The great new Epica album "The Quantum Enigma" is soon to be released, and we got the chance to talk with Simone Simons about the different creative process that they followed this time, the changes that the birth of her son brought to her life, and many more interesting things...
Hello Simone! How are you?
Hello! "Καλη...σπέρα" (good evening)? (laughs)
Well you have a great pronunciation!
Thank you! Is that good morning?
That means good evening!
I also know "καληνύχτα" (goodnight)...
"Καληνύχτα" means goodnight, but your Greek seem to be very good!
"Καλημέρα"(Good morning) then! The third guess is right! (laughs) (Editor's note: Simone's baby is heard in the background)
Your little boy is anxious it seems!
Yeah, he is nervous for the interview... (laughs)
(Laughs) First of all, congratulations for your new album. I had the chance to listen to it several times now, and I dare to say it's your best so far...
Thank you! (Editor's note: little Vincent steals the spotlight again with his voice!) Normally I do the interviews in the evening so you can't hear him in the background, so I hope you don't mind...
Not at all!
So, back to the album, you're right, I agree, I think this is our best work to date, and let's hope that other people will share our opinion (laughs)
I think so, at least many people who have heard the album share the same opinion with me...
That's great news!
How different was the creative process for "The Quantum Enigma" compared to the previous albums?
Basically it was the opposite of what we've done before, it's been the most intense writing process, with new challenges, new sceneries, we were working more as a band this time, and that's basically part of the studio that we were working two summers ago, we had this recording for a Dutch tv show at Sandlane Recording Facilities and we enjoyed working there, it was a nice ambience, we were sitting there together, the whole band performing an acoustic version of a pop song and we were like "hey, this is nice, sitting here together as a band". We all live far apart, so it's difficult for us to get together and the writing of our previous records was more digital, everybody from their home studio sending each other emails and then going into the studio, so this time we wanted to really be more in the studio and the creative process before recording it, to kind of get the basics right, the guitar, the bass, the drums and everything around it.
We loved the Sandlane studio and we kind of said "Ok, it's in the Netherlands, for three of the band members it's closer than going north of Germany". Joost van den Broek, our producer is working at that studio, so that was kind of obvious to also work with him, to record with him, and he's been part of the writing process.
Each band member, with the exception of me has written songs themselves, so Joost was there, sitting together with the main composer of that particular song, making the songs better and improving them where it was needed, so he was really involved from the beginning, when songs were little babies (laughs). So even when the album was mixed in Denmark, he went to Denmark, so Joost has been the guardian of the record, he's been helping us with the songwriting, with the arranging and also with the vocal lines, Sasha (Paeth) was still involved, together with Joost and Mark in my house, to work on the vocal lines, which was also new, but that was basically just because of my pregnancy, I could not travel and they came to me, it was nice to have them all over here.
Besides that, we also had a new mixer, we sent "The Essence Of Silence" to a couple of mixers to kind of do a try and see who would make Epica sound the best, because the mix is very important and it can totally change the sound, we also asked Sasha if he wanted to be a part of it, but he had no time unfortunately, so yeah, Jacob (Hansen (VOLBEAT, HATESHPERE)) was the best and we are very happy that we contacted him, because he gave Epica that extra kick, he makes us sound like a real metal band and we wanted to have the guitars more prominent. Jacob still kept the balance of Epica, and we have so much information in the music that it's hard to mix it, there are so many layers, but he did an awesome job.
Yes, actually I wanted to say that, I think the production is the best you've had as a band, it manages to have a fine balance between the symphonic and metal elements, while still keeping the sound heavy and bombastic. I think this was a change that was needed for you as a band.
Yeah, definitely. It's a little bit like a new start for us, it feels like that because now we've found the sound that we're happy with, the symphonic element is still very present, but yeah, we're a metal band and you can definitely hear that.
Was the decision to change the producer made in order to shake things up a bit? Did he push you out of your comfort zone?
Yes, it's good to have somebody who is totally motivated and you know, we're all in the band since almost twelve years ago, everything is a little bit the same after a while, and we wanted to reinvent ourselves, and changing the scenery, changing the studio and producer is always good because then it's not becoming a routine. Having a good ambience and somebody who can motivate you can be really good for the creative process. We all had a great time in the studio and we loved working with Joost and we're very thankful that he took the challenge to work with us and he got the best out of us.
You wrote lyrics for some songs, including my favorites "Unchain Utopia" and "Chemical Insomnia". Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for your lyrics, and how you decide which songs to write lyrics for?
Well, me and Mark split up the lyrics and when the songs were still demo tracks he asked me which songs did I feel attracted to the most, which ones would I like to write the lyrics for and "Chemical Insomnia" and "Unchain Utopia" were some of my favorites and they are all written by Isaac (Delahaye). Lyric wise, we had the Quantum Enigma, the quest for reality, the power of the human mind, the circle of life, and for me, "Chemical Insomnia" is basically about the power of the mind and how insomnia can make you addicted to sleeping pills and you enter this vicious circle where you cannot sleep without the pills and you start daydreaming, you start experiencing nightmares during the day.
"Unchain Utopia" is maybe the only more political themed song of the record, where people are trying to get the power back from the government, because the government is painting a different picture of what is going on, plus the government has a different vision of what a utopia is compared to the public. So it's about freeing yourself from the other person's vision.
"Canvas Of Life" is basically about the circle of life, and "Natural Corruption" is about the unfortunate fact that there are many charity organizations are corrupt, people are spending money, donating money for their own peace of mind thinking that they are helping other people in need and you don't always know where the money ends up. I got that idea when we had the unfortunate event in the Philippines and everywhere there were charity organizations popping up, I'm not saying that all of them are corrupt, but some of them definitely are, and people are just donating money just so that they can say that they did something. So that's a little bit about it, it's one of my favorite songs.
