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Interviews   

Epica: a plea for public awareness


Through their new album, Requiem For The Indifferent, Epica make a plea for public awareness in terms of our planet’s economic and environmental issues. According to vocalist Simone Simons, mankind ignores those issues, voluntarily or not, and people live their lives in a very selfish way. When we broached these subjects during the following interview, we naturally drifted to more current affairs; in other words: the debate on downloading caused by the recent closing down of Megaupload. Simone’s position on the matter is firm: if a nation is economically stable, given how easy it can be to access music legally on the Internet, downloading is a no-no.

On a more musical front, we talked about the impact their previous album, Design Your Universe, had on the band’s music – a subject Mark Jansen already insisted upon a year ago. Simone can only concur: with this record, the band have established a standard that will be used as a foundation for all future productions, including this new album, Requiem For The Indifferent.

Interview.

« I’ve not spit a chewing-gum on the floor in years! […] If I put trash on the floor, I feel guilty all day long, it just goes against my belief. If we go walking in the forest, my boyfriend even picks up the trash people left behind. That’s how involved we are! »

Radio Metal: With the album title, Requiem For The Indifferent, you mean to say that the world is coming to the end of an era and that mankind should open their eyes. Do you think that the world as we know it will collapse?

Simone Simons (vocals): No, we don’t think that the world is gonna end and that’s it’s going to be a big apocalypse. We are hoping for a change. We hope that the people who are currently indifferent to the problems we have in society and in the world are going to wake up and make a change.

What do you think could happen if people do not open their eyes?

We have to wait and see. But through our music and our lyrics, we try to give a message. People should start to think about it. But we’re not fortune-tellers, we cannot say what’s gonna happen.

What should people do, in your opinion?

Become more involved, knowing what’s happening, changing little things in their own lives. When it comes to nature, for example, we can all start to recycle more. We should take public transportation, or use bikes, so we wouldn’t have so many dirty cars on the road. Of course, electric cars are very expensive now, but they’re going to become cheaper and more widely available, so that’s a good thing for the environment. We should become more involved in politics as well. We’ve already witnessed demonstrations a few months ago from people who live in dictatorships and feel oppressed. They’re trying to make themselves heard. Very often, people don’t have a say in what happens in their lives or in their country. It’s about making sure that people can hear your voice, your opinion. Think of the greater good, not only about yourselves, be less selfish.

A lot of people know they have to change their behavior in order to save the environment, but they’re still not doing it for a lot of different reasons. How do you think we can really convince these people?

That’s difficult, because there will always be good and evil in the world. You can’t make everybody think the same way about certain things. That’s impossible. We try to do it through our lyrics, and our fans are really intelligent people who read the lyrics and think about it. That’s our contribution. We don’t want to force our opinions on other people, we just lay it on the table so they can think about it. That’s what we can do as a band. And of course, you can hopefully inspire people in your family and your friends. It’s the same with all the music downloading and piracy going on. I try to give the people around me a bad conscience if they download music, especially because I’m a musician, it’s my job. You work two years to create a record that people can download in one minute on the Internet without paying for it. That’s all I can do, but I do it as much as I can.

Do you think people are like teenagers? In other words, do you think they know they’re doing something wrong, but they still do it?

Yeah, because they wanna be cool! (laughs) It’s like spitting a chewing-gum on the floor, or leaving trash on the floor instead of putting it in the trash can. It just really annoys me. I’ve not spit a chewing-gum on the floor in years! I just keep it in my mouth until I can put it in the trash. It’s just silly examples like this. If I put trash on the floor, I feel guilty all day long, it just goes against my belief. If we go walking in the forest, my boyfriend even picks up the trash people left behind. That’s how involved we are!

In your opinion, how did mankind let the world reach this critical point without reacting earlier?

There have always been people who were aware of it and trying to make other people open their eyes. It’s just that a lot of people are very selfish and keep doing wrong things, even if they know they shouldn’t. It’s not that people don’t know, it’s that they don’t care. They live in their own little fake world and think nothing’s gonna happen to them. Lots of people are not grateful about how privileged they are until something happens. Epica’s involved in a charity, and I recently donated a very special stage outfit, which was sold for a lot of money to a French guy. The money went to a breast cancer organization. I’m a woman myself, and people in my family have had breast cancer. I’m still healthy, but it doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. I also want to invest in the future and help find a better treatment for this disease. That’s our contribution to making the world a better place.

« Lots of people are not grateful about how privileged they are until something happens. »

Nowadays, financial crisis is so frightening that even musicians talk about it in their music. Do you think it’s one of the most important crisis we have faced?

