Epica: "The magic of music is that it can give people hope"

Discussing with vocalist Simone Simons about art, society, life, and the weirdest question ever asked in an interview

I've been following Epica for fifteen years now, and so far they haven not disappointed. Year after year, the band is evolving, constantly on the move and exploring its potential. They may have found their own corner of the hard sound and not abandoned it, but they make sure to play with their image and sound, with experiments like "The Alchemy Project", the EP they released last year for their 20th anniversary.

Trademark and central persona, the voice behind the microphone, the multi-talented Simone Simons. Songwriter, musician, singer, model, and, as we learned, photographer, Simone Simons is one of the most important figures in the symphonic metal scene. Shortly before Epica's appearance in our country, she gave us a full interview: what makes Epica stand out twenty years in their career, how she decided to become a professional musician, what she keeps from Ayreon's live performances, and what the band's recording future holds, are some of the things she revealed to us.

(P) Hello Simone! We are Manos and Pantelis, we are from Rocking.gr. We would like to thank you for the opportunity to have this interview. We've been longtime fans. How are you?

I’m great, thank you! How are you?

(P) We’re great as well! Now, let’s start with the questions we have for you. 2023 marks the 20th anniversary of the band. Do you feel like you have achieved your artistic goals? What has been the ultimate best moment of these two decades for you?

Well, I have achieved some of them, but there’s always the next goal, then the next album. I guess the sky is the limit, so I'm definitely not done yet with making music, traveling worlds, and having new countries to discover. The things that we have already experienced in our life in the past twenty years have been amazing!


(M) Since the start of the century, there have been many changes to the Gothic and Symphonic Metal scene. How do Epica manage to still be one very popular band among audiences in 2023?

We’ve been a very productive band, that has always toured a lot, put out a lot of music, stayed in close contact with our fans, and we’ve managed to build a very loyal fan base over the last twenty one years. But yeah, of course, if you don’t write music that people like, it doesn’t matter how many shows you do. Not that we write music so that people would like us, we write the music that we like, that also happens to be welcomed by music fans. I think Epica is definitely a one-of-a-kind bind. We are always having fun, we like what we do. We are sincere, we put on a professional show, but we still goof around and don’t take ourselves too seriously. I think that has made us stand out, and survive the sands of time, the development of the music scene, even with digital platforms. We had a good record deal back in the day, so we had a good financial support in order to have high production recordings. Nowadays, that is becoming a little more difficult for newer bands, because everything is available online and we all just don’t get a lot of money from that anymore, unless the actual CD sales. We adapted to the current times, and we were lucky that we could kick-off the band and invest in it pre-internet, or the starting point of internet.

Success is never a straight line going directly up. It always goes up and down

(P) You said "you survived", but I think that you have remained very popular - in fact you are becoming even more popular as years go by. How do you explain this? What do you think singles you out as a band, what’s your secret card?

There’s no secret to it. It’s a combination of many factors. First of all, the music is written by six people in the band, together with the producers, so you have the luxury of many songs, because you have many composers in the band. There’s always marketing behind every band, and a huge team of people that work so that the band can become bigger. We’re all very passionate in what we do, and we put blood, sweat and tears in all of it. We are sincere artists, that just have fun with what we do, and I can say we are not afraid to work hard.

We also want to stay true to the things that we like in order for our music to be liked by others. We never really try to please the masses. Success is never a straight line going directly up. It always goes up and down, and Epica - well, if you say so! - have been growing with each album we are doing. It’s not that we had success in three years. We’ve been working for a long time, and we are lucky that we also managed to survive the pandemic without touring, still being able to finish the album. A big part is also the loyal fan base, you know, and it’s expanding, so we’re very grateful for that.

Writing music and lyrics has a therapeutic effect on me

(M) Now, I wanted to ask you something about your lyrics. You are one of the main lyricists of the band, along with Mark. Compared to his lyrics, however, yours seem to be more emotional, personal. They feel like a narrative, also. They’re darker in tone. Would you like to tell us something about your process, what gives you inspiration to write lyrics?

