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Epica Interview 2007

Present - Jason Levine, Mark Jansen (guitars, grunts) & Simone Simons (vocals)
Interview took place in New York City
September 9, 2007

Jason:  You just put out The Divine Conspiracy a month ago here in America. How has the album been doing so far?

Mark:  What it's doing here I have no idea. (laughs) I hope that it's doing well. But as we are on tour you don't have much contact with your record company. So I have no idea really.

Jason:  Even in Europe?

Mark:  It's now released also in Europe. In Europe I think it will enter the charts in the Netherlands, and hopefully also Belgium and Germany...and for sure in Austria. (laughs) That was the joke for my friends over there in the band Visions Of Atlantis. (from Austria)

Jason:  With this album you took the music to an even grander level. What was the inspiration behind The Divine Conspiracy?

Mark:  We had a lot of bad experiences after the Paradiso gig. Our record label went bankrupt, Our drummer left. So there was a lot of negative energy during that time period. We tried to put...to turn that negative energy into something positive and that end product became "The Divine Conspiracy". So when all these things that happened, we worked even harder. So you can say that if something negative happens to Epica that something positive will happen in return as well.


Jason:  Does this album feel more personal because you don't own the rights to your music put out through Transmission anymore?

Mark:  Yeah. We even wrote one song about Transmission Records called "Menace Of Vanity". It's a happy song with happy lyrics. Of course we can be very thankful for the beginning period. Transmission did a lot for us then by putting a lot of money into Epica & a lot of energy. But later on when we wanted to keep on growing we were like hitting the ceiling all the time and Transmission didn't have the power to bring us to the next level. So in a way it was also good for us that they went bankrupt because now we are with Nuclear Blast and they have the power. So that's what I mean. Every time something negative happened it was be turned into something positive.

Jason:  Has Nuclear Blast been taking care of you pretty well?

Mark:  Yes, They have.

Jason:  The first time you came to America was as a support act for Kamelot. What was the decision to headline this time around?

Mark:  Yeah. The first time we got an opportunity to tour with Kamelot and Jon Finberg the booker. He asked us "Do you want to come back again"? We tried to put a tour together with another female fronted band which became Visions Of Atlantis. So it was a good opportunity for us to come back and headline. Otherwise we would had to wait for another support tour and we only wanted to support a really good band that would draw a big crowd. So maybe if another chance comes to support a big act, we will take that opportunity. Otherwise we will want to keep coming back as a headliner. But it all depends on what is available.


Jason:  As a headliner you played for almost an hour and forty five minutes tonight which is unheard of here in the States. Do you like to play long shows?

Mark:  Yeah. There are always some positive things about long shows. One of them is that our fans always asked when we supported to please come back and headline. That way we could play much longer. We could also play all the favorite songs. So it has a positive impact to be able to headline. You can always play longer. On the other hand it also takes more of your energy. So the off days end up being useful. Very useful.

Jason:  You added songs to your encore that weren't on the set list. How does the band decide this?

Mark:  We go by the energy of the crowd. If they are excited during the show we want to give them more. They pay good money to see us and we like to give them something special. Usually we play 1 or 2 songs after our set when the crowd shows great energy. Tonight we played 3 songs because the New York crowd was amazing.

Jason:  How has the crowd reaction been so far?

Mark:  So far really good. Sometimes we have a smaller crowd, but even the small crowds are really energetic. A crowd like tonight was truly amazing. This is why we are making music.

Jason:  You really fed off the energy of the crowd. Are the bigger European shows always like that?


Mark:  Only in the better places like Paris...Spain. In The Netherlands not really. (laughs) We have played so much in the Netherlands that people are a little bit spoiled. But when we would headline in the Netherlands people would act like this as well. We did one show in the Paradiso which was a mixture. The crowd was a mixture of fans from all over Europe and some fans from the United States, Brazil & even from Israel. That was the most amazing crowd I have ever seen. So it is also possible in the Netherlands, but then you need a mixture of everybody all over the whole world.

Jason:  Speaking of the Paradiso gig. How did the idea of making a book and album come about?

Mark:  Yeah. We wanted to do the release. The Road To Paradiso was what we decided to make. Because it was the idea of the record company as well. They wanted to have something extra in between our cd releases. And we said yes, ok. Only If you make it beautiful then we can agree on that. And they did fortunately. Next time when we make a book we want to be some years further in our development. To have much more interesting stuff. Then we couldn't say anything about Transmission because they were our record company. So everything had to be nice. (laughs) Now the Paradiso DVD itself still cannot be released because Transmission Records still owns the rights. They don't even want to sell us the rights. So as long as nothing changes the DVD still will never be released, which is unfortunate because it's a great DVD. I saw all the images already, and it's such a pity that this show can not be released yet for others to see.

