Mark Jansen, guitarist/composer and founder of EPICA speaks in details about his first steps into music, EPICA and AFTER FOREVER albums and as well MAYAN. The video interview is also about the next EPICA album and Mark Jansen provides some information about the release date but speaks as well about their festival, the Epic Metal Fest
First thanks for having accepted this interview for our website. So we are gonna split this interview into two different topics. First we will speak about you and your career and then we will speak about your band, EPICA.
Could you please tell us how did fall into music ?
That was already many years ago. The first step with music I was I think eleven when I started with tapes, I started recording some guitars, acoustic guitar, and then I played the tape again and I started to play keyboard and I recorded on an other tape. So it was my first way to record a kind of song, but I was all very amateuristic and I discovered quickly that when you record on one tape, and you play it, and then you record on the next, each is getting a little bit high, so then I had to tune my guitar, to replay again and to tune all the time higher, and the quality gets lower. But that was my first step and I really started making music when I was 16 and I really started to learn playing electric guitar and I also right away wanted to write my own songs.
Ok, and speaking of guitars do you remember what was your equipment at that time ?
A Fender Stratocaster, it was my father’s guitar, so I could grab it and start playing.
Ok fine, so you started to play guitar when you were around 16. AFTER FOREVER has been founded in 1995. What was your goal at this time when you founded AFTER FOREVER ?
My goal was quite clear from the beginning, it was making it to the next level with the band. In the beginning it was hard to find people having the same spirit and going 100% for the band. So in the very early stage of the band we often had some arguments about rehearsal with somebody saying “Tonight I cannot come because I have, whatever, a birthday party”, or something like that. I could get already mad at that time about such things because I was so motivated and I really wanted to get this band to the next level and as soon as we got signed by Transmission Records, after the first demo, things went very fast and from there on, basically, everybody got the same motivation and then I didn’t need to be so pushy anymore.
You are coming from the Netherlands. How was the music in your town, in your country when you created your own band ?
You had this band called ORPHANAGE, it was combining female vocals with metal and also grunts. I was always very fascinated by their sound, they were one of the firsts to do that, together with THE GATHERING, but they were a little bit softer. Both THE GATHERING and ORPHANAGE were big influences for me on why I want to start making this kind of music. Already as a kid when I was 11 or 12, I loved metal but I also like classical music so I had already in mind to combine those two things. And when ORPHANAGE started to combine a bit, and adding a female voice, for me it was like “ Hey this is possible so I want to that too”.
Great. Later in 2002, you did leave AFTER FOREVER. What was your feelings leaving your own band ? Any feedback or lessons learned at that time ?
Oh yeah I learned a lot about that, because like I said in AFTER FOREVER I always wanted to get to the limit and then everybody would go with me like that, too. And I was quite pushy with that. So I learned a lot when I started with EPICA I wanted to the things completely differently. Because all the things that went wrong during the AFTER FOREVER period, you can do that different in EPICA. Now we are already 13 years together so I think it worked.
In the beginning of EPICA we continued the exact same way we worked with AFTER FOREVER, it was like seating together in the rehearsal room and basically we played the ideas that were made on the keyboard. It worked very well for a while but then they were sometimes some tensions between some members who couldn’t really, well, rehearse together. Then we started making songs on our own into our studio without seating together in a rehearsal room. But now after all those years we went back to that original situation where we again start rehearsing a lot and nowadays it’s totally different. There are no tensions, everybody listens very well to each others, I think we are all much more mature than 13 years ago. There are also some news guys in the band, some others left, so with this group of people it has really worked well to rehearse and I think this is how you get the best possible results because when you rehearse a song you really hear on the spot if something works or not. Because if you record an album, you only find out if a song is good to play live when you start playing it. When you rehearse a song before, you know exactly what to expect. And you can already change what doesn’t work.
And you can already change the things that don’t work.
So we’ll jump a little bit in time, in 2007 you released an album called “The Divine Conspiracy”, and that album was a curve because you had a new label, Nuclear Blast. How did it happen?
Yeah it was a difficult period for us. Our old record company Transmission Records went bankrupt and we were already working on a new album so we’ve were thinking “What could we do ? We got no idea about the future”. But we decided to invest all our own money in the CD, it was a big risk at that time, as we were also not so such a big band yet. It was a lot of money for us to record a CD but we decided to go for it, the CD was completely finished and then we got picked up by Nuclear Blast and they fortunately paid us back. But it was a risk and if we would have gone wrong we would have lost all our money but if you believe in something it’s in fact not a risk at all because then you know it will become fine at the end.
And it worked.
A year ago you released your latest album called “The Quantum Enigma”. A lot of things changed into this new album, specially the music, which is more complex, with guitars, chor, and somehow everything being more hearable. How was the composition of this new album ?
With “The Quantum Enigma” it was really the changes into rehearsing like the good old days. So there we sat together and worked much more on details on each other’s songs, until the moment we were completely satisfied about all others songs. With the recording process we experimented with different mics, different setup, different amps so we spent a month looking for the best possible sound. It was something we never did to such an extent before. We thought everything could be done better because we were really motivated to renew ourselves a bit and to not keep ongoing on same level but really to keep pushing it forward.
Ok so I guess this is one the reason that you changed to a new producer. So maybe you feared you would sound like “Requirement for the Indifferent” ?
Yeah, it was the last one with Sascha Paeth. He is still involved but not as main producer. Sasha always played a very important role for us. He also works with us on vocals lines and he has a very good ear for what an EPICA song misses, he can always give us good advices to EPICA, really. But for “The Quantum Enigma” we needed that refreshment. When you worked really long with somebody, even if he is extremely good, you have to avoid of repeating yourself and this is why we made the change. So nothing about the quality but purely about to have some new wind blowing on EPICA.
