“We definitely succeeded in improving and reinventing ourselves with „Omega“.” – Interview with Simone Simons of Epica

February 26, Dutch symphonic metal powerhouse Epica will finally unleash their eighth studio album “Omega” after some months’ delays. With this album, the band shifts towards nature as a direct answer to their previous technology-centered “The Holographic Principle”. Successfully reinventing their sound, Epica managed to deliver yet another bombastic masterpiece with rich, yet more organic and transparent sound. The vocalist Simone Simons happily answered all of our questions about the recording process, wearing uncomfortable outfits, favourite new songs and Epica albums, singing in Spanish but also her private life. 

MG: You have come a long way since your first Epica album. „Omega“ is your album number eight and it is just a few weeks till its release. The album was originally due in September 2020. And the delay was obviously caused by the pandemic, but what was the biggest issue time-wise? 

Simone: Everything went well until we had to record the vocals. I live in Germany, Mark lives in Sicily and the studio where we usually record is in the Netherlands. So we had to look for an alternative solution. I recorded in a studio nearby, and Mark in Sicily. That was right when the pandemic hit in March. Like you said, the album was originally supposed to be  released in September. Then the tour would have taken place in October. And then everything got delayed, so we postponed the release and also the tour and then the tour got postponed again. So, it’s a little bit of a stressful period at the moment.  

MG: I’d say musicians and fans alike are missing the live shows. So let’s hope for better times ahead.

Simone: Yes.

MG: You have had an enormous amount of songs written for your previous album „The Holographic Principle“ since there are many extraordinary songwriters in the band. How many songs have you written this time? Is there any track that didn’t make the cut and how hard was it to say goodbye to it?

Simone: Let me think…. All the songs that we wrote are on the album, yes. But we are in a demo phase, we have many more songs. We’re gonna make a selection of songs we really want to focus on. And an extra thing we did ever since „The Quantum Enigma“ is to record some acoustic versions of some songs. So, there will be a bonus CD available with the acoustic tracks on it. 

MG: This time the vocals for the album have been recorded at four different locations. You in Germany, Mark in Sicily, choirs and backing vocals at Sandlane and the children’s choir at a church, also in the Netherlands. How was that experience recording separately in different locations, connected with your producer Joost via internet, for you?

Simone: Everything was basically like almost as if I was there in the Netherlands, because I am also in a vocal booth. I don’t see him, I just hear him on the phone. But when we have a break in between, I could, you know, have a coffee with him. So, this was about the same. But it was the first time for me waking up in the morning, packing my lunch, going to work for a couple of hours and then coming back home. Normally, I would be away for a couple of weeks. And like this, I could be with my family. It was a good solution. It was a little bit more stressful due to the fact that normally when I record vocals, I am so super tired afterwards and I need to rest. But it is the pandemics, my husband needs to work, schools are closed. So we needed to split up who is taking care of our son. After recording vocals, I am absolutely brain-dead. Because it is super intense. If I were to be  in a hotel, I could just lay on the bed, order some food and recover for the next session. 

MG: Switching brain off, so to say.

Simone: Yes, like going in standby. But this was not possible this time. It was the beginning of the pandemic and everything was so uncertain. People are stressed and don’t know what is going to happen. It was still not super relaxed but we made the best out of it and it worked in the end. 

MG: That’s the most important thing, that it worked out. The next question: „Abyss of Time“ was the first single we have heard from the album. You have shot a video for it in Poland last year. Really great video, by the way…

Simone: Thank you.

MG: You were wearing splendid dresses and hairpiece, but it doesn’t look very comfortable. You worked with the same  company and fashion designer as Amaranthe. Since you are good friends with Elize, I have to ask you if you talked about this and perhaps recommended Grupa 13 and Katarzyna Konieczka to each other? Or was that just a coincidence?

Simone: It was a coincidence. I mean, Amaranthe, I think they recorded their video after Epica. But we didn’t know that we were both working with the same team. So, that was a funny coincidence. But they are great and very talented. It was fun working with them. The outfits were really beautiful and very….decadent and majestic and uncomfortable, as well. But for the video, it is ok. But for live shows, not an option because they are made out of hard plastic. I had to suffer in order for the video to look good. It was hurting but I persevered.  

MG: Totally understandable when you say this is not an option for live shows.  You have stated several times that „Code Of Life“ is currently one of your favourite pieces from „Omega“. What makes this song so special for you?

Simone: Oh, yes. „Code Of Life“ is a favourite song of mine and also of my son. He loves it, he calls it the Egyptian song. It reminds him a little bit of a video game. I just love the vibe of the song, the oriental influences, the vocal lines, the lyrics… With some songs you just have a „click“ and… you know… I love all songs of the album, of course, but if I had to name some favourites, that’s definitely one of them. Just my personal style. Already when we were in the demo phase and we were sending ideas to each other, that song stood out for me, and I am very happy that we have a song like that on the album. 

MG: I can relate to what you just said. When I discover a new band or a new album, sometimes it happens that I just listen to an intro of a song and even before the vocals are starting I know: That’s it!

Simone: Yes, you just connect with it. I don’t know if it is a deeper thing but it’s just… you know… a thing that you resonate with. In Dutch we say „it hits the right string“ . 

MG: We have a similar expression in German. 

Simone: How do you say? I still need to improve my German.

MG: You can say „Das schwingt im Einklang“ or „das harmoniert“. Like the frequencies are identical.