I've always wondered what your involvement is in the writing process of a new album. Do you come up with melodies and structural ideas, or are you focused on your vocals and letting the other guys take care of the rest?
Well, they guys are responsible for the music, the other band members write the songs, even our drummer, "The Essence Of Silence" which is a more metal song was written mostly by him, and the more poppy songs are written by Coen (Janssen). So I am basically more responsible for the vocal lines, and when we were sitting here at my house with Mark and Joost I was giving my opinion on some of the songs like "This part seems unnecessary", so I don't come up with the music itself but I just give my opinion on the structures of the songs, more as a listener, because some of the guys have classical training, they have musical education and they know how to create a song, and I listen to them more as a listener and tell them where I lose my attention and what I think should be done to improve the songs. So that's mostly my part, and the vocal lines and the lyrics.
You had your first child a few months ago, congratulations for that. Was it hard for you to enter the studio just two months after giving birth? Was it a source of inspiration?
Yes and no, in a way that you know, giving birth, and breastfeeding, it takes its toll on your body, and you sing with your body, so I had to find a way to boost my energy and give a kickass performance and luckily Joost knew my limits, he knew that I didn't have so much energy as in the past, so we worked very efficiently, and I think it is my best vocal achievement so far, I recorded the biggest amount of songs in the shortest timeframe so we were definitely a good team.
Does it make it difficult for you to keep up with touring responsibilities now that you are a mother? Will you have your son with you while touring, or are you going to have breaks in between the tour so you can be with your family?
More the latter, I don't plan on taking him on tour with me, I want to keep him home safe in his normal environment, he is still so small and he needs a lot of care, so I prefer to have him home with family and to be home in between the tours too, just be a mom and work from home.
And I guess the status of the band right now allows you to do that...
Yes, it's great that I can do the interviews from home, and that we're only doing summer festivals and once he's one year old then we'll start touring for a longer period of time.
How difficult is it to decide on which songs to include on the setlist? Which tracks from "The Quantum Enigma" are you looking forward to perform live?
Certainly the shorter ones, like "Unchain Utopia" and "Natural Corruption" because they have this cool drive, I think "Victims Of Contingency" has great live potential as well. What we always do with each record is that we play the intro of the new record and the first track, so that is how we're going to start the set most of the time, when he have limited time like in a festival, we try to change it up a little bit. We now have six albums to choose from and a normal Epica show lasts about two hours, and I always joke around and I say "Lets just play all the title tracks and then we have the two hour setlist!" (laughs).
This is a question from a twitter fan of yours. What's your favorite song from "The Quantum Enigma" and why?
At the moment it's "Natural Corruption" because it has a great vibe, it's an uplifting metal song with great melodies and it just gets to me.
Let's move to something different now. You are participating on Karmaflow: The Rock Opera Videogame, giving your voice to an in game character. Can you share some details about your involvement in this project, and how interesting was it for you to do something like that?
I was asked by Ivo van Dijk if I wanted to be a part of it, I thought that the concept is really unique. When I'm playing videogames I'm more of a Mario Bros fan, my husband likes the more high tech games where you think you're really in the game, I like the 2D games more, but I liked the idea, and I also find music very important in videogames, it sets the mood and I think that metal songs are a great candidate to put together with a videogame, so when he asked me I thought it was a great idea and I'm up for it, I heard some music but I don't know what I have to sing yet, it's not finished yet. But I already thought that the idea was so cool that I said "Ok, I'm in!" (laughs)
So are you just giving your voice or will there be a character that looks like you in the game?
I don't know! They still have to tell me, but I'm up for anything.
You are also a guest on Avalon's "Angels of the Apocalypse", which is also a rock opera. How was it working with Timo Tolkki, and how many tracks do you sing on?
I was asked by Timo already some years ago, but it didn't work out for some reason, so he asked me again for this second project and I thought that if I'm already in the studio in the Netherlands, I can also record the songs for him, and he asked me to sing on two songs, "Angels Of The Apocalypse" and a ballad, together with other female singers. It was nice to work with him, because he is a "golden oldie" in the scene, but I haven't heard the finished result yet, so I'm curious myself about how it sounds like.
Do you think that rock operas as a concept are becoming more popular recently?
Yeah, I think people love the combination of rock and metal music together with symphonic, so definitely it's not just a temporary style that people like, I think it's here to stay in the metal scene, and people are hungry for more.
So, if you were to cover a non-metal song, which one would it be?
Maybe "Get Lucky"!
(Laughs) Oh, ok!
(Laughs) Yeah it's funny, it's repetitive but it's a cool song, we sing along to it sometimes.
Can we expect to see you in Greece anytime soon?
I hope so! We love to come to Greece, we have some friends there, I had holidays like thirteen years ago in Greece, so I lost my heart to Greece and I hope we can come back really soon, it's been a while since we've been there, and I would love to come to Greece to play and have a holiday...
Maybe you can do both at the same time!
Yes, that would be nice!
Do you have a message for your Greek fans?
Yeah, "ευχαριστώ" (thank you) and we hope to come back to Greece really soon and we hope everybody is going to enjoy "The Quantum Enigma" as much as we do!
I'm sure they'll like it, it's a great album. Thank you for your time, and I hope to see you soon in Greece!
Thanks for having me Nikos, and keep the sun shining in Greece and we'll come over really soon!