Our manager strongly suggested not to make this a double album
The Epica "beast" talks about the highly anticipated new album and the future of the band, being inspired by science and if we are living in a holographic universe.
Two years after the incredible "The Quantum Enigma", Epica are back with the ambitious "The Holographic Principle" having to meet the already high expectations of the fans. This was a good chance to chat with Mark Jansen about the creative process behind the new album, his love for science and how he gets inspiration from scientific theories.
Hello Mark! How are you?
Hello Nikos! I’m great, how are you?
I’m great, I’ve been listening to "The Holographic Principle" a lot since i’ve got the promo, and I have to say it’s a massive album, both in sound and in length. What was your goal while creating this album, considering the high expectations set by "The Quantum Enigma" and its success?
Our goal is always the same in a way, it’s to make an album that is at least as good as the previous one, but preferably better and we’re always looking for ways to improve things. This time for example, we did even more rehearsals to work on the final details of each track and we also recorded all the orchestral parts live, while on "The Quantum Enigma" we only did the string section and the choirs live, this time we also had brass, woodwinds, percussion, everything you can hear is being played live, so our goal was really to make something special an without thinking too much about the success of the previous album. We already put enough pressure on ourselves, that was enough to make us go for the best result, and when you also feel the pressure of an album that gets received very well it can become too much, but we didn’t suffer from that and we really worked on a very relaxed way on this album.
Were there any differences in the writing process this time? Could you give us an idea of what everyone contributes and how the songs take shape?
Yeah, we basically always start in our own home studios, everybody writes a couple of songs, and when I say everybody I mean the five guys in the band, we all write music, and when we feel that we have enough songs we come together, listen to each other’s tracks and say very honestly what we like and what we don’t. We do that together with our producer Joost Van Der Broek who is very good at keeping overviews and also he’s brutally honest (laughs), but that’s what we need because everybody of course loves his own tracks but together we’re also honest to eachother, but having one person outside the band is easier. Then when we have a selection of like 18 tracks, and many tracks didn’t make it on the album, but we recorded all of them, and twelve made it on the album.
This time there seems to be an even bigger emphasis on orchestration, with lots of different instruments involved, and from a production standpoint you used a lot of real instruments instead of samples. Is this an afterthought of how you can enrich your sound, or do you have it in mind while you first start composing the songs?
In fact when we started composing we didn’t really think about what we would record but once we started the recording process then the idea emerged to record everything live, so it was really something that happened during the process, it was not a conscious decision upfront but it grew on us. From one recording came another and another, until we decided to record everything, every instrument that we wrote on the album live, and that makes a difference, because when a human being is playing an instrument it always sounds more real, played with emotion than when you use a sample. Even when somebody makes a little mistake, a little bit out of tune here and there, that has its charm, because when you play it all together, one instrument out of 50, it’s weird but sometimes it sounds better, it enriches the sound.
While there are lots of catchy melodies on this album, I feel that it’s a more challenging listen from start to finish, with lots of progressive elements mixed and dynamic changes. How difficult is it to write songs that keep a balance between all these elements?
Yeah, we had some songs that were even more progressive before we started recording them, and during the rehearsals we took some parts out because like you said we have to keep the balance and when we had a feeling that some song was too progressive and losing the identity of the song then we rewrote some parts until we felt comfortable with it. You can make it as difficult as you want and you can make a song as wild and progressive as you want but in the end what’s most important is the song itself, so we always kept it in mind and even though the album is more progressive than "The Quantum Enigma", I hope we kept the balance right! (laughs)
You are the one who came up with the album concept, and you keep exploring more scientific themes like you did with "The Quantum Enigma". First of all, how did this idea come up, and how do you prepare to tackle such concepts lyrically?
The idea came because after "The Quantum Enigma" I kept watching documentaries about quantum physics and I also watched some lectures of Leonard Susskind who is called the bad-boy of quantum physics, and he has this idea and he’s proving it with mathematic calculations that the whole universe might be a hologram. That sounded very interesting to me, at first I thought probably like everybody else that this cannot be, but when you read more and more about it, you start believing that it might be true, and it also grew on me to use this topic for the album because you can go into so many directions and go really wild on it lyric wise as well, because it’s like science fiction put into reality.
So is the lyrical theme something that you think about after composing the music, or is it a parallel process?
Yes, basically after the music, because the music gives Simone and me some inspiration to write lyrics and also it has to fit to what music you have available. If this concept would be there and the music didn’t give us that feeling to write songs about it we would have taken another subject. There were some songs in general that didn’t feel right for this concept, but most of the songs that we wrote about other topics were not the ones that made it to the album. So it’s funny that in the end the songs dealing with the holographic principle actually made it to the album.
Once again you worked with Joost van den Broek as a producer, and I was wondering how he gets involved in the songwriting process. Is he giving arrangement suggestions, maybe helping you decide which songs will end up on the album? How important is it to have an external opinion on something so personal as your music?
