EPICA (2014 - English Version) - Simone Simons (Vocals) & Coen Janssen (Keyborads)

Two against one is usually not fair. But when the two ones are Simone Simons and Coen Janssen from EPICA it becomes a good deal.
After the great “Retrospect”, they are now ready to turn the page with “The Quantum Enigma”, and I’m here to resolve it. Well at least I can try!

SBM: Hello! And thank you for giving me a piece of your time. Let’s talk about “The Quantum Enigma” which you seem to really consider as the starting point of a new era. “Requiem for the Indifferent” was really different; I would have considered it as a new cycle, musically. Why have you chosen precisely this record?

Coen: It’s a matter of perception I think, the main difference, for us, was how we approached the production, the song writing and the recording process, it’s been a little bit different than how we did with the old records.
Also after “Retrospect”, which was a kind of closure after the first decade, we said “Ok let’s start a new decade” because we are no done with making music. Also soundwise I think, the album sounds more modern and catchier than our previous albums so that’s why we’ve thought about it. But we never know, maybe the next album is going to be totally different again, you never know.

You said you’ve approached the writing differently. In our last interview you told me that you sent files to each other because you were living in different places, so how was it going this time, especially with Rob who participated to his first writing session with EPICA.

Coen: That’s the main difference; we got together in the studio, rehearsed the songs a lot, and turned around every detail, focused on certain parts. And I think we showed a different sound, the grooves are better and it’s really more into detail.

Yeah we can hear this group work on the album, there’s a big unity on the record.

Coen: Yeah!

When have you started writing the album? And Simone, what was your involvement during the writing with your pregnancy?

Simone: The writing process is basically always present; I mean the guys all wrote their own songs, so we have five songwriters. And we got together to put the dots on the “i” in June or July. We stopped touring in June because my belly was getting huge and I could not stand on stage anymore and the only thing we did differently was for me and the vocals. Sascha, Joost and Mark came into my place to work on vocals and lyrics because I couldn’t really travel and I started recording my vocals two months after I’ve given birth so I was given some time to get used to this life changing situation, recover from pregnancy and birth.
The guys gave a break and concerning “Retrospect” there was a whole promo and a few tours as well, so they did all the interviews so I could relax as much as you can relax when the baby doesn’t sleep. (Coen and Simone laughing)
But the rest is pretty much the same; we recorded in a new studio, the Sandlane Recording Facilities in the Netherlands instead of the Gate Studio in Wolfsburg so that was definitely new, closer to all the other band members that live in the Netherlands, Mark and I are living outside of the Netherlands.
So we could see each other, hang out with each other, cook with each other, spend time together besides being on tour and that’s something we never did in the past. It was fun to just be creative and to focus on the record.

And on this record we have choirs and orchestrations that are stronger than ever. Was it a will from the beginning to do something very strong? Maybe to show that EPICA’s here and stronger than ever!

Coen: When we decided to work with that studio there was also a need of different choir and a different approach of the whole things because you’re in a different area and we had a choir that was actually almost something like three times as big as what we had on our previous albums, so the sound is much bigger of course. And also regarding the new songs we decided to use real string players again so it makes the sound instantly way better and way more symphonic so all these elements combine make the record sounds more bombastic or epic.

And most of the songs last around five minutes, really punchy songs. Was it also a will to do something very short and just do one long and epic track?

Coen: Hum that’s a natural thing I think. When we were together in the studio and really talked about the songs, you really come to shorter songs which are a little bit more… round, structural. And of course we are EPICA so we have some long songs or longer songs like “Quantum Enigma” and “Omen” or “Sense Without Sanity” but on most of the songs we entertained more on the songwriting so they became a little shorter. But it’s still too long. (Laugh)

Simone: (Laugh) No it’s definitely more time spent into the songwriting and it did come out stuff that made sense so we thought “Ok!”
By sitting together as a band you’ve got a faster interaction during the songwriting because it’s not going via emails, sometimes people cannot check their emails right away. Or sometimes you have an idea at this moment you have to immediately work on it, but there it’s an exchange of creativity, which is different everyday for each person. What’s how a band should work but due to the fact that we live far from each other and that we’ve been touring and touring and touring it was hard. But now we are back to basic!

