The most guitar oriented album that we ever had

Epica

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us! How are things in your world?

Good, good! I had a tough day at the office, but now I feel good.

So, the office is tough, and you’re now back to relaxing and making music?

Yeah, the office was tough because I have a flight tomorrow and I wanted to do the online checkin, and my flight could not be found. While I had the confirmation of the flight and my money has been taken off my account you think normally that should be fine and that when you make some phone calls that it will be solved. Not with Ryanair. They said you can book the flight again. Great service.

No service, but you pay for that. *laughs*

*laughs* They do cheap flights, but when there’s something wrong you’re screwed.

Definitely. I just spent the whole day listening to your mind blowing new album “The Holographic Principle”. It’s got the signature of Epica quality, but it seems you took things a step further this time! Can you tell us a bit about the sound of the new album?

Yeah, we tried to focus a little bit more on the guitars this time, and that was already a tendency that we started with “The Quantum Enigma”, but now we did that a little bit more. Most songs were written starting with the guitar riffs and building the song first with guitar, bass, drums, and then later on adding the orchestra. In the past it was often the other way around, where we started with orchestra and then added the Metal band on top. This way of working keeps us all refreshing, and avoids that we start repeating ourselves. Also, sound wise we recorded the orchestra with real instruments this time around. That’s also a difference. In the past, we at most recorded the strings in the studio, and the choirs obviously, but brass and woodworks were all samples. That’s all real now.

You can really hear that. The real instruments give more depth to your music! I really liked that.

We are really happy with the result. It was a lot of work, and very time consuming, but it pays off. The sound really benefits from it, and I’m really happy we did it.

Did you record all the instruments yourselves, or did you have guest artists on the album?

No, I wish I could play the brass and the woodwinds and everything.

Well, I don’t know! Perhaps some hidden talents! *laughs*

*laughs*  No, just the percussion was done by ourselves, but for all the other instruments we picked the right people for the job. Our producer, Joost van den Broek, he knows many people because he’s also pretty much involved in classical music. He once conducted and wrote some music for the king, Willem Alexander. So he knows many people who play and have the studio experience, because that’s also important. Many classically trained musicians are not used to play with a click track, or with a steady beat. They go a bit around. And when you record in a studio with a band, you definitely want to avoid that. So he knows the right people, and we contacted them. It was time consuming, but it were very good people. It still went pretty quick given the circumstances.

How did you translate your music for them, from your head to their instruments? Did you have sheet music for them?

Yes there were three people translating everything into sheet music, and that was also a hell of a job.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s worth it!

Yeah, definitely. And I’m happy that I didn’t have to do it myself. I cannot read notes, it would take me forever *laughs*.

Well you can always work with a tape and humm it for them *laughs* How will this new material translate to the stage where it comes to the real instruments?

Our dream is to do shows in the future with a real orchestra. We already did this two times in the past. Once with “Retrospect” and once in Hungary, but our dream is to do a whole tour like that. At the moment that’s not possible yet, because it’s very expensive and we need to first grow a few more steps further again as a band, to make it to the next level and to have bigger crowds to make that possible. But that will be the eventual goal, or dream or however you call it. Until then we will have to do it like we also did it in the past, to have the choirs, strings and brass on a tape.

Yeah. It’s a little less than ideal, but it’s the closest thing you can get. It’s a big production otherwise.

Yes. And our keyboard player Coen, he plays as much as he can, but he cannot play a whole orchestra *laughs* We need to have this solution, like other symphonic Metal bands use as well, but the dream is like I said, to have a whole tour with the orchestra.

You can always start with a festival tour or something.

If we have the possibility to have a start at least, we will definitely take the opportunity.

Very cool. What I always love about your music, it’s almost like reading a book or watching a movie; a story develops in your head while you’re listening.

Yes, many people tell us that, and it’s a good sign.

I think so too. My question is, how do you compose music like this, how does it come together?

We have five songwriters in the band nowadays, so all the guys are contributing to writing the music. Everybody writes a bit different and in a different way. Personally I love working in my home studio. I also record ideas while on tour or even like on an airplane. Once I stop working then I sit down. This time I basically started all my songs with guitars, then added the drums, bass and later on the orchestral parts. And when I think I cannot bring it any further, then I introduce it to the band. Then, if my songs get selected, because we first make a selection of everybody’s songs, then all songs that get selected we start working on as a band. So everybody has ideas, and we these ideas. Some songs stay pretty much the same, some songs get changed a lot. It just depends on what the song asks for. Then layer by layer it evolves into what it becomes later on, on the album.

