Interviews : Epica – “Every album is a result of acting on intuition” (An interview with Mark Jensen)
Epica – Mark Jensen
EPICA‘s latest release, ‘Requiem for the Indifferent‘ has received positive reviews from across the globe and is fast becoming the “must have” album for symphonic power metal lovers. Thanks to Metropolis Touring, EPICA will soon be gracing our shores for the first time this April.
Metal Obsession.net had the pleasure to speak with founding member and guitarist of EPICA, Mark Jensen.
Metal Obsession: With the upcoming shows being your first to Australian shores, what can we expect from the band? With 5 albums in the last 10 years will you be playing a “best of” set or focusing more on the latest album?
Mark Jensen: Personally I get easily bored when bands focus too much on their latest album. I think “best off” sets are in general the best for the crowd. Especially as we come for the first time to Australia, so most people haven’t heard any of our older tracks live before. “Best of” it will be.
MO: Australia has been blessed with so many bands coming out here in recent years such as Opeth who have just finished up a recent tour, Nightwish toured earlier this year, and your good friends in Kamelot are due here in June. What have you heard about the Australian crowds?
MJ: Floor Jensen told me the crowds in Australia are awesome, and when she says so, it’s true. She has been touring all over the world and has seen many crowds, so when she likes it, it must be good [laughs].
I must say that I have high expectations. We’re fully focused on our Retrospect show in the Netherlands at the moment but right after that the focus shifts towards Australia!
MO: I hear you are pulling out all the stops for this Retrospect show and making it a 3-hour celebration to be streamed over the internet. Are there any plans to go beyond that and release it as a live DVD/BLU-RAY?
MJ: A DVD would be great, we’ll shoot the whole show and if the material is good enough (what we hope for of course) we might release it as DVD/BLU-RAY. But before we can confirm it needs to be 100% sure.
MO: “Requiem for the Indifferent” is Epica’s most successful album to date and that each previous album has been selling a little more and more as you go along. What do you think is driving this increased popularity? The music, the live constant shows and touring new territories, Simone exposing the larger metal community to Epica through her work with Kamelot?
MJ: All the reasons you mention contribute. There’s not one big reason but I think it’s very important that we always follow our heart. We never do something that we don’t like to do and we just make music that we like ourselves. We will not sell our soul to the devil by getting a bit more money. Music is art and art is only good when you make it with true intentions and passion.
MO: I read that you are in a fortunate position in that the band is able to make a living purely out of the music and therefore expect full dedication from everyone involved. How hard is that given Simone’s commitments to Kamelot, and yours to Mayan?
MJ: It’s all a matter of good planning and keeping Epica as the absolute priority. Nothing should harm Epica. It’s also important that everybody communicates well regarding this, the only way to make things work.
MO: You have a new guitarist and bass player in the band nowadays. How have they settled in to the band and have they contributed any thoughts / new ideas for new material or are you still the main songwriter in that regard?
MJ: It doesn’t matter to me who writes the most, the quality is all that matters. Isaac wrote already some great tracks and Rob is brand new in the band so I don’t know yet but I have the feeling he can write also great music! Everybody in the band is important and valuable.
MO: Epica’s music has so many varied styles in it yet it all seems to work so well and is the perfect vehicle for Simone’s voice and a natural follow-up to your work in After Forever. How much time does it take to write the music and compositions before you feel it is ready to record? Do you write and re-write everything until you think it’s perfect?
MJ: There’s not one single recipe to write songs but usually someone starts with a song and finishes it until he’s satisfied. By presenting it to the band the other guys get the possibility to change things for the better, Sometimes there’s much to be changed and sometimes almost nothing. Also the time to write a song varies. Sometimes it takes just some days or weeks and sometimes it can take several years. For example Kingdom of Heaven took us about 4 or 5 years. e started writing that song right after Consign to Oblivion was released.
MO: “Requiem for the Indifferent” is a slight departure from the bands previous albums in that some of the songs are more straight-ahead and more “rockier” (if that’s a word). Some of the bands finest slower material is also on this album. Was that a conscious decision to move slightly away from what you had done in the past and to experiment a bit more on this album?
MJ: It wasn’t a conscious decision but something that just happened. The only thing we wanted to avoid was making an album that would sound too much like another. Every album is a result of acting on intuition. We don’t think too much, just do it. There’s just a basic idea and intention to write something in a certain direction but it can change along the process and result into something completely different. I think this is the best way to produce something of high quality. Otherwise you’d restrict yourself too much.
MO: Given the textures and various emotions invoked by listening to Epica, have you (personally) ever thought about doing a “metal opera” with other musicians of your choice?
MJ: Not really, the closest I get is MaYaN, my other band. The people I really wanted to work with sing on that album (Quarterpast).
MO: What are your main influences as a composer? When I listen to Epica I hear many passages that sound like they could come off a movie soundtrack or (a much heavier) classical music piece?
MJ: I like classical composers such as Rachmaninov and Chopin but also film music composers as Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer.
MO: Your other band MaYan shows your fascination with the Mayan civilization. What peaked your interest in the Mayan culture and civilization? Was it this whole 21/12/12 thing or just from reading books on ancient South American and Latin American culture? What’s the one thing we could all learn from the Mayan culture in today’s society?
MJ: The 2012 thing sounded spectacular but my fascination goes beyond that. I got fascinated by their wisdom and knowledge about astrology. With the instruments they had by that time they couldn’t know about certain planets and stars but still they knew all about it. The question is, how? I am still figuring it out but for sure we modern humans lost something of the (higher) spiritual level of some ancient cultures.
MO: You also have a Masters in Psychology and I’ve seen interviews where you said growing up you were passionate about that field. How hard was it giving that up for a career in music? Have you been able to apply what you have learned in psychology to your career in Epica?
MJ: Not hard at all as you have to make choices in life, my passion for music is even bigger so the choice was easy. I also wanted to become a cyclist when I was a kid and that also didn’t happen. I would have loved to ride the Tour de France but anyway, looking back it wasn’t the right time to become a cyclist (all the doping) [laughs].
MO: The Australian dates are very tight in terms of scheduling, but you have a few days off before heading off to Indonesia, what are you looking forward to doing in your time off in Australia? Is there anything in particular you’d like to do or see here?
MJ: I am looking into possibilities to rent a bike to cycle, I’d love to make some rides in Australia before we go. s you can see I still like to cycle. This year I rode already 1.100 kilometers in the Sicilian hills and ran 185 kilometers. I upload all my activities on www.strava.com
MO: Have you got anything else you’d like to say to the Metal Obsession audience reading this?
MJ: We can’t wait to come over!!!! Be sure to be energetic and you’ll get a very energetic band in return.
EPICA‘s Australian tour tickets are on sale now via Metropolis Touring.
Wednesday, 17 April – Brisbane – Hi Fi
Friday, 19 April – Sydney – Metro (ALL AGES)
Sunday, 21 April – Melbourne – Billboard
Tuesday, 23rd April – Perth – The Capital