Interview with guitarist/composer Mark Jansen, Epica - February 2010

Let's talk about your new album, 'Design Your Universe'. I'm not going to ask you what the concept is about because we should all know by now and you've answered that question enough, I think.

Mark: Yeah

It sounds heavier and there are solos! Did Isaac Delahaye bring this to the table or was it always your intention to make the album sound this way and add more elements, explore the unexplored?

Mark: When Ad Sluijter announced that he would leave, we were looking for a guitar player that would add the elements that we were looking for on the new album because the songs were already written. And Isaac was the perfect guy to fill in all these gaps, so he was the ideal person to step in. Not only for the solos, but also his way of playing. It fits perfectly to the new style of the band. He added a lot of extra stuff to the guitar lines like the solos that is why he was the perfect man and so we asked him. He needed to think first because he just bought a house and he has 3 jobs, but then he decided to do it.

The harsh vocals really improved, sounds more brutal and really powerful, which matches the heaviness of the music. It's still Epica, only better and refreshing. I think it's your best album so far.

Mark: Thank you. It will be very hard to make a better album than this one I think because this is a highlight for us. This is an album we always wanted to make and now we have all the possibilities to do it. We have a great new drummer and he also has harsh vocals. So we experimented with his grunts as well, to make more variation on the album. This album indeed sounds very refreshing. It will be harder to make a better one with the next album but of course it is our intention to make an even better one. We worked really hard on this one and we got everything out of it.

Do you already have ideas for the next album?

Mark: Yes, we have written some songs...

People seem to compare Epica to bands such as Evanescence, Within Temptation... female fronted bands in general. I'm sure it's bothersome. You have clearly proven that you are a versatile band and can go beyond and above. Do you think they will still compare Epica to those bands?

Mark: It gets less and less. In the beginning when you start as a band, you will always get compared to other bands, its natural. There's no stopping it, there is not a band that doesn't get compared. They need other bands to compare to, to get an impression of what kind of music it is. It does not bother me, it is always like this. But when people compare us to Evanescence, that is just something I don't really understand, it's quite far from our music. Comparisons with Nightwish and Orphanage (another Dutch band), with those bands I understand more.

Your setlist is pretty interesting tonight. Which one of your new songs get the most reaction or good vibes from the crowd?

Mark: Let's see... "Design Your Universe" gets a very good reaction. In the beginning we didn't get the right foot pedals. We had to play the acoustic parts with our volume down because when you have a heavy sound and you can't switch, the only way is to put the volume down to have a clean sound. It's not always a success (laughs). Now we have the right pedals fortunately, since yesterday in New York. Now it sounds like how it should sound.

So far, how are the fans reacting on the new material on this side of the world?

Mark: Great. We do this VIP with the fans and they tell us what they think of the new album. People's reactions are good; they love this album most out of all our albums. What I also noticed was that with our old records, we've only sold 1000 or 2000 in the US. And with this new one, suddenly it went up and we sold way more. I just found out that there's something going on with Epica in the US now and it's going so well, I didn't expect it.

Perhaps due to the Thrash scene in the US... and you sound more heavy so more people are into Epica...?

Mark: Yeah, that is possible. When we presented the new material before it was released, a lot of people thought 'it's a big risk, you might loose a lot of fans'... but we didn't actually lose any fans, we only gained a lot of new fans. Now that you look back, it was not a risk at all. It felt a bit like a risk because it sounds more brutal, but it turned out great. It proves that if you follow your heart and do what you like the most, it pays off in the end.

You were right and you just knew that it would be successful.

Mark: Yeah, if you make music you really love, people will hear it and will appreciate it.

I play the guitar as well so it's always necessary for me to ask at least one question about guitars. What is your advice to those who would like to improve their guitar playing?

It depends on what level you are in. If you are a starter, you should not give up too easily, because in the beginning you feel like you're never going to learn it. But once you're through with that, you can start developing your techniques in a deep way. I say the first week is the most difficult. People start playing guitar, then after the first week they think they just can't do it. So if you really want to learn, don't give up on your first week. For people who are quite skilled already, I would say you're on a good path, keep going! (laughs)

By the way what inspired you to pick up the guitar and who are your guitar heroes?

