Interview || The One With Mark Jansen From Epica

Who said musician life is easy? Sometimes fan love can be dangerous. We caught up with Epica founder and guitarist, Mark Jansen, while on the Ultimate Principle tour, where he detailed how he escaped graphic fan encounters, lyrical inspiration and growing as a person. Special cameo appearance by drummer Arien van Weesenbeek.

U: Let’s start with the easy questions. You guys released “The Solace System” only a year after “The Holographic Principle”. We know the reasons behind it so we’re not gonna get into that. If I’m not mistaken you will be heading to the studio next year. Did the release of the EP between 2 full length give you more freedom to discard older material, or did it add more pressure into creating something new in a shorter timespan?
Mark Jansen: We aren’t going in the studio [with Epica] for a while. Arien [van Weesenbeek, drums] and me are working on the new Mayan album at the moment. It’s exciting because [we wrote] the first Mayan album at the same time as Epica, so I couldn’t choose which parts to use for which band. But now, with the new Mayan, we were 100% focused. We are ready and then, we will start working on the new Epica record.
To answer the question, no; all the tracks were recorded, mixed and mastered and we just had to figure out if we wanted to release a double album or make [two separate releases]. Our manager preferred the latter and that’s how it came to be. There wasn’t any pressure to release this album, we just had to wait for a long time until we put it out. That was the only disadvantage, the waiting time.

U: You also introduced Ouroboros as your new symbol. What does the snake eating its tail symbolize to you?
M.J.: Everything is a circle. There’s multiple interpretations but I see everything as a circle; whatever you do, you get back to the beginning and, the more you learn, you move up a level. When you don’t learn anything, you keep moving in circles on the same level. [ed –His description vaguely reminds me of the Unalome symbol]. That’s how I see life as well. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’ll keep falling back to your habits, but if you do, you can advance.

U: Over time, Epica has touched on social issues through your lyrics. Could you see the band becoming fully political?
M.J.: Maybe even less political. When we play shows, people [come] to forget political issues so what we try to do is focus more on the entertainment aspect. You know, I tried my best to express my views to the crowd but [the response I got was that they] go to shows to forget their problems and just be entertained, forget all the horrible things they go through. In a way, it’s true, people want to have fun, so let’s focus more on that and less on the political problems. Of course, there’s still political issues in my lyrics but [considerably] less than in the past; now I focus more on science, the universe, how life works and why we are here.

U: In the past, you have used Goethe’s quote, that “none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe that they are free”, a quote that remains relevant even after 200 years from its inception and can be interpreted in different ways. How do you interpret it? What is freedom for you? And finally, do you think humanity will change its ways?
M.J.: If you see it in a non-philosophical way, I’d say you can never be totally free as a person, but obey to certain rules. This is not necessarily a bad thing because rules set boundaries. That being said, I think –in a more spiritual way- you can be free. We are occupied with thoughts, which are a great tool to help you function in this world, but it can also become a burden when your thoughts are taking over. More and more people can’t fall asleep because of their thoughts controlling them –and therefore they are far from being free. I think that’s the most important [facet] of freedom; even if you are locked away in a prison and all your freedom has been taken away from you, you can still find a new way of freedom, freedom of the mind. That’s what monks and the Buddhists try to achieve, the nirvana. There, there’s a lot of knowledge to gain –maybe gain is not the right word for humanity, to really find out who we truly are. Only when you reach that point, and it’s the highest you can achieve here on Earth, you can be truly free of thoughts.

U: If you could cast each member of the band as a superhero, who would each member be? Arien, wanna help?
Arien Van Weesebeek: I would be Batman.

U: You have a butler, you have cool gadgets, you have Robin…
A.v.W.: (laughs)
M.J.: Let’s see, who can Simone be?
A.v.W.: Wonder Woman! Isaac is Gandalf the Grey (laughs)
M.J.: Coen?
A.v.W.: Coen is IronMan, Rob is Hellboy… And you… Frodo?
M.J.: (laughs) Frodo Baggins! I should throw the ring in the fire and die instead of keeping it too long! [Arien in the back: “Don’t lose it!”]

