By Jacob Zinn
ISO 800 | f/2.8 | 1/15 | 43mm
While symphonic metal has been around for 20-some years, Epica is a relatively young band of the genre. Started as Sahara Dust in 2003, the Dutch female-led sextet is approaching its 10th anniversary, celebrating with a three-hour show at the Klokgebouw in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The band’s newest member, Rob van der Loo – formerly of Delain and a founding member of MaYaN – talked with Jacob Zinn before their show in Vancouver about touring North America, performing their latest album Requiem for the Indifferent and how the opportunity to join Epica (replacing founding member Yves Huts) presented itself.
You’re about halfway through this North American tour – how’s it been going so far?
For me, this is my first time touring with Epica in North America, but I’ve heard a lot of stories about how things went before. The venues are getting better, more people are showing up and there are very enthusiastic audiences. So far, so good.
Is this your first time performing with Epica in Vancouver?
Yes, it is. This is actually the first time I’ve been to Vancouver. To be quite honest, it really reminds me of my home city, Rotterdam. Especially with the harbour – Rotterdam’s a big harbour city and also pretty modern. What I really like about this country is it has a real European vibe to it. It kind of feels like home.
How are the support acts Insomnium and Alestorm?
Pretty good, actually. I must say that, of course, we started with five bands, actually – we started with Blackguard and System Divide. It’s a very diverse package, but I really like that. I’m very happy we don’t have this stereotyped gothic/symphonic metal package with five similar bands. I think this works pretty good, actually.
What songs is the band playing on the tour?
Of course, we have to keep people satisfied, so I think we’ve made quite a balanced set. We play songs from every album, to be honest. Some The Phantom Agony stuff, Consign to Oblivion, all the rest, the old stuff.
You joined the band in March of this year, replacing longtime bassist Yves Huts. How did the opportunity to play in Epica come about?
The whole thing about Yves leaving the band, it’s quite obvious – I don’t want to say issues, but he had this job, he was very busy with his other work and he wasn’t that dedicated to the band anymore. Not to speak negative about him at all because he’s always been dedicated to the band, but we kind of saw it coming.
I got the phone call and they had the group conversation and they decided to part ways. My feeling told me that it was coming this year somehow, but I was quite surprised when they called me. He’s been a member for such a long time and I get along with him pretty well. Of course, I’m pretty happy to join this band, but at the moment, I was sad to see him leave as well.
You’ve known the members of Epica for a long time, right?
I’ve known [Epica founder and rhythm guitarist] Mark [Jansen] since his time with After Forever and I remember a band called Sahara Dust when it was starting up, which actually was a support band for my band, Sun Caged, so it’s been quite a while. We’ve been in touch for many years already.
Has the band kept in touch with Yves?
I think so. He’s a workaholic so he’s been pretty busy lately, and so are we – we’re touring constantly and sometimes it’s even hard to keep in touch with your own parents – but they’re still in touch.
Are you still performing with MaYaN?
Not at the moment, but we did a gig and ProgPower USA. That was two months ago, I guess. Time goes pretty fast. Right now, the main focus is definitely Epica, but we’ve got a new gig coming up in Holland next year and we’re already working on some new material for a new MaYaN album, as well. But we’re touring so much with Epica that it’s almost impossible to combine them.
Tell me about your bass rig. What’s your setup?
On this tour, I’ve just been using mostly preamps, I normally play with an Avalon DI and I combine that with a Sans Amp, a bass driver, so I combine a clean signal with an overdrive signal. I play with a Music Man Stingray, double-humbucker version, and I also recently got myself a Bongo bass which is quite a new serial for Music Man, and I’m really happy with that. That’s also going to be my main bass for MaYaN as well and I’m thinking of actually ordering a new one because it’s awesome.
When it comes to equipment, less is more. I like to keep it as simple as possible.
How have the fans responded to the new album, Requiem for the Indifferent?
There are always people who swear by the first two albums, but there are also people who swear by this album. We’ve gotten a lot of good reactions. Of course, I’m not on that album, but I still say “we.” I must admit, these songs already feel like they’re a part of me.
Epica’s songs often contain heavy subject matter such as religious tensions, natural disasters and the world economy. Do you feel that not enough other bands are writing about these important topics?
Of course, but this band is not exactly a band that likes to write about demons or wizards or love songs or whatever. I like that it’s not a typical gothic band that writes about fantasy stuff. These songs are really up to date.
Is it challenging to write songs that contain both this message and are so layered with the music and progressions?
It can be. Sometimes you can really have a writer’s block and then suddenly write nothing. When I look at Mark, for instance, when he comes back from the tour, most people are really tired and maybe don’t want to play music for one or two weeks, but he’s the type of guy that gets this real big inspiration. When he comes home, he has ideas for five new songs.
Epica mostly writes the music first and then the ideas for lyrics start to come. This next album might become a concept album. I’m also starting to write the first Epica songs as well and we’re all just starting with new stuff. I believe Mark has ideas for 10 or 11 new songs already.
When might the next album come out? 2014?
We don’t have a real plan yet, but we’re aiming for that. To be honest, we’re already aiming for this summer to record the first songs. That’s our personal goal. The sooner, the better.
You and the band recently went on the Dutch TV show Niks te gek (translation: “Nothing too weird”) to record a song, “Forevermore”, with longtime fan Ruurd Woltring who has a mental disability. What was that experience like?
That was weird but it was really cool. It was very special because, of course, to make somebody so happy, that’s incredible. I wish we could do that for all the fans.
The people of the program, they sent us a file about this guy, Ruurd. It’s incredible – he writes, like, 100 songs each year. He’s a very creative guy and, actually, most of the things that he wrote were pretty good. It was really incredible what he came up with and we were really surprised. It was very special to see him so ambitious, to see this guy – he was in seventh heaven. He was just so full of energy and we had to record it between touring, so for us, it was pretty intensive to do it that way, but it was a very cool experience.
How excited is the band for their 10th anniversary show in Eindhoven in March?
Every gig is important, but that’s going to be a very special show because we’re going to do it with the same orchestra that Epica used for The Classical Conspiracy, and it’s going to be a full program, just Epica, so we can actually expect a show of about three hours. It’s going to be a big set, a huge set. We’re actually counting down for the sellout, actually. We’re going to add some extra guest musicians as well, so it’s going to be a very special show.
Is it going to be recorded?
I can’t officially tell yet – we have to negotiate with the record label, money money money, how to release it and that kind of thing – but that’s one of the things that we’re aiming for.