Dutch symphonic Metallers Epica are an international success story and have just released their sixth full length studio album 'The Quantum Enigma'. MetalTalk caught up with guitarists Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye backstage at the O13 in Tilburg, hours before their sold out album launch show.
MT: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Can we start by looking back a little at Retrospect, your tenth anniversary show released as a DVD. This has been a great success for you, do you feel that it was the end of an era and time to start a new chapter for Epica?
ID: As the title says it was a retrospective and was looking back at what we had done and achieved and now it's time to look forward and do something different.
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MT: I was just wondering if this was a conscious thing, a feeling of it was time for some changes?
MJ: It's like a summary of all the chapters we did before, an end of an era and now it is time to write some new chapters. With this album we did some different things, a new producer, a new mixer. We also wrote the songs in a different way, more as a group effort. This feels like a fresh, new beginning. It's not totally different as the new album is clearly still Epica but the fresh wind is needed to fully motivate everyone for the future. This was really good for us.
ID: For me it was just exciting to record the album and that was because things were just different. On one hand you think I hope that everything will go right but also we could just end up making a horrible album! You go for a different producer and it could just be total bullshit so you don't know! It was exciting and also the new people around us were so excited and ready to go for it and I think everything added up and made the whole thing refreshing for us as a band. You can go from touring to the studio to touring to the studio and we switched it around and it was just the best thing we could do right now.
MT: It sounds like you were really happy with new producer Joost van den Broek. Do you like the different sonic feel there is to this album compared to 'Requiem For The Indifferent'?
MJ: The new producer, the main influence he had on the group was that he was there from the beginning, to get motivated himself and to get the best out of everybody. He was the kind of guy who kept the overview but was also there in the early stages when it was little groups of people writing the songs. He was there when we were working on the sounds. He was there when we were working on the details, he was there when we were recording and he was even there for a few days of the mix. He was everywhere! He can't have slept for many hours as he was everywhere at the same time(laughs).
He was sometimes working on other projects simultaneously and I still don't understand or get how he managed to do all these things at the same time. He must have a huge amount of energy but that was what we needed, a guy who got the last 10% out of us. We could have made another album the same way as the last one and would probably have had the feeling afterwards that it was lacking something and could have been better. That's what we wanted this time, that we would be totally happy with the end result and wouldn't listen to it and think it could have been better. Joost was the right guy for that job and made that happen for us.
MT: You've touched a little bit on the songwriting already. I was wondering how the songwriting process works for Epica? Every album is seventy minutes long, every song has lots of ideas within it so how the heck do you put it all together?
ID: That's a good question(laughs). The thing is that it's always different for who is recording. This album has songs from five band members, everyone but Simone has put song ideas on the table. From there we just like Mark already said sat with Joost the producer. I had written a couple of songs and he flew over to Germany where I used to live and we would work on my songs and he and Arien would work on his songs and so on. Mark writes differently than I do, I'm more a typical guitar writer starting mostly with the guitars whereas Mark goes more from a melody or more from the orchestration so that's really different. Obviously Coen with his piano is also doing something different, Arien as a drummer writes in grooves and more rhythmical ideas, Rob with has bass likes to write from a drum and bass groove.
MT: Is it that people come in with song ideas and you all work on those song ideas together?
ID: It's more like that you write the song and then we work on it. Things could switch around, it might be that my intro is cut off or something but the basic idea is that with these kind of songs we went to a rehearsal room or the studio and rehearsed through everything. That's also different from the past where we did the pre-production in our home studio and send it over to each other, kind of tweaking it as we went but it's different if the other band members are right there and you can say hey you should be playing this note or that note. You can go way more into detail and tell your drummer that I want the kick drum on that part of the beat or that should be the groove and that's what adds up to the whole thing. That was really refreshing to sit together with musicians and not sit in your home studio with your technology. It was a whole different way of writing.
MT: That sounds like it would be a lot quicker as well.
MJ: It took longer actually! You can change things quicker and adapt more easily but there are more steps in the process. Usually when we wrote the songs we send each other stuff via the internet and put things here and there and we start recording. Also after the recording you find out which songs work well live and which songs don't and now all the songs have been played together as a band and we know which things work live and which don't. Actually we already know that all the new songs work well live so it will also be nice to select now which ones we will keep on playing live. It will be more or less the fans choice as many people say we want to hear this song or that song while we like them all! We could play the whole album so it's what they want.
MT: As we are at the album release show will you be playing the whole album tonight?
MJ: Yes, now it's our party!(laughs)
ID: Yes, just once in our life we get to choose what to play (laughs)
MJ: It's not all new songs as it's fun to play some old songs that people know so it will be a mix between old and new.
MT: The new album 'The Quantum Enigma' has a theme running through it. I, like I suspect many other people, had to go and look up what a quantum enigma was(all laugh). Is quantum physics a subject you guys think about a lot?
MJ: First of all if you have a title sometimes people don't remember it and don't know what it's about but for some reason the title 'The Quantum Enigma' has something about it, something mystical. It's easy to remember the first time you hear it so it has the advantage that it makes people interested in the topic. Like you did, you go and look it up and if it raises your interest then that's exactly the thing we want to achieve and once you get sucked into the topic I think it's very interesting to know more about it. That's something we wanted to achieve as it's so fascinating, all about quantum physics and what's going on in the universe and the microscopic world which has an influence on the world as you know it. If something is proven in quantum physics it will have a direct influence on the things around it. What does that mean? What does that imply for the world? The way we see the world, is that just because of how we view it? If nobody sees it would that mean it was different? Is it an illusion, is it real? You can really philosophise for a long time about it but I like it. I hope many fans will start doing that.