U: What superpower does your music have?
M.J.: If it does, it would be people coming up to me and saying that it changed or saved their lives. It’s always so hard to grasp, how our music can be so important to someone; that’s probably its superpower.

U: It is. How do you react when people say those things?
M.J.: It’s a compliment but also it can be scary, because what if we make a terrible album one day and [people say] “now it’s not saving me but it’s even pushing me to the edge”? It’s great that our music can be of great support to some people. I think that, if music can be of such help, that’s one of the greatest goals you can ever reach.

U: It’s humbling. What is the weirdest thing a fan has ever done?
[the guys look at each other knowingly]
M.J.: Yeah there was this one fan… (laughs)
A.v.W.: Not really to myself but I know of a fan who gave as a gift, I think it was to you, Mark, pre-rolled marijuana joints… He put them in [Mark’s] bag and then it started smelling. It turned out to be marijuana and this was somewhere in Mexico, I think. [“Colombia”, Mark corrects] Colombia. I think it would’ve been funny, if we had crossed the border… that would’ve been a really funny story.
M.J.: I would probably still be in prison. To this day, I remember it very precisely. We were going to fly to Argentina from Colombia and I was searching my stuff to get a shirt or whatever, and it smelled like weed. I thought ‘what the fuck?’ so I searched some more. I found these coffee things that we were given by fans, but still I didn’t feel comfortable, a voice in my head telling me to look more. I found this big, thick letter I was going to read on the plane and, when I opened it, inside there were five joints… He probably meant it well, but he would’ve screwed me big time… I didn’t even dare throwing them in the bin in my room, I threw them at the lobby. At the airport, I was telling the band, and we had this guitar tech, Willem, who was loving the story. A drug dog came and was smelling my stuff and stayed. Willem was laughing, and I was like ‘shut up!’.  I got pale on the face, and the [security] guy asked if we were carrying any fruits. I said that I had some bananas in my suitcase but I had already eaten them, and he said it was alright. That was apparently a fruit dog…

A.v.W.: Once, at a VIP session, we had a fan who started singing.
M.J.: And it sounded terrible! It was a nice effort but it wasn’t really good. On this tour a fan, who was also at the VIP session, was smelling really, really, really bad. We have to take a picture, the fan probably doesn’t realize, and I don’t want to make them feel bad. The show started and that fan was right in front of me. I could smell it! I thought ‘shit, I must be dreaming!’. My personal fan was also putting the smell in my face and felt like puking. I’m not exaggerating, I felt so bad I started forgetting lyrics and panicking, [thinking I should] ask the tour manager to remove it. All these things were crossing my mind while all the other band members were coming to my side [and were like] ‘whooa it smells really bad, I’m outta here!’.
A.v.W.: This flow of stench came even at the drums, in the back…
M.J.: It was a mixture of cheese, garlic, rotten corpse and when you put wet clothes in a bag for a month and then open it. [“Lovely scent!”, Arien exclaims while laughing] Combine these things and put your head inside, then try to play a show!

U: I honestly regret asking… (laughs) You receive €1000 for no reason. What do you spend it on?
M.J.: Where do I receive it? At home or when I’m on tour?

U: At home, you’re checking your bank account and you see it there. Or someone hands you an envelope, no questions asked.
A.v.W.: I would go on a holiday in a foreign country!
M.J.: I would leave it there until I needed it. I’m not the person to run to a store as soon as I have money. I’m now building a house so I’d probably use it for that. The construction is almost done so I’d use it for everything else. My girlfriend is always talking about having a pool so maybe the €1000 could go there! (laughs)

U: If you could have a one-minute phone conversation with a younger you, what age would you call and what would you tell yourself?
A.v.W.: Interesting question.

U: Feel free to participate.
A.v.W.: Sixteen, maybe, and tell myself to grow up (laughs) I would tell myself not to drink so much.
M.J.: I would call myself when I was 22 or 23, when I was just kicked out of After Forever, and I would tell myself not to worry and that everything was going to be alright.

U: What do you want the band’s legacy to be?
M.J.: It will be great if people listen to our music after we are gone. People listening to us even now is enough for me.
A.v.W.: I think that Epica will be a timeless band.

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