We can clearly hear that on the record, a kind of new breathe, we have really new sounds, for example the Asian sounds on “The Fifth Guardian” or Celtic melodies on “Natural Corruption”. How did you come to this?

Coen: Well the Chinese sounding or Asian sounding parts are just because of the melody of “Chemical Insomnia”, sounding like these Asian fields, with tonic melodies. When you hear such melodies you immediately link it to China or something so it came natural to write an intro for that with this atmosphere because it just fit it somehow. And I guess the Celtic thing in “Natural Corruption” is also a melody Isaac wrote and when the melody is there you’re searching for a sound, and indeed it sounds like “Riverdance”, these Celtic elements and then you find the right instruments to play it and it comes naturally.

Simone: We like to integrate other cultures in our music and on each record, something new comes but everybody doesn’t notice it. But I like that and I think it’s a very nice addition to “The Quantum Enigma”.

Coen: There’s also some more… Eastern things in it, the sitar playing in “Unchain Utopia” and also in “The Quantum Enigma” song there are some Indian sounding background vocalists in the beginning. We wanted to get a little bit further than Easter Europe and go more into the Asia heart.

I’ll have to listen to it again, it’s very rich and I still don’t have heard all the details but I’ll try! This song “The Quantum Enigma” is the second part of the “Kingdom of Heaven” initiated on “Design Your Universe”. Why have chosen to include it on this record?

Simone: The topic comes again from the quantum physics and on “The Kingdom of Heaven” on “Design Your Universe” quantum physics has a positive topic in it. And Mark reads books about it and he finds it very interesting and wanted to put this on this record, and on the title track “The Quantum Enigma” he added the Tibetan monks in the intro again which is also similar to “The Kingdom of Heaven part 1” and he told me that it was not a conscious choice, it happened like that. And he wanted to link it back to “Design Your Universe”.

Coen: And it fitted in the end, “Let’s do ‘Kingdom of Heaven part 2’ it fits!

Actually concerning the topics, EPICA’s always spoken about human behavior, human mind, connections between people and stuff like that. What’s the link between this and the quantum physics?

Coen: The quantum enigma is a scientific phenomenon which proves that if you look at something, you as a person look at something, by just looking at it or observing you’re changing that. Of course you can see it as an overall thing that changes everything: the way you experience religion influence or politics or whatever; Mark and Simone wrote about it in the past. It’s a matter of how see things, how you perceive your reality and maybe you can even make your own reality, like the crazy people in this world are not as crazy as they are, they just made their own reality. You never know, you can endlessly philosophize about this subject which makes it so interesting.

Simone: It’s the quest and search of reality, what is life, what is death, answering the questions of life. It’s very spiritual that’s why you can see the Buddha on the artwork.

Thanks for having enlightened me. I also read books and stuff about quantum physics but actually I haven’t seen the link so thank you.

Simone & Coen (Laughing): You’re welcome!

Simone you were talking a the artwork, which is the best EPICA artwork so far. Can you explain us some details and their meanings, like the DNA chain, the space-time curves, Buddha etc... ?

Simone: Yeah I can do it. Well it starts on with the mountain and the eye which is the symbol of how we see and perceive things, what we think reality is. But the mountain goes all the way down into the sea which stands for mystery or another universe, so many unknown things that we try to find out.
Then you have the boat looking down, which stands for the search, DNA of course which stands for life, we have the Buddha, the spiritual, the elements of water, fire, wind and…

Coen: Earth…

Simone: Yeah, water, fire, wind and earth, thank you (Laugh). What else do we have?

Coen: Well even the front cover is a part of a bigger picture what you can see if you have the full artwork, so it takes the concept out of the concept and put it in another concept. (Laugh)

Simone: It’s like a story within a story but you have to see the whole part to clearly understand.

Have you chosen these details or did you give total freedom to the designer?

