About Me

Interview with Epica

This time, Metal Imperium had the privilege to chat with Mark Jansen, guitarist and singer of the band Epica. Super charismatic, he answered our questions about “Omega”, their eighth album, soon to be released on the 26th February 2021, via Nuclear Blast. 
He explained why they chose the name for the album, the orchestration, the instruments, and how the pandemic affected the creative process.
He’s one of the most important people in the Metal scene and studied psychology, and he even gave us some good advice concerning this pandemic. A true gentleman!

M.I. - Hi there, Mark. Hi hope you had a great Christmas, with good health.

Yeah! I had a very good Christmas time. A bit different from all the other years, obviously. But within the things that were possible, I had a very good time. 

M.I. - Omega is an ancient Greek letter and also the name of your 8th studio album. Why did you choose that name? Are you interested in ancient civilizations? Which part fascinated you the most? History, psychology or more stuff?

Omega is a derivation from the Omega Point, which is a theory, from a French priest, who says that everything and everybody in the universe are fated to spiral towards a final point of unification. That would be, if you date the Big Bang. Everything started from one point of unification and then, in the end, everything goes back to one point of unification. I thought it was a very beautiful theory, but Omega Point didn’t sound so good to us. So, we took just Omega as the title, instead of Omega Point. 
Yeah! I love ancient civilizations, because I think that we can learn a lot from ancient civilizations and I actually also believe that, sometimes, ancient civilizations became very advanced and then, for some reason, they got thrown back in time, like almost wiped out and humanity had to start all over again. Because, you see, in History, like the pyramids in Egypt, they are built, so well crafted. It’s not possible to build it, just by people who have no idea what they are doing. So, I think that we go in cycles, that every time a civilization gets very advanced, just like we are now, something happens and we have to start all over again. 
It’s the wisdom of the ancient civilizations that attracts me the most, but also the craft of the buildings. It’s old package, I think I’m always seeking the wisdom people had back in the days. 

M.I. - Five years went by between “The Holographic Principle” and this album. What makes this one standout from the previous albums? Is it the lyrics, the orchestration or the instrumentation?

The orchestration I must say, I really liked it this way. We worked with an orchestra, in Prague. When the whole orchestra is playing the music together, it really comes alive, because on “The Holographic Principle”, we also had an orchestra, but every section got recorded on different days. We had the violin, woodwind, percussion section. Everything recorded on different days. But when they played all together, I think it’s even better and I really love to hear them playing the music. The orchestra stands out a lot on this “Omega” album. Also, we tried in the mixing process, to keep the balance intact. Sometimes to give the guitars priority, sometimes the orchestra, instead of all the time having everything upfront. And this gives much more space and dynamic. 

M.I. - Twelve strong tracks were written and chosen this time. It’s clear that you are awesome songwriters. Since you’ve studied psychology at university and you’ve known each other for so long, was it difficult to choose the song that could fit better each one of you? Which songs represent each member?

Yeah! If I have to pick for each band member a song, that represents the band member, I would say: for Simone, “Rivers”, maybe from the new album, because I think Simone’s voice sounds most beautiful in the ballads. For Ariën, I would say “Martyr Of The Free World”. It’s a heavy track and Ariën comes from a Death Metal band. He loves to play fast. That’s also one of his songs: “Martyr Of The Free World”. Then I would say, for Rob, “The Skeleton Key”, because he wrote that song and it shows typically the capacities Rob has that I suck at. I would say “Beyond The Matrix”, that’s the best song that he wrote. One of the strongest Epica’s songs, in general, when we play it live. People love it. Then Coen is also the guy who’s a really good ballad writer/composer. So, I would say one of the ballads that he wrote, that would fit best best to Coen. “Rivers” was written by Rob, but mostly all the ballads were written by Coen. For myself, “Kingdom Of Heaven” would fit best to me, because I love long songs and I can go wild in the long songs, in all directions. It’s chaotic, but also structured. That’s exactly how I am, in my life. I’m chaotic, but also structured, at the same time, which sounds opposite, but they can make each other stronger, in a positive way. And sometimes, you also can make a mess out of it (laughs), but, usually, it’s a strong point. 

M.I. - Which songs were more challenging to sing and record? Will you have enough material to make another album? Maybe an EP?