The inspiration for my lyrics comes mostly from what’s happening in society and in the world, but also in my own private world, I guess. That’s maybe a reason why many people can connect to it, because it involves everyday issues, or life phases that we all go through. Writing music and lyrics has a therapeutic effect on me. In that sense, Mark and I complement each other really well. He has his own favorite topics to write about, and I touch on more personal matters. The best compliment you can always get, is when people come up to you and tell you that they loved a particular song for the melody, but also for the lyrics. Our fans appreciate our lyrics, they read them, and it’s also fun for me to come up with cool lyrics, besides writing vocal lines. Sometimes it can be challenging, but when you find the right line or the right word, or whatever, it feels super rewarding.


(M) Two songs that come to mind is "Once Upon a Nightmare", and "Dancing In a Hurricane". They feel very distinctive "Simone lyrics"…

Well, "Once Upon a Nightmare" is actually based on dark fairy tale of the Elder King, so it’s not a personal lyric. "Dancing in a Hurricane" is not personal either, as the lyrics are talking about the children that live in refugee camps, and have to survive in hostile environments. It’s just trying to describe the innocence of a child that tries to stay a child within the storm, within a hurricane.

(M) Along with all the philosophical and the personal, you also talk about political stuff that’s going on, since the beginning of the band. I wonder, what modern societal problems, or political issues would you tackle in the future?

That’s a good question. I mean, there’s a lot of shit going on around the world. A lot of it we don’t know, or we know too little, the tip of the iceberg. I guess we’re being kept in the dark on many matters. I could tell you there’s enough inspiration to write many lyrics, of course, but we’ll see. When we have the music ready, Mark and I both pick out our favorite songs. In most cases, Mark writes lyrics for the songs he wrote the music for. It’s up to us to come up with the idea for the album, and then branch out and try to have some cohesive storyline, or write in the same direction. Of course there’s a lot of misery in the world, but there’s also a lot of beauty in the world. I think we can focus on all the negativity, but we can also try to give people hope. I think that’s a beautiful thing that music does to people, but the lyrics can add to it, too. They can be either melancholic, or they can make you feel better. That’s the magic of music.


(M) Among the many things you did for the 20th anniversary was the "Alchemy Project". It was very entertaining! Which collaboration was the easiest, and which one taught you the most?

Well, there are seven songs on that EP, I co-wrote one song together with Charlotte (n. Wessels, ex-Delain), the song "Sirens". Charlotte and I have known each other for a long time, both being singers in a metal band, but we never really had any close contact, up until she left Delain and started her own solo work, that I followed and liked. So I contacted her and we connected. We became friends. We both have a Patreon account, so we also did a collaboration for our accounts and simultaneously wrote "Sirens" and did a video for it. Of course that song has a special place in my heart. We also invited Emily from Myrkur to join with her vocals and her beautiful, mystical, mysterious appearance, and I toured with her also many years ago.

So that’s the song I have the strongest connection with, but I also really love "The Final Lullaby". That’s the song that Rob (n. Rob van der Loo, bassist) and Jørgen Munkeby (Shining) wrote, and it became one of the singles. Also, the song "The Miner" that Rob brought together with Asim Searah (ex-Wintersun). They are some of my favorite songs of the "Alchemy Project", and I loved to do that EP, because it kind of reset our musical buttons. We worked with many other artists and tried to experiment a little bit, trying to make it sound like Epica, but with some new refreshing instruments, for example the saxophone, which I really liked. We performed "The Final Lullaby" many times, and found it’s a fan favorite!

We are always looking with each album to improve as musicians and as a band

It’s an extraordinary song, especially for Epica standards. We’d never heard saxophone before in one of your songs. Seeing you experiment with so many ideas from album to album, I wonder if there are any ideas that you would like to see on an Epica record, that perhaps the others don’t find as fitting, or that causes some stirring among you.

Yeah, that’s a good question. We already have worked with some very exotic instruments and had Indian instruments recorded. It would be great to work together with some other vocalists for an Epica album. We’re at the starting point of writing the new album now. Next week we’ll all get together and see which ideas we have, and start from that. We are always looking with each album to improve as musicians and as a band. To kind of re-invent ourselves, but not completely change our style, of course. Each album you make is a reflection of the time of the recording, literally and figuratively (laughs). It shows where the band is at that specific moment in time. After the "Alchemy Project", we felt free to experiment even more so, but where that goes, I can’t say right now.

