During a time where virtual reality has taken off and people can create their own virtual worlds which can’t be distinguished from “reality as we know it”, symphonic metal band Epica poses this question: Is our current reality a kind of virtual reality? This implies the existence of a higher reality which we currently do not have access to. Their new album, The Holographic Principle, out September 30th via Nuclear Blast Records, which the band produced with Joost van der Broek at Sandlane Recording Facilities, challenges you to think out of the box, to reconsider everything you thought you knew and to be open-minded towards recent revolutions in science.
In our new interview, lead singer Simone Simons talks the making of The Holographic Principle, curating their own music festival, side projects, and more!
The last couple years have been pretty eventful for you guys. Last year you launched Epic Metal Fest, this year you’re putting out a special new album, and will be releasing it at your own festival. What made you decide to make your very own festival and to debut your album there over another festival?
Well, Epic Metal Fest in Netherlands second edition was just a perfect opportunity for us to combine our CD presentation with the festival. It kind of adds a special touch to the second edition. The first time we had our own festival last year, we asked the fans “do you want a second edition?” They said yes, so having a CD presentation held there is a special thing I think. We’re very happy that we can do it like this.
It must’ve been a really nice feeling when it was a success the first time.
Yes, it was a weird feeling walking in the venue or in the hall together with our bass player. I said “this is our festival,” [and he said] “yeah it feels weird.” (laughs) But in a good way.
Kind of that surreal moment where you’re like “woah, this is really happening!”
Why did you chose the bands you did when you were making the line up for the festival?
All band members can make a list, management can make a list, our partners for the festival are making a list of bands that they want or that they like. Then we start to contact the bands to see if they’re available, if they want to, what their fee would be, because we have a budget, so we can’t just go and get Iron Maiden and Metallica. (laughs) We have to make it work with a smaller budget. We think we offer a wide variety of different metal bands in order to attract a bigger audience, so that’s a little bit [of] the business side to it. For the first edition, I named a few bands, one of my favourite bands that we eventually actually got was Moonspell. That was very special for me to have them play at our own festival.
I noticed you had a good amount of bands also that aren’t too well known, up and coming bands and bands that are just making it. Was there a specific reason that, to help people get out there and know more about the underground metal scene?
Yeah, we have to come up with a nice variety of bands and you have a couple of spots to fill. So of course there are a lot of young bands that want to do a live show, so for us it would be the perfect opportunity to give that back to them – what we wanted when we were a smaller band.
The title of the album is referencing a scientific theory, The Holographic Principle. Could you describe that theory for our readers?
If you want to describe it really fast, it basically talks about [the idea] that we are living in a hologram and through vast improvements in technology and virtual reality glasses, we realize that the reality that you see through those glasses can also be the reality we see here. Because there’s no difference anymore. This world in which we are living can be a hologram, or a digitally simulated version of a different reality.
So that’s a little bit of the red line going through the majority of the lyrics. It’s of course very scientific, I see it more through the eyes of a philosopher. We’ve been always questioning ourselves “is this real?” It’s kind of fascinating, so I draw inspiration our of my own crazy mind. (laughs) So movies like Inception, or The Matrix, Mark, he’s the one whose watching documentaries about quantum physics, reading books – he’s very inspired by Leonard Susskind.
That’s a little bit [of] the idea behind this record. Not all of the songs are about the holographic principle, it’s not a concept album, there are songs that are going in a different direction, but overall our lyrics have always been very spiritual, philosophical, and now [there’s] a little more scientific touch to them.
That’s pretty cool that you pull that into the music, not too many people pull that theme into their music. Not as literally at least.
Marcus studied cognitive agronomics psychology, and the other guys [all have] bachelors in music. I’m the high school drop out. (laughs) I don’t have any title and I didn’t study anything, but that doesn’t mean [anything], we still have our ideas in our mind. Wisdom that we acquire by touring around the world and living life.
Yeah, life experience is pretty equivalent anyways.
I’m not a drop out like in the middle, I quit at the end because that’s when Epica came in my life and I had to make a decision. A job on this unexpected road with the band, or finish high school and I had this feeling that there was more to life than studying. I guess in the end I was right. Fourteen years later [I’m] still in a band and it’s my job, I can make a living. Definitely worth the sacrifice.
