Mark Jansen steps into the frontwoman’s shoes! Before you jump to conclusions, you should know that Epica’s guitarist, Mark Jansen, hasn’t decided dress in drag or anything like that. As the metaphor suggests, he ended up in a situation where he merely had to try on the role of Epica’s vocalist, Simone Simons. During the band’s last visit to Finland we had scheduled an interview with Simone, who had to pull out literally at the last moment, so Jansen stepped in to take her place. While we were wondering what we are supposed to do with a Simons-tailored interview, Mark assured us that he could be asked the same questions. As entertaining as this idea might have seemed, we thought it would be pointless to ask him, for example, if he had had any crazy male fans, implying the opposite side of the “groupie phenomenon.” Surprisingly Mark actually had an answer to that and with no further ado proceeded to tell his story.
Mark: I’ve got the longest love letter ever that was from a guy in Brazil. It was a roll about 10 meters long and it only [said] “Mark Jansen, I love you. Mark Jansen, I love you…” It must have taken him about 2 weeks to write that. I brought it home, but I can’t find it anymore.
Ok then, let’s continue in the same line. How is it to lead a female-fronted band?
Mark: I did once front Epica when Simone was ill and we still had to do the concert.
Were you singing?
Mark: I was just grunting more than ever.
Are there any plans for a new Epica album?
Mark: The plan is to record the album after the summer of 2011.
Have you already written anything for it?
Mark: I have got already some songs and Isaac [Delahaye, lead guitar] is writing some stuff, Coen [Janssen, synthesizer] is writing. So in about 4 months we will come together, listen to each other’s ideas, and then let’s see how the album is gonna sound. We never work with a plan, it just happens the way it happens.
You worked with an orchestra on The Classical Conspiracy…
Mark: That’s like a dream come true, because our music is written for an orchestra, but it’s so expensive to work with, so you can hardly do that. But we grabbed this opportunity and enjoyed it.
Did you have any other experience working with an orchestra before?
Mark: Yeah, we had one experience at a company party. The company existed for like 150 years in Belgium; it was a private party, but really big. They asked us as well, so we performed like four songs with an orchestra. It was our first experience.
How did you get the idea to collaborate with the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and give them the proceeds from the song “This is the Time”?
Mark: I had already worked together with them some years ago; I did a project myself – cycling in the French Alps – and I got 4000€ together. Then they said if I can do something again together with Epica, perhaps. And I said, “yeah we can,” and then we started thinking about some ideas. This song that we already recorded, we thought we could make it a WWF song because it really fits and the lyrics fit. So we came up with the idea. It took quite a long time and now it’s finally released, but it was supposed to be released like half a year ago.
You covered a music score, correct? Have you written any of your own, or would you want to?
Mark: It would be really cool to make a score for a nice adventure movie and whenever I’ll get that chance, I’ll do it. There were some people who asked me to make a score for their project, but as long as I don’t have the right feeling, I won’t do it because I don’t have that much time. It has to be a cool project and really professional and then I would be into doing that. But not a small project that takes a lot of time and there aren’t many possibilities to create something, then I prefer to spend my time on the bands.
Is there any movie that you wish you could’ve written the score for?
Mark: I would have loved to make the score for “The Gladiator,” but its score is already so great that I don’t think I would’ve been able to make such a score myself.
Do you ever feel like you’re in competition with Within Temptation, both bands being Dutch and playing similar music?
Mark: Recently not that much, because they had a 2-year break, so this was a great time [laughs].
For you, yeah.
Mark: But yeah, it happens. Especially when our booking agent negotiates with a festival and in the end they say, “Oh we have Within Temptation now, so we cancel the option on Epica.” When this happens like five times in a year, you sometimes think, why is this always in our disadvantage? But they worked hard for what they achieved and they deserve it. So it’s a natural competition. It also has good sides, because every band always wants to be better than the other, even though it’s completely different. They are more mainstream and we are more metal. But still we want to make a better album than Within Temptation; they probably want to make a better album than we do.
You have a side project called MAYAN. How is it going now?
Mark: It’s going well; right after this tour we’re going into the studio to record the album. Then I’ll go on tour with Epica again to the United States and right when I’m back from that tour, I’m gonna start recording vocals. So it’s going to be a very busy upcoming half a year for me, but it’s a lot of fun. The songwriting was a lot of fun to do; something different than what I am used to doing with Epica, also working in a different way. We’ve made quite a lot of albums with Epica already and I felt a bit tired, I didn’t want to start writing another Epica album. So this MaYan thing in between was really refreshing to reload the battery for me, work with different people. And now I feel like [I have] new energy to work on the Epica material as well.
Can you describe what MaYan sounds like?
Mark: Nobody has heard it yet. The album is going to be released in May of next year . And if you let people hear some songs on the internet [prior to the release], they easily lose interest. [As for the sound], if you take the most heavy side of Epica, combined with Dimmu Borgir, Opeth, and Dream Theater. There’s a lot of progressive elements, a lot of heavy stuff, a lot of grunts, but also some clean metal vocals and some nice guests.
What was it that brought you into the metal world?
Mark: It was back in the days when I was in elementary school. I was 10 years old and I was at the local CD store looking for CD covers that looked great to me. I was looking for heavy music, because all the kids in my class were listening to soft rock and I thought that I wanted something heavier. So I found Megadeth’s Rust in Peace CD and I bought it just because of the cover. And that became my favorite album ever. Just because it was the first metal album that I bought, it’s very dear to me. And from that album on, I kept on searching for heavier music, so I ended up with Sepultura and many other bands. In the beginning when I started listening to bands with grunt [vocals], I hated the grunts because I didn’t like the sound and I thought it’s ruining the music. [But later] the grunts have gotten to me and now I’m even doing it myself.
Do you still like Megadeth?
Mark: Yeah I still like it. They played shows with the whole Rust in Peace album. I saw them in Brazil. It wasn’t their best evening, I guess, because Dave [Mustaine] was drunk, really wasted [laughs]. Yeah, they didn’t seem too enthusiastic, but still to hear these old classics live to me was a great experience.
Other than Megadeth, what metal acts do you admire?
Mark: I don’t really admire any band, but I appreciate Opeth a lot. They are basically the only band nowadays [from whom] I like every album that they released. Most bands disappoint me every now and then, so Opeth is the only band that I can say that I really appreciate.
What inspires you to write lyrics?
Mark: Basically the books that I read. I read a lot and all the subjects that interest me in a book, I write lyrics about it.
What’s your favorite book?
Mark: I don’t really have a favorite book, but I love books by José Argüelles about the Mayan culture.
How have you coped with writer’s block, if you’ve ever had any?
Mark: I never had one. Of course there are always days when you feel like nothing is coming up, but then I don’t even get started.
What if you have a deadline and have to finish something in a couple of days?
Mark: There is always this pressure, but the more pressure there is, the more inspiration I get.
Text: Tanja Caciur | Photos: Jana Blomqvist