I bet it also depends on the theme you are shaping for the album itself? Whether or not a song changes a lot?

Yeah, but the lyrics are written when the music is pretty much finished. So first we keep developing the song and trying things. I must say our producer Joost van den Broek has a big role in that. He has a really nice overview and pretty cool ideas as well for the songs. Then when we think the songs are done and we have a selection, this time we had a selection of eighteen tracks we recorded for the album, then we start working on the lyrics. That is once again a matter of working, trying something, something works, something doesn’t work, go in a different direction, and then it evolves in a way like the music did before.

So you could say you’re a good working team of Metal composers that just layer a story on top!

Yeah, you can say it like that! *laughs* Good phrase.

I’ve got my moments *laughs*. As the title of the album already suggests, lyrically this album deals with the distinction between what’s real and what’s fantasy. How did you land on this theme?

We took the concept of virtual reality and I got very fascinated by these virtual reality masks. You put on these masks and for example, you feel like being on a rollercoaster and your whole body experiences it like being on a rollercoaster. You can even get stomach sick from it. All these things have already developed pretty well, but it’s not perfect yet. So we thought to bring this concept into the near future, where this technology is so well developed that you put on a mask and you can basically create your own reality there. If that’s possible, and it’s already well on it’s way, so sooner or later it will be possible, and you won’t be able to tell the difference anymore between that other reality and our reality where we are living in. Then you might realize, hey if that reality feels as real as this one, then maybe this reality as we know it is also a virtual reality on it’s own. That’s where the holographic principle kicks in. That’s the theory underneath this idea. Maybe our whole universe is a hologram after all.

It’s a really interesting idea, and there’s a lot of thought on the subject these days with the current rise of technology and such.

Yeah. Many people ask if we are afraid of this but no, I’m pretty much excited about this. Of course, every development comes with pros and cons, but it’s pretty exciting where this is leading to. Of course the negative effects I’m less enthusiastic about, if you misuse technology to kill people for example, but there is a lot of exciting stuff going on.

It at the very least brings a bit more imagination into the world, and we can use a bit more of that I think.

*laughs* Yeah, definitely.

Did you read or watch specific things to find inspiration for this album?

Yes. A pretty obvious inspiration source is The Matrix movie, but also the Truman Show is a really cool movie that makes you think.

Yeah, I love it.

I’m really crazy about this movie. It’s amazing. But I also watched a lot of documentaries that talk about the holographic principle theory, some documentaries and lectures from Leonard Susskind. He’s being called the bad boy of physics for reasons that he comes up with theories that makes other people think he’s mad, he’s crazy. It’s very interesting, he explains it in a very good way. For me it’s impossible to understand all the mathematics where this theory is based upon, but in the way he explains it it’s…

Almost understandable?

Almost understandable, yeah. He also says it needs four years of studying on a daily basis before you really start to understand it *laughs* Perhaps it might even be that you study four years and you still don’t get it, that’s also possible.

*laughs* I think that would happen to me, yeah. Are you by any chance familiar with the Otherland books by Tad Williams?

No.

You should really check them out. The album made me think of those books. It’s a book series of four where they really dive into the whole theme of what if technology evolved so far that you can’t tell the difference between virtual reality and reality. They created this whole virtual world where people get lost in.

That’s cool! Make sure you send me the link after the interview!

I will! You’ll enjoy those, I’m sure.

Yes, that certainly sounds as something I like.

If you think of alternate universes, if you could visit one alternate universe to check out the Epica in that universe, what sort of universe would you like to visit and why?

It needs to be with Epica in that universe? Then I would visit the universe where Epica is headlining Graspop, Wacken Open Air, Hellfest and all these other festivals *laughs*

*laughs* That would be an awesome universe, definitely.

I would pretty much enjoy that, I’m sure. This world tour, flying around, and Bruce Dickinson is flying our plane, I can see it happening in that universe. *laughs*

I think I’d like that one as well *laughs*

Yeah if you can create your own universe, then you can do crazy things. But since you should also do something good in the universe, the plane should also fly over a poor area in the world and throw some stuff out of the plane that really helps the people. When creating a universe you should not only think about yourself.

Exactly. I’d say make it a universe where nobody is unhappy.