I think “Omega” to sing, was the most challenging, because I tried a different approach at first, but then, Isaac wasn’t satisfied with the result and he wanted to have it in a bit of a different way. Then I tried it in a different way and it worked really well. Even though it was not much of a challenge, it was the most challenging, because everything else went really smooth. All the other things I recorded, everybody loved it right away. It was just one part in “Omega”, that I tried with a different type of voice, that he didn’t like, so I re-recorded it. But the rest, I must say, were really smooth recordings. It went very well. 
No! At this time, we have only one song, that it’s left out and we will, sooner or later, release this one song as well. But we didn’t write many extra songs this time. We fully concentrated on the album songs.

M.I. - Since you live in different countries and this pandemic didn’t help, how did you discuss the process of the songs and music? Was it a challenge to meet each other, in these troubled times, to come and record this record?

The songs and the music we discussed already before the pandemic, when we were together. We had no difficulties with that. We were face to face, discussing everything, working on the songs. The pandemic hit, when we were almost done recording the album. So, it didn’t happen at a bad time for us. We were actually quite lucky, that we were pretty finished, with the recordings. I just had to miss the acoustic recordings, because I was in lockdown, in Italy, in my home. That was a bit of a pity. I had to see, by Internet, how they were recording all the stuff, for the acoustic four tracks. That was a bit sad, that I couldn’t be there, because of my lockdown. Everybody had to deal with their local rules. Here in Italy, we had strict lockdown, at the time. 
No! Not a hard time, because like I said, most things were finished. It was only my vocals and Simone’s, at the end, that were not possible to record in the studio, anymore. I had to record my part, in my home studio. And Simone had to record her parts, in a studio close to the place where she lives, close to Stuttgart. That was the only challenge. For the rest, everything went exactly like any other album. 

M.I. - Arien is, indeed, a beast on drums and his playing amazingly. Did he write his parts? What drums did he use this time to create his sound?

Yes, yes, yes! He even writes some songs. He’s part songwriter, but also loves his drums. He always had his own approach. When we program the songs that we write, with our own drums, we always leave it open for his interpretation, because he always has some good ideas to add himself. He’s totally free in his drumming. Of course, when something doesn’t fit, we always say: “Arien, here it doesn’t fit! This what we expect!”. Or Joost! He has always clear ideas, of what he wants for the drums, too. But Arien has a lot of freedom, with his drums. I think he’s such a great drummer. We should give him his freedom, otherwise he feels like he’s in lockdown (laughs). 
I think he has a drum deal. He uses the kit, that he gets provided from his deal. I don’t know the deal he has at this moment. It’s best to check out on the website, on the gear he uses, in the studio.

M.I. - For the guitar and bass parts, did Isaac, you and Rob use vintage or modern amps? Will we hear some sounds, to create some kind of atmosphere? Did you make a guide, to remember lines, that would sound cool, such as on studio or live?

All vintage! Because the modern amps, even all good that they are, we use them, for example, live and certain situations, but for the album, is still the vintage stuff that works the best. We took our Bogner and Bogner Überschalls. Those are the amps we use. Also, whatever we can do live, but for live shows, we use digital amps. I really think that the vintage stuff still is unbeatable. 
Yes, yes! Specially in “Rivers”! The song “Rivers” is built on sounds. And the sound gives you the mood. In some songs, the sounds are more important than others. For example, in the heavier songs, there’s more energy that matters and, in the quieter songs, there are more sounds that build the oppression and the mood that you get. So, it depends on the song, where the emphasis goes to, more to the sounds or the energy.
Yeah! We always take lines, definitely on this album, even more than on other albums. That when we have to go to play them live, the energy has to get cosmic to the crowd. We analyze, which songs in the past, are working best for festivals, for example. Like “Beyond The Matrix”, “Cry For The Moon”, these kind of songs. And we tried, in the new album, to write a couple of more in this direction, that we would have a bunch of songs, that would do really well on festivals, for example. 

M.I. - Let’s talk about the orchestration, shall we? The “City of Prague Symphonic Orchestra” was chosen for the challenge and was the first time you had a full orchestra. How special was it and why did you choose this one and not any other?

This one has already done a lot of recordings. We’re very impressed by them and their quality. There are two reasons, actually. First of all, their experience. They’re one of the best orchestras in the world. And, second of all, if we would have recorded with the same quality, with an orchestra, in the Netherlands, we would have spent four times more money. And we simply don’t have that money. So, we wanted the same quality, but with the budget that we had. 

M.I. - You even have added more instruments, to put more flavour into this record. Care to name a few, please?

For example, the zither. It’s one of my old-time favourite instruments. Besides that, I like brass. Not specifically one instrument out of the brass section, but when brass comes together, it becomes so huge, it always gives me goose-bumps. I also love one of the violin section, the cello. I really love the cello. Just a beautiful instrument. 