MT: You have touched on quantum physics before in your lyrics, in 'Kingdom Of Heaven' on the 'Design Your Universe' album. Has it been sitting in your mind for a while to come back to this subject?
MJ: That didn't happen consciously, it was like with the music. You sit down and get a sort of feeling with a song and you start writing and it has all to do with the things that already interest you. Over the last couple of years I've been reading books on the subject and they found their way into the lyrics. So it wasn't consciously that we decided we were going to write about this now, it just happened. It's hard to say how it happens. It naturally evolves.The song 'The Quantum Enigma' wasn't intended to be a sequel to 'Kingdom Of Heaven' but the way lyrics evolved meant that it naturally became one. There were even some music references which fitted. It happened naturally, it wasn't meant to be like that in the beginning.
MT: Writing about quantum physics in your second language, you guys really like a challenge, don't you? (all laugh)
MJ: I have also done some email interviews and I have to choose my words carefully as if you write one word wrong it means the opposite of what you are trying to say sometimes! You really have to think carefully about what you write on such topics.
MT: The fan reaction to the album has been overwhelmingly positive, you must be really pleased.
ID: We are. There's a lot to process on the album, we've been working on it for months and when I heard the final mix I was like damn, there's constantly so much happening and so many layers to it, I was really happy with it and it's gratifying to see it has gone over so well.
MT: I feel myself that you guys are getting gradually a little heavier in style. You have always been a heavy band among all the other styles which you incorporate into your sound but are you going more in that direction?
MJ: The new songs advantages are that the things that are supposed to sound really heavy do sound really heavy. If we would have done this sound in the past then we would have have sounded this heavy on previous albums. Every sound has its' advantages and now when it's supposed to be brutal with almost Fear Factory style riffs it sounds really brutal and that's the effect we like with this new sound. Now when we want to sound really heavy, we sound really heavy. In the past that was not always the case.
MT: I wondered if Arien and his drumming style was having an influence. You get the impression he's sitting there saying faster, louder all the time!
MJ: Yes, it's exactly like that(laughs). If we would let Arien write all the songs we would be a lot heavier and faster!
ID: I was there in the studio when he was recording his drums and sometimes the producer and I would have to say please leave some room there for the vocals or whatever. The drums are the first thing to be recorded so he needs to leave the rest of us some room(laughs).
MT: He has an insanely busy style but is fantastic to listen to and watch.
ID: He is sitting there with a smile doing his stuff and I have to say sometimes can you do a little less?(laughs) Of course he's like no problem and does what we need him to but in other stuff we challenged him as he is just so incredibly good. We said can you take this idea further and go beyond insane and he would just figure it out in two minutes and play it! That feeds into what we talked about regarding Joost the producer, we were all kind of challenging each other. I could also walk into the bass recording and ask for this or that, it was a great experience.
MJ: If Arien was a construction worker he would make extra walls, more rooms, he would make the house completely full, he's just that kind of guy (laughs).
MT: You have one UK date on the tour dates announced so far with this album at the London Forum on December 6th. Will there be any more UK dates?
ID: So far we have no other options arranged, we might be doing a festival there but nothing is confirmed yet. We have divided the tour into two parts because Simone now has a kid and Coen has two kids so we don't want any legs of the tour to be too elaborate. We therefore have to choose where to go carefully and in the past we've done a separate UK run, doing a UK tour separate to any other plans.
MT: So you have no plans to play the UK outside the London date in December then? After the 2012 tour when you even played Scotland for the first time I was hopeful we would see more of you!
MJ: We would like to play everywhere but you have to make decisions because of the kids, we have to pick what shows to play. If we wanted to we could play a show every day of the year but it's not possible for us unfortunately. We get letters from everywhere saying why don't you come play here, don't just play Mexico City, there are other cities in Mexico and so on(laughs). We can't please everybody. Also I've personally been doing this for seventeen years now and sometimes you want to be at home and do things that normal people do (laughs).
ID: Like getting drunk on the couch (laughs).
MJ: The UK is a market on its' own and we would love to work it harder but we're pretty busy until summer 2015 already so that's something we'll have to look at down the road along with Scandinavia and Russia and other areas which are off route, harder to get to places. Until then I hope the one date makes everyone a little happy (laughs).
MT: How do you see the future of Epica going forward?
MJ: I never look too far ahead as things always go differently than you expect but personally I would like to see us keep this line up for a while to keep it consistent and see what we can do with this sound we have.
ID: The main thing I learned from this album is that while music is a business it has to be fun other wise you can't go on with it. I think this was really refreshing and that we have taken everything to the next level. We already wrote the songs, we already worked on them but if you motivate each other, have nice people around you and are a good team then that's what I hope for this. It's my job and I want that it's still exciting to me and that five years from now I can say yes, got a new album to record! The new songs are great, that's something I really enjoyed this time working with a new producer but so long as the spark is there I want to keep doing it.
MT: Well we at MetalTalk definitely want much more Epica in the future. Thanks for your time and good luck with the show tonight and the tour ahead.