Jason:  Would you like to eventually buy rights or wait until...

Mark:  We've tried already so many times.

Jason:  ...or wait until the rights become available?

Mark:  We've tried to buy the rights but he doesn't want to sell them. The Transmission owner that is.


Jason:  In the book you had fans submit stories & photos. Who's idea was that and how connected do you feel to your fans?

Mark:  Also the record company's idea, but that was also an important thing for us. To have such positive input. It was their idea to make a book from the fans and also for the fans, and that's also why we agreed on the book. Because our fans are very important for us, The fans are everything for us. Without fans no shows, Nothing. So that's also why we go always through the crowd and chat with the people. Pictures. Stuff like that. I think that if we could not do that anymore then it would also not be as much fun. So, I think we will always do that unless we become like... the Rolling Stones. (laughs)

Jason:  But for now you have a very close relationship with your fans?

Mark:  Yes. Absolutely.

Jason:  How did you feel when all those letters came in for the book?

Mark:  Very emotional reaction to read what music means to people. Some people were even up to committing suicide and then because of our music they kept themselves alive. That's what they wrote. In spite of these things, I can not even imagine how music can be so important to people. But apparently it is...That's just a great thing to read.

Jason:  You've used Simone on many of your covers. Who's idea was it to use the latest picture of Simone on the cover of The Divine Conspiracy, the band or hers?

Mark:  No it was her own idea. (laughs) Everybody thinks it was the band's idea or the management's idea. But she wanted this herself. We even had to say to her it really has to be artistically done otherwise we don't want it. Then she said of course it has to be artistic. So we said OK. We waited for the first result and that looked pretty cool. So we said OK.


Jason:  You use her pictures in most of your artwork. Do you feel it is good to have a female lead as you had with After Forever also where your singer's image is used to promote the band?

Mark:  Yeah. I think image is very important for that. Of course music has to always be the most important thing. But if you have a good looking singer then you should use it I think. A band like HIM. They have a male singer. All the girls love him. So love HIM. (laughs) You got that one. (laughs) Yeah that's because of his looks. So I think if somebody has the looks you should use it.

Jason:  After this tour you go to the Metal Female Voices Festival again. Epica has played there 4 times in 5 years. Is this a special concert for you every year?

Mark:  Yeah. This person even said he invented the concept for us. Because in the beginning we didn't have many shows yet and actually Philty (organizer of the Metal Female Voices Festival) said he would put a festival together with just female fronted bands for Epica. So the first edition we were also headlining. Later on MFVF became bigger and bigger and bigger. So we have a very special relationship with Philty and also with the festival. Sure. Yeah.

Jason:  So that's one of your favorite gigs every year?

Mark:  Yeah. Sure, sure. It's always a great atmosphere. It's also quite unique because it didn't exist before; A festival just for female fronted bands. Yeah MFVF is very special.

Jason:  Do you have special plans for this year's show? (MFVF V)

Mark:  Yes. This time we will do a show with some pyro effects and also have some special guests. So it will be very special this time. Yeah.


Jason:  In Holland the female fronted scene is huge with bands like Within Temptation, After Forever and Epica. What is it like to be part of this scene now that all the bands are starting to come over to America?

Mark:  Yeah. That's really a big surprise for me as well. All these bands are now coming to America. Because previously a lot of people said why doesn't Within Temptation come? Why is After Forever not coming? And now they all are coming over. So I hope it's not overkill now. (laughs)

Jason:  I don't think so.

Mark:  But really it's a good thing. There's a rich scene in The Netherlands and it's good to see that now everybody can perform in the United States as well. Because the bands were already going to South America, all of Europe and now the United States and Canada also.

Jason:  Has your experience in the United States been going well?

Mark:  Yes. The only thing is It's always hard to get into the United States. While you are here then it's nice. Because it's really shitty to apply for a visa. You have to prove that you are a big band. You have to collect interviews. You have to collect CD reviews. It's really a bunch of work and if you don't get all these things together, You're not allowed to come. But once all this these things are done, Then it's really cool to be here. It's a great country with a lot of possibilities. You can play a lot of big cities and my favorite city is San Francisco.

Jason:  Not New York?

Mark:  No. (laughs) I love New York as well and the crowd is always great. But San Francisco is something magical. New York is too busy for me. (laughs)


Jason:  I understand Epica will be doing a little promotion with us here at Sonic Cathedral coming up...

Mark:  Yes.

