DATE OF INTERVIEW:
11th March 2011
Upon their inception in 2002 under original moniker Sahara Dust before, shortly after, lifting present day name from a Kamelot album, Epica forged their musical aesthetic within an already saturated female fronted symphonic metal subgenre. However, full credit to the Dutch metallers, they managed to carve an autonomous identity within said subgenre with a distinctive style of playing uniquely their own and instantly discernible as Epica. Remaining non too prolific in their recorded output, nearly a decade in existence has, thus far, spawned just four studio albums, albeit each release is loaded with grandiosely executed symphonic metal bombast with the refined mezzo-soprano vocal talents of Simone Simons and Mark Jansen's death growls. And since signing a deal with legendary metal label Nuclear Blast in 2007, Epica's popularity has soared with last full-length, 2009's 'Design Your Universe', released to mass critical acclaim and peaking at number eight in their home country's album chart. Rarely performing live in the UK during their career, March 2011 sees Epica on these shores for a string of five headline shows, and keyboardist Coen Janssen spoke to Metal Discovery a couple of hours before the band's appearance in Nottingham's Rescue Rooms...
METAL DISCOVERY: How was the show last night in Wolverhampton because that was your first one for a couple of months?
COEN JANSSEN: For me, yeah. The band did a tour in South America and that Metal Cruise thing, but the show last night was good and the crowd were nice, and I think enough people showed up…
(Coen Janssen on how Epica compose music)
"We’re a band that live apart, like far apart, so it’s really difficult to come together between shows, so we work through the internet and send each other stuff."
Coen Janssen backstage at the Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, UK, 11th March 2011
Photograph copyright © 2011 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: …which is always good…
CJ: …which is always good! We haven’t played in the UK that much for some reason. People wanted us to come over every time but somehow it didn’t work out.
MD: Yeah, you had some dates booked over here in 2008 – you supported Symphony X in London but you also had a couple of headline dates that got cancelled because Simone had a bad throat or something like that.
CJ: Yeah, that’s possible. I can’t remember the reason, but…
MD: I think the last headline shows you played over here were in 2006.
CJ: Well, we did one festival, Hammerfest, a year or two years ago in Wales.
MD: What was that like, on the big holiday camp?
CJ: Yeah, it was a bit strange, the holiday camp!
MD: Yeah, that’s the weirdest festival in the world!
CJ: [laughs]Yeah, and a little bit depressing surroundings.
MD: You toured the States for the fifth time in November/December last year – how was that experience; is there a lot of demand for Epica in the States?
CJ: Our name gets out there more and then we can bring three pretty good bands – Scar Symmetry; Blackguard and The Agonist. It’s really nice to do that package because there were nice crowds and nice venues.
MD: And you’ve done South America a few times too…
CJ: The most recent one I didn’t do but the others I did.
MD: What’s your experience of South America because most bands claim it’s a whole different experience and the fans go really, really crazy for the bands?
CJ: Yeah, but it’s changing a bit and I think it’s because more bands are coming over there and people are really picking out shows…either they’re gonna see Epica or see a different band. It used to be that only a few bands came to South America and people would go wild because there was a metal show but, fortunately, we’re one of the bands who played there in the early days so people know us and they still show up. It’s awesome; it’s a different experience.
MD: Are the fans really as crazy as people make out?
MD: I remember Finntroll telling me that when they showed up at the airport they felt like The Beatles as there would already be 200 people there waiting for them.
CJ: Make it 500, and you can’t even get into the van, and people waiting outside your hotel the whole night long. It’s crazy.
MD: It’s been suggested online that a new Epica album’s likely to be released in 2012?
MD: What stage are you at with composing songs at the moment?
CJ: We’re all doing our own stuff now at home so the next step is we come together to listen to each other’s work and connect the pieces together. We’re a band that live apart, like far apart, so it’s really difficult to come together between shows, so we work through the internet and send each other stuff.
MD: Where do you live in Holland then?
CJ: I live in the centre but nowadays I’m the one who lives most in the north. The new guitar player lives in the south of Belgium and Simone, she just moved to Stuttgart which is in Germany, so that’s like an eight hour drive for her.
MD: Will you be extending ‘The Embrace That Smothers’ or ‘A New Age Dawns’ concepts on the new album, or is it too early to say?
CJ: I guess ‘The Embrace That Smothers’ thing is done…but you never know. Maybe the ‘A New Age Dawns’ thing will continue but, mostly, there’s an album in-between so maybe there’s a new concept coming up on the next album. But, lyrically, I’m not that much involved – that’s Mark and Simone’s department.
MD: Both of those concepts seem to have certain parallels in their lyrical themes – has it ever been a consideration to join those two concepts together in a suite of songs perhaps?
CJ: Well, it’s just the way that Mark writes, I guess. He writes about that kind of stuff.
MD: I’m asking the wrong guy then, really!
CJ: Yeah! But maybe it would be fun to combine them somehow or just make an ‘Embrace That Smothers’ album with all the songs from the different albums.
MD: From those concepts, it seems like you’re secular minded people – is that true of the band?
CJ: What’s that...secular?
MD: Secular…I guess the literal translation is non-religious, like concerned with more worldly things.
CJ: Well, yeah, we’re all not religious but, if you’re in a metal band, you’re not likely to be religious. We believe that you have to make up things for yourself and think for yourself, and don’t follow what somebody else tells you to do.
MD: Of course, yeah, free-thinking.
CJ: Yeah, especially the extremists, that’s total bullshit. All problems in the world are because of religion, so there is a stupid thing about religion, right? But you can’t say it because then people get mad and have a war! [laughs]
MD: ‘The Embrace That Smothers’ concept seems to be a philosophical attack on religion rather than the usual cheesy Satanic lyrics more traditionally associated with metal bands - have you been subject to any controversy for that?
CJ: Well, ‘The Embrace That Smothers’ started to be against Christianity…not really against Christianity but just stop following people blindly, that’s the message. Somehow, we don’t get any remarks back from the Christian society but, in one album, we used a Muslim song, the prayer thing, and suddenly we got a lot of emails. That part we used because we like that kind of atmosphere in the song. If you enter a discussion about the religions thing, and people understand that it is not just about kicking in the religion, if you get a dialogue going then people understand.