An album has to tell a story, it has to have a flow, it has to make sense from beginning to end

(M) Okay, interesting that you say about the new record. I was planning on asking later. With each record, you become more aggressive and heavier, something that typically goes the other way around with artists. In later years, it seems like "Epica on steroids", as I jokingly say, well at least up till "Omega", when that tendency was toned down a bit. How do you think the next record is going to sound like?

We are just going to get together and write music, and we’re all very motivated. We have six people in a band that have compositional abilities, can write lyrics, and everybody has a different style, so depending on how we’re feeling, I guess. It depends on how many members write how many songs, or which one writes the most. Of course that will have a great impact on the final sound. After an album has been released, we like to evaluate which songs are fan favorites and why. It’s always the case that the shorter songs do better live, but you can’t write an album full of shorts songs, it’s going to become boring. There is this rule that the chorus should start within the first minute of the song, but we never really stuck with that kind of formula. An album has to tell a story, it has to have a flow, it has to make sense from beginning to end. There is always a unique process that starts with the first melodies, and then we take it from there. We’re not going to surrender to the successful formula, because that’s not what we stand for. We are going to keep on writing long songs, as long as the melodies are good. It’s totally useless to make a song extra long, just so that you can tell you write long songs, I guess, it still has to make sense. That’s why everybody in the band contributes, together with our producer that keeps us in line and babysits us.


(P) We are album guys, we are happy to hear that you don’t see an album just as a collection of songs, but as a whole entity! Have you ever considered playing an acoustic show, or even doing an acoustic tour? Judging by the fun you are having at the bonus discs of your albums, I guess that wouldn’t be very strange…

We could do an acoustic tour, when we’re too old to bang our heads on stage, when we are some old rockers with bad backs, and hernias, or whatever (laughs). I wouldn’t mind, I think that would be really nice. Epica have had so many years of heavy touring and we are aiming to tour less, but have bigger production shows. Therefore, that would leave room for other projects, to re-invent Epica, we could do cool things. We are already working on something really cool for next year, but that’s all I can say for now!


(M) Great, thanks for the heads up! Now, there’s this question that I have. If you weren’t the lead singer for Epica, which other career path would you choose to take? Judging from your personal blog, perhaps a brand ambassador, or something similar?

It would definitely still be something creative. Whenever I have time, I work as a portrait photographer, I love black and white photography, I love movies. I don’t know if I would be working as an actress, but I’d definitely be in the creative corner. I like change, I like different locations, so I don’t think I would be a good person to sit still at the same place every day. I grew up with this job, in a way, with this lifestyle, and it’s kind of in my DNA. It feels like that. I am probably going to be able to sing until I’m in my late seventies - there are women that managed to sing up until the moment they passed. I’m not going to squeeze myself in tight dresses and bang my head on stage until that age, but music will always be a big part of my life. Singing, as well. Who knows? I have many creative interests, I see myself as a creative soul, so it will always be something out there for me, despite the rise of artificial intelligence. I’m very hopeful that art is not going to die.

If somebody asks me what I do, I often reply I’m an artist, not just a singer

(P) You joined Epica at the very young age of 17. Was there a turning point in your life when you decided that you wanted to be a singer, a decisive moment, or was it something you always thought growing up?

Well, Mark told me that I actually said that to him once during a phone call, when I was around 16. That’s when I met Mark, but I guess I was bluffing a little bit in the beginning, I have a big mouth (laughs). I am not so sure about what I was actually saying at the time, I guess I was a stupid teenager. However, I always loved singing back when I was really young, I loved boybands and girlbands, like Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, etc. I pretended to have this girl band duo with my sister, writing lyrics singing, and dancing in front of the mirror singing along to Disney songs, all of that. But these are more like childish dreams. My cousin recently told me "You were always singing when you were a little girl, you were always running through the house, a happy child singing".

I never thought of it as a job, though. I took singing lessons, when I was 12 I had my first performance that I hated, and then I said "I’ll never do it again". But I guess I had to take it back, I had to eat my words, because here I am, having performed at more than 1200 shows, I think. Twenty one years later and I still love being on stage, but I don’t only consider myself a singer. If somebody asks me what I do, I often reply I’m an artist. I mostly say I’m a singer, but I do many many things other than just sing. That is definitely the core of it, and it’s an exciting job, with both challenges and beautiful sides.

