Omega is the latest full-length from Epica. It’s the final album in a trilogy covering metaphysical topics. I spoke with songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen about writing and recording the album, the possibility of live shows, dealing with the pandemic, the latest on his other band Mayan and other subjects.
Chad Bowar: You released your last studio album five years ago, but in the meantime you’ve released several EPs. What led to that?
Mark Jansen: The first EP was the the leftovers of The Holographic Principle. So there was about four or five songs left over. So it was easier to release them on an EP rather than compose more music. And then we were approached by our Japanese record company and they were asking if we were interested in doing a special project for the series Attack On Titan. It was a nice challenge. There was also four songs, more like an EP. And then we worked on the book The Essence Of Epica. So the time was flying by without us hardly noticing it. So it was already five years ago, but it didn’t feel like it.
When did you begin writing the music for Omega?
It was during the tour of The Holographic Principle, I had already my first ideas, so basically four years ago. But we really started full-time writing half a year before the recordings of the album.
You went into the studio just as the whole pandemic was starting. How did that impact your recording process?.
Fortunately we could record it pretty much without any trouble. Just in the end when Simone and I had to record our vocals, we couldn’t travel to the studio anymore due to the restrictions. And so I recorded my vocals in my home studio, and Simone booked a studio close to where she lives in Germany. Doing this, it was possible to finish the album without any troubles. It was at the beginning a little bit, looking for the right microphone for her because it’s a different studio with a different acoustics. So they had to go back and forth with our producer to see what would work. But once they had the right setup, everything went pretty smooth.
As as far as the writing process for Omega, was it pretty typical for an Epica album, or was there anything unique about it this time around?
The unique thing was that we rented a place in the Netherlands where each and every one of us had our own room so we could sleep there, but also set up our home studios. And everybody had a setup there and we could walk into each other’s rooms and work on tracks like that. And that was really refreshing. We already had many tracks written, but we lifted them together to a higher level. That was about five days from morning till evening. That was a very pleasant time and I’m sure we’re going to keep on doing that for possible future releases.
Is getting the symphonic elements into the mix the most challenging part of an album?
No, I don’t think it’s the most challenging. We always start with a basic setup, like drums, bass, guitar, and then when that sound is fixed and it’s time for adding the orchestra and the choirs and stuff, it’s like solving a puzzle. So from the beginning till the end, it’s all pretty much a challenge, but it’s not like the symphonic parts are more challenging than the other parts. It’s all the same kind of challenge.
How did Vicky from The Agonist’s guest appearance on this record come about?
We were looking for a spoken word part and it was suggested to her ask her because she has the right voice for that. It was not really meant to be a guest performance because otherwise we would have given her a much bigger role. We were looking for a strong female voice for the spoken word part, and, as we know her very well, we asked her.
Did you record any additional tracks that aren’t on the regular version of the album?
Yeah, there’s one more track that we recorded. But we focused purely on the album tracks this time. The more tracks you have, the more time it’s taking and we preferred to put full attention on these 12 tracks, plus one. We thought that by putting all our efforts on these tracks, then we could make these tracks as good as we possibly can. It worked really well this time. It’s also great to have a lot of extra tracks for a future EP or a bonus release, but it also takes a lot of time and effort. So this time we decided to do it this way.
As far as the track order, did it come together pretty smoothly?
We had a spine of tracks that we wanted to have in a specific order, it was just a matter of trying a few tracks here and there to see if they were better fitting in the first half of the album or the second half. But that was a matter of details. The basic setup we had already pretty clear in our minds.
How did you settle on Omega to be the title?
We have the omega point theory that is pretty much the start of all the lyrics that originated from that basic theory. And we didn’t think The Omega Point was a very strong album title. So we took Omega out of it and made that the final title of the album. It’s always a matter of seeing what the guys like the most, and we do a vote of what everybody likes the most and this time it became Omega.
Some album packages include an acoustic CD.
It’s four songs off the album. We made special versions of them. It’s not just translating them into an acoustic version, but doing something completely different with them, a completely different vibe. Some almost sounded like a different song. We took it as a challenge and I’m really happy with the outcome. It’s something completely different.
There are 12 different colors of vinyl that are available for the album. Are you personally a vinyl collector?
No, but Rob (van der Loo, bass) is, he’s a huge vinyl collector. So he’s always the guy in charge of getting the vinyl stuff together. And personally, I like vinyl because the cover is big and I like the sound of vinyl much more than of a CD. So I’m happy that there’s a revival of vinyl because it’s much more pretty. I never liked CD covers because it’s always too small. Vinyl is the way it’s supposed to be.
