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Epica

Metal Church was beyond the black, Judas Priest was beyond the realms of death and Tristania was beyond the veil, but Epica is beyond beautiful… eh, beyond the bombast.

The new Epica album 'Design Your Universe' is finished! It was a beautiful sunny day in early August, and press, friends and several band members of Epica gathered together in the huge garden of the Jansen family, the residence of guitarist/growler/band leader Mark Jansen, which is in a place called Reuver, a picturesque and green town in the south of Holland. The very first official listening session of the new album just took place (for people that can read Dutch, you can read our impression here) and everyone is chilling and enjoying their sun, beer and chit chats. Suddenly the people from Nuclear Blast asked me if I would like to do an interview with Simone Jansen for fifteen minutes. Are you crazy? Of course I will! Normally it's always Mark that does the talking, so I felt very privileged to get the opportunity to speak with Epica's esthetical perfection and her scarlet hair that's dancing in the rays of sunlight and her ocean-blue eyes in which you can drown so damn easily. Fifteen minutes? No way, I'm gonna triple that!

By: Evil Dr. Smith | Archive under prog / sympho metal

Hello Simone, Mark has quite a house and garden over here. I suppose Epica is doing a pretty good job at the moment. Is this all his property?
This was all from his grandmother. She sadly died in January this year. Then Mark and his parents moved to this house. Mark has here his own studio and rehearsal room. He also wrote here the first two After Forever albums. The rest of the band doesn't live in Reuver. I live with my boyfriend Oliver Palotai (Suns Of Seasons and also keyboardist of Kamelot, the band that was the name-giver for Epica with its sixth album: what are the odds?, EDS) in Aachen, our drummer Ariën (van Weesenbeek, ex-God Dethroned) lives in Breda, Coen (Jansen, keyboards) comes from Oss and out two Belgian guys (bassist Yves Huts and new guitarist Isaac Delahaye, also ex-God Dethroned) lives in Antwerp and Yperen. So we come from all wind directions.

Obviously it must be quite difficult to rehearse over here in Reuver.
Yes, it's hard to get all our asses over here. Actually, we only rehearse when we have new material, or when we had a long break. So in general we don't rehearse that much. The songs develop mainly by computer. Although the guys did get together a couple of times before the recordings of the new album, just to have some spontaneous jams.

And you could stay at home, doing nothing?
Well, I do have a recording studio at home as well. I record my vocals over there and that's part of the way our songs develop.

You just listened to your album now also for the first time?
This was the first time I listened to it on a good installation. At home I only have simple computer boxes. Of course I know the songs, but still there were here and there some slight arrangements made on the songs. And there are also so many layers on the music, that you have to listen several times to the songs to get all the details. It's just like a musical journey and there are so many things in it, that it was quite tiring. I mean this in a good way of course, but after we listened to the album I though “Phew!” This is quite something else than put on a Madonna album just to dance to”. It takes your full attention. It's certainly no background music.

What is your share in the music?
All the vocal melodies are mine, assisted by Sacha Paeth. I also write about fifty per cent of the lyrics. I do not write the lyrics along with the music. I do hear the songs, already from the beginning in their demo stage, and I also give my opinion. Eventually it's simply a melody line that comes up in me and I just sing. Mark picks it up and try to incorporate it in the songs. So I'm not a composer, I only made up the melody lines and write lyrics.

Isn't this album a continuation of the Maya stories that were told on the album 'Consign To Obliveon'?
Partly, it is. Mark wrote several lyrics for the 'New Age Of Dawn' series. Those aren't mine themes. I have more with Egyptians. I've been to Egypt with Mark about six or seven years ago. It felt like I came home. I didn't know what it was and it felt quite strange. Maybe I was an Egyptian in another life? I don't believe in several Gods, but I love their culture and art. It got something mysterious which attracts me. I do think the Mayas have a point with what they say about “the new consciousness”. I think it's necessary to clear your mind at a certain point and start all over again from the beginning. Open your eyes and look what's happening around you. For instance, I'm pretty environmentally aware. Don't throw away a banana peel, because it takes nature to compost the peel five years!

