Epica, Simone Simons Interview – ‘Omega’ + Being a Woman in Metal

2021-03-09

Epica vocalist Simone Simons posting with a beige collard shirt and bright, blue eyes. Epica's new album is 2021's

Epica vocalist Simone Simons – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Tim Tronckoe

Epica interview: Simone Simons joins Anne Erickson to discuss the band’s new album, “Omega,” and more in this in-depth interview

Dutch symphonic metal band Epica recently unleashed their eighth studio album, “Omega,” which marks the band’s first full-length album in five years, their longest time between albums. With grandiose sonics, strong songwriting and passionate, soaring vocals, “Omega” was worth the wait.

Epica vocalist Simone Simons spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio about “Omega,” the unique writing process for the new album and her experience being a woman in metal music. Read the full Epica interview below, listen via the YouTube player and hear it via the Audio Ink Radio show on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.

Anne Erickson: Congratulations on your new album, “Omega.” Tell me about the journey of getting the record out, because it was actually supposed to be out last year, correct?

Simone Simons: Yes. Originally, it was set to be released in September, and we had a European tour scheduled in October. When we were recording the album, everything went well, up until we were finished with the choir and orchestra. The orchestra was recorded in Prague, and the choir in the Netherlands, and then, the middle of March were supposed to be local recordings. Mark lives in Sicily, (Italy), and I live in Germany, and the studio where we normally record is in the Netherlands. So, Mark had to record in Sicily at home, and I recorded my vocals here in Germany. But, overall, everything went really smooth. I guess we had luck! We were lucky that it wasn’t scheduled later, because then it would have been difficult.

It’s been five years between records for Epica, which is the longest break you’ve taken. What contributed to that decision?

It was a conscious choice to take a little break after we finished the touring for “The Holographic Principle,” because we were just exhausted. We always kept on going. We had a hectic schedule every two years to write and record a new album and be on tour at the same time, almost, it felt like. When we had our little touring break, we were writing our biography, “The Essence of Epica.” We remixed our album “Design Your Universe,” because it was 10 years old. We also recorded some acoustic tracks for that. Besides that, we also did the “Attack on Titan” EP, and we released “The Solace System” EP, but not a full length album. And it wasn’t until October, November, last year that we all got together and started writing “Omega” as a band. All together, at the same place. We made sure we had time in our calendars reserved just for that. So, no shows; no other distractions. It was nice. It was very fruitful. Producer Joost (van den Broek) was there, as well. Now, originally it would have been released last year, but everything got postponed a little. Everything is put on pause for a minute.

The new album has great melodies and textures. How would you say writing and recording this album was different from what you’ve done in the past with Epica?

We wanted to change a couple of things, for instance, have it a little bit more organic sound. So, we used a whole orchestra. We also recorded a lot of ethnic instruments (from) India, like the sitar (and) a lot of other exotic flutes. We had a children choir. So, we added a lot of real elements to make the sound more organic, and songwriting, as well. Compared to “The Holographic Principle,” “Omega” is more transparent. It has more dynamic. It’s more mature, I guess, and more profound. The mixing is also slightly different, because our old sound on “The Holographic Principle” was very compressed, and we wanted to change that a little bit for, like I said before, more transparency. So Joost, our producer, also mixed our album. He knew the songs from inside and out, so that was a conscious choice. Another thing is that we wanted to start writing vocal lines earlier in the writing process to make sure that the vocals had enough room to flourish, so to speak, or to shine. In the past, we would write demo tracks, and the songs would be basically finished, and then at the end, we would have to put vocal lines on top of already a lot of melodies. This time we, we paid more attention to that.

You’re one of the most high profile and successful women in metal music today. How has the metal world changed in terms of its acceptance of women from when you started out in Epica to now?

I guess the women in the scene are more prominent, and, I guess, also maybe more respected or accepted for the fact that we have talent and can work hard and can succeed. I guess that women are still the minority in the whole metal scene, but it’s developing in the right direction, I would say. Back in the day, we had the term “female-fronted metal,” and that is nowhere near accurate at the moment, because it does not describe the sound of the band other than there’s a female singer in the band. I, myself, am lucky enough to not have had any really big negative experiences to talk about. I’m one of the guys. That’s how I always felt, I guess, with the exception of some females things. (Laughs) I feel well being surrounded by a lot of guys. I never felt misunderstood or disrespected.

Yeah, that’s great. Did you ever feel like you were treated differently from the male artists in the business, either by fans or colleagues?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s not necessarily something about inequality, but more about the fact that women have some kind of power over guys, so I would see it more as an advantage. (Laughs)

They get a bit nervous around ladies, right? (Laughs)

Yeah, I guess so! They sense that we can do magic. (Laughs)

How much pressure do you think there is on women in not just metal but music, in general, to look a certain way to appeal to people?

Well, I guess, in a certain way, the appearance is important, not just for the women, but also for the guys. I mean, don’t we all want to look our best? Don’t we put a lot of effort in making the live show visually appealing? But, there is, of course, more pressure on the women to always look good and be in the best shape, and people create this image of you that you’re perfect, and you’re not. It’s sometimes tedious to keep up that appearance. With guys, it’s easier for them. They can just roll out of bed and look like crap and nobody gives s***. And, if you have a bad day or a huge zit, everybody is pointing at it. But, yeah, that’s how it’s always been.

That’s just a thing you’ve got to fight. I know, some of my female colleagues, I respect them enormously, and they posted photos without any makeup on, and I think that is a great thing to do- to just show everybody that we are normal, as well. I post makeup videos and people see me without makeup, as well. I guess I don’t mind as much as I did in the past. It comes with age, I guess, that you start to feel more comfortable and a little bit ashamed that when you’re in your younger years, when your skin and everything is nice and tight, you are actually the most insecure. You don’t value or acknowledge that you’re young and that it has a lot of advantages and that it’s a beautiful thing to be young. But, yeah, that insecurity, I guess, gets to all of us.

When concerts are back, do you think it will ever be like it used to be with people mushing and being close, or do you think it will be forever different?

I think it will probably go back to how it was, but it’s going to take longer to get back to that than we all first anticipated. I think it’s definitely more difficult to go back to that, but it will happen one day.

What’s the status of coronavirus in Germany, and where are you with vaccines?

Well, I live in Germany, and here they started vaccinating a couple weeks ago. But, it’s hard to keep up, I guess, with the production of the vaccine. So, I would like to say I’m very optimistic but realistic. So, the summer festivals that are currently scheduled are one by one postponing again, and I have a little bit of feeling that we won’t have any summer festivals. That it’s too early. It’s too soon.

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