An Interview with Epica's Mark Jansen
Epica is a powerhouse symphonic metal act that has brought fame to the Netherlands. The distinctive vocals of Simone Simons and front man Mark Jansen’s death growls give Epica an edge that makes them popular with more than just the traditional symphonic fan, and their latest live album, "The Classical Conspiracy," is one of the finest pieces of musicianship I’ve reviewed. I recently had the opportunity to ask Mark and Simone a few questions about "The Classical Conspiracy," and managed to get some insider’s info about their new release slated for this fall.
Nichole Nash: "The Classical Conspiracy" has just been released, and is hands down one of the best live performances I’ve ever heard. How do you orchestrate something like that, with all the choirs, orchestra, etc.?
Mark Jansen: It’s a huge project. Oliver Palotai of Kamelot arranged a big part of the orchestra for us. Of course, many melodies were composed already by us, but it needed to be rearranged for every single instrument in the orchestra. It took him about two months, twelve hours a day.
Nichole: What made you decide to cover classical pieces, and how did you choose which ones to do?
Mark: In Hungary, they already made a concept of how the show had to be. First, a part of classical music, and after that an Epica set list. That was part of the deal. The opera festival in Miscolc is a returning yearly event which takes place in one whole week. The show of orchestra with a band is one of the activities.
We liked the concept so we decided to go for it. Fortunately, the organization was also into adding some film scores, and we were totally free to choose classical pieces. Of course, we had to submit them beforehand, but they liked all our choices. Every band member except for Ad and Arien chose some classical pieces.
Nichole: Who are your favorite classical composers, and which pieces did you choose?
Mark: My favorites are Vivaldi - that’s why I chose Presto, Mozart and Rachmaninov.
Nichole: What amazed me about "The Classical Conspiracy" was its length, especially because it was live. Is that typical of an Epica show?
Mark: It would be impossible to play that long during a tour. But as this was a unique concept and a unique show, we could play that long. A normal Epica set is between 1hr 20min and 1hr 50mins long. We prefer playing longer than one hour, as we have many long songs.
Nichole: You head out on tour this month, and end with a show in Amsterdam at the Paradiso to celebrate the new album. What’s it like to perform at this historic site?
Mark: Paradiso will be the starting point of a European tour, but it’s not online yet -the Euro tour. This venue is one of the most beautiful venues in the world. I have played several times with different bands in this pop temple and every time it’s so exciting!
I look very much forward to this show and I hope that it will be sold out again, like last time. Amsterdam is also a nice city to play. It’s funny - the first time we played in Paradiso, nobody over there believed we would be successful in Amsterdam so we had to pay the venue by ourselves and take all the risks because otherwise we couldn’t play there. We sold out the venue!
Nichole: What are some of your favorite live venues, or best experiences?
Mark: Paradiso – Amsterdam
House of Blues – Los Angeles
Citibank Hall – Sao Paulo, Brazil
Z7 – Pratteln, Switzerland
All over the world I have gathered great experiences - too many to name.
Nichole: How about any live catastrophes?
Mark: One of our trips to Turkey was hell. Most of the band members got a very bad food poisoning, the festival got delayed, and we played at 3 am. Two bags with our passports were stolen and the local authorities weren’t that friendly, so that was not a big success. But we still love to play in Turkey, that won’t change.
Nichole: You guys are fans of and friends with Nightwish. Any possibility of a joint venture between the two bands?
Mark: I hope we can do a tour in the future together. Would be a very good combination indeed.
Nichole: What’s it like touring and working together as a couple? Are there ever times when the rest of the band might want to run away?
Mark: Simone and I were together for four years, but there’s no couple in the band anymore. It’s not an ideal situation to have a couple in the band, that’s for sure - because there’s no clear border between private life and work. I think the current situation is way better for the both of us.
Nichole: Your next studio album is slated for release in the fall. How is work progressing along?
Mark: It’s going very well, and I’m very excited. For every release, we try to push our limits a bit further and improve ourselves. Fans know this, too, and the expectations are high. But that’s no problem. I prefer challenges over the easy way.
Nichole: Any hints on the title or track listing?
Mark: There will be more or less twelve songs on the album. The title will be "Design Your Universe." It’s about recent quantum physics investigations which seem to prove the existence of many more dimensions, and the ability of consciousness to create - which makes us creators instead of spectators. A very interesting concept, which I can tell you more about next time!
Nichole: How are things going with the new guitarist, Isaac Delahaye? What has he brought to Epica that maybe was lacking before?
Mark: The collaboration is going very well. He’s the man who can lift Epica to a higher level as he’s also an animal on stage besides a great guitarist. And that’s what we needed.
He also brings in some guitar solos here and there. That was something our previous guitar player wasn’t that much into.
Nichole: Simone, how do you keep your voice so strong? Any specific exercises or lifestyle habits you maintain?
Simone: What my voice always needs is a lot of rest. I try to sleep at least 9 hours. On tour I sleep even longer because I have problems with sleeping on a tour bus. Besides sleeping I try to eat healthy and work out in a gym twice a week. I don't drink or smoke or party when we are on a tour.
There are certain voice exercises I do, but I try to do the ones that are very quiet, like humming and some funny lines to warm up the mouth and tongue. There is one line which I learned while preparing for the musical that I've played in last year, and that is: "Johnny has a head like a ping pong ball, ping pong, ping pong," and that is really long. Your tongue is then in the right position for singing.
Nichole: One of the things that amazed me is the formal music training everyone in the band has, and it got me thinking about how under-funded the arts are in America. Is that also a problem in the Netherlands?
Mark: In the Netherlands, there are, or were, many funds for musicians, but due to the financial crisis, this is gonna change too, as the government cannot spend that much anymore. So the arts are always one of the first things given up during certain periods of crisis.
Nichole: What’s the metal scene like in the Netherlands? Anything you’d like to change about it?
Mark: Metal is always a bit underground, so I don’t want to change anything. As long as there are people who don’t want to follow radio music like sheep, they can rely on the metal music.
Nichole: Mark, you also have a Masters in Psychology. What made you decide to give that up for music? Any plans to pursue psychology later?
Mark: I always follow my heart and I always did. That’s why I started studying Psychology, as I liked it a lot, but my biggest passion is music. When I believe in something and I go 100% for it, I know I am able to reach my goals. You don’t need to be the most talented to reach what you want in life; you need the guts and persistence to realize your dreams. That’s what I do, I go 100% for it, and I enjoy every minute of it. I don’t know if I will ever do something in the Psychology field again as I’m satisfied with what I’m doing now. In the future there will be new challenges, I’m sure of it. It’s just what you do with it. People sometimes say that I’m someone who can take big risks. I see it differently, I don’t take risks. When I do something and it feels good, I’m pretty sure it will work. So for me it’s not a big risk at all.
Nichole: If you weren’t part of Epica, what would you be doing?
Mark: This is my goal in life, I couldn’t imagine something else.
Nichole: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Mark: Thanks for all our fans who are reading this and future fans. Without you guys, we couldn’t do this and we’re very curious what you think of the upcoming album.
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