M.I. - You have also a children’s choir. What was the most enjoyable part of this process?

Coen was there for the recordings, together with the producer Joost, but apart from the stories that he told, it was very enjoyable to see the kids having so much fun, singing all the parts. And also, that’s why they kept it not too strict, because kids should have fun. That’s what kids should do in their lives. They should just enjoy it. They were having a good time, playing a bit and then, they were focusing on the singing. When you have a children’s choir, that’s a sound you can never achieve with a normal grown-up choir, because it’s such an unique sound, that you can only achieve with children.

M.I. - Joost van den Broek is, once again, the producer. Since you’ve worked with him for so many years, you had no difficulties. What did you want to achieve this time, that he helped you with?

Producer Joost is a very important element of the band. He’s one of a kind! He’s not only a good producer, but he’s also somebody who keeps a scheduled time, so he keeps the whole band on schedule. He also developed himself into a great mixer. He became like an “all in one” (laughs). Definitely we’re going to work with him on the next album, again. 

M.I. - “Abyss of Time” is the first single and you worked with Grupa 13. Where did the video shot take place and did you create the costumes?

The costumes are part of Grupa 13. They focused on the costumes. They did all the work. We only had to make the storyline with them. All the rest, they took care of. We arrived here in Poland, they took care of all the locations and the clothing. We only needed to do our part of the job. And then, when we got the first result of the video, we gave them some comments, they adapted it, sent it back to us, they adapted… until everybody was satisfied. And then, we were ready to go.

M.I. - “The Wolves Within” is the next single and you said that this song is based on an old story of a fight between two wolves. This is also a lesson about ourselves. Do you think that, despite this pandemic, people are more miserable? How did you create the effects?

It’s the first song of the album that we wrote. So, it was the very first song and then we finished the album with all the other songs. 
Yes! I noticed clearly that some of my friends, were really suffering and also saw online, that some people are feeling very sad. So, I think it’s very important, that more than ever, we support our friends and try to cheer them up, even if we can’t see them physically, very often. Still there’s other ways to be there for our friends. I thought that, some of my friends are so devastated, that they say they don’t see any reason to live anymore. It’s very hard, also for me, of course, to hear such things. It’s very sad that everything is focused on Covid-19, all the time. But I see a growing big problem, of the mental health of the people. This problem is getting bigger and bigger. For some reason, not many people are discussing this problem and if this really continues like this, I’m afraid that many suicidal people will commit suicide. I think it’s very important that this gets to the surface as well, because it’s not only Covid, Covid, Covid. It’s also dealing with people’s mental health and giving them a reason to live, the happiness in life… instead of all the time the sadness of Covid, Covid. I noticed many people are really suffering from it.
The effects of the video were made by a Dutch guy and he’s an animator. His second name is Knol and he had already made some other animation videos, that we were impressed by and we asked him to make one for us. We went back and forth in the end for the details, but he worked, three months on this video, to make it. It’s a huge amount of work, but the final result is really beautiful.

M.I. - You recorded 4 acoustic tracks. "Abyss o' Time" is the Irish pub version of “Abyss Of Time”, and you even made a video of it. What was most challenging? Singing in Spanish?

(laughs) Singing in Spanish can be hard for Simone, which is not a native Spanish speaker, but she got the best teacher she could get: Marcela Bovio. She’s from Mexico. Her mother tongue is Spanish. She helped Simone and, together, they made it work. 

M.I. -  Once again, the "The Epic Apocalypse Tour" was postponed to 2022. Thoughts about that? Will it happen? 

I’m not Nostradamus (laughs). Of course, I want it to happen. It’s beyond our control. For us, we are basically waiting for it to happen, as every band is. Every time you have to postpone it, because the pandemic is taking longer than expected. Actually, I was already one of the guys, who said, in the beginning, that this is going to take a long time, this pandemic. All the people were more optimistic and planned earlier. It’s unfortunately, a big trouble, this pandemic. The only thing we can do, is patiently wait and hopefully, the least amount of people will die of it. That’s the most important now and whenever it is possible again to do shows, we will be more than ready.

M.I. - Thanks once again for the interview and happy New Year, Mark. Words for Portugal and the fans?

Happy New Year and thank you very much. Thank you all very much for supporting us already, for so many years. We had already so many amazing shows in Portugal. I’ve spent so many great times with you, guys. It’s now a hard time and everybody has difficulties this time, but let’s keep the spirit up. And when this is all over, we will be back and celebrate with all of you.

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Raquel Miranda