Artist: Epica: Mark Jansen (lead guitar)
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Interviewed By: Ken Pierce
Epica is the Symphonic Gothic Metal act from Holland who we last saw in the USA as the opener for Kamelot. Now recently signed to Nuclear Blast Records, the band has released their third album “The Diving Conspiracy”. On their stop in New York City at The Highline Ballroom I made time to do some interview stuff with them as well as cover the show. My plan was to meet with lead guitarist and band founder Mark Jansen along with their amazing singer Simone Simons but on arrival at the venue I found only Mark available. With four bands in total tonight the venue was packed with musicians and their techs as they hurried to be ready for the doors to open so Mark suggested we walk down to the nearby waterfront area on the West Side Highway so we could talk in peace. Peace? NYC? OK Mark, I’ll give it a shot. Below is our entire conversation.
PiercingMetal: Here we are sitting with Mark Jansen of Epica and it’s so nice to have you back in the Big Apple again. So let me ask you are you happy to be bringing Epica back for a full tour so soon after the last time.
Jansen: Oh yes absolutely and we try to be on tour as much as possible and visit many diverse places and its great that the United States is also one of these spots that we can do tours because the United States is such a big area and we try to come back every year and hopefully build up something so that every year we can play for bigger crowds. It all depends what happens on this tour about what we will do next time as far as whether we will come back as a support act or another headlining tour and this also depends on the opportunities that we get. If we can support a really great band then we will take that opportunity for sure even though if this tour is going really well. So far so good.
PiercingMetal: When we first met, Epica was on tour with Kamelot as they supported their album “The Black Halo”. Now that this tour has finished I’m curious about the overall experience as a whole for a band like Epica, especially since that last time we talked it was during the first time that Epica music had really officially been presented to the US audience in the live sense. Please give me some thoughts on this.
Jansen: Yes it was a great experience last time with Kamelot because to many we were quite unknown and a lot of the people who came to the concert for were for Kamelot and there were only a few Epica fans. Yet I think we surprised a lot of people because after the show we had a chat with many people and they told us over and over again “wow, this band is great and we want to see you back again” or “we want to see a lot longer set list”, so this was a very nice experience for us. Also at the beginning of the show most people were standing still and during the show they got more loud and by the end of the show they got wild. So that was a really good sign and it made us very happy that tour with Kamelot. It was the right opportunity at the right time.
PiercingMetal: Now that tour was in direct support of your own release at the time, “Consign To Oblivion” which was being re-released on Candlelight Records as I understood as the previous label Transmission Records was falling upon hard times. Did you find this album being well-received at the time for this totally new audience or did it seem like to you that more people were aware of Epica than you might have imagined.
Jansen: Uhm, I really don’t know because even now its rather hard to say how many people are aware of Epica already. It’s really difficult to say and by that time Candlelight Records was re-releasing the album but Transmission was doing really bad just at the time that the deal was signed so I have no idea really what happened exactly from then on. I don’t even know if the old releases are still available because I just bought the last bunch of CD’s from The End Records because they still had some but I have no idea what will happen with the old records because Transmission doesn’t exist anymore but they still do have all the rights of the albums. Let’s just hope that all the old albums will still be available because it would be a real pity if nobody could get them anymore.
PiercingMetal: The end of the tour came with a couple of double shots that no band wants to deal with, the first was the seeming full dissolution of your records label Transmission Records and then the second the quitting of Jeroen Simons, your drummer. What was it like to complete a rousing success with this kind of drama?
Jansen: Well its not fun because we had considered that United States tour our best tour so far and right after that tour Jeroen Simons decides to leave and he had already decided this during the tour and when you get back home off the tour you realize everything. So yeah it was really hard for us because all the six of us were together for five years and nobody had left and everybody was happy but then it turned out that for almost a year he was not really happy anymore. He was always kind of a loner and he was always in the back of the tour bus sitting by himself and in the end it just seemed like he didn’t like touring anymore and being away from home playing the same kind of music every night which is not really even his type of music. So I understand his decision but still its difficult especially because its hard to find a really good replacement and we don’t want to make a step back, we want to make a step forward with a new drummer. This is why we have Arien van Weesenbeek drumming on the new record but he is very busy with God Dethroned so we still haven’t found a replacement or a permanent one. So far we are working with Arien and Kuhn Hoerst who is another drummer from Netherlands and hopefully one of them will decide in the future to stay with Epica because that would be perfect.
PiercingMetal: In proving that most rainstorms end with a rainbow …….(we both laugh at how it sounds). This sounded good on paper, sorry….so the band found themselves on Nuclear Blast Records. Please tell me how you ended up on this great label and how the relationship has been so far.
