Epica – Designing a Musical Universe

Thursday, 10th October 2019

One of the champions of symphonic metal, Epica is a name that doesn’t need much of an introduction at this point. Given their rich history, we are starting to come up on a number of milestones for the band as well. The band just recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of Design Your Universe, and as such offered up a gold edition of the revered album. One that also includes a number of reworked, acoustic versions of some of its tracks. With a busy 2019-2020 ahead of them, we took a few moments to speak with vocalist Simone Simons about the possibility of new material, her thoughts on Design Your Universe, as well as beauty and fashion.

Dead Rhetoric: 10 years later, what do you feel makes Design Your Universe a special album for Epica?

Simone Simons: It still remains one of my personal favorites after all these years. It’s also a fan-favorite. I’ve seen so many fans that have a tattoo of the artwork. The name, Design Your Universe, I think speaks to a lot of people. I love almost all of the songs, even many years later after playing most of them live. We kind of grew up with that album. It traveled with us all over the world. So many fans loved it – we wanted to originally just do a small tour to celebrate the anniversary. It’s also the first time that we have done a re-release. But we usually just do an anniversary tour [at one spot]. We play the whole cd and [move along]. But this time we wanted to do something special. When we first announced the shows, we got some really positive feedback.

Before we knew it, we had a huge Latin American tour as well. We probably could have toured much longer as well, but we want to really focus on writing and recording our eighth album as well. That’s just starting at the moment, so we have to prioritize. But it’s great, and it shows that the fans really love that album. They want to hear it live again, and I’m excited to play it myself. Particularly the songs we don’t normally play. “Unleashed,” “Martyr of the Free Word,” and “Design Your Universe” we have played, but we are going to play a lot of songs on the album.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you have anything special planned for the upcoming Design Your Universe dates?

Simons: We do – of course the stage is going to look very nice. We also will have a very interesting setlist for the fans. With some surprises, which I can’t say, because it would spoil the surprise [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: There’s been a number of acoustic tracks that you have done in recent years – would you consider doing an acoustic tour in the future?

Simons: I would definitely be up for it, but I know some band members…like our drummer [Ariën van Weesenbeek], he doesn’t get a lot of gratification out of playing acoustically. He doesn’t like to tone down – he’s a metal drummer. He can do it, and he’s good at it, but I guess I would be the one to enjoy it the most, along with Coen [Janssen] and Isaac [Delahaye], as well as Rob [van der Loo]. Mark [Jansen] enjoys listening to it, but not necessarily playing [acoustically].

But I would be up for an acoustic tour one day. I enjoy it. It’s very intimate. You don’t have to put on a big show. It’s just all about the music. When we do a normal show, there’s a little bit more of a ‘show’ element into it. There’s the lights and energy behind it. We’ve done some acoustic shows, but they were like in-store acoustic sessions. I would doing it one day – sign me up [laughs]!

Dead Rhetoric: You already kind of hinted at this before, but there have been a number of smaller releases since The Holographic Principle. The writing process for a new full-length has now started?

Simons: Yes, it’s true. All of us have home studios, so we have been playing around and collecting ideas. We all have the Internet so we send files back and forth, but after the Latin American tour, we are planning to sit together in a house, and do a real writing camp. We will all work on each others parts face-to-face. We live far apart from each other, and it’s different when you don’t write together. When you are writing as a band, everybody giving their ideas – you don’t have that immediate interaction, so that’s something we want to do again. Now that we haven’t toured as much, we have time to travel and hang out together. We had such a heavy touring schedule that we also wanted to spend time with our family and friends when weren’t away. Having a child also makes things a little more challenging to organize.

Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of children, what are some of the joys and challenges of being a metal parent?

Simons: A lot of joys. The challenge is definitely being away. You have to switch into work mode when you are on stage. You have to try to not feel guilty, which is difficult. But nowadays, both moms and dads both work and it’s never perfect. We try to only look at the positive things. But it is very hard for me. That’s also why we had a little touring break. Just to be home. We are grateful for having a successful band, but also happy to have some time at home. Success comes with a price. It’s very challenging. When I’m at home, generally my husband is on tour. We are both in bands, and the great luck of having our family take care of our almost 6 year old.

Dead Rhetoric: What inspires you when it comes to writing and performing music?