Simone: Yes, that makes sense. Can impress my husband with that… [laughs]

MG: There is also a bonus version of the song in Spanish. This is the first time you’re singing in a different language, apart from Latin choirs and I also think there was a German version of „Run For A Fall“ years ago. What was the recording like? I mean, you’ve had a supervisor extraordinaire, Marcela Bovio herself…

Simone: Well, she came up with the idea of doing some Spanish vocals because the acoustic version „Code Of Life“ has been made into kind of a salsa song and the Spanish language fits perfectly, so… Marcela is Mexican and Coen asked her to translate the song. I called her and sang the song just to check if everything sounded good phonetically, and that’s how we did it. It was fun to record. Very different to sing in Spanish than in English. But I like it, and we have so many fans that speak Spanish. I think it will be cool for them to hear me sing in their language. Those are always nice little details, I think. This makes it extra special and fun. Most of all fun. 

MG: In your book „The Essence of Epica“, Mark expressed the opinion that he sometimes thinks that your album „The Holographic Principle“ is too overwhelming and contains too much musical information. What was your philosophy for „Omega“? What was your vision and goal before entering the studio and do you think you achieved it?

Simone: I agree with what Mark said. The majority of the band agreed on that. After each record we release, we like to analyze to see what we can do to improve. „The Holographic Principle“ is really super high energy in your face. It was indeed a lot of information. It’s an amazing album, it has some great songs on it. But it felt like we were going  a little over the top. So we wanted to go back to the basics. We wanted to have the sound more organic. Less like totally in your face, more breathable, more transparent. It has a nice flow. It is not that we don’t like „The Holographic Principle“!  We are very proud of that album, as well. But we love to learn from all our experiences and improve as musicians and as a band. And I think with „Omega“ we succeeded to get a bit more of that organic sound, a full orchestra and we also recorded some ethnical instruments. . We definitely succeeded in improving and reinventing ourselves with „Omega“.

MG: I agree with what you and Mark are saying about „The Holographic Principle“. I find it difficult to find an entrance to the album. 

Simone: Yes, I can understand. Everybody has their favourite albums and one of them for me will always be „Design Your Universe“ and „The Quantum Enigma”. And „Omega“ is also one of my favourite albums. 

MG: So, you’re in the middle of this new album cycle. Writing, recording, photo sessions, video sessions, interviews…. What is your least favourite and your most favourite part about the whole process?

Simone: My least favourite part is actually recording and the repetitive factor of it. I have to sing again and again and again…. This is a very draining process for me. But I know there are musicians who love to be in the studio and don’t like to tour. For me, it is the other way around. And I love the fact…. When we do the demo recordings, when we try out different things and when, you know, it just „clicks“ and things fall into place. And besides that, I love video recording, photoshoots. I also work as a photographer, I enjoy the process very much. I don’t just like the audio, I like the visual part,  as well. That’s when all comes together, like the final piece of the puzzle. But also a very important piece. 

MG: You have dived even deeper into some of your hobbies during the pandemic. We could see you as a make-up artist, cook, blogger, photographer and even as a teacher. Is there anything else that keeps you occupied and sane during these troubling times?

Simone: I don’t know…. It used to be alcohol but I quit drinking now. Not that I was becoming an alcoholic, but it felt like it is not an option, as well. It also used to be workout. I do yoga. But now everything is closed and we had some holidays and we got lazy. But I do like to keep routine. I started home schooling, so I wake up early in the morning, make breakfast, set a goal what I want to do that day. It’s the household and keeping the house clean when everybody is at home. That is already like a job. I love to read books about photography and I drink a lot of tea and coffee and just try to take it one day at a time. But it is a very difficult time and a lot of things are happening, like the death of Alexi [Laiho], Marko quitting Nightwish and the 2020 vibe is still continuing, of course. And we try to make the best of it. I mean, we have such a great achievements ahead of us with the release of the new album. And that is something very exciting. We just have to be  flexible and go with the flow.  And stay away from drugs and alcohol.  

MG: You just mentioned Marko quitting Nightwish. May I ask what your initial thoughts about this were?

Simone: Well, sad. But I can understand. I respect his decision. It is not always just fun being in a band. It can be a very strenuous thing to do if you lost the connection with it. With any thing in life you have to do, it makes you happy. And he chose otherwise. That is very brave of him to do that. And I wish him good luck. I think he is a great guy. 

MG: I have read his statement. I knew some of these things but not all, and some things totally shocked me. But all in all, I can totally understand his reasons. Coming back to home schooling: What kind of a teacher would you say you are? I think I should ask this your son, but anyway: who is a better teacher? You or your husband? 

Simone: My husband. He is a professional teacher. He has more patience, and I think Vincent, my son, is similar to me. So that’s maybe why we clash. But I am, of course, the mother who is sweet and kind, and my husband is the strict father but that also works well in the teaching compartment. I don’t see myself as teacher, I don’t think I have the skill to be a teacher. I gave vocal lessons in the past but Oliver studied it and he is good at it. So, we take terms in the homeschooling departement. 

MG: You mentioned teaching is not for you. So becoming a vocal coach is not an option? 

Simone: I’ve tried it in the past, but it’s not really a thing. 

MG: Ok, very last question: Starting 2021, what are your goals and wishes for this year?

Simone: I do not make new year’s resolutions. I think there’s a symbolism behind it; a new year, new chances. But I look at this like a new day. Not just a new year. And I love just to be a better person every day. And last year was a year where we got to know each other and ourselves a bit better. Especially when you are in a tricky situation. And I just try to improve every day. As a person who likes to do too much, I have to slow myself down. But at the same time, I can be extremely lazy. So I have to motivate myself. It’s a little bit of a… how do you say? „Zwickmühle“ [German word for double mill or dilemma]. But of course, to try to live a happy life style, making sure body and mind are in a good shape. And that’s just a process that starts anew every day. 

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