Symphonic metal icons Epica are in town tonight to support the band’s new album The Holographic Principle, and in early autumn we had an opportunity to chat with vocalist Simone Simons about music, technology, and the tumultuous state of current events (her closing remarks are even more poignant in light of last week’s US presidential election result.)
FWM: The genre of symphonic metal is such a dramatic form of music that it’s perfect for exploring bigger concepts, such as The Holographic Principle‘s look at consciousness as a construct. What personally do you find most rewarding in the writing and performing of this style?
Simone: I guess just in general as a musician, the fact that you have ideas in your head that first live only in your brain and you put them out there so that people will hear what you were hearing in your head; of course, it’s never one hundred percent how you envision it because the songs evolve – the little idea that you had is growing like a little seed is growing into a huge tree – basically, that is how you could describe the writing process. I love the symphonic metal genre because it is fusing two of my favorite music styles: classical music, like soundtrack scores, mixed with the heavy riffs and a little bit light and dark contrast. I find it very beautiful so I feel very much at home in this scene.
FWM: And the contrast between those two extremes – both in terms of mood or emotion and musical texture – works so well for symphonic metal; it gives the listener a tangible grasp of the whole spectrum and the bigger picture of music and sound. Is it more emotionally demanding of the musicians who create and perform it?
Simone: I don’t know, in the end you write the music that you like and that lies close to your heart, so it is an extension of your mind or your being, it becomes one with you. And, of course, that is why we have five songwriters! All the guys have been writing songs, they probably connect more to the songs that they have written themselves, but since I am writing the lyrics or parts of the lyrics and vocal lines, I connect to each song about the same. I have my favorites as well, but I already very much look forward to play all of the new songs live because they are all written to be great live songs.
FWM: With The Holographic Principle addressing the theory of the universe and reality as a hologram, in an artificial construct or simulation the idea of what is real versus illusion becomes largely irrelevant. That being said, how would our experiences – our thoughts and our feelings – fit within that framework? They seem real to us but they’re so intangible and immaterial.
Simone: I guess, in the end, that is still what makes us human. It doesn’t say if we are living in a hologram, that we are robots, or that we also digital material; we are very much organic and I am not a one hundred percent believer that this is a hologram, the holographic principle is the idea or the research that they are doing in quantum physics about the idea that we might be living in a hologram, but I am moreso inclined to philosophize about the possibility, not assuming it is a fact.
FWM: Definitely one of the more interesting theories that physics has put out there. Has working on this album and dealing with those themes changed your general outlook at all?
Simone: Well, I was lucky enough to actually try one of the virtual reality glasses, to kind of get into character so to speak, and it was like, excuse my French, mind fucking in a way – like I saw myself, or I saw that I was sitting in a boat but I was like literally sitting on a chair – but my body or my mind was already telling me to correct my body movements because I was on the water; you know, like you get sea legs and that was so weird, I didn’t like that feeling – like when you are drunk, I just felt like I didn’t have control over myself. Of course it was an earlier prototype of the Oculus Rift so it was not one hundred percent, like the image wasn’t one hundred percent crisp, but it was crazy it was like a mind fuck, I was like, “Oh, I don’t know if I like this!” You could look up and look behind you and then suddenly there is a scary monster; my husband plays video games that he needs really good, how do you call it, graphic cards; they are not the 2D games that I like to play, like Mario Bros – I kind of like it to be really nonrealistic, to not lose myself too much into it, I am very retro when it comes to that.
FWM: Staying with the technical or the technological focus, the song “Universal Death Squad” has the best lyric that I have seen so far in this year: “We embrace new inventions,” followed by, “forced on us by decree”; again, in the context of the universe as a simulation, what does our obsession with science and technology amount to, do you think?
“[Music] is definitely a thing that we should never give up on, and always turn to, whenever we feel alone or when are we are living in fear.”
Simone: Well it is a little bit like what Mark – Mark wrote the lyric – what he is saying, I am forever the snake biting its tail – it’s like a vicious circle that we are kind of stuck in, we are the ones that are creating the digital devices that in the end take over us so we bite ourselves in the ass with it, we try to come up with these inventions in order to improve our daily life or whatever, improve warfare, with those quantum or killing robots, but what if we give them a kind of digital conscious or, how do you say, free will to choose whom they are going to kill? Who says they won’t start killing us all and we are kind of , we are kind of extinguishing ourselves through the digital devices or the digital creations that we have made.
So, it’s weird, we are the ones that are given a conscience, a free will, a soul – and we are creating these creatures that are taking everything away from us. That is, of course, not one hundred percent what is going on, but it’s looking further in the future, how we are erasing mankind in order to start over again. Yes, it’s an interesting thing, because not just about the music, of course that comes first, but our lyrics have always been very, or we always try, to offer interesting food for thought and not just music.
FWM: The food-for-thought approach is particularly good for popular music now, as people are so accustomed to just put on whatever they like, whatever feels good for them – they don’t necessarily have to think – so, providing that extra layer of engagement is so much more rewarding for the people who do choose to pay attention to that.
The next song, “Divide and Conquer”, addresses how we can view ourselves within a larger context – I love that lyric about holding yourself accountable because we are all responsible – it seems like we have forgotten this fact as a culture. What motivated you to address that lyrically?
Simone: Well, it’s a lyric from Mark and “Divide and Conquer” is basically talking about the French government, the Americans trying to divide Libya in order to kind of conquer it, you know, divide the country to start fighting a war against each other, weakening the country and then taking over. The lines, “hold yourself accountable / for the mess around us all,” – if we just assume that what the politicians say is correct and never question anything, but in the end we are the ones that can vote or make a change if we all stick together, but if you are indifferent to what is going on in the end you are also responsible but indirectly.
FWM: Over the past year in Europe and North America we’ve all seen the backlash against various ethnic and minority groups. I was surprised to read that there was anti-immigrant sentiment taking hold even in the Netherlands, since Dutch pragmatism by its very nature eschews extremes; so, as someone for whom the Netherlands is home, how are people there combating the right wing rhetoric that has been on the rise?
Simone: Well I guess that, with what is happening, especially now in Germany, and there have been some things going on in France, when you are thinking about terror attacks people are going to really start doubting all the immigrants, but not everybody is the same. The extreme people – like within religion, you know, it is the extremists that are dangerous – but the fear that is spreading among the people when you look at someone with a beard or women wearing the burkas, people are automatically getting scared and those right-winged people that have quite heavy assumptions or, you know, they are very radical, they will get power because people get scared and want a quick solution but that is probably also not what was not needed.
I am no political expert nor do I follow all the news channels because the news is manipulated; each country of course has different, how do you say, left or right and the owners of the media can control what the media is writing, on top of that most things in media are negative so sometimes there have been days when I just didn’t want to check the news lines because there were something every day and as a band you are traveling, we’re at airports, we’re always where larger groups of people are – we played at Le Bataclan in Paris, and I live close to Munich, where another kid that started stabbing other people in the train, that was like absolutely insane – the trick is not to let fear take over and that is where music comes in, music is like a soothing balm for the soul, you know, it can unite people, it can enhance your real emotions and make people feel stronger and it offers solace. It is definitely a thing that we should never give up on, and always turn to, whenever we feel alone or when are we are living in fear.
Epica perform tonight in Vancouver at Venue with support from Fleshgod Apocalypse, Arkona, and The Agonist.