I wouldn't dare! Yours lyric on this album are inspired by ancient Egyptian philosophies and culture?
Oh no, I'm just interested in Egyptian culture, but the lyrics deal other issues. Like the piano ballad 'Tides of Time' that's dedicated to Mark's grandmother. Coen wrote the song and Mark and I were working on the vocal melodies and lyrics when he heard that his grandmother passed away. Obviously we were very sad and filled with grief, but just at those difficult moments you have a lot of inspiration that you can use in music. My lyric that is mostly related to the ones of Mark, must be the song 'Deconstruct'. It deals about the rebuilding of society and about people who are only into materialism, but neglect or even completely forget the real important things in life.

So what are important things in life for you, Simone?
Sitting here enjoying the sun, hahaha! But really, I mean it this as well. It's important that you appreciate things like this. Just as enjoying nice food, sounds, nature. Or being together with your family, have a laugh with your friends, act crazy, be yourself and don't care what other people say about you. Those kind of things. And stay in bed until noon, hahaha!

Did you care what other people have to say about you in the past?
Well, when I was a teenager I was obviously a lot more uncertain. But I kept my device: “laugh about yourself, so other people won't laugh at you”. It's all about having fun and you will send out this energy to other people as well, and the will inspire each other.

I remember that you did receive some negative comments, especially in the early days of Epica.
When we recorded 'The Phantom Agony' I was seventeen, eighteen years. It was the first time I recorded an album, so I didn't know what to expect. I came also pretty late in the band, at a moment that all the songs were already written (Simone replaced Helena Iren Michaelsen when the band was still named Sahara Dust, EDS). We were just babies then! Allright, Mark had some experience with After Forever and Yves was in Axamenta – I hope I don't forget anyone now – but what did we know? I had no experience at all. To be honest, I don't listen to 'The Phantom Agony' anymore. If I want to listen to those songs, I put on the '2 Meter Sessions' that were released on 'We Will Take You With Us', because these were recorded a year later when I had been made a lot of progress. About the negative comments: I wouldn't know. I haven't heard a lot criticism. Probably these were on websites that I do not read? Yes, you have obviously sites like Blabbermouth. You just don't want to read some of the comments over there, phew! You can't say those readers are all women-friendly. It's so easy; sitting behind a computer makes a guy feel stronger than he actually is. I think a lot of those men are afraid of me, because I have never ever met a guy in my life who said all those dirty things on the internet, and said it right in my face as well.

That's not really what I meant with negative comments, since you can't take these silly comments from retarded assholes serious.
Well, I'm very critical about myself. My father is also very critical, so I listen to him as well, although Epica's music is for him a bit too loud. He's more into classical music – he really loved my version of Händels 'Ombrai Mai Fu' on 'The Classical Conpiracy' – and listens to the radio to Abba, The Beatles and eighties synthesizer music. I grew up with that music too, even more with Abba than with the Beatles. Although Beatles' 'Yesterday' is one of my fathers and mine absolute favourite songs of all time, and it's the song that I associate strongly with my childhood. I bought it on a vinyl single quite recently actually. My mother likes Epica, only not Marks growling. Anyway, eventually we make music that WE like. If you gonna listen to everyone what we have to do and don't, it'll only make you doubt. Do we make music that comes from our hearts and is something personal, or is it music that people like to hear? Subjective criticism doesn't affect me: it's my music, I don't let anyone take that away from me. If you don't like it, so be it. Objective criticism is something else. People who really know what they're talking about, I will believe. A friend of mine is speech therapist and she give me tips about my presentation on stage, like speak slow and lower when you want the audience hear you. But we're now six, seven years further and I think that I have progressed a lot, thanks to years of live experience and singing lessons. I also sang in the musical 'Equilibrio' last year, for which I took special singing lessons as well. There were only five shows in four days, but I think these type of things will make you richer as a musician or singer. Broaden your horizon.

