Epica Interview By Rhiannon Marley
Photography by Jo Blackened
2nd February 2012
Simone Simons is taking no prisoners. Well, no male ones anyway. “Most of the time, people don’t think there’s ‘more’ behind a pretty face. They think you might be stupid, or that you don’t have an opinion, or a high IQ… But I believe myself that women have the same potential as guys, and can also lead…” Isaac Delahaye almost squirms. His self-consciousness at the ‘glamour with grey matter’ eggshell is comically amplified because he’s the lone chap, stuck between four walls with three ladies. “I’d better watch my words!”, he laughs nervously, “I’ll just say, ‘I totally agree!’” Ell-Oh-Ell.
The times may be a-changing, but are symphonic metallers Epica moving with them? Apparently so. March 2012 marks the release of their fifth album, ‘Requiem for the Indifferent’, and it’s scorching. Epica already boast a stunning videography, and fingers in classical and film-score pies. But that’s skimming the top shelves of a complex bakery. Mezzo-soprano Simone and guitarist Isaac share the secrets of their best album yet, their thoughts on global crises, and Rammstein’s bad manners with Metal-Rules…
Rhiannon Marley (RM): “Let’s kick off by talking about 2012’s hotly-tipped new album, ‘Requiem for the Indifferent’. How do you think you’ve grown since previous work ‘Design Your Universe’? Has anything unusual happened in the process, or has anything changed which you maybe didn’t expect to?”
Simone Simons (SS): “Well, we’re still a metal band; we didn’t suddenly cross over and become more of a rock band. We’ve been working for ten years now: we’ve toured all around the world, and we’ve definitely gained experience. We’ve had line-up changes, we’ve had two new band members. Fifth record now, which is the most balanced, most mature metal album we’ve ever made. We’ve all been really involved in the writing process, and are pretty satisfied with the result. It was worth all the blood, sweat and tears.”
RM: “What do you think, Isaac?”
Isaac Delahaye (ID): “I think it’s indeed more mature, in the way that you have all your back-catalogue to see what you did wrong in the past. I always use the word ‘balanced’: it’s more balanced than works from the past. ‘Design Your Universe’ was maybe a little over-the-top, epic, dramatic. But this one, if it has to be heavy, it’s really heavy, yet if it has to be intimate, it’s very calm. So these dynamics are a little more elaborated, therefore I think, like all artists say, that the new album is better than the last one. It’s for the people to judge, but that’s what we think about it.”
RM: “As musicians and composers yourselves, how do you overcome the challenges and hurdles presented by creating a new album and new songs? If your work has to be so consistently strong, is there any set formula you apply when working towards a new record, or does it change with each one?”
SS: “It’s the same as it’s always been, the writing process.”
ID: “You never know what’s gonna come out; it’s not like you sit around a table before you start. Epica’s music always starts individually; it’s never like, ‘Oh, we’re a band, and then we go into the rehearsal room, and now we start writing’.
We all have our own home studios, and we work from a distance, because we have members in three different countries. So that’s a different way of working, and you basically start on your own. And after that, when you have the basic layer of a song and you just do whatever you think is good, you send it out to the other guys, and everyone works on it, and helps to make it sound ‘Epica’. You [pointing to Simone] are very influential with vocals and how you sing, and our drummer is one of the best drummers I know. It’s very ‘typical’ elements: we have choirs and orchestras, and things like that. All these in the end make it ‘Epica’.
No matter what kind of music you write, if you add them all together, it’s gonna be what it is. On the same album, you can have a ballad, a really brutal song, a commercial, shorter song, all under one roof. But if you combine them, it has its own flow, and sounds the way Epica should sound.”
RM: “Is it true that the title of Requiem for the Indifferent is a lamentation of how humans aren’t as co-operative in the protection of the wider world as we could be? Would you tell us a little of the concept behind the new album?”
SS: “The idea came from Mark [Jansen]; he’s the guy who’s totally into politics, and up to date with what’s happening in the world. He’s got his voice, and would like to give a little bit of description of the current situation in the world at the moment: natural disasters, politics, Arabian Spring, financial crises, dictatorship in general, and the idea that people are ‘less’ than the leaders themselves, that they lead some kind of suppressed life. Women in Islamic culture are often seen as lesser than the man, and I believe myself that women have the same potential as guys, and can also lead…”
ID: [Looks at each of the girls in turn] “I’d better watch my words!” [Laughs]
RM: “Yeah, with three women in here!”
ID: “I’ll just say ‘I totally agree’!”
