In 2002 guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen parted ways with Dutch symphonic metal band After Forever and started a new project that would soon become Epica.
It proved to be a life changing turn of events for his then-girlfriend, Simone Simons, who was offered the role as vocalist. “He knew that I could sing, that I liked to sing,” says Simons “and when he started Epica he asked me to join. Originally I said no, because I was 17 and in High School, but in the end we decided to give it a try”. An early interest in rock and punk bands had set her on the road to metal, and by the time she joined the band her interests were firmly in the direction Epica was going. “I loved the extreme metal, like black metal, but also the symphonic metal like Nightwish, Tristania and Lacuna Coil” she recalls.
Since then Epica has become one of the leading symphonic progressive bands, releasing 5 albums over the the past 10 years and touring extensively. This hard working schedule has now, finally, led them to Australian shores for a 4 date tour in April. Simons is eager to get here, despite the travel involved, “I recently talked to Mikael [Akerfeldt] from Opeth and he’s now in Australia and he told me he really loves Australia and that I will too! He wrote he had a huge jetlag and I said ‘story of my life, one jetlag to another'” she laughs.
Four gigs in seven days ranging from Brisbane to Perth will be followed by a few days break before an Indonesian tour. Simons plans to use those few days to experience a little of Australia and their fans. “Some times you have one day off, but you still have to travel during that day so it’s good to get a chance for a couple of days at the end. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve met some Australian fans who came to see us in Europe, and also when we played in North America and they were all very nice and they were all very cheerful people… so I expect when we get there it’s going to be even more like that”.
Epica traditionally have a stage show that’s as dynamic and dazzling as the music. But the distance and costs involved in travelling to Australia mean they will be scaling back on some of the stage settings. “We will bring backdrops and smaller things but it’s just impossible for the larger stuff because flight companies are just increasing the costs for bands. We will be even more energetic than usual though!” declares Simons.
With a set that is due to last over 100 minutes the band will be drawing on songs from all 5 albums. Choosing which songs to play is a dificult task, but it wasn’t always that way. “In the beginning with the very first record we had headlining shows already and we had to play certain songs twice because the audience wanted to hear more but we didn’t have any more songs” she laughs, “that’s a problem we don’t have anymore.”
But before touring here the band has a very important date to keep – their tenth anniversary gig on March 23, a one off show they’ve called ‘Retrospect’. The band is rehearsing daily in the lead up to the gig. “We are just working so hard right now with the preparations. I guess that once we are on stage and all the preparations are done we can really enjoy it, but right now we’re just working our butts off.”
The entire 3 hour performance featuring a 70-piece orchestra and choir will also be streamed live over the internet via the ‘Live Music Stage’ service. Simons explains “The show here is almost sold out now and I believe Devin Townsend did the same thing and it was very successful. So we though it’s such a special occasion and there’s many people who don’t have the money to travel to the Netherlands so now they can also have a chance to enjoy it.” She also has a slightly more personal reason for supporting the streaming concept. “You don’t have to worry about, as in my case, tall guys standing in front of you! One time in America I went to see Tenacious D and I chose not to wear high heels and I’m 1.68 metres, but those Americans are huge! I was standing on my toes and moving and thinking ‘oh man this sucks’.”
Following their time downunder the work will begin in earnest on the next album, with an intended release in 2014. The arrival of more recent members means the song writing for the next album will be spread a little wider. “Our new guitarist and bass player are also writing songs and they have a different style to what a lot of people are used to with Epica. We will pick out the best ones that all fit together so its one style. We want to work on it until it’s perfect in our eyes.” What won’t change though is the lyrical direction, with Simons and Jansen continuing to split the writing duties. “Quantum physics, the Mayan Culture, politics, society and religion. These are recurring topics in our lyrics, it’s something you’ve seen from the first Epica record until now and it’s something a lot of fans value.”
Fans around the world have been valuing the intensity of Epica live for a decade. Now it’s Australia’s turn.