Jason:  Some kind of autograph give away contest?

Mark:  That's right. Something for our fans.

Jason:  Thanks for your time Mark. It was great to see your band perform tonight.

* * * * *

Simone's portion of the interview begins here:


Jason:  This is your first time headlining here in the United States. How is your perception of the crowd reaction so far?

Simone:  Really great. But I must say that the show today was the best so far. We already have 4 shows already behind us, and they were a little clubs. The thing is our CD has just been released so not so many people know about it quite yet. But now thankfully because of Nuclear Blast more and more people will get to know Epica. So today was like the best show of the five. Now we have a day off in New York City so I can go shopping with the person who is filming me right now. (laughs) I'm going to spend some money tomorrow. (laughs) I'm also looking forward to the rest of the tour including the Canadian shows. They were a huge success with Kamelot last year, So we expect a lot of response from there with this tour.

Jason:  You mention Epica had a great tour with Kamelot where you played 35 minute sets. Now you come out and play for over and hour and forty five minutes!

Simone:  Yeah.

Jason:  ...Which is unheard of in the United States. You can see the fans really appreciated it. Do you usually play long concerts like that when you headline?

Simone:  Yeah. We play mostly one and a half hours. But today the venue was so great. The people were great so we always want to give a little bit more, you know. They pay good money for a ticket so they want to have a nice show. And for us if we feel like it we can do more songs. Sometimes if I'm real tired we have to think wisely and not make it too much, because then I strain myself too much as well. But overall. Yeah. When you are headlining you can not just play an hour. That's not the deal.


Jason:  That's great. The fans really appreciate that.

Simone:  That's good.

Jason:  How has America treated you the two times you have come here so far?

Simone:  The fans are...everybody is very friendly I think. Dutch people when they have a bad day they tend to show it. But I think Americans overall have a very positive way of thinking and maybe that helps cover up some bad days. Dutch people are very sober and direct. Also German people. I'm together with a German so I know. I'm also a little bit like that myself, So overall it's been very warming for the fans here to welcome us and everybody seems very happy. It's good to see that people like it.

Jason:  Well we're glad to have to here.

Simone:  Thank you.

Jason:  You have a close connection with the fans. In The Road To Paradiso you have a fan section. How did that touch you emotionally getting all of those notes and letters?

Simone:  Yeah. It was great to read those little messages from our fans. Like..."Hey Simone I was the one who was crying (laughs) in your arms in Brazil". To see all the drawings... I think the book is a very special thing because it has something from the fans and it is something for the fans. It is also for the band...it is really nice to look at, you know. It is quite moving to see what we have done because it also contains a biography. Every photo has it's little history behind it, a little story. So it's always nice to look at it and to think hey that's what happened then. And oh, oh my god, what was that, you know. Something embarrassing as well.

Jason:  You've personally done extra work for a couple of bands like Kamelot. How has the experience been in working with other bands besides Epica?

Simone:  I think that's a good thing for me. Especially for a singer as well...How do you say? To widen your horizon. To not focus on one thing too much. Epica is my priority of course, but with Primal Fear and Ayreon it was to me something totally different. Which is like a challenge. I'm very happy with the end results. All the people I have worked with are so nice and very talented. I'm very happy that they appreciate my talent and that they can use it in a good way.


Jason:  The question everyone wants to know about the cover for The Divine Conspiracy is if you came up with the concept?

Simone:  Yes it was my idea.

Jason:  Did you always want to do a more artistic cover. On The Phantom Agony you already made a cover with a snake...

Simone:  Yeah. (laughs)

Jason:  This one you decided to take it even farther.

Simone:  Yeah. Well the meaning behind the whole cover is that...it is of course a link to the lyrics. That when we are born we are innocent. We haven't done anything wrong. We haven't made any decisions. We don't have a conscience yet. And as you go through life you make decisions. You make mistakes. You learn. You fall. You get up again. And you change on the outside and on the inside. That's why I have those tattoos. So I represent an innocent human being. Changed though...Going through life. And then the apple is a reference to Eve. To the religious part of the album. That she made the decision to eat the apple and become mortal... And that is just a link to...(Pauses)...because the whole album is about us humans, you know. About the good sides. About the bad sides. And yeah, what better person to do that would be me of course. If we would have taken a model for the cd cover, It would have been like a hundred other covers. But now I'm still young. I can do it. (laughs) My parents were a little bit shocked, My parent-in-laws haven't seen it yet. My grandmother also has not seen the artwork. But yeah. It is not pornographic at all...It is art. You don't see anything revealing...How do you say? I represent the image. It's not...

Coen:  (from the other room): ...It's pure porn.


