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An interview with Isaac Delahaye of Epica
An interview with Isaac Delahaye of Epica
On Saturday the 15th of February Epica held a special listening session for the new album for a very small group of the press. Livereviewer was lucky enough to be one of the chosen ones and after hearing the superb new album for the first time I got to sit down with Isaac Delahaye.
First off I would like to congratulate you on the new album. It’s turned out beautifully and I had to keep myself from banging along. It’s a great album and that’s putting it lightly.
We are very proud of it ourselves. Usually by the last recorded note I’m already looking for things that could have been done better. I’ve been recording for sixteen years and this the first time that I really feel that we have created what we wanted, so we are very satisfied.
The album was really, well organic. It all fitted together perfectly, the songs were a whole. The previous album was very good, but this is the first time in a while that I really felt that it was an amazing album.
Well it’s always strange to say something like that about your own album, so it’s cool that you mention it, because it was a real band-effort. I think that’s the reason why it fits together so well. We really worked on all the details. Of course it was like that before as well, because there have always been a lot of details in our music. But I think that this time we really worked together as a three-piece of drum, bass and guitar and sat down together and nailed down the basis together and after that the rest comes in.
One thing I noticed is that it’s a pretty deep album, with a lot of layers and it feels big and bombastic. Yet it never feels pretentious. That’s the great thing about it, it’s a deep album, yet accessible. The listener that wants to get more out of it will be able to do so.
I think that “Requiem for the Indifferent” was less accessible, less straightforward and I think that the fact that we’ve recorded in this studio now and for the first time recorded without Sascha has added to that as well.
Certainly. Epica has been around for ten, eleven years. Then we had “Retrospect”, which was about looking back and then we thought that if we wanted to continue for ten more years we would have to make some changes. Nothing against Sascha of course, he even helped with some vocals and other stuff, so he has been helping us with the album, though not as a producer.
One thing that really struck me is that the album sounds different. I came here expecting to listen to a new Epica album, bombastic and symphonic as always but it sounds… well ‘refreshing’. And the music sounds a lot more ‘heroic’. Not like superheroes, but more like the classical mythology. As if you’re listening to a soundtrack to grand deeds. Yet other bands, like Rhapsody often put the soundtrack part too much into the picture, diverting attention from the song itself. Here it really was a ‘soundtrack-song’, rather than a song that had a soundtrack heaped on to it.
It was very much our intention to really make songs. It was because we started with putting a lot of effort into the basics and we gave a lot of attention to the band part, more so than before. And of course Jacob Hansen mixed it and he knows how to do these things. We tried out several people and had them do a test mix of certain songs and he came out on top.
It’s become a heavy album, yet all the details are there. Previously we used to go to the studio, tune our stuff and then we recorded an album. This time we did a long pre-production in the studio and we got to check out a lot of different combinations of amps and then we could record it. Previously we just did everything in our home studios and sent each other the parts. And after that we would go into the studio and that’s it. But now we sat down together and discussed a lot more, it was more of a band effort. It was working together, rather than reacting.
Everyone brought songs to the table which was very cool. With the previous album it was mostly Mark, Coen and me writing a lot. And now even Ariën joined in and that made it all feel refreshing. It’s odd to say, but it’s kind of a new beginning.
Does the album contain a concept or a story?
Well, of course the title “The Quantum Enigma” works as sort of a thread throughout the album, but it’s not a real concept album. So you’ve got Mark writing the lyrics, as well as Simone. Simone’s usually more about feelings and of course she is a mother now, so there are also lyrics about new life and the proximity of life and death.
The general thread is “The Quantum Enigma” and to put it shortly, well it’s actually pretty difficult stuff and hard to explain in short order. But basically the ‘Enigma’ comes from the idea that when you’re observing something you’re determining what it is. Have you heard of the ‘Dual-slit Experiment’? It’s an experiment where they fire off protons etc. and when you’re not observing it the result of the experiment can be anything. There is no pre-set result. But as soon as you observe it, it’ll always have the same outcome. Because you’re observing, you are determining things. If you continue that line of thought it will be very strange, because that might mean that we’re having an interview now because I’m projecting it that way, so it’s very vague and hard to understand. Yet as soon as you start thinking that way a lot of things are very relative. Of course it’s way more expansive than just that, but this was a very short explanation. And of course people are supposed to try and figure it out themselves through the lyrics. So that’s kind of the overhanging concept for the album, things don’t have to be the way they seem to be. As long as a final choice isn’t made there are so many options.
So people are binding themselves through their choices?