His influence is very big, he comes into each member’s home studio when we are writing the songs and he gives his opinion there, he even adds some ideas or arrangements like you said, so from the beginning he is there and he contributes with his opinion and his view on the songs. Together we build the songs and he’s also involved in selecting the songs, everybody has an opinion about it, everybody has a vote to which songs will make it to the album, so it’s six band members voting plus Joost, so it’s seven votes and from these votes we make the final selection for the album.
That’s a very democratic process and not very usual! (laughs)
(Laughs) Yes it is, but when we have to select the tracks that will go onto the album people get very sad if their choice doesn’t make it, but usually the opinion of the most is in the end the best opinion.
You’ve also been touring in between the writing process of the album. Do you think this can help you get some perspective over the music so you can revisit it with a clear mind and maybe see the result under a different mindset?
There are advantages and disadvantages, the big advantage is indeed that you can clear your mind and come back with a refreshed perspective, which has a positive influence on the music, but of course it’s a bit tiring because you’re fully focused in the studio and then suddenly you have to go on tour and it’s a completely different world and you have to make that switch. When the tour is done, sometimes you hit the studio right away again and it’s hard to be away from home for such a long period, but as I said there are advantages and disadvantages and for this album it surely helped us because we could listen to the songs again with a refreshed mind and new ideas.
As you said there were six more songs recorded, but didn’t make it onto the album. Is there a chance that they will be released in some kind of special edition album?
We are looking into what we can do, we don’t want to release them as a separate bonus disc on different editions, these songs fit really well together. So we are looking if we could do an EP one year after the release of "The Holographic Principle". They were written as being album songs, and the quality is good enough but they just didn’t make it because the flow was better with the other twelve tracks. But they still deserve a nice release I think.
Did you at any point consider to make this a double album?
Yeah we thought about it, but our manager wasn’t really a big fan of this idea so he strongly suggested not to make a double album. (laughs)
You have your own festival, EpicMetalFest coming up, with an amazing lineup and your other band Mayan is also playing there! First of all, since it marks the release of the new Epica album, are you planning on playing the whole album from start to finish?
Well, we try to make it interesting for everybody, there are people coming who want to hear some older songs from Epica, people who want to hear new tracks, so we try to have a balanced setlist. We play about 75% of the album but not all of it, because we have one hour and fifty minutes to play and we also want to play some older classics to make everybody happy, so the idea is to keep some songs and play them later on, we will rotate the setlist so sooner or later people will get to see all the tracks of the new album live.
How hard is it to perform with two different bands on the same day? That’s a lot of music to remember!
(Laughs) I have a solution for that because I will be fully focused on the Epica show, so I will probably just do two songs with Mayan, it’s a short set anyway and now we have two grunters because of course I cannot be on tour with Mayan all the time since I’m so busy with Epica, so the other grunter will do the rest of the tracks. I think this will work perfectly for me, because indeed if I have to focus also on learning a full set of Mayan music then I would have less time to prepare for such an important Epica show. If it would suffer from that, I would feel bad about it, so I think I have found the perfect solution.
For the first time you also have the EpicMetalFest in Brazil for one date, how come did this happen, and why did you choose Brazil to do it?
We were thinking about where we could do another EpicMetalFest because we always want to challenge ourselves and Brazil came to mind because it’s a very good country for us and we always get received very well there, and we also know a promoter from there, he’s a friend of us and he would like to work on this project, so it felt good and we decided just to do it.
Do you think this tour is a good time to release a new live album? It’s hard to top "Retrospect" but songs from both "The Quantum Enigma" and "The Holographic Principle" have great energy and I’m sure fans would love to have live versions in their collection! Have you discussed the possibility?
Yeah we sometimes think about recording some live stuff, we will have to think further about it, you were right in what you said, "Retrospect" marked nicely an era of Epica and then with "The Quantum Enigma" we went into a new direction, still keeping the ingredients of Epica but it sounds refreshing and it would be cool to do something with these new songs, we could make a live album after this release, but we could wait to have one more album so we have three new albums and then make a live recording, we’ll have to see, all options are open.
"The Quantum Enigma" marked a new era as you said, and "The Holographic Principle" is a continuation of that direction, and even though it’s too soon, what is next for Epica? I’m sure you have some kind of masterplan in your mind!
(Laughs) To be honest, he didn’t think much about the next step yet, it was such an intense process to make this album and once it was done we felt completely empty and out of energy because we put all our energy in this one. So as soon as the energy level is rising again and the battery is reloaded we will start discussing the next step. Probably we will start like we always start, just with writing songs, and we don’t know what the next step will be, it happens just to be, something invisible shows us the way, it’s hard to explain!
You know you have a big fanbase here in Greece, can you give us any news on when we can expect you to be back and perform for us?
We have nothing planned yet, but of course on this new album cycle we want to come to Greece, it’s just a matter of finding the right time since it’s going to be an intense touring schedule, so it should happen sooner than later, hopefully not two and a half years from now but for now there are no dates booked, I hope it won’t take too long.
So thank you for your time, and hopefully we’ll see you soon in Greece with Epica!
Yeah, hopefully we’ll soon have new about some shows in Greece! Thank you!