Simone:  Yeah. The other photos we made. But that's not for the cover. (laughs)

Jason:  That's for the inside sleeve, right?

Simone:  (laughs): No. No. That's for me and my boyfriend. (laughs)

Jason:  So you are playing in the Metal Female Voices Festival again. This is your fourth time in five years

Simone:  Yeah. That's true. We skipped one.

Jason:  Is that a special concert for you every year playing at the festival?

Simone:  Well the organizer Philty is a friend of the band. He was the first promoter in Belgium to organize a show for us in Belgium. Even though we only had a demo out. He believed in Mark and in the band and when he came up with this idea we headlined the first version. Then we did two more and I think the fourth edition we skipped and now in the fifth we will be seen again. It's a very popular thing. The female fronted metal bands. It's was a cool idea of his and I support it.

Jason:  On this tour you took out another female fronted band Visions Of Atlantis. Are you happy to be playing with more female bands?

Simone:  Yeah. I like it, you know. It's the ultimate support act. It's a good warm up for the audience. Melissa is a good singer so it keeps us fresh enough. If the support act is also good. You know. And they are very nice people. So we are very happy.


Jason:  Is there a big camaraderie between the female bands and especially the ones from Holland?

Simone:  I am a friend with Cristina from Lacuna Coil. I know Floor from After Forever. We meet up every once in a while. Then I know the guys from Leaves' Eyes. Liv is mostly hanging out with her little son because they take Leon with them on tour. Let me see. So that's about it. And I'm in touch with Tuomas from Nightwish. I've met the new singer also in Paris. Anette, Also a very nice, nice lady. So overall I can hang out with everybody. I'm pretty easy going.

Jason:  On this tour you are headlining. Would you like headline America again or go as a support act next time to get some more people?

Simone:  Yeah. That's not a bad idea, you know. Play with some nice big bands when we know venues will be stuffed. Then it's a good idea to be a support act. Then you know you will have full venues every night and it's an investment. It's not like if you've done a headline tour that you can only do headline tours from there one. You still have to invest once in a while to grow.

Jason:  Is The Divine Conspiracy more personal to you knowing that Transmission has the rights to all of your back catalogue?

Simone:  Not necessarily more personal. Because every album is very personal. It's music. Melodies. Lyrics. It's all a part of emotions. But for us it was the third album. We didn't have a label so this was a little bit like trying to make really the best album we could to get a good record deal. Of course we had some frustrations when it comes to Transmission Records. Our drummer left. We had the luck that we could have Arien(Drummer) on our album and that he is on tour with us now. We are also very happy that we are now with Nuclear Blast. The new album kicks ass, so Yeah. It's going well for us. It's a very dynamic album as well. It has a lot of anger in it. But also a lot of positive things. Overall the album is much more aggressive than previous material...The drums are harder, The guitars are more up front. I sing less classical. I also try to vary my singing technique a little bit to make it more exciting. To sing classical all the time might get a little bit boring for my taste.


Jason:  I noticed you went with less operatic vocals on this album. Do you plan to keep that mix in the future?

Simone:  Yeah. A mix would be cool. I am officially a classical singer. I am not really trained in singing pop or rock style. I just try it and see how it works using the basics of the classical techniques. But for me my heart still lies with classical singing. I find that so beautiful. That the voice can change so much. It's almost supernatural. I'm also very sad also that Pavarotti died.

Jason:  Yeah. The other day. It's really sad.

Simone:  It's really a big loss.

Jason:  Did you study classical music as well?

Simone:  I have four and a half years of classical singing lessons and I've sung in a choir. I've had music lessons since high school, but I've never went to a conservatory. I checked out the rock academy in Holland once. But that was it, I'm not much of a school type to be honest. I like to do the practical side of it. But actually for me a lot of boring people are hanging around at the conservatory and I am used to this lifestyle now. I think it's OK to just have classical singing lessons every once in a while and practice on my own.

Jason:  When you joined Epica you were really young. You have grown as the band has grown. Has it been a good journey so far?

Simone:  Yeah. We've had ups and downs and at the moment it is going up again. It's a new beginning. With a new record company. A new CD. We hope everything goes well. We have another tour scheduled with Sonata Arctica where we will be the support act. Then we will go to Mexico in December and January we will do a lot of Dutch shows. We also have a lot of shows when we come back from the American tour. We have the CD presentation. With lots of nice special things. So yeah. A lot of things coming up for Epica.


Sonic Cathedral would like to thank Mark & Simone for their time & Jeroen B. for arranging it. 

Check out the official Epica website and their label Nuclear Blast Records.