Jansen: It was a very funny story because when this ended with Transmission Records we decided to sit and wait. We didn’t contact the labels ourselves and instead we waited to see which labels would contact us because then you know for sure when a label contacts you then you know for sure that they are really interested in the band. So a lot of labels expressed interest in us, even Nuclear Blast, but they offered deals that weren’t very good. So we got to the negotiations with Century Media and we almost signed the deal with them but the only problem was that it took very long to work on the last details but the positive thing from that was that after awhile Nuclear Blast came back to us and they offered us a much better deal. So after several months they suddenly realized that they really wanted this band Epica on the label and later on it seemed that internally they decided not to sign a female-fronted band anymore because they had already Sirenia, Nightwish and After Forever. But when they heard the new Epica stuff they realized that we should not let this band go and Markus the owner, he himself offered us the deal. In one week we agreed and we signed the final things and within that time we became a Nuclear Blast Records band. Its strange how things can go.
PiercingMetal: Which finally brings us to the new album “The Divine Conspiracy”, congratulations on this smoldering hot piece of music. Let me ask you a few things about it with the first being – did you feel you had to create the Epica “magnum opus” now that you were on a label that has a much wider reach than you had with the Dutch label?
Jansen: Well when we started composing for this record we thought it would still be released under Transmission Records as we had started composing it two and a half years ago already. It was only in the end when the songs were almost ready that things began to go wrong with Transmission Records. For sure the third album is a very important one for a band because it’s the album that a band proves that it has the right to stay or blow up everything and disappear. We realized that this one should really be THE RECORD and that’s why we worked even harder than on the first records even though we always worked hard on our records. This one took almost half a year longer just on the last details and I think it paid off because we are very happy with the end result. Also in the studio we took a little longer time to record all the stuff to take more time for the details. We even did a pre-production on the vocals so everything was better prepared this time.
PiercingMetal: I guess this might be a little bit of the same kind of question but how easy or hard was it to put this together compared to “The Phantom Agony” and “Consign To Oblivion”.
Jansen: Well with “The Phantom Agony” that’s in a way much different because it’s your debut album and there are no high expectations yet so in the end for that you are just making music freely. With “Consign To Oblivion” there was some more pressure but this time we could take all the pressure away. We could just make the music that we really want to ourselves – all of the stuff had to come from our hearts and it was a long time ago that I made music this way. Without thinking, just doing whatever comes to me. That’s also the main reason that the album sounds so heavy because I didn’t think like “oh maybe it’s too heavy or too Metal” as opposed to being a little bit more mainstream. This time I just said fuck it and let me just do something that is cool for myself and when I like it a lot I am sure that the diehard Epica fans will like it as well.
PiercingMetal: As we’ve discussed briefly, the drumming was done by the God Dethroned’s own skin basher Ariën van Weesenbeek – how did a member of one of Holland’s leading Death Metal bands even come to mind as the perfect person to record the new album? Did you find he was easy to work with as opposed to the bands previous drummer?
Jansen: Yes to answer your last question because they are so different these guys. Arien is the most easy-going guy you can imagine. Behind the drum kit he is a beast and then when he gets off his drum kit and he starts talking to you he is such a modest guy and very different. The same happens in the studio, because he is so easy-going and he brings up great ideas which was very different from Jerouen I have to be honest. Sometimes Jerouen was really a pain in the ass in the studio. When you had a suggestion he would sometimes say fuck off or something and then he would do it his own way. Sometimes this could really be good but sometimes this could cost the band. So it was really a relief to record with Arien because he was really a good guy. To answer your other question we were not afraid that his power would be too heavy for Epica because he had also recorded the CD with Delain which is a Dutch Gothic Metal band who are in the vein of Within Temptation. So we thought if you take Delain and you take God Dethroned and mix it up, it becomes something Epica-like. You have the heavy stuff of God Dethroned in our music and the more melodic side of Delain. So it made us think that Arien would be the perfect drummer, and it turned out to be great so I am really glad that we took this chance to have him on the album.
PiercingMetal: My next question was going to be about how come he was NOT touring with Epica in the States but then I walk into the venue and there he is on his MySpace.com page. How did he end up coming on the tour as opposed to Koen Hoerst I had read was coming.
Jansen: First we asked him …
PiercingMetal: It was money wasn’t it?
Jansen: No actually he is also pretty easy going with money as well. He is really one of these guys who loves to drum and when he wouldn’t have liked the music he wouldn’t have done it. Even if we offered to pay him double – he said this to me, if he doesn’t like the music there is no way that he will do it. However he liked the Epica stuff so much in the studio that we asked him first if he wanted to be our permanent drummer but he told us about his commitments in God Dethroned, and we told him that we understood and the second question was can you do some tours with us because we didn’t find another permanent drummer yet and the standards he put on us were very, very high. He told us yes if he had some periods of time where he was available that he would love to do tours with us. So we sat together also with the other drummer Koen who is doing some tours and we filled in all the stops. We have some spots with Koen and we have other ones with Arien, and the US tour just happened to be with Arien.
