This is a previously unpublished interview with Mark Jansen of Epica fame. The interview is about his side-project MaYaN and many other things! It dates back to around 19th April 2011.
First of all, MaYaN sounds quite different from your usual stuff with Epica to say the least. Were you looking for a specific sound?
When it started we had in mind that it should sound heavier, more aggressive and with more grunts than clean vocals. These were the things we had in mind, and all the rest was just the process – whatever we wrote, that would be the style. We didn’t think too much about these three things that I mentioned at the beginning. They were the starting points and all of the rest was just coming fluently. I wrote the music with MaYaN completely different to when I’m with Epica, that’s why it also sounds so different. In Epica I’m involved with the guitar riffs and with everything. I build songs from the ground, where with MaYaN, we’re sitting together with Frank, Jack and me. We together wrote all of the songs, and I think in the end Frank wrote 70% of the guitar riffs and I think that’s also one of the main reasons why it sounds so different compared to Epica.
Did you want to have something completely diverse from Epica?
Yes, if it would sound the same as the stuff I’m doing with Epica, for me it would be useless to start something new. It’s a new challenge, it’s a new style and sometimes I’m in need of something new to keep myself motivated, to explore new territories and that’s what MaYaN is for.
With MaYaN, who has influenced your work?
Since the past I have been listening to good old death metal bands like Gorefest, Death and Sepultura. When you write music at the beginning with After Forever and later with Epica, you are not restricted but you are limited in a certain way. You cannot do too heavy because then there’s no room for the female-fronted singing for example. With MaYaN there is room for that. So to give my old passion for death metal some more room – that’s why MaYaN stepped in. I’ve been listening to it since I was a kid, so it’s good to be back!
You can definitely sense it in the new album Quarterpast. But also, some riffs are even blackened and there’s a mix of power, prog and symphonic styles. What made you think that such a mash-up would work?
We didn’t think too much actually. When we wrote the music and sent it to Nuclear Blast they were enthusiastic about the music and that gave us the motivation to go on. We realised that it’s not the most easy combination, so we’ll have to see how people will react to music like this. If you give this album a chance of more than one listen, then you’ll know whether you like it or not. I think it’s a very difficult album to get into, but once you are into it then I think people can decide for themselves if they like it or not. I don’t know how many people will be that patient, we have to sit and wait. I just hope that people are going to enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it. I know that nowadays so many journalists don’t want to listen to an album over and over again, so I’m a bit worried that it will happen also. But what can you do?! [laughs] When you have a band like Within Temptation, it is easier to get into. But some bands like Opeth, you need to listen way more than one time before you start enjoying it.
You got to work with Jack Driessen again after working with him over ten-years ago in After Forever. How was that?
I always missed him a lot during the years. He quit After Forever for his studies and when the band became bigger he couldn’t afford to put more effort and more time into it. After all those years it was good to work with him again, and that he’s back on track and motivated. All these years it was not like we were not gone, but more like we just met yesterday and continued.
How was the recording process?
It was really fun to record this album. We were with the whole band in the studio most of the time and there’s a great chemistry and atmosphere. That’s something you miss when you record a lot of things in home studios. So we decided with MaYaN to record everything in the studio itself and be there also with the band. It has its advantages I must say. It’s a bit more expansive, that’s the disadvantage, but you really work like a band and you’ll hear the end result in it.
Lyrically, did you write the most of MaYaN’s content?
Yeah, I wrote all of the lyrics except for the Italian lyrics, they were written by Laura Macri, the opera singer. The second off last song (bonus track) Sinner’s Last Retreat was one I wrote together with Najla (Lebanese woman).
Has the MaYaN culture inspired these lyrics too?
The MaYaN culture inspires me in general a lot. The ancient cultures inspires me, especially also living in harmony with nature. For these lyrics it was not a direct influence on the Mayan culture, as I wrote many lyrics about propaganda, corruption, abuse of power from Governments or priests, so that was the idea of the album.
Does the track War On Terror lambaste Americanisation and look at themes with modern colonial undertones?