Mark: My father. He played guitar in his old band and that always inspired me when I was visiting his rehearsals. They rehearsed at my grand mother's house in their basement, which I rehearsed in later on with After Forever and Epica. It's still the same rehearsal room! (laughs) I started playing the guitar with my father and so he is an inspiration for me. Aside from my father, it was Slash of Guns and Roses. When I was a kid Guns and Roses were huge and Slash was my big example.

What was the very first Metal music/band that was introduced to you?

Mark: Megadeth. I went to a shop in my village and I was looking for a heavy music to shock everyone cause I didn't like all the soft rock on the radio. I went to the shop, saw this cover of Megadeth's Rust in Peace and I thought it was a cool cover. So I bought the album without even listening to it first. Then at home I started listening to it and I thought; 'ah..this is cool music!'. That's how I got into Metal music. I found out myself just by looking for extreme music. At the time, I was looking for the most extreme music ever written! (laughs). Then later on, I found out about Death Metal, Black Metal and so on...

You've composed the soundtrack for a Dutch film called Joyride. It must have been a dream come true considering you're a fan of Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman's music. Do you plan on doing anything like that again?

Mark: Yes, if there is an opportunity and an interesting opportunity with a more high budget movie because this was my first one. I had no experience yet so it was a test for me and it worked very well. Even though I was not so happy with how the music was used in the film, in the end, it gave me a lot of new experiences. I'd like to do it again. In the future if there is a chance, then I would definitely do it. I got some offers from the same kind of movies and I didn't do that because I'll only take a new offer if it's a step up, for a better movie. (laughs)

Yeah... because I'm so busy with other things like writing the new Epica album. So only if there is something very interesting. For example, there's a guy in the Netherlands, he started something with the Lord of the Rings movie. He wants to create some Metal music and he asked me to also compose some music for it and that's a very interesting project so that's what I'm probably going to say yes to because it is interesting, new, and refreshing. These kinds of things I would really like to make time for, only the interesting stuff that creates challenges.

Are there any other plans up your sleeves to work on your own outside of Epica in the future, or are you devoting 100% of your time to Epica for now?

Mark: I like to do a lot of things. I started a project with Jack Driessen, the first keyboardist of After Forever and we worked together with Sander Gommans (guitarist of After Forever) on 4 songs. It's going to be a very interesting project I think. If the project is successful, we may do some shows in the future. I only do vocals in that. It's also fun to do vocals without the guitar.

It's such a challenge to work with this guy (Jack Driessen), he's so talented. He only played in Prison of Desire in After Forever and he was out of the picture. So it was great to work with this guy again. Like I said, he is so talented. When we are composing music he has so many ideas that pop up and it's great.

Has that been announced? Sorry, I am not aware of it...

Mark:  Yeah it has been announced but not widely.

You like to read a lot of scientific books... have you brought some with you on tour?

Mark: Absolutely, yes.

What are you currently reading and what is it about?

Mark: I just finished a book. It's Bukowski's Ham On Rye. It's about a guy whose family is from Europe and lived in the US around the 30's and 40s. They were in the lower class and they tried to do their best in their tough situation. Shows how tough life was, quite a route book... but fun to read. Though it's not a scientific book it was just suggested to me by a friend so I started reading it and it caught my attention.

I also want to start reading a book from Jose Arguelles about the Mayans, The Mayan Factor. I've been reading a lot about the Mayan culture but still not the holy book, like The Mayan Factor which has great importance.

Some of your lyrical themes are about the Mayan civilization and culture. Supposedly and they say, the Mayan calendar ends in 2012. Do you believe the world will end in 2012?