What made you decide to title and dedicate your album to that principle? What does it mean to you personally?
The ZIE universe we started including quantum physics into the lyrics, or Marc did. The quantum enigma became more present for us, it was a little bit of a turning point, writing and recording process wise. The holographic principle is like the big sister, so the lyrics are fitting and the title itself sounds great. For me as a make up artist, I’m the artsy fartsy one of the group, I love holographic colors. We can incorporate that in our merchandise, our live shows, and in my make up for the stages, photoshoots, and video shoots. We went completely crazy with all that. It’s very in fashion right now, holographic colors, metallics and stuff, so I could get some really cool outfits. It’s a great package for me.
Yeah, the vibrant eye shadows and lipsticks are huge right now. You see it all over.
I love blue lipstick, so I’m happy it’s becoming more normal. Even though I don’t want to be normal, but at least it’s wearable. I don’t like the green lipstick or gray lipstick, I think it looks really weird. That’s what I like about the whole make up artistry and fashion, there’s so much to choose from. Everybody can express themselves and you don’t have to go pay crazy amounts for make up, at least in Germany all the colors of the rainbow can [be found] in drug stores.
Dedicating an entire album to scientific findings like that must have taken quite a bit of work. What was the writing and recording process like for this album in comparison to your past six albums?
This was also a bigger production, because first of all we had a big selection of songs to choose from, 27 songs which were written by five composers. All of the guys basically have been writing songs. They would all sit separately with our producer to work on the demo tracks and then the rhythm section, the band would start playing the songs live to see how they feel because we all write the songs in our home studio. Our drummer ARYAN writes songs too, but he’s programming it, so it’s programmed guitars way too fast. The computer can play it but ISACC has to slow it down even though he wants to be that fast and the other way around.
The guys program the drums for ARYAN in the songs, but it still needs to be fine tuned, so the band comes together to play the demos and perfect them wherever needed. Vocal lines have been written on tour, at my home, the guys have been writing choir arrangements in the back lounge of the bus, Marc has been writing high in the airplanes composing songs. But the actual intense writing process took a year, then recording five months. We also recorded more live instruments, compared to Quantum Enigma. We had the time, we had the budget, we had the expertise, because our producer has been working with orchestra.
Would you say it took longer than albums in the past because of all of those things that went into it?
It took longer because we were also on tour in between. So we had to drop everything and we couldn’t get 100 per cent into the recording vibe. I came back from Australia and China, I had six days at home and I had to go into the studio. With Quantum Enigma, I was pregnant, so we took time off from touring and just focused completely on writing and recording. This we were somewhere in Australia, the producer would send us audio tracks of the section that was being recorded. It was weird to be on the other side of the world, knowing that the recording process would continue on the other side of the world.
Have you tried any virtual reality stimulators yourselves?
I actually was privileged enough to try one of the Oculus (Rift’s) and it was crazy, I became a bit dizzy because I was sitting on a chair, but I had the glasses on and it was presenting a movie where you’re on a boat. At first your mind is fucking with you because you think you’re on a boat, but you’re not, and your body starts to adjust. That was really scary. You can turn around, you can look up, it’s everywhere. I can see a great future for it, but on the other side I also choose not to lose myself too much into it.
It’s like video games. My husband loves video games, he plays really realistic games where you still see a difference, but it becomes so realistic that it’s scary. Especially with blood spatter things. I’m a Mario Bros kind of girl. I like the Nintendo games, I like them to be 2D, on a small screen so I don’t get too scared. (laughs)
Would you say that in a sense, even when you get entranced into a game like Skyrim, Modern Warfare, or Black Ops, that you’re entering another virtual realm? Just one that was created to appeal to a certain demographic of thinkers?
The other guys play… Rob and ARYAN are the game boys in the band and I think ARYAN is always playing Castlevania and they’re playing fighting games. They play it on the tour bus, ARYAN always has his laptop with him and he plays Castlevania and other games, but I would have to see what my husband is actually playing. I have my make up, beauty, and fashion blog, and he has his video games. (laughs) That’s our me time.