It’s not specifically about America, but this war on terror that is currently going on that is, in a way, promoting a war against Muslim extremism. I think most people obviously also see that it’s also a war about influence in the Arabic region and it’s about oil. One way or the other the true power of the world is controlled by a very small amount of people and they are the people who own the biggest companies. They rule Governments, they rule everything. So when there’s oil needed, they’re guaranteed for oil. Countries go to war for them, and everything is allowed to keep the oil flowing in. If you tell the people you have to send your sons and daughters away to war for our oil then there’s some resistance. But when you say our country is under attack by Muslim extremism, that causes fear to the people and they want to defend their country. It’s an old trick.
Do you think it’s like a cycle?
Yes it is, you can see it repeating itself every time during history. Libya is another story again. I also don’t know why sometimes there is international interference and why there is sometimes nothing going on for example in Africa the same kind of things happen but nobody seems to care. But when something in Libya is going on, suddenly France is present together with the United Nations. I also ask myself the question: why sometimes is it important for Europe and why sometimes it is not. The priorities in Africa is obviously way lower than the Arabic region.
France were the first ones in and President Sarkozy has his election coming up. Do you think that has any relevance?
Yeah, these kind of things are also important reasons. He wants to be re-elected and of course he uses things that makes him popular to the crowd again. It’s also a thing that is repeating itself all of the time. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s less obvious, but always there are some second intentions, which of course they try to hide. If you just imagine it exactly the way it is, then nobody supports the idea anymore.
In regards to the Mayan culture, do you think there are things we can learn from their history?
Yes, I think that we can learn a lot from them. Not only that they were living in way closer harmony with nature and we are destroying nature and therefore ourselves. That’s the main thing that we can learn from them but we can also learn from their calendar. They had a way better calendar than what we have. They had a calendar of 13-months, each of 28-days and it fits really well with the true cycling of nature. 13-months with 28-days, which is exactly four-weeks and a lot of companies already work this way in paying their employees because it’s way easier. We got rid of the 13-months because in Christianity thirteen is an unlucky number. Now we’re stuck with a calendar that is not in harmony with nature and it just doesn’t function that well. The Mayans had already a lot of knowledge and they knew of the existence of a solar calendar which they couldn’t see with the tools they had back in the days, so you wonder how did they know and how did they gather this knowledge? I think all of these things we have forgotten these days. The Mayans had a way of meditating to gain information in a way and nobody knows how they did it, something we forgot. We know that it’s evolution but we also throw things away that were very useful tools. I think the calendar now, because it’s not in harmony with nature and because it’s going against the streams of nature – I think in a way it’s what causes what people don’t live in harmony with nature anymore. If you have a calendar that is in harmony with nature I think people automatically live also in more harmony with nature. It’s easy to be ‘too good to be true’, but actually I think it really works that way.
Is the album name Quarterpast a reference to the cycle of time?
That’s not a direct reference to the cycle of time to Mayan. We did a contest with Epica fans to come up with an interesting name for the band, and actually we chose the name MaYaN ourselves. But there was one guy who sent the name Quarterpast and the explanation he gave was that it was people from After Forever working together with people from Epica – and the past and the present come together in a new band. That was a really nice explanation and we thought that’s won the album title, it sounds beautiful – so this guy won the contest and he was from the UK actually!
The album cover contrasts modern structures of factories with old imagery. Who designed it and what was the idea behind it?
It’s the guy who also did the album cover for the last Epica album Design Your Universe and he always delivers such great work that I also wanted to work with him with MaYaN. I sent him all of the lyrics and the concept and he started working and he made his own adaptation of what he thought out of the lyrics. We thought of the subjects like corruption and he used that on the cover. He gave me a whole explanation of what he meant on the cover, but I always also prefer that people have their own interpretation, not telling every detail of what the meaning of the designer is, but that people have their own fantasy about this cover. Some things are obvious like the guy who is deceiving the people, and other things are not, like the brain.
At the bottom of the cover you have the term symphonic death metal opera. Would you ever consider doing a real opera to be performed in theatre?