PiercingMetal: Let’s talk about some song-writing now. On the first album it was pretty much mostly you doing it and then with “Consign To Oblivion” we found Simone doing a lot more in the way of contributions and now with “The Divine Conspiracy” it really seems like the whole band is involved as far as the song-writing. There are two songs written by Yves the bass player – how did this work out for you as a band and did you find this to be a positive experience and something that you would do again in Epica’s future.
Jansen: Yeah, yeah I always said this to the band that it doesn’t matter who writes the stuff but it only matters that the stuff is of the highest possible quality. So whoever comes up with a great piece of music it will be used. There are some bands that I know where there are two people who write the music and it always stays like that because they want to earn all the money. For us it doesn’t work this way as instead we want the highest quality of music so the more pieces that are delivered to me the more colors I can use. It’s like a painting. I cannot do it on my own, well, perhaps I can but if I did I am sure that the album would not be as good as it is now. So my only hope is that the guys keep on contributing this way in the future because it brings the album to a higher level.
PiercingMetal: I definitely find the new album a very-exciting listen. What would you say some of the factors that inspired the writing process were? Past experiences in Epica, or stuff you had done in your lives outside of the band, the world, etc. This album is VERY heavy at times and there is a lot more blast-beat drumming over some razor guitar riffs. You are doing a lot more of the Death Metal growls in places where you used to wait to put them in and now you are now waiting. Was the heaviness in part to having the Death Metal drummer on board or was it how you always envisioned Epica’s sound?
Jansen: That goes to exactly to what I mentioned before in that we didn’t think too much and instead just did it. For “Consign To Oblivion” there was a time where we said oh lets not put this kind of drums onto it in case we want to get this on the radio, but with “The Divine Conspiracy” we just did it, and we get inspiration from all the things you’ve mentioned and we put them together into one big concept as this became a concept album. I find that you always need new input to get good output. If you want to ask a question about the concept I can explain it.
PiercingMetal: Hey let’s talk about the concept.
Jansen: Good idea, what do you want to know about the concept?
PiercingMetal: You wrote the question so how about you just tell me everything.
Jansen: The concept in short is about dealing with God or a higher spirit who leads many religions of mankind. As a test to see what would happen if people would be fighting each other forever and say that their religion is the only true one or they would see that all kinds of religions have a lot in common and would respect each other more and find out if all religions all lead to the same source. That’s the big test that we are facing – still we are fighting each other and the big question is if we would see it or not and the whole concept is leading to this final question – “The Divine Conspiracy”. Of course there is a lot more to the concept, there are a lot of side steps that all lead to this final concept in the end. There is quite a bit in there.
PiercingMetal: Are you happy with how it came out in the end, when you sat in the studio and listened to the final mix. Was it exactly how you wanted it to be?
Jansen: Yeah because we wanted it to be heavier, we wanted it to be more raw and where the guitar riffing is more important. This was because “Consign To Oblivion” was really orchestral and this time we have made more room for the guitars. Who knows what we will do next, perhaps make even more room for the guitars but I am very happy with the way that it turned out. We were surprised that Sascha (Paeth) could make a mix like this because he had never mixed a band like us before this time so it shows that he is really a multitalented guy.
PiercingMetal: Was the album cover your idea?
Jansen: No, that was Simone’s idea really but everybody thinks it was one of the guy’s idea or even the record company’s idea but it wasn’t. It was all her.
PiercingMetal: She certainly is a tough one. OK, so I am wondering if you think that your own instrumentation has evolved since the band first formed. As a guitar player, I mean with your own creativity.
Jansen: Yes definitely and the main difference is during “The Phantom Agony”, I wrote almost entirely on keyboards and then I added guitar riffs together with the rest. Yet on this new record a lot of the riffs started with the guitar and that’s what I want to do more in the future as well.
As Mark continues to talk, a car alarm breaks the relative quiet of the afternoon but I keep talking which seems to amuse him greatly.
Jansen: I hear this kind of noise all the time in New York, but you are just sitting there.
PiercingMetal: Well, you wanted “Quiet New York” and this is about as quiet as it gets.
Jansen: Don’t worry I can keep on talking. So back to the albums, that aspect is what I want to do more on the next records – start with the guitar riff and add some keyboards later and I already have a couple of songs for the next album and they were also started with the guitars. So my goal is to try and have the guitars be even more interesting next time. There were some guitar guys who came to the concert and they told me that “oh I played your record and in one day I could play all the songs” so I said, “well done, but next time I will make it harder for you” .
