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INTERVIEW – Simone Simmons, Epica – May 2014

| 8 June 2014 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Simone Simmons, Epica – May 2014

Having a newborn baby in the studio was hard work, Epica’s lead singer Simone Simmons tells SHANE PINNEGAR, but new album The Quantum Enigma made it all worthwhile.

“I took him with me during vocal recordings in the studio last December,” the singer says, “because he was only two months old and I was breastfeeding and I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding. That was really heavy to have him with me on tour and in the studio, breastfeeding and then doing vocal recordings. Vocal recordings are already so super-demanding on your body and soul, but then having a little baby there, it’s like… whew.

“It was one of the hardest jobs ever but I managed.”

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That’s one hell of a work ethic right there – at a time when most new Mothers are taking six or twelve months off, Simmons explains why she chose to step right back into the fray.

“Basically we were on schedule with the new record, and I had to go actually earlier into the studio and I already told the guys that I cannot do that. My husband was on tour also, so the first couple of months were really heavy. But now it’s getting better. He sleeps through the night, he’s getting solid food as well. So he’s not only so focused on me anymore. He can also be taken care of by other people. So, then it’s easier to go on tour – but not yet. Like, my sister-in-law had a baby two days after me and she took a year off from working. But with a band like Epica it’s not possible to do that. And I think that after a while, I would also really be itching to get back to work as well.”

Like all new parents, having Vincent has meant some sleepless nights and sleep deprivation, Simmons goes on to discuss.

“The first six months were like that,” she laughs. “Now he’s had a couple nights where he’s been sleeping through and I was like, ‘oh it’s so good,’ you know. The first months when he woke up every two hours, it’s like the first month you’re okay, but then slowly you’re getting really sleep deprived, you cannot recharge your battery. Anything you had saved up is then gone. So you’re always starting the day with a half a battery. And around 6 o’clock, you can’t do anything, anymore!”

Simmons, who describes motherhood as “beautifully life changing,” similarly coos like any new parent about her boy.

“He’s an awesome little boy,” she enthuses, “I love him. He’s a little crazy as well, like me, so that’s cool – he’s definitely my son! He’s now six and a half months, so he’s really big, he’s got eight teeth and he’s small and super strong, he’s very developed already for his age. He looks much older because of all the teeth in his mouth!”

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Simmons asserts that Epica’s sixth studio album, The Quantum Enigma – released this month on the Nuclear Blast label – is their best yet.

“It’s the most diverse, heavy, catchy Epica record to date. All of our guys wrote songs for the record. There’s been extreme tight teamwork going on. We had a new producer, we had a new studio. We have a new mixer and like I said before, a new style of writing the record. So it has all five band members’ music style on it. We still kept the Epica sounds, the choirs, the orchestra and made it super heavy. The guitars are definitely very prominent this time. We wrote for the bigger choir, with the string ensemble, so everything is bigger and better!”

The album is the Dutch band’s first with new bassist Rob Van Der Loo, who Simmons says helped bring the band together again after over a decade of touring and recording.

“Rob joined the band, basically, when Requiem For The Indifferent was released [2012]. Yves [Huts] just did the release show and then that was his last show. So Rob is a real bass player, a real musician, super talented and super motivated. When he joined the band, he wanted to be involved from the start. We had this Dutch TV show we were working on and we went into the studio, and we all came together because we had to do an acoustic cover from a pop song and Rob was also on the bass. So we were playing together and that was something we didn’t really do for a long time, because we lived far apart from each other, or were always on tour.

“So when we’re not on tour we also like to chill and be at home. We were doing this acoustic song with everybody, including Rob which was kind of new to us. We were like, ‘This is cool. I really like playing together.’ Rob was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. That’s how it should be.’ So, it was kind of an eye opener for us to try to get to do that more often. We did that for this record as well, and it’s been really an eye opener. It’s had quite a positive effect on the band.”

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Epica records can get quite philosophical lyrically, and The Quantum Enigma is no exception.

“Well, on this record,” Simmons explains, “The Quantum Enigma is basically standing for our search of reality. Because when quantum physicists were observing particles they found out that when we directly look at them, they take a shape. When you look away, they change their shape. So does that mean that when we don’t look the reality’s changing? So through our observation we determine our reality and that’s very cool. So that’s the topic that we wanted to include on this record and be a little bit the key point where all the other lyrics are going to be attached to. The power of the human mind, the circle of life, those are all topics in our lyrics. So it’s very philosophical, very spiritual, very scientific.”

Epica have tackled a lot of philosophical, socio-political and religious themes on their six albums – it’s a long way from ‘rock and roll all night and party every day.’ Does she ever wish that she could just go on stage in jeans and a t-shirt and sing a party song?