SS: “So with each record, we have recurring topics about politics, religion, and we mix them with stuff which is happening right now, to kind of inspire the fans as well: the ones who actually read our lyrics, who are thinking about it, and getting their ass off the couch to do something with their lives. We also write for the people who are thinking about the world in general, not just ‘me, me, me’, and being selfish. They’ve got to think for the collective.”
RM: “What are your personal thoughts on what’s happening at the moment? Do you think things are on the precipice of resolution politically and financially, or that it’s still a long way down?”
SS: “It’s probably a long way down, but you have to start somewhere, and you have to be hopeful, because if you’re not, then in every way, it’s over. Positive thinking gives more energy than negative thinking, that’s my personal opinion. Even though there is a lot of shit happening, luckily we come from Holland; Belgium; I live in Germany. We don’t notice so much in terms of suppression; financial crises; natural disasters.
We’ve been far away from it. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned about it; travelling around the world, you get to see stuff, and it’s important to get the information out there through music, because you can reach a whole lot of people. You should use it for the greater good, I think.”
ID: “Nowadays, it seems like the world is getting smaller through the internet, so you’re more connected in a way. Back in the day, they didn’t even know what the country next door looked like, because they never went outside their own. But even if you don’t travel to another country, you can see it online: you have live webcams to check if there’s snow where you wanna go, etc. Or the Arab Spring, which basically started with guys taking their mobile phones, recording videos of what really happens in the street, and putting them online.
People on Facebook then said, ‘Let’s start revolting, be at that place, at that time, and let’s do something about it’. That’s how small the world became. It’s sometimes scary how reliant you are on these social medias and your gadgets, your phone, etc.
If there were a natural disaster, your phone wouldn’t work anymore, your internet would be shut off, and you’d be totally helpless. It’s a strange thought.”
RM: “It’s interesting that you mentioned female suppression, Simone. In terms of your success in the metal arena, how much emphasis do you feel is still placed on you being good looking before people listen to your voice? Do you feel there’s more of an equal balance with the change in times, or that there’s still pressure to appear a certain way before you’re respected?”
SS: “It’s both sides. First of all, when you want to get something out there, you have to bear in mind that Epica are not played on the radio. So we make sure that the artwork looks nice, because you have to catch the attention of potential buyers and fans, and then they can listen to the music.
It’s important that you wrap the product in a nice way. I personally love getting dressed up, doing the makeup and that kind of thing, so it’s fine. But I am first of all a singer.A woman always loves to get a compliment, like, ‘You’re good looking’. But most of the time, people don’t think there’s ‘more’ behind a pretty face. People think you might be stupid, or that you don’t have an opinion, or a high IQ. But I prove them wrong!” [Laughs]
ID: “I was asked a similar question yesterday – I was doing the interview on my own, without Simone, and the guy asked me about it. I said, look at every other metal band which isn’t female fronted: you also have the singer, who is the face of the band, but because they’re a dude, with long hair, it’s ‘fine’ if they get a little more attention.
But it’s in every band that the singer gets most of the attention. Because Simone is good looking, it’s like, ‘That’s strange, she’s good looking, she can’t be talented or intellectual as well’. Once again, with all the media, everyone is a judge nowadays: people on Facebook are saying: ‘This guy sucks, that guy is a loser, etc’. So everyone is screaming negative things at each other, but I think, ‘Well, if you have such an opinion, then fine for you’. If people listen to the music and they like it, that’s fine. If they don’t like it, that’s also fine.”
SS: “It’s a win-win situation. I mean, we’ve got pretty boys in the band as well, so the girls have something, and the guys, and the music’s great, so you’ve got the whole deal!”
RM: “How do you guys feel Requiem for the Indifferent stands among your discography at the moment? What are the personal highlights of the album for you both?”
SS: “On the record, the last song on the album, ‘Serenade of Self-Destruction’, is a total ‘Epica’ song: it’s very epic, it’s got great melodies and a great flow to it. It’s the perfect package of what Epica offers. ‘Storm of Sorrows’ is gonna be our single; we’ve got a video for that as well.
We’ve played that song live already, and the audience loved it. The first song on the album, ‘Monopoly on Truth’… This is basically the record on which I like every song. ‘Design Your Universe’ was also one of my favourite records, but there was always one or two about which I thought, ‘Neh’… We don’t have to say this for the record company; we are honestly saying that we like this record!”