PiercingMetal: Ah, so people who are full of shit come up and talk to you as well I see. Let’s talk a little bit about being a Dutch act now. We have Within Temptation, and we have After Forever, which was actually a very close act to you at one time and it seemed as thought there was once some tension but now that has broken.
Jansen: Yes that is all solved.
PiercingMetal: Do you think we will ever see an Epica and After Forever tour?
Jansen: Yes, yes, but I don’t know when it will happen yet that it will happen is something that I am very sure of. Both bands are very busy at the moment but we have talked about it together and there are so many people who want to see this package on the road.
PiercingMetal: You know we have Within Temptation here on Friday.
Jansen: Yes I know. We played something like 100 miles in the other direction but we could feel that Within Temptation was playing because it was not too crowded for the show. They are also Dutch so its good to find that the Dutch are invading the United States.
PiercingMetal: You want New York back don’t you.
Jansen: No, we don’t want it back but we want the piece back that belongs to us (hahaha), just a little piece of New York is good.
PiercingMetal: What other kind of stuff do you do outside of your work with Epica if anything.
Jansen: I sport a lot, I do a lot of cycling and fitness things. Besides that I like cooking and while I don’t do it that much yet, I think I need to do it more often. All the work however is for Epica and I am almost working some 24 hours a day on Epica stuff. Even when I am sporting I am thinking about what needs to be done and as long as I can make a living out of this it is possible this way. We can even evolve more so that every person in Epica can make a living out of it. That is my dream for everybody in the band.
PiercingMetal: Another album you did was called “The Score” and it was literally the score for a movie. Do you think that you will ever do something like this again either outside of the Epica world or in its context.
Jansen: Ahh that doesn’t matter for as long as there is a new opportunity I will take it especially if it is a more professional film production than the last time because that one changed so much of my music in the movie that I really didn’t like it so much anymore in the end. I think that there will be a new opportunity in the future and perhaps even at the end of this tour because I had a conversation with a guy about the concept of a movie and when it looks good then perhaps that will be the chance and if not then we will wait for another chance. For sure the certainty is that I want to do it again.
PiercingMetal: Just a couple of more quick ones before we go back to the club. What is the state of Metal according to Mark Jansen?
Jansen: Hmm, what is the state of Metal you say. Well, its hard to say sometimes because Metal always goes with ups and downs. In some parts of the world Metal is really big and in other parts of the world its small but it never dies. Metal never dies – it is always there even in periods of time where it is difficult, it will always survive because there are always Metal heads and there is always an underground scene so it seems that Metal will always remain forever alive.
PiercingMetal: Any closing thoughts about the tour and what is next on the plate for Epica?
Jansen: Well, let’s see. This is now the fifth show that we are doing and there is still a long road to go and there are twenty three in total with our last two being with Overkill so those will be fun as well. It’s always a pity that the tour gets shorter and shorter the longer that you are on tour. I want to tour always and forever and when a tour is over it’s always a feeling of sadness for me. So I hope that I can enjoy every minute of it and that the tour lasts forever but when its finished we just look forward to the next one.
PiercingMetal: We’ve talked about the Transmission Records back catalog of music but what about that DVD that you filmed for this “Road To Paradiso”.
Jansen: Sadly that is also there and we had a talk with them about two months ago about this stuff and they are not willing to move an inch unfortunately. They only want to do better off of it themselves – this guy Hans van Vuuren, I don’t know how long he wants to wait with it because its almost to the point where it doesn’t make sense to release it anymore but I really hope that it all gets released as its such a pity that such a great DVD goes unseen. I saw all the images already and everything was worked out for it, it was almost mixed already. It would be such a pity if something like that couldn’t be released anymore.
PiercingMetal: Thanks Mark for your time – I know you are going to kick some ass tonight and we are happy to have you back in our town.
Jansen: I look forward to this one because we heard the pre-sales were pretty good so I am excited.
Mark asked if we could remain by the waterfront for just a few more minutes instead of running right back to the venue as he was enjoying the relative quiet and calm that was for some odd reason happening at the close of our discussion. Given he was a visitor and that I seldom find a quiet space on the West Side Highway I obliged him. On our return to the Highline Ballroom he was greeted by fans who wanted to shake his hand and take photos with him, and he quickly accommodated them. The bands started up earlier than expected and he made sure to watch them all along with the other guys in Epica. I was supposed to meet with Simone but she had not been feeling well that day, and would remain at the hotel until closer to the show time. We would have to do our interview sometime after the show if time allowed. Epica really kicked ass tonight and I was glad to have sit and talked with Mark about so many of their plans both past and present as they aim for the future.
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Official Web Site: www.epica.nl
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