Simone: We’ve worked with Stefan Heilemann again and we explained him “The Quantum Enigma”, some topics of the lyrics and that’s it. And then we told him “You’re an artist you are free to let your genius brain cook all over EPICA” and that’s what he came up with, and we loved it, we changed very little things and he immediately connected to our ideas, the colors, the composition. It was pretty interesting.

As I told you I love it and I’m really looking forward to see the entire artwork.
Coen, in our last interview we spoke about the keyboard solo of the song “Infernal Warfare”. You told me that it was suppose to be a one shot because you prefer to play piano as accompanier instead of soloing.
But we have a new solo here on “Reverence – Living in the Heart”. Is it finally stronger than you?

Coen: Well I never really contemplate to do a solo before the end. On “Retrospect” there’s also a keyboard solo, it happens and all the solo parts were filled up, except the one in “Reverence” and we were thinking maybe of a higher guest, a guitar player to do a solo. But then I think we told about “Let’s do a twin solo”, to have another type of solo and then it became the guitar with keyboards again. It was fun to do it and since I have this Revo keyboard which makes me able to walk I thought that maybe we could use it on this song.

Simone: He is a great show person so…

Coen: But you know, a lot of fans get used to see you in the back and not the front of the stage.

Simone: But you do a great job with your new keyboard, we integrated it in the show when I was pregnant; Coen came to the front and he put it on my belly because it fits right on my belly. So it was fun, it’s a cool element.

On this DVD, “Retrospect” you invited all ancient members on the song “Quietus”. Have you think about bringing one of them as a guest on the record, maybe for example Ad when you were searching for this guest guitarist on the solo?

Coen: It wouldn’t really make sense I think. It’s good to have it on stage because people can really see that they are there, but on the record if Ad would have play some guitar it wouldn’t really matter. It would be good if it was a solo or something but it’s something Ad didn’t really like to do (Laugh).

By talking about guests, Simone, you participated as guest vocalist of the new Timo Tolkki’s Avalon. How this experience was?

Simone: Timo called me or wrote me emails many years ago to work with him but it didn’t happen because of time and space and all the questions of life… (Laugh) No I’m joking.
And well for this new Avalon record he wrote me again, he sent me the song and I said “Let’s do it” so I recorded the vocals at the Sandlane Recording Facilities, where we recorded “The Quantum Enigma” and it was very fast, very smooth. I don’t know when the album will be release…

It will be in the beginning of May.

Simone: Ok great! I hope I’ll have a copy! (Laugh)

And what are the plans for EPICA in 2014? Touring I guess, but we won’t have the chance to see you at the Hellfest in France…

Coen: No... We wanted to do that but apparently they didn’t want to book us… Dommage! (Pronounced in French speaking).

Simone: We’ll skip this year probably…

Coen: I love Hellfest!

I’ve seen you there in 2007, but I don’t remember if you came again.

Coen & Simone: We played twice…

I guess I’ve missed one! Beside the Hellfest do you have any dates already booked for the upcoming tour?

Coen: Yeah we’ll start the tour on the 30th of April for the CD release party and then we’re going to do some summer festivals, unfortunately no Hellfest this year. After that the world tour will start, it’s not announced yet but it will soon, we’re finalizing all the details, and we surely come back to France, probably at the end of this year and in Paris in January with a special Paris show in a…

Simone: Huge venue…

Coen: This will be great!

I really hope so!

Coen: The tour will only bring us to Paris because we have to focus on Paris in January.

Well I guess I’ll have to try to come!

Simone: Yeah it will be nice!

Thank you… And thank you again for this moment, I think we‘ve reached the end, so I leave you the final words if you want to say something for the French fans.

Simone: Keep on drinking great wine and listening to EPICA! We’ll see you very soon.

Coen: (Speaking French) Merci beaucoup pour toutes les années ! (Translation : « Thank you very much for all these years). I’ve getting French language again!

Nice French speaking Coen!

Coen & Simone: Thank you! Bye!

Critique : SBM
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