m also proud that we’re still a relevant force after spending ten years in the music business.
Mark: The music industry is pretty much done for and a lot of bands and artists are suffering because of this. Knowing this makes me really proud that Epica is still thriving as a band. We’re able to make a decent living as musicians, which is quite a luxury nowadays. It’s good to be grateful for what you have.
Last year I did an interview with Coen Jansen (Epica keyboardist) and he made some very astute observations about social media taking the magic away from being in a band among other things. What are your own thought on social media in general?
Simone: The positive thing about social media that it gives you a platform which enables you to reach out to a lot of people within a very short time frame. On the downside it gives certain people an excuse to say really nasty things about bands for no reason at all. Another thing that happens nowadays that people actually record the whole live show on their smart phones and put it on Youtube for instance. It may not capture the energy of actually being at our live shows, but I see it as another way to convey our art as it were. It also gives people who can’t afford to be at our shows or to buy our albums to be a part of the whole Epica experience.
Mark: I think the positive aspects of social media outweigh the negative aspects of it. I do understand where Coen is coming from though, because social did take some of the magic away of being in a band. Social media allow fans to have a look inside the inner workings of a band and it does take some of your privacy away. However, I really like to interact with people and social media like Twitter and Facebook are great platforms to communicate with our fans. It does happen occasionally happen that people think that you’re actually friends with them because you replied to one of their messages on Facebook. This can lead to awkward situations at times (laughs).
Simone, you gave birth to a baby son last October. How did this change your outlook on being in a touring band?
Simone: Being in a band like Epica isn’t so much a job as it is a way of life. I always wanted to become a mother, so being away from my son is something that comes with being a touring musician. My husband is also a musician, so he’s basically being raised with the idea that both his parents are touring musicians. Being a mother has really enriched my life as a human being and that’s something you can also hear in the vocals on the new album. I miss him terribly when I’m touring, but then again touring is the only for our band to make a living and raising a child costs money, so in a way it’s a classic catch 22 situation. I do have the best of both worlds. I’m a mother and a singer in very successful metal band.
Would you be interested in doing an album, something totally different from Epica or metal in general?
Simone: I recorded some vocals for Timo Tolki’s (former Stratovarius guitarist) Avalon project. My own jazz project is put on hold indefinitely, because of our relentless touring schedule and when I’m home my son demands all my attention, but I’m still very much interested in jazz and classical music.
Finally, what touring plans do you guys have in support of the new album?
Mark: We’re going to play at Pinkpop for the third time and we aim to play as many festivals in the Summer as we possibly can. There are already a couple of them confirmed, but I’m not at liberty to tell you which ones, so I’m sorry for that. Once those are done we’re going to tour in South and North America, there’s a European tour scheduled and we’re also looking into doing a tour through Asia. I would love to do a full Russian tour, because from what I’ve heard it’s pretty crazy over there (laughs).