We will now speak a little bit about your equipment. Could you please tell us what gear you used for your records? Speaking about guitars and amplifier?
Yeah, we work now with Bogner amps, the Überschall, this is a really good amp. I worked in the past at the really beginning with Marshall, but it didn’t worked really well for me, and I tried some different amps and now with Bogner it’s really gives a solid sound and I’m really happy with that. Isaac, he started playing with that and I heard the sound so I tried for myself and it worked very well. I must said in the studio we also experimented a lot with other amps and we also try combinations so you don’t hear just Bogner; it’s always a combination of different amps. Then we see what works better for the song, what we need for the album.
Ok so let’s speak now about the lyrics. Where do you find the inspiration, into books, movies, video games, whatever?
I find inspiration everywhere, basically. I’m not really looking for a topic but they usually present themselves to me and I just start writing them down. It can come from news, it came from a walk in nature that suddenly you have an idea, it can come from bad things that happen to your family or friends. Whatever a song asks for, I can write about it. I also like scientific topics, like the “The Quantum Enigma ”. It’s really fascinating. So without making quantum physics too complicated, you can get the concept and turn it into the lyrics. I really like it this way, and exactly two weeks ago I started writing the lyrics for the new album already.
Ok great. So we will speak later about the newest album if you want to. But first I have a hard question for you. You have now been a guitarist for many years and I would like to know if you can describe each EPICA album using a word or a sentence. And if you want you can do it as well for AFTER FOREVER and for MAYAN.
Oh, AFTER FOREVER, “Prison of Desire”, it was the very first album, I’ve never made an album with any band before and I must say that something so special and it’s hard to describe. So for me it’s a very dear album.
Then “Decipher”, it was the second album for AFTER FOREVER. There is always a lot of pressure for the second album because there is this expectation you didn’t have before. I’m very proud of this album, this is one of the albums I’m the proudest of. I think the best elements of AFTER FOREVER came together on that album. We grew as songwriters and the chemistry was very good on that album and that result is very strong.
Then EPICA, “The Phantom Agony” album, which was the first EPICA album so again special and it’s for EPICA the baby, the first born. It has a kind of atmosphere, a very unique one, as only this album has this special atmosphere. We also still play many songs of this album.
Then the second album “Consign to Oblivion ”, like “Decipher” with AFTER FOREVER it was our pressure album. When I look back I noticed that we had a little bit less time for this album than for the “Phantom Agony” and I think if we would had three more months we could have worked on some final details on some songs. I’m still happy with the album but sometime I think that’s the only one where I want to change sometime something.
“The Divine Conspiracy”, the first album with Nuclear Blast, it was the last album with Ad Sluijter, the former guitar player. I think we played the best there, because we grew as a team, the songwriting was really good. He also said he’s very proud of this album and I agree with him.
“Design your universe ”, it was the first album with Isaac, and he was also from day one very motivated to get the best of it, also on songwriting at this point already. He arranged the guitars. This album also makes me very proud. “Design your universe”, also tthe itle itself it means a lot to many people.
“ Requirement for the Indifferent ” was a very complex album, we wrote quite complex songs, long songs with many changes. It’s a difficult album to get into and it needs many many listenings and I noticed that people nowadays are not patient anymore. It’s the least favorite album of a lot of fans, but when I listen to it, song after song, I’m still proud of that album.
Then “The Quantum Enigma”, this is the album of the change. The album lifts every details to the next level. And there is this new choir, this is what we want to do for the next couple of albums, this new choir and this new way of working.
“Quarterpast ”, from MAYAN. MAYAN was born to make something completely different, heavier, to explore different roads from EPICA, what we cannot do with EPICA because it’s too heavy. MAYAN has been a very funny experience with.
Then the second album, “Antagonise”, we worked on everything we did on the first album but it evolved a bit and I think “Antagonise” shows how really MAYAN should sound, complexity combined with heaviness and catchy choruses, with having some operatic elements and the grunts. I’m really proud of that album. Due to lack of time now, because EPICA is so active, MAYAN is on hold. But whenever there’s time, that there are chances for new tracks for MAYAN. So it’s an open book.
Yeah, you have a lot of things to do. We will speak later about your own festival because it will happen pretty soon. But first let’s speak about the newest album because you just said you started to work on new things.
Yeah, we wrote basically 25 songs, it’s a luxury position. We never had so many songs before. From those 25 songs we soon have to make a selection and it’s gonna be painful. All the 25 songs are good, and you have to drop a lot of them. You can put about 13 on an album. So it’s really a luxury situation and at this moment we are writing the lyrics, working on the vocals lines and early next year we will start recording and it should be released around, I think, September or October 2016.
Thank you! We have just one last question because we have to finish this interview. The last one is regarding your own festival, Epic Metal Fest, how did the idea come up ?
Well I had the idea already for a very long time, basically since the beginning of EPIC, they were always the idea about the festival but it never happened. With the “Retrospect” show we got some experience on organizing ourselves a big event and it was a lot of work but it also gives a lot of really good feeling to be able to organize that with our own team. That gave us the confidence that with ” Retrospect “ we could do something like that in a different format which means our initial idea of a festival we could then materialize. So now with this Epic Metal Fest, if everything goes well, like we expect, it can be become a yearly event and it will be really cool to have our own festival which we can do every year.
Ok perfect. So thank you very much for all your very interesting answers, we can end this interview here. Do you have some last words, do you want to share something?
Well I’m looking forward to the show tonight.
The interview has been recorded on 16th October 2015 at the Rock Your Brain Fest (Sélestat – France).
EPIC METAL FEST
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