Combining an orchestral foundation with heavy riffs lathered on top, Dutch symphonic group Epica shook the metal world after forming in 2002. Now armed with six studio albums and achieving regular critical acclaim, the group’s success is surprising no one.
The six piece is led by Simone Simons, whose hypnotic stage presence and rich classical vocals make her one of the most powerful singers in metal today. However, finding balance between motherhood and fronting the band has been rough for the singer.
Simons sat down with us to talk about the steady influence of co-vocalist Mark Jansen, the many layers of metal and classical music, and her ongoing struggle to handle it all.
Opening the floodgates on new album, The Quantum Enigma
Reflecting on having five songwriters for the first time, Simons felt “very blessed”.
“Many bands just have one or two. But like this we were able to gather a lot of songs for The Quantum Enigma,”.
“We had so many tracks that it was difficult to make a selection. With pain in our hearts we had to shove a few off and put them on special editions as bonus tracks. But we’re very pleased with that. You get different influences and keep Epica fresh and exciting for everybody.”
Simons also asserted that Epica’s newfound creativity is “booming more than ever before” on their hotly anticipated seventh album.
“We had 26 or 27 songs that were all demo tracks and we’re now choosing from those a selection of like 17 which we are in the process of recording. I will be recording my vocals after the Australian tour, so I’m very excited for that.”
Drawing courage from co-vocalist Mark Jansen
“Mark has a little bit more experience than me ‘cause he was in After Forever. He’s always been very supportive, even when I was inexperienced in the beginning and a little bit insecure… He always believed in me, and that gave me strength to keep on working and get the best out of myself.”
Growing up with classical music
Thinking about her father’s early influence, Simons reminisced listening to it “every Sunday morning at breakfast.”
“Back then we thought it was a tad bit boring, but I respect classical music and think it goes perfectly with metal because both are so dynamic and have so many facets. Classical music isn’t all sweet and can be very aggressive. We kind of hustled that up in Epica – you have the male grunts, the riffs and then the symphonic part with the choir and classical vocals.”
“We’ve done a show many years back called The Classical Conspiracy, where we played with a real choir and orchestra and gave classical masterpieces a metal jacket… I think it’s a perfect mixture of musical styles.”
Touring with an old favourite
Earlier this year, Epica toured North America with gothic metal quintet Moonspell and Chicago-based Starkill.
Simons revealed the former as being “one of the first bands that I listened to” when transitioning from rock to metal.
“When I fall in love with a song I can play it over and over again, and that happened with ‘Full Moon Madness’. Back then I did not even have a CD player, just a little cassette tape that I was rewinding all the time and listening to. I’ve become friends with [Moonspell vocalist] Fernando [Ribeiro]. They’re an amazing band, so it was great that we had the opportunity to hang out on tour and hear their music every night.”
Moving from frontwoman to mother
Simons described this transition as “very heavy” while making their sixth record.
“It’s still sometimes a struggle because my husband [Kamelot’s Oliver Palotai] is also touring. When I had to record The Quantum Enigma, our son Vincent was two months old. I had him with me in the studio, and I was breastfeeding. I was not sleeping. Having these awesome songs really got me through it… but I was about to have a mental breakdown…but I got through it which makes me even more proud of the album”.
Considering whether being a mother influences her more recent songwriting, Simons said “Yes and no.”
“With The Quantum Enigma it was more prominent because it was all new… you’re on that pink cloud in the beginning. Now it’s just the struggle of combining both and wanting to do it all, and sometimes you realise that it doesn’t work. So you have to prioritise. For me, the inspiration of lyric-writing and vocals is not that much connected to being a mum.”
“One of my secondary things besides Epica is my blog (SmoonStyle)… then the free time I have I want to spend with my family. I cook, but can sometimes go a little crazy and be in the kitchen for too long. So I need to think, ‘Okay. I should just find something in the store instead of wanting to make it all myself’”.