“Well, I think that for the guys they can do that in the karaoke bars,” she says in all seriousness. “I mean, we’re also having a good time. Our lyrics do have a deeper meaning to them, but it’s still for everybody to have a good time and to be happy and enjoy music. But the lyrics definitely have a deeper meaning to them. The music takes you away on the journey and makes you forget about daily life and the lyrics makes you reflect on daily life.”

Epica’s music is also very positive, as well. There are no lyrics about misery and sadness; they’re writing very positive songs, thinking about bigger issues, and about how to make things better.

“Totally,” the singer agrees earnestly. “We love having the possibility to reach out to a bigger group of people and make them experience life in a more conscious way and reflect on everything.”

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Being an attractive woman fronting a successful rock band garners a fair amount of attention of its own accord. Simmons takes that one step further with her SmoonStyle blog, where she discusses not only band related topics, but also her own distinctive makeup and fashion style, food and more. It’s important to the frontwoman that her fans see her doing so in a similarly positive way.

“Yes. So far, the majority of fans, they like it. The guys of course, are not all that interested in the makeup and fashion stuff but they do like it when I post stuff about food because which guy doesn’t love food! They like it when a woman can cook. And so I also share that. I share all my hobbies. Whenever I have time I grab my camera and make photos and it’s more like a hobby thing for me. It’s also meant as a fun leisure time. Nothing all too serious, you know. There are many metal head girly girls as well and they like that. And also the fact that I share my kitchen tricks because I learned a couple over the past few years.”

Simmons explains that she was a pre-teen when she realised the power of her voice and knew she wanted to pursue singing.

“I think that was when I was about twelve years old,” she reminisces. “I had a primary school musical like where you celebrate the end [of school]. And I was auditioning for a part for Marilyn Monroe. There was another girl auditioning and she went to theatre school and knew how to act and she put on a great show. And I was just standing there singing.

“I was super shy and the teacher said ‘Well, okay the part is not yours because you don’t have the acting.’ So the other girl got the part and I was just standing there like a little scared mouse, and [the teacher] said ‘I’m going to include a little line so we can have you sing in the musical’ and that was a song from Whitney Houston, All At Once.

“And then she said, ‘You know, do something with your voice. Get some singing lessons, and just work on it.’ And I thought ‘Okay, why not!’ That’s basically when the idea was born that I wanted to do, just for fun, some more singing. Back then I didn’t know I would be a singer in a famous metal band. That’s weird.”

29 now, and twelve years into a very successful career, it’s fair to say that it’s worked out pretty well for her so far.

“Well, it’s my job,” she laughs softly. “And I’m very happy that I can say that.”

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Unwavering humble and gracious, Simmons says it’s a strange realisation that she’s now influencing a younger generation of musicians.

“Yeah, definitely. I mean, I have my sources of inspiration and I’m a very sober minded Dutch girl. And you know you have to think twice before you release something out in the open. You’re being watched by so many people and they value your opinion, they find you indeed inspirational and want to copy you or they feel inspired by what you do. So you have to think about that. Sometimes I would like to wish I’m invisible as well. I like to be on stage and have fun. But I’m not and so I put that to good use. You can reach a lot of people and you can actually make a change in everybody’s life and the people you can reach out to.”

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As if a new Epica album to tour, a new husband and a new infant weren’t enough to keep her busy, Simmons says she’s also getting closer to thinking about a solo album.

“Yeah, I want… I have many projects in my head, and [so far] I did not find the time to make them become true. But Epica is a full-on band and I have a full-on baby!” she laughs sweetly. “I have the idea of, I want to do a jazz project with my husband [Kamelot keyboard player Oliver Palotai] but that’s going to be more like private shows. I don’t think I want to pursue a big career in that; it’s one of my other hobbies.

“And the solo project as well, but that’s probably going to be a CD and a couple of shows, because Epica is touring so much that the time where I’m not on tour I don’t want to be even more on tour, I guess. It’s going to be too much.

“Mark [Jansen, Epica’s guitarist and co-singer], has a second band, MaYaN, and they’re a couple shows here and there, they did some tours in the past because Epica wasn’t touring. I also think that now I have to tour more with Epica, that I probably won’t be home or I have to take my son with me on tour and initially I don’t want to take him with me on tour.

“He’s going to stay home with my husband and my sister is also going to come to Germany to babysit. I want him to be at home and grow up in a safe, stable environment. And if he wants to join me on tour and the guys in the band are okay with that, you know, when he’s a little older, then I can maybe take him with me and combine the best of both worlds so I don’t have to miss him and he can check out what’s mommy doing and hopefully he’ll be proud of me.”

That seems beyond doubt.

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