INTERVIEW: Mark Jansen & Arien van Weesenbeek – Epica

Since 2002, Dutch symphonic metal outfit EPICA have risen to stand firm with the genre’s elite. Backed with a epic orchestral sound and a solid balance of growls and clean vocal exchanges, EPICA‘s rise has been explosive. 2016 sees the band return with their seventh record, The Holographic Principle. We caught up with guitarist Mark Jansen and drummer Arien van Weesenbeek to discuss the new album, its messages, themes and style alongside talking about how EPICA compares to the elite in symphonic metal and looking ahead to their future touring plans!

It has been two years since your last record, The Quantum Enigma, how has the band progressed in that time?

Arien: We’ve been touring quite a lot, and I think our fan base increased quite a lot as well. We noticed that we got to play some bigger stages than usual in some places, and The Quantum Enigma paved the way for much more to come for us and for our fans.

Mark: Besides that we have written quite some songs for The Holographic Principle, so we could select the best ones and rehearse them. We kept on rehearsing until we were all fully satisfied. Regarding the recordings we have decided to record all orchestral instruments live this time. Very time consuming and it’s not cheap either but we wanted to have the best possible sound on our album and this you can best reach with real instruments rather than samples.

How would you sum up the new album?

Arien: Definitely our best ‘in-your-face’ album so far!

Mark: Intense, heavy yet melodic.

Can you describe the writing and recording process for The Holographic Principle?

Arien: It was very nice and inspiring to do! Everyone had great ideas that we first worked out individually at home. Later we threw them all together, and shifted the best parts of all the material, and tried to put together the songs in the best way possible. We all went to our producer Joost, who helped us even more, and from there we started jamming and slowly getting ready for the studio. We made a pre-production session, where we would record the songs as they were at that point, and put the dots on the I’s, going through all the material once more. Then we hit if off and recorded everything live, even extra cool percussion! It was fun to do.

Mark: We have 5 songwriters in the band so that’s quite a luxurious position. We can select the best tracks of all the songwriters. We didn’t stop working on the songs until each and every one of us was happy with the songs.

What themes, messages and concepts are present on the record?

Mark: The album is dealing about the holographic principle theory which states that everything around us is an illusion, a hologram. It’s fascinating and a bit scary at the same time. It is a bit comparable to The Matrix, the movie #1. Virtual reality technology is developing at a fast rate. Sooner or later our virtual reality masks will be so good that you won’t be able to see a difference between the virtual reality world and our “real” world anymore. That might be the moment that we realise that the universe as we know it is a virtual reality on its own. The theory behind this is called “the Holographic Principle”, it’s not just a wicked far fetched idea by one scientist. It’s a theory that many scientists take very seriously. The universe as we know it might be an hologram. It’s an interesting thought and we decided to write our lyrics about it. Besides that we have made also side steps on the album, for example Divide and Conquer is dealing about the conflict in the Middle East where the West is bringing democracy to these poor fellas. The true reason why governments get overthrown is obviously the common interests that big corporations have in that region. So the modern technique is not to overthrow a government by a war, nowadays it’s way more sneaky. Dividing a population, creating chaos and conquer them and installing a new government. It worked already many times just Assad stays where he is as he’s being backed up by Russia. As you might notice I’m not a big fan of this western interference in those countries.

At this stage in your career do you look for ways to push the envelope with the EPICA sound or is writing with EPICA something that happens fairly organically by now?

Arien: We always try to push the envelope with our playing and our sound. We really try to avoid making the same album in a row, and get stuck in any writing-formula, or established sound. We always start from scratch when we start on a new album, which keeps things exciting and interesting.

What do you think distinguishes The Holographic Principle from your back catalogue?

Arien: This album is our best one in every way; compositions, sound, performance, maturity, atmosphere. We pushed our standards higher with this album.

Mark: We made use of live instruments, no samples this time. That was our biggest challenge to have all instruments you hear being played by people instead of using samples. This was a huge amount of work and very time consuming but it was all worth it and it did benefit the sound a lot.

Why was Universal Death Squad chosen as the first single?

Arien: This song proved to be the most representable to be the first single. It’s heavy, progressive though catchy, a lot of cool riffing and drumming, and it just set the mark for the rest to come.

Mark: We could have also picked The Holographic Principle itself (as it contains all EPICA ingredients) but that would be a bit too long for a single haha!