That’s a possibility, but they can also free themselves through choices. It’s all relative and pretty difficult to understand and even to believe it. One plus one equals two, that’s a painting, that’s your phone and that’s the way it is. Yet at the same time… It has been proven that you actually ‘see’ in the back of your head, not with your eyes. The pictures are in the back of your mind. That could mean, if you continue that line of thought, that those pictures are projected and that’s what you see with your eyes. Is this my hand, do I feel my hand? You don’t know. I might as well be a brain connected to a computer that projects. Things are the way they are because they have been determined as such. But again the ‘enigma’ is that there is no final answer. However, the experiment mentioned earlier is pretty clear. By the way, it’s the most executed experiment in science, because it is so unbelievable. You can find good videos on YouTube (like here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9tKncAdlHQ RP) for those so interested. It’s all kind of freaky, but it’ll help you understand the idea behind the album and especially Mark’s lyrics. Though with Epica it’s usually about such ideas, like with “Design Your Universe” and “Requiem for the Indifferent”, if you don’t do anything then… It’s always been point that you control your own life and that you can decide what to do.
Like you mentioned before, Simone has become a mother. Did you have to change the recording schedule a lot? Aside from all the new responsibilities I can imagine that she often came here dead-tired.
Yeah, of course it was all quite a bit different from before. She has to consider the little one now.
And will it influence touring?
In general it won’t. However, we will take it into account, of course. Coen has recently gotten a second child so he also has to see how it all goes. But it’s still kind of a job we’re doing and touring is a part of that.
However, it was actually quite positive for the recording process. It brought the band some more rest because we stopped doing shows last year because of Simone’s pregnancy, since combining festivals and that would be a bad idea. Due to that we had more time to work on the music. Before it would be a lot of touring, trying to write some songs in-between and being cooped up together. Now we had the time to really dot the i’s, making it all so refreshing.
With the recordings it was a bit more work with scheduling, because Simone lives in Germany. But it all worked out and that’s also in large part due to the efforts of Joost as our producer. He worked it all out in a schedule and kept track of everything, when to plan what and who, managing a whole team.
Of course as a band we were wondering how it’d all go when Simone would be a mother. But I can actually say that it turned out very positive for the band. And soon the album will come out, we’ll be doing the first festivals and after the summer we’ll be out on the road. You can do tours that take three months, but also tours that take three weeks, be at home a bit and then go out again.
MaYan has just released a new album; can you guys manage with the shows, because both bands need their exposure?
Yeah, right now the MaYan is out and the Epica album won’t be out until May, so there’s no clash of schedules.
Any plans for a combo-package?
We did think about it during the release of the first album and it does sound very logical. Yet if you’re standing there as the headliner, especially with a band like Epica where it’s more than just playing music, you don’t want the magic to be decreased. If you’re standing there twice in a row people have already seen you and the magic’s gone. So we did talk about it, but from day one we made it clear that Epica is the main priority.
MaYan’s album’s doing very well and of course I’m very happy with that, despite not being in the band anymore. You just keep following it. But there’s never been any idea of a clash. If Epica start touring and MaYan wants to do things they’ll have to squeeze it in.
That could be a possibility, but right now we’re in the middle of releasing the new album and that’s our focus. We don’t have any plans at all for a next album. There are special things that just happen on the side, like “Retrospect” and “The Classical Conspiracy”.
We do plan such things ahead, but right now we’re in this album-cycle and we don’t know how the album will be received. The first shows are being booked, but at the same time…
We have some plans, but I can’t say much about that. First we have to see how everything goes with this release.
We’re always filled with ideas, but we have to see whether it fits in our agendas. A full studio album is very different from something like “The Score”. It was an official Epica album, but it was more sort of a soundtrack and even Retrospect, which had a lot of work put into it, was just a DVD. That’s still less ‘new’ than a new album with new music. And as long as we enjoy writing music and putting out new stuff it’s important that we do that. Special things are based on whether the opportunity arises.
I remember from a long time ago that you also did a small acoustic tour in record stores; it was what sold me on the band at the time.
Well, that’s always a possibility; it’s not a very big thing. I always enjoy such things. We have actually recorded some acoustic bonus tracks for certain editions of the new album. So it’s always a possibility, but of course Epica will always be, now more than ever, a heavy-sounding metal band. We’re not like say, Raccoon; we won’t focus on acoustic shows. Yet again, if the opportunity arises it would be pretty cool.
So there’s the main structure of the albums and when there’s room there might be a live-DVD or a special event?
Exactly, even ‘Retrospect’ came out of the idea that we’re been around for ten years and that we needed to do something. And before we knew it we had a sold-out shows, a livestream and DVD. So yeah, there are always a lot of ideas, but there’s also a lot of work. And I think that Epica is the kind of band that if we do things we do them right. We don’t make it easy on ourselves, but we do deliver.
Were there any guest musicians on this album?
Yes, though there weren’t real prominent roles this time around. In the last song “The Quantum Enigma” we have Daniël de Jongh from Textures who does some backings in the song. He’s way in the background, so you hardly hear him and he does some grunts in the middle. And we have Marcela Bovio from Stream of Passion doing backing vocals.
We did think about doing a duet, but it didn’t happen.
It was Coen. He did a solo on the previous album and on “Retrospect”. I coaxed him into doing it.
There are a lot more choirs on this album. The previous album was a lot darker and heavier and the themes as well. This one has a lot more melody in it. The grunts usually get put in after the melodies and there was less need for it.
Well, that wraps up the questions I had. Thank you very much for the interview!
Interview taken by Robert Popovic