(P) Eating your words like that can be very delicious!

(laughs) Yeah, I have to sing my words, now!


(P) So how was the tour you did with Ayreon? I read that all the shows were sold out, and that in some venues you even performed twice in one day, afternoon and evening.

Yes, that was crazy. We did six shows in four days. It was an amazing experience, I love working with Arjen Lucassen. He’s one of my favorite people in the business, and I’ve admired him for a long time. So, when he asked me if I wanted to do these shows, I said yes without knowing what it’s going to be about. This time it was for the "Beneath the Waves" off the "011011-something" album (laughs), nobody can memorize the order of the zeroes and ones! I got to work with my friend Anneke (n. van Giersbergen) again, which is always nice and it doesn’t feel like work, we were all having fun. It felt like we were a big group of a theater production. It’s very inspiring to listen to so many other singers perform and many I’ve known since the beginning of my career. It’s very cool to see them still thrive, and be successful. You also get to meet new artists, where you are like "Wow, that’s amazing!" We were all very supportive of each other, we had the best time, and I miss him already, so…

There’s a lot of great talent out there

(P) What are your biggest influences and the artists you admire the most?

There’re many artists that I have a huge respect for, but I try to be inspired by my own life, and not look too much of what others do, because there’s always this chance that you start to copy them. I have actually very little time to go see other artists play live, unless we are on tour with another band. This year I managed to go see Pink play live in Cologne, and that was really cool, because it’s completely different than anything in the metal scene. I also saw a musical this year…

I guess if I find anything inspiring now, that’s the big production with Arjen Lucassen. It’s crazy how much this guy can do, coming up with these songs. It’s a huge puzzle, and then we kind of all make it happen together. You need the whole team. I really enjoy now singing with some other male vocalists as well, that are not grunting but have clean vocals. I still think Anneke is one of the best singers out there. Well, she’s also my friend, so I’m kind of biased, but I always feel, whenever I listen to her voice… it does something to me, you know? For me, the voice is very important in the overall music industry, no matter what style it is. If I like the voice and the melody, I’m sold, and it doesn’t have to be metal. My son now starts to listen to some music, and we play songs in the car, and he showed me some really cool songs as well. Music is music. It’s cool that there’s so many different styles of it, and in the metal scene as well. There’s a lot of great talent out there.

(P) Anneke is not my friend, but I’m sold for her voice too!

Yeah, she’s one of a kind. She’s also a very beautiful person, in a way. Despite the fact that she can sing amazingly, she’s also a very beautiful person inside and outside, and you can hear it in her voice, that her soul is pure.

(M) Now, I have a bit of a peculiar question for you. What’s something that you wish you were asked during an interview, and what’s a question that has started to become very tiring to answer all the time?

The question that I wish somebody asked me… I have been asked so many questions. I think the weirdest one was when someone asked me if I had something for him… I was like, aren’t you the interviewer? I’m supposed to answer your questions! (laughs). The most annoying question of course is "how is it like to be a woman in the metal scene". I’ve been asked so many times, and the last couple of times I just said next question, please. (laughs)


(M) Time for the last question. What should we expect in the Athens show, that’s scheduled for the end of October? I think that’s the show that starts this leg of the tour.

The show in Athens is one of the last ones of the Omega cycle, before the new music is written. Ιt’s going to be Epica classics mixed with "Omega" songs. We want you to have a great time. I don’t know if we can bring our snakes with us, they don’t like to fly (laughs). They’re a little bit afraid of flying, and they spit fire, so it’s actually not very good to have them on a plane. But just like always with Epica, we’ll have a good time, we’re going to rock on stage, and interact with the audience, and hopefully create great memories.


(M) Perfect! It’s been a while since you performed in a closed venue, and not outside in the heat, so it’s going to be even better for you.

Yeah, that’s good. The summer fortunately is over. Now we’re back to the dark, dark theaters, and the venues. I’m looking forward to it. Can’t wait! I love Greece, love the food and the people.

(M) We love you too! Thank you very much for the opportunity to have this conversation. We will see you in about one month.

Yes, end of October! Have a great afternoon, goodbye!