Yes maybe it’s easier even to just decide that it already happened, so you don’t need to do that anymore.

Right. Possibilities. Where it comes to your lyrics, We live in highly political times at the moment. There’s a lot a lot going on in the world, yet with the Holographic Principle you seem to steer away from political lyrics.

Except for one!

Except for one? Okay, I only listened it to it today, so I might have missed that.

Yes, it’s the Divide and Conquer one.

Alright! What’s that song about?

First of all it’s about the middle east, where you see that the tactic of divide and conquer is being implemented. We get the story that we are bringing democracy, that we the west bring democracy to the middle east, but the underlying story is mainly that big corporations can have some good deals there. There’s this tactic called divide and conquer that first you divide the people in a country, making it easier to conquer without literally going there and conquering it. You do it in a very smart way, so that it doesn’t look like one country conquering another one. You can see that happening there. Now you even see something similar happening in Europe itself. We also get divided. They try to raise tension between islam and non-islam and sadly it works pretty well. The tension is rising, sooner or later this will become a problem I think. Then we are divided and even Europe is easily conquered. I don’t know where it’s leading to, but I found it was an interesting topic to write a song about.

Yeah, I get that. I didn’t catch that one when I was listening to the album, but I did see that you did not have that many political themes on it this time.

That’s because I only write about political stuff when I really feel there’s something that needs to be told, and I think not that much needed to be told, except for this matter. I Also think it was really nice to focus much more on the holographic principle theory. When you go too wild on political themes, there’s a risk that you get lost in it yourself.

I agree with you there. It’s an interesting thing the Divide and Conquer theory.

It’s a very old principle. You can find a lot about it online, and in old books. It’s a tactic that’s been used for hundreds of years. Unfortunately it works, it’s tricky.

We get all these choices in daily life and for most of them it doesn’t matter what you choose. It’s all designed to divide us. Where it comes to the album, in what ways do you feel this is a typical Epica album?

Definitely because of the ingredients. We have choirs, we have orchestra, we have a Death Metal basis, we have Simone singing and me singing, and these are the ingredients that makes it Epica. When we put this together and we put the stick in the bucket and stir it, then something happens that sounds like Epica for us. We should not leave one of these things out.

Do you feel there are ways in which this album is not a typical Epica album?

First of all, I think it’s Epica, but we always try to do something that we didn’t do before and I think this is the most guitar oriented album that we ever had.

It’s a lot heavier, and I really like that.

Yeah, and it’s because of this reason. I think that if in the past some albums would have been mixed in a different way, it would also have sounded a lot more heavy than it actually did. To focus more on the guitars, even though the guitar riffs themselves are already more interesting than most of the stuff in the past where we focused more on the orchestra instead of the guitars. I think that the mix and the guitar riffs together make that the album sounds so heavy.

I also think it’s perhaps that because you focused on the guitar parts first now, you’re down to a more traditional metal style of songwriting. It really shows.

Yeah, I think so too. We really wanted to have songs that if you strip them down to the core, where you just have drums, bass and guitar, that it still would be a cool song. Sometimes when you leave these things out, when you leave the orchestra out, with some old songs there’s not so much left. But if you now strip them down to this core, you still have cool Death Metal songs, or Thrashy songs left.

If you have the riffs left, you can still hum them and know which song it is. That’s a good thing.

Yes, I think so. We focused on it, we aimed for it, and we came to a nice result.

Mission accomplished!

Yeah! *laughs*

Where it comes to the songs, are they all loosely based on the central virtual reality theme, or do you lead us through a central storyline?

There is a red line, and every song goes in a different direction, but most of them obviously still have this theme in them, but every song has an own identity and deals with something different. Just the theme keeps it together.

The reason I ask is, your music to me, especially where it comes to this album, it really feels like a Metal musical to me.

Yeah, you could see it like that. I think it’s really cool when people listen to it and see all these images. There is so much going on, and your thoughts and your imagination can go really wild with it. I think that’s a compliment, what our music can do. I’m proud of that.

And rightly so. To me, the album sounded like a unit, like you’re really telling a story from A to Z, and you’re leading us through all the phases of the story. I was wondering, you already did a soundtrack in the past, where you accompanied a movie with your music, would you ever consider writing a whole story and putting your music under it?