ID: “Imagine if we didn’t…”
SS: “It sucks! It’s horrible!” [Laughs]
ID: “For me, I also like the opening record, ‘Monopoly on Truth’. That’s also something I keep repeating myself on during these interviews: I think that we’re more of a band who writes an ‘album’, not just ‘songs which happen to be on an album’. So it’s really hard to pick one out, but as a guitarist, the first song is, guitar-wise, very challenging, and I really like the riffs, but it’s also a ballad at times.
You can’t just put songs anywhere on the album; if you put a song in ‘that’ position, between ‘these two’ songs, then it can make or break it being even better. But the album in general for me is just better than the ones we’ve done before.”
RM: “I mean, we could just say it’s not, but…” [Laughs]
ID: “We’d be really surprised if that were the case, because no-one’s said that so far!” [Laughs]
RM: “A couple of lighter questions for you both before we wrap up: if you could each pick five musical personalities, past or present, live or dead, to take to dinner, who would they be?”
SS: “Mozart, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse…”
ID: “They’re all dead!” [Laughs]
SS: “I was thinking if you could dream, you could bring the dead back to life… I’d like to have another conversation with the singer from Rammstein, actually. He was a real asshole to me when I met him. I was so nervous, I was just like, [Gasps] – the first time I’ve actually had shaking knees. I guess a band like that gets asked questions all the time, like, ‘Can I have a photo?’ etc.
I know how it is, but I thought, ‘Shit, this is my chance, I’ve gotta go for it.’ And they were all together, they were sitting at the table outside in the sun, and I said to him, ‘Can I please have a photo with you?’, and he said, [low and grudgingly] ‘Yeah, ok’. I was so nervous, I asked stupid questions, like, ‘Shall I keep my sunglasses on?’, and he said, ‘I don’t give a shit’. And then he saw my ring, which just happens to be a watch, and he said, ‘That’s cool’. And that was our conversation.”
ID: “So that’s your reason for calling him an asshole? He was nice! He just didn’t care if you were wearing your shades or not!”
SS: “Whatever! It was the way he said it! That’s guys in general anyway; they’re different to girls. But he was not up for it, and was not going to be nice.”
ID: “And he’s still invited to your dinner?”
SS: “I’d like to know if he’s a real asshole or not! One more to add…Elvis? [Laughs] Lady Gaga – I’d like to see if it’s all real.”
ID: “Of course, I’d have Dimebag Darrell! Tommy Emmanuel, an acoustic guitar player from Australia – I really love his style, and how he is as a person. He can join me. Randy Newman, too.”
SS: “Oh, Dio, also, because he was a sweetheart! I met him once.”
RM: “Maybe we can swap Till Lindemann of Rammstein for Dio, if he’s horrible. Punch Lindemann at the door, and let Dio come past him into the house.”
ID: “Haha! I think I’d also have Robbie Williams: he’s this really ‘pop’ guy, but deep down, I think he’s a rocker! He’d be cool to have at my table.”
SS: “He’s a cool guy, I think.”
ID: “One more…”
SS: “James Blunt?”
RM: “Haha! Really?”
SS: “He actually has a CD of James Blunt’s. I don’t like him.”
ID: [Does James Blunt impression, and we all piss ourselves] “No, he’s not invited! I need a really, really beautiful girl there…”
SS: “Mariah Carey? She’d only want to eat caviar and drink champagne there…it’s gonna be an expensive dinner…take me!”
ID: “You’d eat all my candy! Jimi Hendrix. I can’t think of any beautiful girls!”
RM: “He was beautiful! Last one for you both: Desert Island Disc. If you could each take three albums with you to a desert island, what would they be?”
SS: “Three compilation albums!”
ID: “I’d take one Tommy Emmanuel album, acoustic; then probably the last Soilwork album; then a Rammstein album, just because of that singer!” [Looks at Simone and laughs]
SS: “I like Doris Day, so I’d probably have a Doris Day record; then Imogen Heap – ‘Speak For Yourself’; then Opeth – ‘Watershed’. But I can also sing to keep the people entertained. [Looking at Isaac] For a guitar player to be there without a guitar, you’re pretty screwed. You’ll have to make strings out of the palm trees, or something…!”
Simone later confides she’d liked to have gone shopping around Camden Town while she and Isaac were here in London. The trouble is Camden is no place for rock n’ roll anonymity, but the cons of fans clamouring for their attention in any ‘alternative’ bolthole at least come with the pro of enthralling the masses whatever they do: world tours or buying shoes.
Catch Epica storming European festivals this summer: from Metal Fest Open Air in Germany , to Metal Camp in Slovenia . Requiem for the Indifferent? Since the album launch party has already sold out, it’s clearly not the sound of Epica to which anyone’s indifferent.