By Mark Gromen
So says guitarist/founder Mark Jansen, while discussing his alter-ego MAYAN, the two of us backstage at the Trocadero, prior to EPICA’s recent Philadelphia appearance. Whether down to my error, his or something else, the MP3 recorder was wiped clean. Hate when technology fails to work properly. So what follows is a paraphrased recollection of the conversation.
I began by relating an experience at Schiphol (pronounced skip ol), Amsterdam’s airport, where an employee at the music store attempted to talk me out of buying their (at the time) newly released We Will Take You With Us DVD. Concerned that I was a traveling foreigner, the clerk wanted to make sure I knew who/what was being purchased: “That’s a Dutch band.” “It’s PAL (format).” Reassuring that I was well aware of both facts and still interested, the employee remained perplexed! Upon hearing, Jansen is disheartened, “My own countryman? People also think if it’s homegrown it can’t be that good. Things are always better if they come from overseas.” It’s not a unique phenomenon, especially in metal circles, the grass always seems greener elsewhere.
We began with the rather eclectic line-up for their headlining tour, joined by dissimilar acts ALESTORM, INSOMNIUM, SYSTEM DIVIDE (and on the initial five dates, BLACKGUARD). “That was the first question in the last interview too,” he laughs. “We know all the bands on bill. There was one band that was supposed to be here (Serbia’s DESTINY POTATO), that was a suggestion from the booking agent, but they dropped off long ago. No band gets on the bill without our approval.”
Five weeks earlier, Epica headlined the first night of the annual ProgPower USA festival, in Atlanta, Georgia. Did it really make sense to leave and then return? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just start the tour in September? “We went to South America, played a bunch of shows down there, then went home, played a show in the Netherlands and then flew back here.” One would assume his frequent flyer account appreciated the extra jaunts. “I don’t believe frequent flyer miles actually work. It never has for me. Every time I ask for a first class upgrade, they always say, ‘You need a few more miles.”
Wondering how he came up with Mayan, be it a purposeful desire, or just having extra material, that doesn’t fit the Epica canon, Jansen admits, “I’d come up with some stuff that didn’t fit Epica and I needed something to do if Simone (Simons, singer) gets pregnant!” We both laugh, telling him we’ve discovered the headline for my piece. “Really happy to be able to work with Henning Basse (vocals, ex-METALIUM). Always enjoyed his voice and I’m glad that he’s part of the band. Lot of people know Issac (Delahaye) from GOD DETHRONED, but he left after their most melodic album (The Toxic Touch), so it wasn’t that big of a switch, coming into Epica. When it comes to touring, since so many are part of both bands (in addition to Jansen and Delahaye, Epica drummer Arien van Weesenbeck and bassist Rob van der Loo serve double duty), it makes it easy. You don’t have to wait on conflicting schedules.”
Jansen founded AFTER FOREVER, left to start Epica and now, concurrently Mayan, while Simons has been content to just make appearances on a song or two for lots of other bands. Does she ever talk about doing a solo album? “She talked about it, but she needs someone to initiate it. I’m a person who wants to do something, I do it. She’s more like someone who will wait around. I don’t know of any (guest appearances) she has scheduled.”
That might seem like a callous observation, but in the early days of the band Simons and Jansen were a couple, so he knows her better than most. “She was,” he confirms, before discussing how she went from girlfriend to the band’s singer. Well, we were looking for a singer for a long time. I knew she was a singer and she’d help us out, from time to time, filling-in, at practice, so we could work on songs and progress. After months of looking for a singer, we just decided to keep her.” Must have been strange, having your girlfriend in the band? “Was even harder for the six months after we split,” he says matter-of-factly. “Now, it’s no problem. Earlier tonight, we were at dinner and the waiter asked if we wanted one check or two. I said split it and he was a little surprised. He asked, ‘Aren’t you together?’ and I said, ‘No, she’s my ex!”
Since those earliest days (and perhaps due to his vocal-only duties with Mayan), Jansen has injected his death metal grunts and growls into Epica. To these ears, it sounds as if he has an increased (or at least more prominent) vocal role on the new album. “Actually we were shooting for less, perhaps we failed.”
Asked about ‘Deep Water Horizon’, a title from the Requiem For The Indifferent disc, and how it relates to the failed British Petroleum offshore oil well, Jansen says that’s one of Simons’ lyrics and leaves the room to go ask her about it, taking the portable (and unknown to both of us, inoperative) mic with him. Never had anyone do that! Upon his return we discuss ‘Monopoly On Truth’, which later kicks off the live show. “Some people think that only they know what’s right. Like with religion, they just want to talk to you and if you don’t believe what they believe, they try to convert you. It’s not just about religion though, Politicians do the same thing.”
Finally, the discussion turns to goals for the current North American trek, what do they hope to accomplish, that they haven’t already? “Our goal is the same as it always has been to get bigger, play to more people each time. We’re lucky enough to be able to live off the money we make from our music. The first three tours, we lost money, but we’re up to six now and the last three, we’ve not made a ton, but at least break even, so I’m happy.”
Jansen and Epica’s music make thousands feel the same way. Get out and see the show when they come to your town.