Would you say it’s like entering another virtual realm?
Yeah, it’s also when you’re watching a 3D movie, or even a movie in general really. It’s escapism. It’s the same with music, you can listen to music, close your eyes, and you can start to day dream and be in a different realm.
I think that’s necessary with some people, because of everything that happens in the world we call reality. Everything that happens piles up and stresses you out and you like to escape, I think that’s the most beautiful thing about music, especially since it’s universal, anybody can take it as they want to.
Yeah! I always say it’s like a friend for life, a companion. It won’t argue with you. (laughs) It can enhance your emotions, whatever they are at the moment. They can empower you, they can make you happy, nostalgic, sad, or whatever, get you into a romantic vibe. It depends on the music you’re listening to. Even I have that. There are certain CD’s that I absolutely love, but if I listen to them I get back into that period in my life and sometimes it’s too saddening even though it’s a beautiful CD. It’s so strongly connected to your emotions, and that’s the beauty to it. Music comes in such a big variety, there’s music for everybody. It’s a very special thing that you can’t really grasp, but is very much wired in everybody in the world and it’s connecting us.
What kind of effect do you think virtual reality stimulators becoming more and more available to us will have on future generations?
It’s the new technology. Back in the day when I was in high school, I was 13 or 14, I had this dream… I was even in primary school, I would have this dream that we would have telephones on which we could watch tv. I’ve always loved watching TV, watching movies, and soon after that the first mobile telephones were there. My parents had a huge Phillip’s telephone. They bought a duo, it was huge, but I thought it was tiny back then. Now we’re going back to those big phones, but you can do so much with them, they’re little computers.
Back then I thought, that’s science fiction. I had a dream about it, but now it’s reality. That’s the same thing with those virtual reality glasses, that I don’t like that much myself, or the Google glasses that people can put on and screen other people’s records. I think that’s an invasion of privacy, but the virtual reality glasses can be the next level of the whole entertainment business. For movies, for music, games, also communicating through video calls, or for us as musicians, we’re always on the tour bus lying on these stinky little bunks. (laughs) Sometimes you want to feel like you’re on a holiday. Or when people can’t travel, they can put on those glasses and wander off. I think we’ll probably have more positive effects than negative. They will also become cheaper because other brands will start making them, so it will slowly probably become more affordable and accessible for the bigger audience.
Do you think that the people who listen to this album will begin to open their minds up more to other theories and scientific findings, or solely focus on the music?
I think first of all, [they’ll] focus on the music, but the majority of the Epica fans love reading our lyrics. Hopefully they’re going to like this one. Music comes first, but with us, lyrics are still very important. We put a lot of effort into them to make them as great as we think they can be. So besides writing now about virtual reality, we’ve always used the lyrics to do something for the world and make people think. You can reach a really large audience when you’re at the stage we’re at now, we can reach enough people. We can stimulate people to start doing the right thing, or just start thinking about everything. The world, where we’re heading to, what you can do with your life.
You’ve opened up to new avenues aside from making music with this album and Epic Metal Fest. Are there any ideas on future endeavours for Epica?
First of all, we have a North American tour coming up. After that, we have a European tour, we’re going to hopefully see some new countries. I still experience a growth for Epica, I think we’re still going in a great direction and I want to see where we can take it. I hope the future will be kind to us, but we can only wait and see what happens.
Can you see yourselves going anywhere more with the make up aspect, or any theatrics like that in the future.
I have my own blog, Smoonstyle, where I already showcase my other hobbies. I’m also thriving to become better at each thing that I do, like photography and make up. I’m hoping to build up a portfolio with all the photos that I’ve made and set up another business [aside from] Epica, because I think it’s important to have a back up plan in case something happens. Right now we are very blessed, we’re doing very well, which you should never really take for granted.
Always keep the door open [though], because you never know what [could] happen. I have a child, so I need an income. You can’t just be the rock star, have fun, and go on three month tours and come home with no money. (laughs) You have a different view on how things should be. Right now everything is going really well. We have amazing management and our record company believes in us, so I think we still have a good future ahead of us.
This interview can also be found on Aesthetic Magazine’s website.