In-person interview with Mark Jansen of Epica
By Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal
February 18th 2010, House Of Blues, West Hollywood CA
Andrew: How's the tour going?
Mark: Above expectation! It is our fourth tour in the U.S. and the second headlining tour. So this was the tour that had to pay off finally. We invested a lot of energy, time and also money to be honest, (laughs) in the U.S. and now it's a really great feeling when it is starting to pay off. First of all, the fans appreciate the latest album so much that everyday people come to me and say that it is really great. That's a fabulous feeling and also that people show up in such big numbers. So I'm really happy.
Andrew: You have to tell us about the bus accident. What happened and where were you at that time?
Mark: We were on the Rocky mountains in Canada and it was on a snowy road. I already didn't feel comfortable so I went to the driver and asked him how it is going. He said its fine but I asked him if it wasn't slippery and the road was wide enough. But he said it is going to be ok. I went to bed but I couldn't sleep, I still felt uncomfortable. Then suddenly we heard braking and a huge crash near the back of the bus. Some people were rolling out of their bunks. Then we stopped and made sure that everybody was ok. We went outside to take a look and saw that the other car was completely damaged and we have been lucky that the driver could prevent a head-on collision because that would have been way worse. I don't even want to think about that. (laughs)
Andrew: How different was the whole process of writing and coming up with the music for 'Design Your Universe' as compared to the previous effort 'The Divine Conspiracy'?
Mark: The biggest difference was that I wasn't working together with Ad Sluijter. He wasn't motivated to work on the new songs so I worked on them without him and later on he was obvious why he was not motivated because he left the band. But back then I didn't know he was going to leave so I wrote the songs myself and when later on Isaac joined the band, in the last two months of the writing process he worked his ass off to develop the guitar lines. So that was the huge difference compared to Divine Conspiracy and I think this resulted in more workout and more detailed guitar lines. I personally like it a lot and cannot wait to work on the next album. Our work has evolved, but it can be even more developed. So I look forward to the writing process of the next one.
Andrew: Epica's music has been defined differently by everyone, including band members. Simone says its Symphonic metal, you call it something else. How exactly would you describe the music to a person who hasn't heard your band?
Mark: I was sitting in a sauna and one guy asked, 'Hey what kind of music do you play?' I was just talking to him there. I did have my swimming pants on, (laughs) I started talking to him and I thought he wasn't into metal at all. I started explaining that Epica is a small band and things like that. He told me he knew Epica and I was surprised. He knew a lot about us. But I still had to explain what kind of music it was. He knew the name but not the music. So I said, if you take all the orchestration off, its death metal. So its death metal combined with opera and classical influences. There are many genres combined in our music. We even have little bits of black metal. Death metal is there as I said, then folk and power metal influences, rock and classical music. So there is so much that we don't feel that there are any boundaries. We can do whatever we want. (laughs)
Andrew: What contribution has Isaac been making and what are the things he has brought to the band?
Mark: On the live shows to start with, Isaac is completely different guitarist than Ad. Ad mainly focussed on his playing and Isaac is a great guitarist in general but he is a stage performer. That's what we missed a little bit with Ad. He's more like a studio musician. Great studio musician, great guy, but he is not really a live stage performer. So live it was always a little bit like, we are quite an energetic band and Ad was always a bit slow. Now its in balance and it's a great feeling. Ad didn't like to play solos so much and Isaac does, so that's another huge difference. We are more melodic than before. Ad was more riff oriented and about rhythm parts. Isaac is more melody oriented.
Andrew: Simone said in a recent interview that she would be working on a solo album. Does that affect Epica at all?
Mark: No, because when we write new music, Simone always gets involved in the very last process of the vocal lines. The biggest amount of work is making the music and structures. Vocals are the last part so she does have a lot of time to do whatever she likes. Even I started a side project. Its different music, so there's no overlap between parts that I want to use for Epica. So, the project I'm doing is way louder and heavier. I think, as long as I have time for it, its no problem. Sometimes it is just nice and refreshing to work with other musicians and finding a new way of working and making new music. That keeps you fresh, because all the time if you work the same way it gets boring. And getting bored was killing me. So I was happy when Arien van Weesenbeek joined the band. He brought new influences, so did Isaac. So that keeps the writing process refreshing. But now I also seek for some heavy stuff.
Andrew: Simone's boyfriend Oliver has been the replacement for your regular keyboard player. How did that work out?
Mark: Yeah! Our keyboard player [Coen Janssen] is going to marry. We had to find a solution for that and the solution was very close, (laughs) and we didn't have to search that long. The singer's boyfriend on keyboards. Very handy!
Andrew: How much of a challenge it is to write music to combine your vocals and Simone's vocals?
Mark: We developed a very natural way. We already feel like what are my parts and what are hers. Wherever she has a great vocal line already, that's obvious that she is going to sing in that part because a great vocal line is what gets stuck in the minds of people. So I just take for myself parts that feel good for my voice, and she takes parts that are good for hers. We write the music first and then do the vocals. Many bands work the other way round. I already know when I write music that there's going to be a great vocal line on top because when you write music you feel that there will be a nice vocal line. It works out like that for 90% of the time, and if it doesn't work, we throw the song away. This is our way of working and it works very well. (laughs)
Andrew: Have you had a chance to listen to the opening bands on this tour Blackguard and Threat Signal?
Mark: Yeah every evening whenever I have time I check them out. Specially, Blackguard surprised me a lot. Threat Signal I knew already. When we had a choice to pick a band for the tour, we chose Threat Signal because they are melodic as well and also very heavy. I like that, but I didn't know Backguard. I checked them out and when I listened to some of the music I was already feeling that its nice music. When I saw them live on the first night of the tour, I was overwhelmed. That band deserved to make it. They give all their energy on stage, have some great melodies and it just fits. I hope that band is big in the future.
Andrew: What are your upcoming commitments in the studio and on tour?
Check out the band at www.epica.nl
Mark: We will continue writing new songs. We already started and I already have a whole lot of ideas. So we have to work them out and start developing new songs, because the new album has to be at least as good as Design Your Universe, otherwise people are going to be really disappointed. So probably we're going to go in the studio in 2011 to record. Till then we'll keep promoting this album. [Design Your Universe] There are still a lot of regions to go. We will go to South America, a new European tour with the summer festivals and some markets where we haven't been yet like China and Korea. We are headlining everywhere, finally! Sometimes you get a really bad treatment by headliners. That's also why we do it different. We give our support acts all the love we can, and all the possibilities. That's the way it should be and headliners should not treat the support bands like shit. People who buy tickets want to see three nice bands and not two bands who face all the difficulties from the headliner, to not be able to use any lights, not able to use the full sound capacity, not able to hang all their t-shirts. All these restrictions make me sick. So when we take support bands on tour with us, we give them the best possible treatment. I hope that one day when we tour with other bands, they do the same to us. It has to change somewhere. (laughs)