Mark: No, I don't think the world is going to end. If the world has enough of human spaces the world will make sure to get rid of the human beings and just keep on going. (laughs) If there is something that is going to end its the human beings or at least the way of who we are. We have a possibility to grow into the next level of consciousness and it's just a feeling. You can already see now with the financial crisis, I think it soon will come to an end, the money system that is just a sick system. People cheat on each other, people destroy each other, people destroy the earth just out of greediness and that is something that's going to end I think.

There is this documentary sort of about that, Zeitgeist: The Movie. Have you heard of it?

Mark: Yeah, I love it.

And Zeitgeist: Addendum, the second one?

Mark: Yeah, both.

It really opens your eyes no matter if it's true or not...

Mark: I think most of it is true. It's hard to believe sometimes, especially when you hear all the stuff for the first time, but really there's so much underneath. A simple example; when the US invaded Iraq, they just had to come up with a reason so they were mad. It was a mass destruction. Even the political leader already confessed that if a reason would have not worked, they just have to come up with another reason for the people to support this invasion, but this was all about oil. They want to influence the region, but they can not say it like this because why would their families send their sons to war when it's just for oil and capitalism? There's so many of these things, you just can't trust the government anymore because they have all these hidden agendas and truth laid underneath of what they say.

That is true and I want to believe, but at the same time I want to be kind of in between.

Mark: Of course you should not believe everything. Also with this you should look at with critical eyes. You should not believe just anything from neither source but I'm sure there is a lot of truth in Zeitgeist. I'm convinced.

Agree, me too.

You're a huge fan of Arjen Lucassen of Ayreon...

Mark: Yeah I am.

I've done an interview him as well.

Mark: Yeah?

Yeah, he's a good man.

Mark: He is, he is.

He loves his fans...

Mark: Yes, he answers all his fan mail. He's crazy.

(We both laugh)

Have you had a chance to listen to his new project Guilt Machine with your busy schedule?

Mark: Not yet, but I'm still curious. I wanna hear it. I've heard some good stories about it so I will sooner or later.

You have quite a good list of movies. Any movies you've seen lately that you would recommend?

Mark: Ummm there was this movie, what was the name of it... Into the wild. Do you know the movie?

No, I actually don't watch many of the newer movies.

Mark: I'm not sure if it's a newer movie but somebody suggested it to me and I watched it.

Is it a comedy?

Mark: No it's not a comedy. It's about this guy who was just fed up with his life and he's just travelling and he ends up in Alaska. He lives there for about one year then he wanted to leave again, but there was a huge river so he could not leave the place. He starts eating the wrong things and the wrong plants, he gets poisoned and he dies there. It is based on a true story. It has a nice message so I liked that movie a lot.

So you like the deep stuff that gets your mind working...

Mark: Yes, absolutely.

What are your tricks and tips in taking care of you voice, especially now that you do more vocals?

Mark: Do sports a lot. When I'm not on tour I like to do sports because you have keep active and keep your body in shape to sing. Aside from that, I'm really careful not to catch a cold. If you have a cold, you can loose your voice easily. I already caught a cold but my voice still works fortunately. I almost never loose my voice, but when it happens then I'm really sad. (laughs) I've only lost my voice twice I think, after all these years.

Epica surely has accomplished quite a lot over the years. What else would like Epica to accomplish in the future?

Mark: I don't look ahead too much because I live in the now. Of course you have to plan some things and I look ahead but not too much. I don't have a specific goal of what we want to achieve. But for sure, I would like to play in as many countries that we have not been to before. Like Australia, Japan, China, Russia... these kinds of places. So I'm really looking forward to going to countries we've never been before.

You also have a lot of fans in the Philippines, from what I can tell...

Mark: As soon as there are promoters who would like to bring us over, then we are on the plane! It's the same with Lebanon, a country we've never played before. They seem to be showing some interest, as well as China and Korea. It may happen this time around and well be visiting new countries!

Thank you so much for this interview... Any words of wisdom for your fans and the readers of Power Of

Mark: Words of wisdom huh? I need to think now... (laughs)
Simple truth but very useful: What goes around comes Around.

Interviewed by Haydee G.

Epica - Design Your Universe

Album available on Nuclear Blast GmbH.