Definitely. If there ever comes a new opportunity. What we did in the past was a cool first experience. Whenever we get a new opportunity, it should be very interesting to us. If it’s too much the same as the previous one, we would probably not take it, but if it brings new interesting things to the table, then we are definitely open to it. With Epica we’re always looking for challenges. Whenever we get a challenge on our path, we definitely won’t get out of it’s way.

It made me think of a Dutch band you might know, Acda & de Munnik, they did a musical called “Ren Lenny Ren”, which was their own story, based on their music, all folded into a stage experience. I’d see you do something like that, Epica style.

That could be a possibility, but probably what would happen is that someone would contact us and say hey, I’ve got this idea to do this with your music, are you open for it? That can happen. We will probably not go looking for people to do that with our music ourselves. These things should really go the other way around, where people look for us. If you have to look for people, usually you are the one to pay for everything. This is extremely expensive.

I know *laughs*. I know all about that. Where it comes to the songs, what’s your favorite song on the album?

That’s a very hard question, because like you said yourself, we have this story from A to Z, the whole album to me is indeed one unit as well. It’s hard to pick just one song as a favorite. I think that The Holographic Principle, the title track itself, that’s the one I play the most often myself, when I sit on a plane for example, traveling. That the one I enjoy listening to the most, but that can also be because we are rehearsing the songs for the live show, and that’s one of the three songs that we are not yet playing for the first show. That can also be the reason why I like to listen to that one the most, I hear it least with the rehearsals *laughs*

*laughs* Yeah, the freshest in your mind. For me it were Universal Death Squad and Once Upon a Nightmare. Those really stuck out for me.

Universal Death Squad is also one of my favorites, and Once Upon a Nightmare is just really beautiful. It’s done by Coen Janssen, our keyboard player. He always comes up with something that we don’t expect from him. He’s really the guy who always thinks outside of the box. It’s nice to have these five different people with different characters writing different music, but when we come together it becomes Epica.

*laughs* It’s once again like a good musical. You have different characters doing different things, and they all come together in a nice storyline.

Yeah, exactly.

I’ve been following your careers for quite some time, my first Epica show was during the Phantom Agony tour, and what always strikes me as positive is how much fun you have on stage together. I saw it in the smaller venues, I saw it on the bigger stages. How would you describe your live shows?

To have fun during our shows, that’s very important to us. We don’t try to suppress it. Some Metal bands say we have to look serious, but we just want to be who we are, and have fun on stage. And people see that we have fun. I don’t see that as a problem, I see it as a strength. As you mention that you can see that and you like that, that proves us right. If we would have no fun on stage, we would not enjoy doing this. It’s what makes it cool for us. We like playing shows, the interaction with the audience, but also the interaction on stage. Just simply to have fun. As long as we have fun, we keep on going.

I remember one show, it was in Utrecht I think, I don’t exactly remember how long ago it was, but it was a more than half empty house, and you were the ones having the most fun in the whole venue *laughs* That was a really good show!

*laughs* Yeah, well it can’t be sold out all the time. In the past, especially in the early days, we played in Son and Bodegraven, I think it was for not more than thirty or forty people, but still people are talking about that show. They had a great time. If you still have fun, the people there also have fun. That’s what it’s all about.

Yes, I definitely agree with that. Your new album, it will be launched on the second edition of your very own Epic Metal Fest festival, what can you tell us about this event, and what can we look forward to this year?

Like you said, it’s the second edition. I’m really looking forward myself to see Katatonia, even though it’s right before our own set. That’s my favorite band on the festival. My other band Mayan is also playing there as well, that’s also pretty cool. I will only be singing two songs this time and George Oosthoek is doing the rest because I need to be fully focused on the Epica show. With Mayan we couldn’t do too many shows lately because Epica is on the road so much, but George will also do future shows where I’m not able to join Mayan on tour. I’m really happy with this solution because now Mayan can also keep going in the extremely busy Epica periods.

On the festival itself we’re going to play quite some new tracks obviously, but also some classic that we have not played in a long time. We will also have the pyramid lights that we have in our video for Edge of the Blade, we will have those with us for the live show. It’s a new prototype of lights. They are not for sale yet and we are one of the happy few that could test them, and can now use them live.

That’s really cool! It sounds like a great show, I will try to make it.

Definitely come by!

We of Metal On Loud, we are still thinking of one day perhaps hosting our own event, could you perhaps give us some tips on what the minimum ingredients are for a great festival?