As a musician, you feel it, because a lot of people don’t buy records anymore, they just download them. The government is also investing less money in cultural events. So we do feel it. In certain countries, we have to think about how much to charge for a ticket. Yesterday, I talked to somebody from Greece, and he asked me if we were going to lower the price of our tickets, because people can’t pay for them anymore. It’s a sad thing to think that money is so important and can destroy so much. Hopefully it won’t, but it could mean the end of the European Union. Countries like Germany, for example, are investing a lot of money in Greece to get them back on track, but it’s a complicated mess!

What do you think about the news regarding the end of MegaUpload?

I think it’s a good thing. But I’m on Twitter, and I read some retweets. Somebody wrote that a child molester will get seven years in jail, and somebody who uploaded music or movies will have to go to jail for fifteen years. It shouldn’t be the case. I know that the uploading and downloading thing is a huge world, which is affecting a lot of people. But it’s still not ethically wrong as molesting a child, for example. That has an impact on a smaller number of people, of course, but it’s something you’ll live with for the rest of your life. Piracy is only about economics. It’s about missing out on money because people are downloading stuff, but it’s not as serious as molesting a child. That should be punished by a hundred years in jail. Piracy should be punished in a different way.

« In certain countries, we have to think about how much to charge for a ticket. Yesterday, I talked to somebody from Greece, and he asked me if we were going to lower the price of our tickets, because people can’t pay for them anymore. »

A lot of people, including musicians, say that this website was a good thing, because if people could download music for free, the artists would see more people at their shows. In a way, it helped the band to gain notoriety in the world.

In certain countries, a lot of people just can’t afford to buy the record, but they do come to the shows. In Mexico, for example, there’s a huge illegal market. When I was walking through the city, I saw a copy of an Epica album right between the biggest pop singers in the world. I thought it was funny, I even took a photo of it. You can try and fight against it, but in those countries, the illegal market is huge. But then, the people come to the shows. You can tour there and have amazing shows. In the end, it’s not like people won’t come to the shows because they have the record at home! Those people like to go to concerts and those concerts are always pretty amazing.

So in a way, it can be a good thing?

In these countries, it’s not a bad thing. But economically successful countries in Europe – not all of them, but the majority – should not download. I don’t want to say downloading is ever a good thing. It’s just a problem we try to fight. I have to admit I’ve downloaded a couple of songs myself, to see if I liked the music, but then I bought the record. Nowadays, everybody’s got an iPhone or an iPod, and you can just download the music online for a lower price. Everyone wants to have the music on their mp3 players anyway, but the collectors want to have the real deal, the CD and the booklet and stuff. I download a lot of music on iTunes. You pay something like seven euros less, which I think it’s cool. And it’s legal.

« Because everybody’s on the Internet, and the music is also on the Internet, it doesn’t feel like you’re actually stealing. People don’t see it the same way as going to a store, putting a CD up their sleeve and leaving the shop. But it is basically the same. »

The other side of the coin regarding the closing of MegaUpload is that people are complaining about the attempt against their freedom. Do you think that people are like children? They’re given too much and now they’re used to listening to music for free, without paying the artist?

I think because everybody’s on the Internet, and the music is also on the Internet, it doesn’t feel like you’re actually stealing. People don’t see it the same way as going to a store, putting a CD up their sleeve and leaving the shop. But it is basically the same. Hopefully people will buy the record and come to the shows. I hope people will finally see it as stealing. Even some family members or friends of mine, they’re downloading, and I tell them it’s wrong. They say: “Yeah, but it’s on the Internet, it doesn’t have a price tag on it”. Not everybody understands, and teenagers are really stubborn anyway! They do whatever they want and are very selfish. It’s not only about how teenagers act, it’s about how parents deal with it as well. For me as a musician, it’s very important for people to know that downloading is illegal and it’s affecting the musicians in the end. Everybody thinks: “It’s just me”, but it’s not. The whole downloading issue is like a plague.

The artwork of the album shows a character rising from some kind of chaotic and industrial world, and who finds a key in a tree. Do you think that, to find the solution to all those problems, mankind has to get close again with nature?

Yeah. Our lives now revolve around materialism, while the key things in life are health, food and the earth itself. We try to get resources our of natural things. We don’t need all the materialism. The woman on the artwork is naked, she has a number on her arm. She’s just one out of many people who’s totally stripped down by the materialistic side of life. She’s basically trying to get some fresh air and escape that world. It’s kind of an easy cover when it comes to interpretation.