Yeah, that would be great, but I never got the chance so far. But if I ever get a chance to make a real opera with a full orchestra and singers then I will definitely take the challenge because that’s one of the wishes I still have and one of the things I will still like to do. One day if I get this chance I will take the chance with both hands for sure.
Are you particularly happy with the metal scene in the Netherlands at the minute?
Yes, I am happy. It’s always on the underground, because there’s never songs on the national radio, but actually maybe it has to be this way. It’s a music that’s not for everybody but people who don’t consume exactly what others want them to hear, want them to see, want them to eat, to use certain medicines. But there are also people who think for themselves. A lot of metal fans are people who think for themselves and decide themselves what kind of music they want to hear. I’m happy that it’s this way – that people make their own decision. I think the bands we have currently are also doing pretty well. Within Temptation are doing very well, Pestilence are together again and doing really well and also Delain are doing good. Floyd Jansen’s got a new band with ReVamp and you still have The Gathering, it’s a pity that Anneke (van Giersbergen) is not with the band anymore but they’re still around. I think it’s going well and hopefully it keeps this way. Netherlands have always had some good bands and still have some good bands. Hopefully also for the future.
You’re going to be touring Netherlands and you have some dates confirmed for Germany too. Are you looking forward to taking the role as a frontman as opposed to guitarist?
Yes, it’s a new experience for me. I’m the singer now and not the singer/guitar player more like I am in Epica, so for me it’s a new challenge that I’ve never done before. I did sometimes guest performances for other bands when I was doing only vocals, so I know what to expect more or less, but still there’s something new – I’ve never done a whole show like this. I’m really excited that there will be 14 of these shows and the release of the album around the same time. It’s exciting times for us!
Do you think you’ll be able to balance Epica and MaYaN with no problems?
For sure there will be some problems sooner or later especially if MaYaN will be successful. If that’s the case the we’ll need to plan really well for tours. I don’t see it as a problem but more as an opportunity. If we can do more touring because of both bands then it’s a positive development and I don’t think any band will suffer from the other band. On the contrary I think both bands will benefit from each other.
Do you think you could benefit from each other with MaYaN perhaps touring with Epica?
Yeah, we were thinking about that. It’s the easiest solution, but of course we have to see if that’s possible because it’s quite intense with what MaYaN is playing, especially for the drummer Ariën. He would have to do a whole Epica set after a MaYaN set and we have to see if he can do that! And also if he can do it for the whole tour!
He could be on the edge of exhaustion there surely?!
He’s already joking about it, that he’s going to train like Arnold Schwarzenegger! Just to see if he can do it!
Do you think you’d like to bring MaYaN over to England this year or perhaps the next?
Yeah, definitely. I say to everybody if people like the music, and there’s days for coming over, then we certainly will do. It just depends on whether people are going to like the album or not.
Away from music, what is the typical day for Mark Jansen?
I’m sporting – I like running, fitness, swimming, playing football – that kind of stuff. I like to read books, and relax and be in nature, to go on long walks and I like to travel. There are many other things I really enjoy when I’m not playing music.
When you’re reading, do you read about the Mayan culture?
I read many things about it and I watch documentaries on the Mayan culture. Nowadays there are many documentaries that film about 2012 and about disaster, so it’s a bit of a pity that a lot of documentaries are not so much to do with the Mayan culture itself anymore, but more about excitement and the end of the world. These kind of documentaries I do not like. I like the real things. People are always searching for sensation and to fear for people. That’s nothing new and now it’s the 2012 thing. For sure, people are destroying themselves, that is obvious but I don’t believe in the end of the world. Even if people destroy themselves with nuclear weapons, the Earth would survive. I never think that the Earth is going to end by us, we are too little to destroy the world.
Do you think that alien life exists?
The Universe is almost infinite, so it’s almost impossible that there is no life. It always fascinates me. I don’t really believe in aliens with these green heads but I know for sure that there is life on other planets as well, because the chances are just so big that it’s so possible. It cannot be that there is no life.
Interview by Calum Robson.