Simons: The music itself. Feeling the music and feeling the melodies, and that it does something to you. It sounds cheesy, but that it touches your soul. For example, right now I am practicing the Design Your Universe setlist, and you always have a connection to some songs, or a stronger connection. If you can really feel the emotions in the music, and they still touch you many years later, that’s actually a source of inspiration for me.

I also love movies, I like to draw inspiration from that. But a good song can also inspire you to keep going. It’s a very fulfilling feeling, that the melodies you have in your head become reality, and then other people can hear and sing them too. It’s a great tool to unify people as well. I still love being a musician, and it still feels great to sing and let your soul fly, in a way.

Dead Rhetoric: There hasn’t been a lot of turn-over in the Epica camp for a while. Do you find that the band genuinely enjoys being around each other and share the same musical goals?

Simons: Yes, but at the same time we are six individuals with totally different characters. But we all have our qualities. That’s what makes it work – we each have something to contribute. Together we create the music. But being around each other is challenging as well. If it were you best friends or husband, you also sometimes need a break. It’s the same with traveling with your colleagues.

Whether there are fights or not, you get agitated by being in each other’s space in these small areas. That’s just a normal process. Just look at Big Brother. Put people together, and sometimes you get a little romance, even if that ship has sailed [laughs] for us. I was together with one of the band members in the beginning, but we split up – but we still manage to work together. But you have to give each other space. Sometimes you have to close your eyes or close your nose [laughs]. Then it will work.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s your take on female comradery in heavy metal music?

Simons: I think it’s growing and it’s great. It’s not just female singers, but also female instrumentalists. I totally applaud and support that. I like having a few more metal sisters in the scene. As much as I like working with the guys, it’s nice to exchange other stories with other singers who know what it’s like to be around guys all the time.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s the most rewarding part about being in Epica?

Simons: I guess when you are at a show and people sing your songs. Or you see that your music touches them – they feel connected to it. Or when we do meet and greets and fans say things like, “I love your music. It’s meant so much to me” because I am the same way with other bands. Music can be like your invisible friend. Whatever emotions you have or going through in your life, music is like therapy. It has a healing effect. That’s great when you get to do that with writing the music that you love, and that other people get something out of it too. That’s the most rewarding.

Dead Rhetoric: How has your interests in beauty and fashion helped you in terms of being in a band?

Simons: It’s connected to me being in the band. I’ve always done my own hair and make-up, together with other designers. It’s part of the show, not only the show, but all of the photos and videos we make. It’s a part of the visual aspect of the band. I’ve always enjoyed that, even before I was in a band. I enjoyed playing with make-up and being creative. Also with photography. I can combine all of these things with the band. I can wear crazy make-up on stage that I can’t wear going grocery shopping [laughs]. So I can still wear all of the things that I like. So I’ve saved a lot of money for Epica because we haven’t had to hire many make-up artists to do my make-up. I enjoy it as well.

It’s a bit of a ritual for myself too before a show. I put on my headphones and listen to my music – sometimes it’s Epica or it could even be jazz or something. When I do my own make-up, I get into my own world and prepare for the show. I’ve had the option to have it done for me, but I always say no thanks. I enjoy doing it more myself.

Dead Rhetoric: So it’s a matter of taking your creativity and putting it into different angles.

Simons: It’s a way of expressing yourself without the sound [laughs]. The music is the sound, and the make-up and clothes add to the visual aspect of it.

Dead Rhetoric: When I see Epica live, there’s a lot of smiling and interacting between members. What do you feel are your strengths are when you play live?

Simons: I guess what you just said – it’s a good example. We have fun that transcends, and the audience picks up on it. We have a great energy when we do a show. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We play in a metal band, but we are all a bunch of goofballs. We don’t put on a show – that’s how we are also backstage. I don’t have a stage persona, I am myself. Just more amplified I guess. I never change or become a different person. I do what the music tells me to do, and it’s a great outlet as well.

Dead Rhetoric: We’ve hit upon this at various points, but to wrap up, what are Epica’s plans going forward? Clearly there’s some shows and some writing in the works.

Simons: We have a book coming out as well, The Essence of Epica, our autobiography. It’s talking about our experience from the first day of the band to when we did our show in Tunisia last year. We have the remastered Design Your Universe album coming out, then some shows in Europe and Latin America, as well as North America next year. In between, we are going to be writing and recording, and hopefully releasing our eighth album in 2020. We are back on track and going full throttle [laughs].

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