Interview by Alessandra CognettaThe European Enigma Tour has just started and Epica decided to once again play a couple of shows in Italy. Their packed concert in Rome gave us a chance to have a nice chat with Coen Janssen and discuss Epica’s recent accomplishments and collaborations, from music videos to videogames, but also some more peculiar matters, like the role of streaming services in metal music. The venue was warmed up by an energetic opening set from Dragonforce, whose newest member, Italian drummer Gee Anzalone, had a very uplifting message for the audience. But the crowd went completely crazy when the first notes from “Originem” started playing, greeting the band with incredible enthusiasm. The setlist was very diverse, spacing from the old classics to the latest singles, and Epica proved to be the usual more than well-oiled machine, delivering a memorable performance. Simone’s voice sounded better than ever, displaying her skills especially on the new songs, which were greatly appreciated and revealed an unexpectedly big following from newer, younger fans. There was a very nice interaction with the audience, from the improvised duet with Simone on “Cry For The Moon” to the screaming challenge instigated by Coen during the pre-outro break. Another great contribution came from the lights, which added a lot of atmosphere and colour on the stage without being too heavy or predominant. But the real surprise came right before the end, as Mark announced that the band had decided to play for the Roman crowd a song they didn’t usually include in their sets: the choir from “The Last Crusade” started filling the venue, almost moving to tears a lot of the older fans (myself included). A wild “Consign To Oblivion” closed the exceptional concert and the band left amid ear-crushing cheering, after Simone had unfolded a banner gifted by the Italian Fanclub (a picture of the band with the colours of the Italian flag on the background). Epica keeps growing and their live shows are definitely a must, as the smiles on the fans’ faces as they left the Orion Live Club attest to. Hello and welcome to Femme Metal Webzine! The tour has just started: how has it been so far and what are your expectations for the upcoming dates?
So far it’s been really good! There have been a few sold out shows, yesterday there was a sold out show in Milano, so that was really nice. It’s good to be in Italy again, you really see that the Italian crowd really wants to party and that’s really good. Tonight will be a hot show as well, I think. Then we will go to France, Spain and Portugal, so I think we’re gonna have fun!It’s been a while since the release of “The Quantum Enigma”. How would you summarize Epica’s experience from May to now?
I think the album took us a step forward again. I think it was received very well and we had the opportunity to do bigger shows, more shows, so far it’s just been great. The songs are great for lives as well and people like them, so it all goes really well actually (laughs)! It’s a bit boring but it goes really well.You recently released a video for “Victims of Contingency”. Can you tell us a bit more about the imagery and the concept behind it?
The idea behind the video was taken out of the lyrics and I’m not really sure what it’s about again, but it basically deals with the hunter that becomes the hunted. The protagonist of the story wants to control stuff, but in the end the thing he wants to control is controlling him. His fears are haunting him. The director we worked with was the same for “Storm the Sorrow” and we gave him carte blanche to do whatever he wanted and he came up with this concept with turned out great.You also have two lyric videos, “The Essence of Silence” and “Unchain Utopia”. This is clearly a different format, but one that many bands favour a lot lately. What do you think are the pros and cons of a lyric video instead of a normal video?
The thing is that years ago you could do a video and it would be aired on TV, MTV and on the local music channels as well, probably, but that’s gone. The videos are only on YouTube and on your Facebook page basically, so to make a video which costs a lot of money and for it not to be aired on TV it’s kind of a big budget thing. Bands do lyric videos because it’s so much cheaper, you don’t have to hire a director or anything , it’s just one person making them. That’s, I think, why every band’s making lyric videos and, of course, it also takes a lot less time than shooting a real video. But the con is that it’s not that fun! It’s better to have a real video and to try to do the semi-live videos, like the aftershow videos for Pinkpop and Pukkelpop. Actually next week we will be releasing another one for the first days of this tour. It’s live footage so you really don’t have to work on it and there’s one guy making the montage. It’s all these kind of different ways to have yourself up on the Internet somehow, to be there.It’s also more authentic.