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Do you have any musical ambitions, besides and/or after Epica?
I do like to take these kind of projects, and I experienced it as a fantastic learning process to understand how the musical and its business are. The beauty of Epica is that it's every night different and you doesn't stand on the same stage every night. With musicals is factually every time the same story, wherein you have a definite role. In Epica it's my lyrics and it's my emotions. I may decide how I perform these. Also, there aren't all kinds of people fumbling with your hair and try to put me in uncomforting costumes I don't like. I don't like that fuss. Don't get me wrong, I do like musicals a lot, but I simply think I'm not made for it. You also have to work very hard…

You mentioned singing lessons. Did you took those from Amanda Somerville?
I've never had lessons from Amanda. I had various singing teachers and I also had a German flute teacher when I was eleven years. But I didn't like the lessons with her, so I stopped playing the flute. I had classical singing lessons from Jan Gooren in Heerlen for five years, and recently I took singing lessons from Nancy Meijer in Zoetermeer, who is specialised in singing in musicals. Obviously this was vor 'Equilibrio', but I liked it with her so much, that I asked her also for helping me out with the new Epica songs.

Did those teachers gave you any tips when you are on the road for a couple of months or so?
I asked them for advice only in the beginning. Now I understand that's it's just extremely important to just listen to your own body. Don't mingle with the crowd after the show, because you have to scream your lungs to smithereens to make you understandable. Therefore we have many signing sessions and meet & greets, which I like very much. I also sleep a lot, eat much fruit, drink hardly alcohol and don't smoke. I work out also three times a week, although that's pretty hard to maintain when you're on tour. But when we're on tour I sleep at least twelve hours a day. That's simply the only way for me to carry on, also because you don't sleep very deep in a tour bus. You could say that, since it's an extremely physical effort, our drummer need as much rest as me, but he only needs a couple of hours sleep each night. We call him our Duracell rabbit: he just keeps on going, haha…
You have to be careful not to get sick on tour, and I've been sick a couple of times in the past, so I always bring a medicine set with me, as well as shawls, winter coats and a cap. And if I get the feeling that it's getting too much for me, I 'll say it to the band. Although that's pretty hard with the busy, tight schedules we have.

You just came back from a festival in…. er, in….?
Yeah, we just came back from, where the hell were we? Oh yeah, we were in Ukraine! Very good show by the way! It was really nice weather and all, and that helps a lot. Because we were in Czech a week earlier and it was raining cats and dogs all the time. The whole festival terrain was a mud pole. In Kiev (Ukraine) were like 2,000 people and Motörhead was headlining on the day we played. The day before played Tarja as well, so I went all the way to the front to watch her. She also sang 'Sleeping Sun' of Nightwish, and that was so great! One of my all-time favourite singers sings one of my favourite songs. I spoke with her backstage for a while, and she's just one big sweetheart.

Is Epica for all of you your bread winning?
Coen gives music lesson a couple days a week, just like Ariën and Isaac. Yves works at a company recently. Mark and me also write the lyrics, so we get more royalties. Also the fact that I live with my boyfriend in one house and we share the rent. If I have to pay it by myself, then… whew! Unlike people may think, we are certainly not wealthy!

While looking around and being impressed by the huge garden and the stately little castle of Mark, I try to put Simone's last line in perspective. While walking back to the other guests Simone told me that she was also very impressed by the artwork of her friend Stefan Heilemann, a “dark art” artist that's new in the metal scene, and also did the artwork for 'The Classical Conspiracy'. She said the music gets even more beautiful because of him. Speaking about beautiful: my fairytale of one thousand and one seconds are over when Simone falls in the arms of her lover. Some guys have all the luck…

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