EPICA - All Systems Go
September 12, 2017, a year ago
Fifteen years ago, Epica was regarded as guitarist/founder Mark Jansen's attempt to stay relevant following his departure from After Forever. In 2017, Epica is an international success story dominating the symphonic metal world, a band that has inspired musicians with a vision similar to Jansen's and crushed the would-be copycats that crawled out of the woodwork as Epica's popularity grew. The Holographic Principle, released in 2016, was heralded as being one of the band's strongest albums to date and they continue to benefit from the record's buzz with The Solace System, an EP featuring songs that were left off the album due to lack of space on the CD. At the time of this writing the band is on tour in North America, issuing The Solace System as an extra to a rabid fanbase. Following is Jansen's take on the success of The Holographic Principle and Epica in general.
BraveWords: How did The Holographic Principle do for Epica overall? Not in terms of units sold, but in terms of how the fans received it. It's regarded by many fans and critics as a breath of fresh air compared to the previous albums because you made a point of shaking up the band's sound a bit (Simone Simons' vocals, less orchestration at certain points, some rock-oriented material). A band's new album is always their "best" according to the band for a certain amount of time, but how do you feel about it now?
Mark Jansen: "I don’t even know how many got sold so wouldn't be able to answer on that anyway (laughs). The album did very well, many fans come to us and tell us how much they love it. We're playing quite a few tracks from our latest two records and those songs get a great reception live, so I think we did the right thing in following our hearts and making some changes in our sound. But, the core elements will always stay the same. Simone, grunts, death metal basis, choirs, orchestra... but within those elements there’s a lot of room for experimenting. It’s hard for me to choose a favourite album, and I wouldn't necessarily name it to be The Holographic Principle. The Quantum Enigma (2014) and Design Your Universe (2009) are very special to me. Also, our debut The Phantom Agony (2003) is very special to me, and the albums that I didn't mention are dear to me, too. There’s not a single album which I regret. Maybe the sound of Requiem For The Indifferent (2012) could have been better when I look back at it, and if we would have rehearsed that album the way we rehearse the songs nowadays before entering the studio the album could have been even better."
BraveWords: I remember you saying that you hoped to release material that didn't make it onto The Holographic Principle at a later date. Is the music on The Solace System the rest of it, or just the best of everything that was left? What made you decide to leave these songs off The Holographic Principle?
Mark Jansen: "These songs are all the recorded songs that didn't make it to The Holographic Principle; there are a bunch of songs as well that haven't been recorded... yet. All The Holographic Principle songs that we have recorded were written and recorded to be album tracks, so it’s not a matter of quality that they didn't make it. We looked for the best possible flow for the album and some songs simply didn't fit as well as others. It was hard nevertheless; two songs got dropped last minute in order to put two others on the album."
BraveWords: You've always been an ambitious songwriter; look no further than the amount of material you come up with per album. Is it a case of never throwing anything away and maybe revisiting the riffs at a later date, or do you as a band just put your heads down and keep writing until someone dies?
Mark Jansen: "I don’t throw anything away but sometimes things do get lost and pop up later on for some reason (laughs). But, it also happens that a song is simply not good enough yet and needs some new arrangements or a new structure in order to work. We're in the fortunate situation to have five songwriters in the band, and especially since The Quantum Enigma we always had too many songs to choose from (laughs)."
BraveWords: Was any of the material written for The Holographic Principle or The Solace System ever meant for your MaYaN side project? Or perhaps the other way around? Considering how much you write I can't imagine how you keep things separate in your head, especially if I hear the solo in "Fight Your Demons", for example. In fact, if you tweak that song it could be a MaYaN tune...
Mark Jansen: "There was nothing of this material meant for MaYaN but there’s one song that got dropped which I rewrote to be a MaYaN track. I was a bit sad that it got dropped at first, as I think it’s a killer track, but looking back it’s for the better as the original version had some kind of cheesy chorus, which was the weak part of the song. I wrote a new chorus for grunts and screams and then it suddenly worked, but that would have been too heavy or too focused on grunts to be an Epica song. So now, for MaYaN it a gem in our new collection of songs that we have written for the upcoming album."
"One MaYaN song was used for Epica, and that was 'Internal Warfare' which ended up on Requiem For The Indifferent. 'Fight Your Demons' could have been a MaYaN track as well, and that’s the kind of track which shows the overlap that both bands have. It’s a pretty heavy track among the Epica songs."
BraveWords: Seven albums and a huge catalogue of material... how do you decide what to play on tour these days? And considering how long some of these songs are you must be leaving some fan favourites and band favourites on the shelf rather than performing them live for the sake of time. How long until you end up doing An Evening With type of tour and just play for three hours a night?
Mark Jansen: "It’s pretty hard indeed, but we listen carefully to our fans and we discuss on a regular base internally what we can change in our setlist. We always come to something that works, although I can’t wait to play a fan favourite which we have never played live yet: The Holographic Principle title track. The track is long and therefore we usually pick other songs, for the same reason we almost never play 'Kingdom Of Heaven' live. An evening with might be a good idea for the future (laughs)."
BraveWords: For you personally, are there any songs on The Solace System that you figure, in retrospect, would have worked well or better as part of The Holographic Principle instead? How much of this new material are you playing live on tour?
Mark Jansen: "I think it’s good the way it is. 'Fight Your Demons' and 'Immortal Melancholy' were two of my favourites to make it to The Holographic Principle but we had to make decisions (laughs). On tour we play 'Wheel Of Destiny' and later on we might switch it to another one. When we play 'Wheel Of Destiny' we notice that people are listening carefully as they don’t know this track very well yet. We don’t want to play too many songs off the new EP as we want to see our fans moving around and banging their heads (laughs), but maybe 'Fight Your Demons' could do the job as many fans already know that track for a longer time."
BraveWords: Have you ever considered a serious full length acoustic tour? The acoustic bonus tracks for The Holographic Principle are outstanding and it really shows off the band in a new light.
Mark Jansen: "That might be interesting for the future as well, but for now we focus on the normal shows as we are still promoting The Solace System and The Holographic Principle."
BraveWords: Looking back on The Phantom Agony and comparing it to The Holographic Principle and The Solace System material, how do you feel about your songwriting back then? You've quite obviously matured as a musician and you have much more life experience, but what do you think of young Mark Jansen's work?
Mark Jansen: "I am very proud of that album. Sometimes I hear musicians saying that they are ashamed of their old work or don’t identify themselves with that work anymore. Or they say that they became so much better nowadays. I look at it with a different kind of view. When you’re young you might lack the experience but you also benefit from a youthful enthusiasm of discovering the world around you. My first album I recorded is After Forever's Prison Of Desire, and I'm also still proud of that one. It contains some great tracks."
"The Phantom Agony is our gem, and it contains our most known song, 'Cry For The Moon'. 'Sensorium', 'The Phantom Agony' and 'Facade Of Reality' are other fan favourites from the same album. The structure in some of those songs might be not so logical but I can hear that youthful enthusiasm I was talking about. It creates a certain atmosphere which is unique. So, in short, I'm happy with the songwriting and wouldn't change anything on that album. It was the best we could do at that moment in our lives and I'm still very proud of it."