Epica closed down a powerful night of metal Wednesday at Rams Head Live in Baltimore. Joining them on ‘The Ultimate Principle Tour’ were Lacuna Coil, Insomnium and Elantris. Epica is on the road in support of their latest album, The Holographic Principle. Over the past 14 years, Epica’s creative exploration of metal has stood out from the rest of the genre. AXS had the chance to catch up with guitar player Mark Jansen before the show.
AXS: Your 2003 debut album, The Phantom Agony introduced everyone to the contrast between Simone Simons’s soaring vocals and your guttural growls. Initially, how did that dynamic develop and how has it evolved over the years?
Mark Jansen: Actually I started doing that in After Forever before I started with Epica. We had a grunter in After Forever, but he was in jail more than he was playing with us. At a certain point, we decided to kick him out. It was not possible anymore with him and we took over the growls. I started doing it and then I continued doing it with Epica.
AXS: You earned a Master in Psychology-do you implement any of that knowledge in songwriting or stagecraft?
M.J.: Not consciously at least. I think it helps with reading situations sometimes because during your studies you develop a lot of knowledge about human beings, the human mind, how people react in certain situations to solve problems. Those kinds of situations it helps, but when it comes to songwriting I don’t really think so. With the lyrics, I have always been fascinated by science in general, so there is a little influence here and there but not as much as people would expect. I am more interested in other scientific topics than psychology in general.
M.J.: AXS: Lyrically Epica stands out from the crowd. There’s fantasy, philosophy, science and spirituality. Which band members contribute those influences?
M.J.: There’s not too much fantasy but when there is it is Simone’s part. Some of the things I like might sound like fantasy but it is really all based on scientific investigations. For example, there’s this The Holographic Principle theory might sound wicked and weird. The idea behind it is that the universe is really a matrix but some people say that it cannot be true. I say, yeah, but to live on a planet that goes high speed in the universe around, ever expanding, never ending, the big bang…that’s normal? You think that’s normal but this other idea is completely crazy? I think everything is completely crazy. It may be a wicked theory but I think it explains a lot of things. I believe that after all this all might turn out to be a matrix. It would make sense.
AXS: It’s said that science shows everything is mathematically coded.
M.J.: Yeah, yeah! When you go smaller and smaller in physics, in the end, you have little strings of energy but they can only go so small because otherwise, they can no longer see them. It becomes abstract and has no rules anymore. Everything can be brought down to mathematical code. That’s how it all works, by mathematics. It really intricate, especially when you start going really deep into that topic, when you zoom into the world it starts looking like pixels and all the little atoms you notice similarities.
AXS: The band consistently delivers stage shows and performances of presence and grandness. Who’s creative vision?
M.J.: We all add ideas to the table. Right now we have this big set up with keyboards that go all the way around, that was an idea of Coen himself, he came up with that. Everybody brings ideas to the table and we discuss what’s possible. Is it financially possible? Sometimes someone has a great idea but economically we cannot do it. That is how this band works with basically everything. We are the boss of our own band, nobody tells us what to do. We work with our management, but they're like basically family and more like part of the team. In some cases management really controls the band, it can get demanding always being told where to go and when to play. That is not the case with us, we are all equal in how things are run.
AXS: Is it hard to balance between the approaches of highly creative orchestral grandeur and pure, gritty metal?
M.J.: It is hard to combine. Hard because it is a lot of work before a song is finished. Some songs develop fast, but in general, it takes a long time to develop the layers and fine-tune everything. It is a challenge, but the bigger the challenge the more fun it is.
AXS: It is more satisfying?
M.J.: Yeah, because sure you can make some easy music, radio music, it wouldn’t feel like a challenge.
AXS: It has been about 14 years since Epica first began to rise to the upper strata of the metal world, what do you think was the greatest lesson you learned along the way?
M.J.: Ah, there were many lessons. The biggest things I learned though is that success is nice but you should not take it too seriously. When I was in After Forever, one day you are a hero to many people and then the next day I wasn’t in the band anymore. Then 90% of the people suddenly lose interest in you. That is a big lesson. And also know that whatever people say to you…take it with a grain of salt. Because people are happy, often they mean what they say at the time but that is because they look up to you and then it is not like that anymore. They look up to somebody else. That is a lesson I had to learn and it is a lesson that helps you keep both feet on the ground. It is a good lesson.
AXS: You also play in Dutch Symphonic Death Metal band MaYaN. Does that band fulfill a different part of your creative soul?
M.J.: Yes. First of all MaYaN’ is a bit heavier. So if I come up with something that I think might be too heavy for Epica I can use them for MaYaN. It is like a playground with no boundaries. In Epica there are no boundaries either really but we have to stay within a certain style. Second of all, I like that in MaYaN I only have to sing, so I get to have my hands free. I can do different things. That is a nice variation, switching off between MaYaN and Epica, it keeps it interesting. Epica has been around for 15 years, sometimes you just need to do something else to help keep it fun. You have to do something else or it becomes too repetitive. That is what you need to avoid. So it is good when all the guys have side projects. We reload our batteries from that. Some people say you should only be in one band, but I disagree. Everybody benefits from what they are exposed to and brings it back with them.