How have you found the reception to Universal Death Squad?

Arien: We’ve got a lot of great and overwhelming comments! Really cool!

Mark: Most people were really happy with this song and it set the bar high for the rest of the album but I’m pretty sure people who like this song will like the album as well.

You’ve used more live musicians on this record for the orchestrations; why is this something that you’ve not been able to pursue before and how much of a difference does it make to The Holographic Principle?

Arien: It’s a budget thing. This time we’ve been able to hire an orchestra plus choir, which we also did on The Quantum Enigma (strings and choir), but also we used real percussion instruments, which we played ourselves. You really can hear and feel the difference in the final result; it simply sounds warmer and more powerful than samples.

And with the record set for release at the end of September, what are you hoping to achieving with this record?

Arien: World domination, haha.

Mark: Besides world domination we also hope to play higher on the bill of the big festivals (maybe headliner here and there). And we hope that many fans come out to see us on tour. Our fanbase has always been growing so far and we hope with this new album that this will continue to happen.

With NIGHTWISH and WITHIN TEMPTATION both releasing very successful albums and playing large shows in the UK recently, both bands playing Wembley, is the UK market something that you want to expand into more on this cycle?

Arien: That would be really sweet, yes! So far we’ve got a big show planned with POWERWOLF in London, but hopefully we can organise more shows and tours in the UK.

Mark: Wembley is also a dream for us, and why not. We have achieved to play similar stages in France so it should be possible for us in the UK as well. The crowd is really into EPICA since a year of 4/5 ago and we are obviously very happy with that.

Has the success of these bands been any influence on what you’re trying to do on ‘The Holographic Principle’ or do you see yourself as isolated from these bands?

Arien: In my opinion we’ve got our own sound and spectrum. I think, even though we’re categorised with NIGHTWISH and WITHIN TEMPTATION, we’ve moved to a bit more extreme style throughout the years. All the bands do their own things, and they do it very well. It’s always nice to meet up whenever we can on the road or on festivals, so we don’t isolate ourselves either. But we just do what we do. I think especially since the last two albums we have as much in common with a band like ARCH ENEMY as WITHIN TEMPTATION.

Mark: I agree with Arien, we have always been doing on own thing. We have noticed all over the years some bands tried to copy NIGHTWISH’s or WITHIN TEMPTATION’s sound and that never worked well for those bands as most of them are not even around anymore. We have always been going our own way since the start. I understand that we get compared to those bands because we have a female singer and make use of cinematic bombastic orchestral parts but I think when you analyse the music into detail you’ll find that regarding drums, bass and guitars we are very much death or thrash metal oriented. We might have as much in common with a band like ARCH ENEMEY as WITHIN TEMPTATION, and I mean that seriously. Besides that I think NIGTHWISH is obviously the bigger and most successful band of the three of us. EPICA and WITHIN TEMPTATION are (worldwide seen) both in balance. WITHIN TEMPTATION in most European countries is bigger than EPICA but EPICA is bigger in South America. On Facebook both bands have basically the same amount of likes as well. This own identity is what made us successful next to other bands, I think, so I see this as our strength.

Has it been difficult to make inroads in the UK as opposed to mainland European markets which are much more amenable to power metal?

Arien: Perhaps. But I don’t think we have just power metal fans either, haha. We’ve been doing better and better in the UK, and the last tours we did there were pretty amazing!

Mark: We have progressive metal fans, symphonic metal fans, power metal fans and even death metal fans. Therefor we can name our style: Epic metal haha. The last 3 or 4 years have shown us that there’s a big potential for EPICA in the UK as well and we’re very happy with that. So we’ll keep coming back!

With the record set for release at the end of September, what can fans expect from Epica for the rest of 2016?

Mark: We will play two Epic Metal Fests (our own festival), the one in NL will be with bands like KATATONIA, MAYAN, STREAM OF PASSION, FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE and many more and the edition in Brazil two weeks later we’ll have PARADISE LOST, THE OCEAN and FINNTROLL playing with us among some others. We’ll present our new album on these fests and after that we’ll visit the United States of America and Canada for a tour.

Arien: You all can expect that we’ll return to the UK (even though that’s early 2017) with a great show and killer-music, so get ready! See you all at our gigs, and take care!

The Holographic Principle is set for release on September 30th via Nuclear Blast Records.

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