Interview by Alessandra Cognetta
This summer I had the chance to catch up with Simone Simons from Epica for a quick chat about the band’s upcoming album “The Holographic Principle”. Simone discussed with me her inspirations and the band’s streamlined work on the new release, while also sharing some details about past experiences with live interviews, just before we were interrupted by a hologram (?).
Hello and welcome to Femme Metal Webzine, Simone! It’s a pleasure to have you with us. I’ve heard that you and Mark are currently in London for a promotion trip. How has it been so far and what kind of response have you been getting from the press on the new album?
Things are going really well. We had listening sessions in the Netherlands and Germany. The press reactions were really positive, we were overwhelmed. The album is heavy, it’s really packed full of many different layers of music. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to get a good feeling after listening once, so it’s an album that you have to listen to a couple of times. The fans have only heard tiny little snippets of the record and the documentaries that we’ve been making and today we’re going to release our first single! It’s a little bit exciting because fans all over the world will be able to hear our first song and let us know what they think about it.
Is there a song from the album that you found personally challenging to work on, as a singer and a songwriter?
Well, what I’ve done different now, as a vocalist, writing the vocal lines together with all the band members and with our producer Sascha [Paeth] is that we wanted to make the vocal lines more rhythmic, to be really in synch with the guitars. That’s a huge difference compared to our other CDs and my vocal lines, the verses especially, are really in synch with the rhythm section of the band. With each record I try to get the best out of me and from all my experiences, from all the recordings and touring I’ve done before to see how I can improve my vocals each time. I think I’m quite happy with the end result, how things turned out and there are parts in certain songs where I’m like “Yes, I’m looking forward to hearing that!”. It sounds maybe really weird, but if I’m able to get myself goosebumps in certain parts I think that then I’ve done a good job, because I’m really critical myself. If you just forget the fact that you are the one singing or playing guitar and you listen to it objectively and you really are convinced by it, that’s a good way of measuring your achievements.
I’ve actually had the chance to listen to some stuff from the new album and I can really see how what you just said mirrors in the music I’ve heard. I got some goosebumps, too! I have also heard that you have been training with a vocal coach for a few years now. Can you share with us some details on how the two of you have been working together? How did this reflect on your work on “The Holographic Principle”?
I think that there has been a misunderstanding, we didn’t have a vocal coach, we had a lyric coach. That’s a totally different thing. We worked together with Buffi Duberman, she’s an American woman living in the Netherlands and she’s been working with Anneke van Giersbergen, Within Temptation… she’s the one who’s helping the artist with grammar, lyrics and pronunciation, nothing at all about vocal techniques. That’s all myself and Joost. Buffi is the one who’s helping us with the lyrics, making sure that you can understand what we are singing as much as possible since we are not native English speakers. We sometimes get a little carried away with the pronunciation, so she’s taking care of that. But I think Mark once said that in an interview and I thought “Oh, that’s gonna be picked up by everybody!”, but she’s the lyrics coach.
You have written (some very cool) songs based on movies you love, in the past. Is there something similar on “The Holographic Principle”, considering that the main theme of the album is quite popular in movies as well? Or is there a movie that generally inspired you from a lyrical standpoint?
Definitely! There are two big movies that inspired me and those are “The Matrix” and “Inception”. The Holographic Principle, in a nutshell, is that we’re living in a hologram version of reality. We live in a different reality than what we think is real and that really connects to “The Matrix”. The two different realities, the true reality and the computer-generated reality. Artificial intelligence is also a really big topic in our CD and that is also very much present in “The Matrix”, the computers that control everything. We are the ones that are creating the artificial intelligence which will in the end control us. That is also something that comes back as a red line through the lyrics. And “Inception”, a dream within a dream… how you can manipulate your dreams to wake up the next morning and think that that happened. I found those really interesting. I always loved philosophy when I was younger and I can totally use that in the lyrics of Epica.
The first single from “The Holographic Principle” is “Universal Death Squad” and will be released tomorrow [the interview was recorded on 28 July 2016]. Are you allowed to share any details on the song or the music video, if there will be one?
We will release the lyric video, we are finalising it at this very moment. It’s the perfect song to give a little taste of what the record is like. It has everything that Epica has, the choir, the orchestra… The people that we showed it and the press at the listening session all pointed out that this was one of the favourites and that it had to be the single. The band also loves this song, so it was meant to be.
As someone who has been interviewing artists for quite a few years I always find it challenging to come up with good questions that are not boring or repetitive. Do you think there are some “don’ts” that music journalists should beware of?
There are the normal questions to get information about the CD, the writing process… everyone is interested in that. We are used to getting those questions. I guess one of them is “What is it like being the only woman in all the guys around you?”, that’s also a question I get a lot. But recently we had an interview in Mexico for the Rolling Stone, it was a Q&A with fans and the host of the show and he had some question that made us go “Uh… let me think about that…”. It was Isaac, Mark and I, so when I didn’t know how to answer I just said “Isaac, you go first!” (laughs). It was quite a funny interview and we thanked them for the original questions and he was a really nice guy.
Epica is also renowned for the live experience. I remember you guys had really cool lights and designs for stage props from “Requiem for the Indifferent”, and of course you always bring to the table amazing stage outfits and make-up. With Epic Metal Fest coming up, can we expect to see some fireworks (literal and figurative) on stage?
Well, we are working with our lighting technicians on some new beautiful lighting devices that we also used for the photoshoot and video shoot, which we’re going to take with us live. They’re still prototypes so they’re not for sale yet and they’re going to fit your “Holographic Principle” really well. We are really excited to do that and we are blessed with a really good lighting engineer who is so creative and motivated. He’s part of the team, it’s not like we hire him to work for us, he comes up with ideas and I think that’s a great think of our live shows. We don’t have a huge amount of stage decorations, but our light show is very prominent, really in synch with the music. That’s why we chose to continue on this road, it’s also easier to take with you on tour. It’s really gonna lift up the show to another level. The live shows are one of my favourite parts of being in a band, I love it and I love the interaction with the fans.
You are going to be on tour, so is there any place you’re looking forward to play in?
This year we’ve been to New Zealand for the first time, Hong Kong and we are hopefully also going to Japan in the future. I live to travel to new places, but also places that we’ve been already and I’m curious to see what the future holds in store for us. Travelling is amazing and we are really lucky that it’s part of our job. A lot of people are looking forward to book a holiday and we do that all year… [There is a loud noise from the other end of the line] Oh, the door just opened and slammed. Or there’s a ghost… (laughs)
Maybe it’s someone from a virtual reality.
Yeah, that must have been a hologram. Blame it on the hologram (laughs)!
Anyway, we have a tour coming up and Epic Metal Fest, which is open to everybody and not just people in the Netherlands. There are many other bands playing there and it’s going to be a spectacular show. The European tour starts next January.
That was my last question, thank you so much for taking the time to have this little chat!
Photos by Tim Tronckoe