Most of all, what’s important is a good atmosphere. You can create that by picking a venue that’s cozy, that has a cozy atmosphere. What’s also important is to have good sound. That’s the main reason we changed from the Klokgebouw in Eindhoven to the 013 in Tilburg. We asked our visitors what they thought about the first edition, and they all loved it, but they said the sound wasn’t always great. So we changed that. It’s also important to have some cool bands of course, and you have to organize things as good as you can. When people are having a good time, they will come back the year after. I think that’s the top priority for each festival. To give the people a good time. I think the festivals that understood that, they are the ones that are still around. Many festivals popped up and failed. Especially recently in Germany, you saw some festivals coming up that were instantly big festivals. People were not having such a good time there, and they lost a huge amount of money. It’s not just about making a festival with a lot of big bands and cashing. You see when it happens like in Germany, it fails. It’s much more than that. It’s so important that the people have a good time, and that with the second or third edition, they feel really connected to the festival name as well.

I get that. I agree with your decision on the sound, but I was a bit surprised that you moved away from the original Metal capital of Holland with your festival, but yeah. Klokgebouw doesn’t have the best audio, that’s sadly true.

Yeah, when we asked the people, they really liked the first edition but most of them said the sound was not top quality, and then you have to listen. We did not ask them their opinions for nothing.

There’s actually a second disadvantage to that venue. We visited your anniversary show, which also took place there, and when you’re somewhere in the middle of the audience, you really can’t see anything that happens on stage. At least not if you’re not the tallest *laughs*

Ah, yeah. That I heard too. First edition we also did Klokgebouw because that weekend one day was Speedfest, and we could have the second day and share the PA system. The first edition we also had to think about the budget, because we still wanted to book all these cool bands. Then you have to be inventive.

Yes, it’s hard to find that balance!

Yes indeed *laughs*, luckily we just did break even, which was our goal from the beginning. We’re happy that we just made it.

It’s a great new festival.

I’m hoping for many more years!

Same here! What will the coming months look like for Epica? Where will you be playing, and do you have any surprises scheduled?

First in the fall we will go to the US and Canada for our North American tour, which will be with Fleshgod Apocalypse and The Agonist. That’s a tour I’m really looking forward to. Then we go back to Europe to tour with Powerwolf and Beyond the Black. Then we will have some cool things coming up like probably a trip to Japan, it’s going to be the first time in our careers that we play in Japan.

Very cool.

Yeah, I really hope that’s going to happen, we’re working on the last details. Also a Scandinavian tour and then it’s time for the summer festivals again.

Summer will be back before you know it.

Hopefully! *laughs*

It’s nice that you’re going to Japan! If you ask people what’s on your bucket list, usually they name playing in Japan as one of the first items on the list.

Yeah, that’s the same for us. We now exist for fourteen years and we’ve never been to Japan. We’ve been all around Japan. China, Taiwan, Indonesia, but never Japan yet.

Are there still dreams left on your bucket list?

If Japan happens, then let’s see… We also played South Africa already, we already managed that a few years ago…

Check! *laughs*

Check! *laughs* Yeah. Maybe some other countries where we’ve never been yet where you don’t expect Metal bands to play. Countries like Morocco, that can also be very cool. We were also the very first international Metal band playing in Tunisia, and I will never forget that. It was really an amazing experience. There are still quite some wishes. Who knows, maybe in the future we will be the first Metal band ever playing North Korea. Who knows. *laughs*

*laughs* Now that would be cool. Metallica already played Antarctica, so I guess that makes North Korea one of the last frontiers.

Then we better be first!

Well it might be hard with your more political lyrics.

We never wrote a lyric against North Korea, so it’s still possible *laughs*

They might Divide and Conquer!

That one is pretty much anti-west. They might be happy with those lyrics.

That’s true, they might welcome you! *laughs*

Well that’s about all the questions I had. We always end with one last question, and that’s do you have any last words for our readers?

I hope we welcome many people on our Epic Metal Fest and if they can’t make it there, we hope to see them somewhere out there on the road. The European tour is going to be really exciting with the Powerwolf guys. And if you even can’t make that tour, then just have fun with the album!

That’s good advice. We also have a lot of readers in the US and Canada, so perhaps you will see some of them there!

I will see you somewhere on the road, and if you can’t make it, there’s always a next time, and there’s still the album to enjoy.

And it’s a great one, definitely. Thank you for your time!

Randy Gerritse