Yeah!Last year you reissued “The Phantom Agony” with some really cool extras. What led you to that choice and is there any other album you’d like to reissue or expand with new material?
Well, we did it because “The Phantom Agony” was not available anymore. Our former record label went bankrupt, so since they still have all the rights you cannot print it anymore, it’s a difficult story but it’s on the market again, now. We’re trying to do the same with “Consign to Oblivion”, so we hope to have the re-release for next year or as soon as possible, because “Consign to Oblivion” is also not available anymore and that would be a good reason to reissue it.“The Quantum Enigma” is available on Spotify with some bonus track commentary for each song, given by…
I think it’s Ariën [van Weesenbeek]!
It’s a bonus that is not on other CD bundles. What do you think of this kind of streaming services?
There have been so many discussions about this, I really didn’t dive into it yet. I imagine for bigger artists like Taylor Swift it’s really important, but for us it is not that important. I think it’s also a different marketing, metal fans are really loyal and into buying albums, which is good for us of course. It’s there, you know? Compared to album sales you do not get that much so it’s not good, but if you destroy it – Taylor Swift took her albums off from Spotify, but they’re still available on YouTube and they don’t pay at all. I get her statement and if I really think from an artist’s point of view, then you shouldn’t be happy with Spotify, but it’s the way the world works, the way the Internet works. You cannot do anything about it.Simone Simons and Mark Jansen are part of the Countermove initiative, an all-Dutch project that involves many artists from all over the country. What can you tell us about it?
In Holland every year, around Christmas, they do this big fundraiser for the Red Cross and Epica participated last year as well auctioning items and trying to raise funds for a good cause and this year I think it’s a project from Joost [van den Broek], who produces our albums. I think they recorded a cover song with a lot of Dutch metal singers.“The Power of Love”?
Yeah! Mark and Simone are on it and also Anneke [van Giersbergen] and Floor [Jansen] from Nightwish, a lot of Dutch metal singers and musicians, too. They’re gonna sell that song and the profits go to the Red Cross. I think that’s the basic idea, but I haven’t heard about it much.But you’re involved in another project, the Karmaflow videogame, which was crowdfunded not too long ago. What kind of work did you do for that project?
Just before the tour I went to the studio and recorded some piano for it. It’s really cool! It’s a videogame with a lot of singers, Marc Hudson from Dragonforce, Simone and Mark are also on it a lot of great metal singers from around the world. They are characters in the game and it’s a rock opera videogame where you’re playing a story with cutscenes, music and voices and it’s really good. I’m happy to be part of it.The acoustic versions Epica arranged for the new album have some interesting twists, like “Natural Corruption”’s folk approach. Was it a challenge for you, as a musician, to work on that path?
We sometimes play acoustic sets at festivals and it’s always fun to have that, but we thought this time it was better to already have them before so we don’t have to practice that much. It was an idea just to have some extra bonus tracks for the special edition of the album which has 3 CDs. It’s fun to do and we just went into the studio after the initial recording sessions. We sat together and thought about which songs we could do best acoustically and those four songs came out. Just another day of fun! And you get some bonus tracks, because you have to have a good product, so…I was surprised to see all the different editions, the Earbook… there were a lot of extras.
Yeah, that’s how we have to make a living now, it’s the way the music industry works.With all these great albums and milestone songs on your discography, how do you manage the choices for a balanced setlist that is not three hours long?
For “Retrospect” it was easy, because we had three hours (laughs)! Now we are promoting the new album, so we play a lot of new songs, which is cool for us because we have new stuff to play and it’s refreshing. Then we just fill up with the big hits. A lot of people want to hear certain songs, so we want to play those and, to keep it interesting for ourselves, we have some stuff we like. We are looking for a good way to have the perfect setlist, but it’s really hard.This is it, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions! Do you have any final greetings for fans and readers?
Hello, this is Coen from Epica and you’re reading Femme Metal Webzine. I really hope to see you at our next shows!
Photos by Stefan Schippers