« I still think that Design Your Universe is an amazing album, it’s not less great than Requiem For The Indifferent. With Design Your Universe, we kind of set a standard in terms of the style we want to explore. »

Epica’s music is becoming less and less accessible, darker and more aggressive. Is this because of the way you see the world evolving? Does this have an impact on your writing?

No, not really. I actually disagree, because I feel Requiem For The Indifferent, without being commercial, is more easily accessible than Design Your Universe. It has a heavy touch to it, but it’s not because we think the world is dark. It’s also because we have two new band members, who are more involved in the writing process and give a little change to our music. It’s not because we have a negative vision of the world. The music just has to fit the lyrics.

Last year, Mark Jansen told us that you were very proud of your album Design The Universe, so that you wanted to keep this spirit in the new album. Why was this album so special for you?

Good question! I think for every album, you’re always very happy with the outcome. It’s special because it’s new, it’s exciting and you don’t know what people are gonna think about it. But I still think that Design Your Universe is an amazing album, it’s not less great than Requiem For The Indifferent. With Design Your Universe, we kind of set a standard in terms of the style we want to explore. The music is not going to change so much from Design Your Universe. We’ll just add little elements to refresh it a little bit, but we’ll stay true to the core of the music.

Even if you have a new record out, do you think that Design Your Universe is the best Epica album so far?

Not the best, but one of the best! (laughs)

Regarding what we said about Design Your Universe, aren’t you afraid of keeping the band from evolving by trying to find again the chemistry that you had on this album?

Oh, no. I mean, we can’t suddenly start making thrash metal. You have to somehow keep the main ingredients that compose the music and add new elements to make it more surprising. For example, on the songs that were written by Isaac, which are “Monopoly On Truth” and “Deter The Tyrant”, the guitars are more melodic and get more attention as well. The music is still epic and very symphonic, but we want to include new ingredients and not change the entire great recipe.

So you think a band is not allowed to radically change its style?

If you feel it’s natural when you start writing the music, if you somehow don’t like what you’ve done before, you should be free to make the music you want. But we have decided to make music in this genre, symphonic metal, but it doesn’t mean I can’t change my vocals a bit, or that we can’t change the guitar style. But the overall feeling stays the same. But if one day we wake up and realize we don’t like it anymore, then of course, we can change and decide to become a hip-hop band! But I think that chance is really, really small!

There are more guitar solos on this album. Was it something that was decided before entering the studio, like: “We need more guitar solos”?

The songs for the record were almost finished, and we were in a studio in Germany for a photoshoot. One of the guys said: “I think the songs could use guitar solos”. We kind of decided at the last minute that two songs should be given an extra guitar solo. Isaac [Delahaye] is a great guitar player, so we told him to go crazy on some songs.

Last September, you offered to your fans on Facebook the possibility to choose the opening act for your European tour. How did you get this idea?

We do want to know what the fans like and be up to date on bands that are popular. We want to stay in touch with our fans via Facebook and Twitter and we find it important to know what they like, so we can try and include that in what we’re doing.

Did the label or the management have the possibility to say no regarding the band the fans had chosen?

No, we are free to take bands we like on tour with us. For example, if you take another band from the label, the label is more likely to say: “We want to invest on this tour”. For them it’s of course an advantage if we take a band from the same label. But we are free to take whoever we like on tour.

So is it really what will happen? Is the band you are taking on tour actually the one the fans chose?

Well, for example, if the fans say they want to have Sirenia as the opening act, it doesn’t mean we can work with them. We can contact them and see if they’re interested. They also have to want it. It’s a combination of many factors before it can happen in the end. But the fans can have a say, throw an idea, suggest a name to us. Then we have to take a lot of factors into consideration for it to happen.

In this case, what was the band chosen by the fans?

I believe Sirenia was a popular one. Tristania, as well. Some people even mentioned Nightwish, but of course that’s not gonna happen! (laughs) We have two bands in the end, with whom we are finalizing all the paperwork. As soon as everything is all said and done, we will announce it online.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the band. Have you planned some special events with some guests, like the former members of the band or the orchestra? Mark told us that you wanted to repeat the Classical Conspiracy experience. Have you planned something yet?

Yeah, we want to do a really special show. It could be at the end of 2012, but we’re aiming more at the beginning of 2013, because we’re touring a lot, and it’s a show we want to prepare really well. It will be packed with specials, it will be a great event. A ten years anniversary is very special, so there will be something big coming!

Interview conducted on january, 27th, 2012, by phone.
Transcription : Saff’

Epica’s Website : www.epica.nl



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