Interview with Simone Simons [Nov. 20, 2010]

Year-after-year, the Dutch band EPICA continues to grow and flourish into a Symphonic Metal Juggernaut. With their latest opus, 2009’s “Design Your Universe”, the band has release what is arguably their best album and also their most successful. Recently, vocalist Simone Simons was kind enough to sit down for a few minutes and answer some questions. Here is what she had to say…

The album (“Design Your Universe”) has been out for over a year now, and you’ve done a lot of touring. How has everything been going so far?
Simone: "Very good. This is our second U.S. tour, we did two European tours, and we’ve done lots of festivals and South America as well. We’ve been touring non-stop to promote this album. When we are done touring in the beginning of February we will start writing and recording a new album and recording, so it’s non-stop touring until February."

Are you happy with the response from the fans and media to “Design Your Universe” so far?
Simone: "Yeah, well we love our fans, we have very loyal fans and we’ve also noticed that our fan base has been growing, especially since our last record has been sold over 100,000 times, so that’s actually good. We have a great record company standing behind us and supporting us."

Is there a concept behind “Design Your Universe” and can you tell us what that concept is?
Simone: "It’s not a full concept album, like for example “The Divine Conspiracy” was, but there is a little bit of a red line going through it. “Design Your Universe”, the title of the album, basically means that you should all live your dream and create your own destiny and not find a job because your parents want you to or study this and that because some person wants you to, just live your own life and don’t be afraid to try to realize your dreams. A lot of people are afraid to fail or that other people might not be happy, but it’s your life and you’ve got to make the best out of it. That’s the motto from basically all of us. We have also quantum physics, freedom of speech, and reflections of society how everything has become mass consummation, how people don’t value the little things in life anymore, only the big picture and forget about friends and family, it’s all about buying, buying, buying."

Every EPICA album is always larger in scope than your previous one. Do you ever feel any pressure to make every album more epic than your previous one?
Simone: "Yeah, you always want to top the last record and so far it has worked for us. For the last album we also had a new addition to the band, Isaac Delahaye our new guitarist, who has also been involved in the writing process. Even though it was totally at the end, we still gave him some time to check out the songs and improve them where he thought it would be necessary and he did. He has a totally new sound and I thought that was also a big change. The record is heavy, it’s more complex, and it’s more EPICA. It’s always more of a challenge, it should not become pressure, and it should be like a positive stimulation, because once you start feeling pressured or start to worry, it can block your creativity. We like to take our time when writing music, when you have a deadline mostly, you’re never going to make it. It’s the same with not only writing the music, but recording and mixing and mastering, it always takes longer."

How did you find your new guitarist Isaac Delahaye?
Simone: "We knew him for many years already. Both Coen (Janssen, keyboardist) and Arien (van Weesenbeek, drums) went to the same music school as he did. He already replaced our first guitarist in the beginning when he couldn’t do it, that was 2003-2004, really long ago and we really like Isaac. He’s a fun dude (laughs). He’s always in a good mood, is great on stage and a great musician as well. He fits in the group very well and it’s nice to have someone like him around."

What are your impressions of touring North America?
Simone: "Yesterday we played a sold out show in New York City at the Grammercy Theater and there were so many people who knew the lyrics. We’ve played a lot In Latin America, but North America was always unknown ground and to know that we have a lot of really loyal fans over here is really amazing. Sometimes I have to pinch myself, because I see the people enjoying the music, having a great time and I think ‘wow, that’s because of us, we set the mood with our music’ and that people find strength and inspiration in our music and our lyrics is extraordinary."

The latest thing you have out is the single “This Is The Time” in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund. How did that come about?
Simone: "Mark (Jansen, guitarist) is a loyal supporter of the World Widlife Fund and he already did collaboration with them. He did a cycling tour through the Alps and the south of France to collect money also for the World Wildlife Fund. The song “This Is The Time”, the music is written by Isaac, the lyrics by Mark. We have always been very environmentally conscious. Our fans actually read the lyrics and think about them, so you should also see the opportunity to make people think about subjects like this, like the pollution of our environment, the abuse of many animals, that’s what the song is about, this is the time to make right what is wrong. It doesn’t have to be something big, you don’t have to give all of your money to funds and all the charities, but if you start changing little things in your life and inspiring other people to do so, in the end the effect will be really great."

I wanted to ask you about “The Classical Conspiracy”. How big of an undertaking was that and did you find it rewarding in the end?
Simone: "It was definitely rewarding, but it was a hell of a job (laughs)! The preparations began a half year before the show. We made the set lists – we had a classical set list and an EPICA set list. The re-writing of the EPICA orchestrations started, which my boyfriend Oliver Palotai took care of. We were in Hungary a week in advance to rehearse with the orchestra and choir, they already started rehearsing way before we came and they made videos so we could check it out. It was a lot of work and the show itself was very stressful. It’s very different because we’ve done a couple of songs with an orchestra and normally we are running a tape with us, so it is always the same, it’s like one thing and that is how you are going to get it, and now you have seventy people who can make mistakes and which will sound different, so it was a new sound to our ears, because you heard a real choir and not the choir we have on our records. It was a special show. We unfortunately couldn’t make a DVD out of it due to lack of time and lack of budget, so that is why we decided to record the audio. It was something special. Orchestra and choir is a big part of the music we make and we’ve gotten a lot of positive responses to it, and I myself really love listening to the CD, but while we were there it was so stressful, I was so tired, I didn’t sleep at all. We had a long rehearsal in the morning and then a late show in the evening. It was just a totally new experience."

It must be nice to go back and listen to it now that it is over with.
Simone: "Yeah, than you can relax. Actually, in a way it is a shame because you’re so tired and stressed. You want to do a good show even though you’re tired. I like listening to the CD and I really enjoy it and I am also thankful that we had such a special thing already in our career."

Are there plans for EPICA to release another DVD in the future?
Simone: "Well, there is one from the live show at the Paradiso (Amsterdam) in 2005, but due to bankruptcy of our previous record label, that has been lying on a shelf somewhere because it is not finished. There are still some internal problems regarding that, but we are still hoping that it will be released one day. It’s a great DVD. A lot of fans still ask us when it is going to be released and unfortunately we don’t know. We have been recording some live shows, so there might be a compilation of live shows or it might be a b-side of our new record, we don’t know. We have some material."

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Is there anything you would like to add or say to fans to close this interview out?
Simone: "I want to thank our North American fans, because they allowed us to come back to The States for the second time in a year to play headlining shows. They have been really sweet, very patient, very nice to hang out with and with the fans there wouldn’t be an EPICA, so a big thank you."

copyright: METAL MAIDENS
interview by: Tony Cannella, Metal Maidens 'zine / November 2010.

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