With so many uncertainties in life in general and in the music industry, how do you go about setting expectations for an album right now?
I’m the guy who gets very quickly adapted to a new situation. Our manager, he was kind of stuck in the old way of album setups. So every time he’s got a bit frustrated, “now it’s the pandemic, we cannot do this, we cannot do that.” And I always have to laugh a little bit and say, yeah, but you have to go with the flow. You cannot do face-to-face press days. We have to just take it the way it is. And so I don’t really have expectations in the way that I’m expecting to go on tour on a certain date. I just take it the way it comes because it’s completely beyond our control. This is the current situation. And I just hope that people can get ahold of the album easily, because many places and shops are closed. So the only thing I hope is that people are able to get their hands our album. Above all, I’m most looking forward to the reactions of people that listen to the album
You have some live dates scheduled for June. How confident are you that those are going to actually happen?
Also with this, I have no expectations. It’s really impossible to predict if it’s going to happen or not. The more mutations that arise, the smaller the chance probably is that it’s actually going to happen, but we will see. I’m not too much focused on the show, so the disappointment will be smaller than if you really think it’s going to happen. But of course, I hope it’s going to happen because it’s been a really long time now that we haven’t played, just like any band in the world, I guess.
With your geographic separation from other band members, I guess doing a streaming show during the pandemic probably wouldn’t have worked for you guys?
That depends if traveling is possible. We have to look at the situation day by day, basically. So at a certain point, we would like to do kind of a streaming thing, but it also depends on how everything develops and if I’m able to travel to The Netherlands to record it.
It seems like that the streaming shows could be a positive going forward in reaching places you’re not able to tour.
Yeah, it’s the second best thing I think. I prefer a real show of course, but as long as that’s not possible, you go to the second best thing and that’s streaming concerts. I watched a streaming concert of Behemoth, and I really enjoyed it. So it’s better than nothing. I’m pretty sure in about 10 years people will put a helmet on their face and you are surrounded by all the people watching a show and it feels real. So I think that technologies are going so fast that within no time we will have fake real shows anyway.
You talked a little bit about how the pandemic affected the band. As far as personally, do you think that your background in psychology helped you deal with things better than the average person?
Maybe it does, because I know a lot of the psychological part of the human brain and how people react in these current circumstances. And I also observe a lot how things are developing and I see that a lot of people are developing mental issues. And that’s something that’s not really a lot in the news, but it’s a growing problem. So I’m always trying to make people aware of this growing problem and that we have to be there for each other and help friends. If you notice that some people are having troubles, be there for them and try to help them. I literally hear from some people that they feel like giving up living, and that really is something extremely serious. Be there for your friends, because especially in these times it is extremely important.
Some of your Mayan plans were short circuited by the pandemic. Are you going to have to put that off now that the Epica cycle is beginning again? Are you going to be able to squeeze some live shows in with them as well?
We have to see as soon as everything opens up and concerts are starting to take place. First of all, we have to see where Epica is gonna do shows, and then we can see where there are gaps to put potential Mayan shows. But we first focus on Epica because there’s the new album, and we take it from there.
In addition to your musical interests, what else do you occupy your time with?
That’s a good question, because I love many things beyond music. I’m not a single day being bored. I hear a lot of people are Netflixing all day long. And I cannot imagine myself doing that. I would get bored with Netflix. So I’m basically working in my garden, there’s a lot of things that I have to do. Currently I’m working in my vineyard. I have to prepare them for the next season. It’s a lot of work. There’s always two weeks of full-time work to prepare them. And then as soon as that’s done, then they can grow again. And you basically only have to work on it again when you harvest them. So that’s something I’m doing.
I also love doing something that I discovered three years ago, coldness training, to challenge the body to endure coldness. So I’m taking ice baths with just my swimming trunks, all these crazy things (laughs). It’s winter here, and even in the south of Italy, it gets pretty cold at times. I really love to see how far you can push your body to endure coldness. So it’s very challenging, but it’s also very good for your health, because ever since I started doing it, I haven’t got the flu anymore. And before I got the flu like two or three times a year, and since I started doing this three years ago, I never got the flu at all. I really love to experiment with it. And I also really like that I don’t get sick anymore. And besides that, I also love sporting. I like cycling, jogging, swimming, all that kind of stuff.
(interview published February 25, 2021)