Epica - Rob Van Der Loo

EPICA did another North US tour getting on the road the “The Solace System” EP and METAL KAOZ had the chance to chat with the band’s bassist Rob Van Der Loo some hours before the Joliet show. Check below how the discussion went down.

Epica - Rob Van Der Loo

Let’s start with the obvious question; how has been the tour so far?
So far, so good; this is the sixth show on this tour and we started in Boston, did three shows in Canada and yesterday we were in Cleveland, and today we are in Joliet.

Awesome! EPICA released a six-track EP so my first question about it is whether this material had been already written and recorded for the last LP, “The Holographic Principle”?
You could say that the EP contains leftover stuff but I would not use that term. I mean, to me the term ‘leftovers’ sounds a bit disrespectful for those songs. What we did is that for “The Holographic Principle” we wrote about 25 tracks and we did the pre-production for them. Eventually we chose 18 tracks to record and of course you have to make a selection because, as you know, there is room for 75 minutes on the CD, so you have to find the songs that kind of fit together and give the album a good balance. We chose 12 tracks, so we were left with six tracks and it would have been weird not to release them because those were pretty good songs. It is not that those were the weakest tracks because, as I said, we chose the tracks for the album that would fit together the best. We had the opportunity to use them as bonus tracks, but to be honest, I don’t really like that because it feels like the songs are something like b-tracks.

…It is almost the same with calling them ‘leftovers’…
Exactly, so this is why we chose to put them together and release them as an EP.

One could have thought of keeping those songs for the next full length album.
Yeah, that could have been the case but since we had already recorded them, it would have been kind of weird because whenever you start recording a new album, you are in a different vibe in every aspect; from writing, recording, there are different settings and so on. So, those songs would not have been a good fit to the new recordings. I must say though, that from the previous sessions we have around seven concepts left that we may be using for the next album.

…So, you do have leftover material... (laughs)
(laughs) Well, you always have an archive with ideas which are pretty good but they do not fit for the time being and probably can work better a few years later. I mean, we used some concepts from “Quantum Enigma” that did not fit into that album and eventually landed in to “The Holographic Principle”.

When you say ‘concepts’, what exactly do you mean? Are you talking about musical concepts?
Yes, and this is how we work. First, we start working on the music and someone from the band will come with an idea or some sort of a sketch for a song and then, we give it to our producer Joost [Van Den Broek] and we will start pre-producing with everybody getting involved. Mark and Simone will start working on the lyrics and the lyrics and this is how the song eventually grows.

So, everybody gets involved in the writing / recording sessions?

However, there must be someone who will have the final word, right? I mean, who says ‘let’s stop working on this song and move to the next one’?
I guess, the main responsible person for this is our producer Joost. He will say “guys, this is it”. Otherwise, you have to deal with six different opinions and it may never end.

The fans may be thinking there is democracy in the band but really, someone has to be in charge.
Well, yes, and this is the reason why we have chosen to work with Joost and I see him as our musical babysitter, if you know what I mean (laughs).

(laughs) I see what you’re saying. Looking at EPICA discography, although you have not been with the band from day one, I can see how the band has been evolving and how the music has become thicker and more complex. So, how can you surpass yourself by doing something better each time? Because, there is always the danger of over-complicating the songs…
Of course, and we have learned from working on the last album about things that work great and things that did not fit on our way of working. With every album you learn, you discover new things and see what works and it doesn’t. One of the main things where EPICA has improved is that it is better to work as a band. In the past and from what I have heard from the guys is that they used to write songs on the road and everybody was recording their parts separately and did not do this as a group. Now, what we done is take the demos and enter the studio to start rehearsing them. We want to catch the live vibe of the band because normally you record a song and then it starts growing once you go on the road and start playing it. But we want to be one step ahead and we rehearse the material to get the same feeling and energy.

After all, with such complicated song structures, if the music works in the studio, but does not when onstage, then you have a big problem.
Exactly, and this is why we have to be ahead of that.

Ok, you are the ‘new’ guy in the band.
[interrupting] For five years (laughs)...

…right, but you know, for a band that has been around for so long, you’ll be the ‘new guy’ for a long time. Anyway, what have you changed in your bass playing or in your way of recording? I don’t know if it is just my ears, but I hear more bass in the last two EPICA releases.
You are right, there is more bass. There is a lot that has been evolving and of course when I joined EPICA, I wanted to respect the old songs even though the guys told me from the very beginning that I should do my thing also for the old material. Sure, I will always give my own twist to a song but I want to respect the song and don’t change the lines or the sound that much. For instance, I am more of a finger-playing bassist and Yves [Huts] used to be more of a guitar-pick player and I copied that because I think it fits better to the EPICA sound. The only thing that may have changed is that I am more of an aggressive player compared to him and I really want to hear this on the record.

Did you switch from finger to guitar-pick playing?
Well, I’ve always been a fifty-fifty on this; what matters to me is what works best for a song. There is no ego involved to me wanting to show how fast I can play. I am pretty functional player and I do whatever works best. I have a Progressive background and I used to play with SAN CAGED, DELAIN and I also played in the MAYAN albums where the playing is completely different; way more complex than EPICA.

Did you change at all your sound or the way you record the basslines?
I don’t think so; it is just how things evolved that way. I always experiment with new equipment, different sounds, so I think it came naturally. I mean, it was not like I was looking for something new or whatever.

One of the complaints I have with Metal is that sometimes the bass gets buried…
That’s true.

When you have such a complex sound like EPICA do, then it is hard for me to see some space for the bass. But I do hear the bass in the last EPICA recordings.
You are absolutely right and one more important thing to have in your bass sound is to not have over-complicated lines. There are many bass players who make the bass-lines so complicated that they do not cut through and I like to keep them simpler and also because what matters is the song.

I absolutely agree!
Thank you.

So, is it easier to put together an EP instead of working on an entire album? Or is it more difficult because you have to put your best material in the EP?
This album was the most complex one to put together or to choose what songs to include. When we were doing the listening sessions for the Press we had not chosen the final order of the songs and even what songs to put in the album. We did three different listening sessions and put together all the songs because we did not know which of them would work the best. We only had the intro, “Edge Of The Blade” and the title track; the rest was open. And we had quite a few conversations and arguments about this... and we kept trying to figure this out. Finally, we realized that we should keep everything and choose the songs to go in the album and then decide what to do with the rest.

Well, nowadays I think most people choose to listen to single songs instead of the entire albums.
Yeah, you are right but we have to move with the time and you kind of see how albums are disappearing with time. Although I definitely see EPICA as an album band but there is a big chance of releasing more EPs in the future - you never know. Perhaps next, when we will have like 20 songs and think that it would be cool to release something like a trilogy of EPs instead of one LP and one EP - you never know. And some bands are actually doing this, like for example DOWN, although it is an entire different genre, having been releasing only EPs and this works pretty well.

To me, if there are no fillers in an EP, then I am perfectly ok.
I am not a fan of fillers either; I’d rather listen to an album with like 7-8 songs which are really good with a total time duration of 35 minutes and re-listen it than having an album full of fillers or skip songs.

EPICA won the Metropole Orchestra competition.

But what was this competition exactly?
Well, you probably have never heard of the Metropole Orchestra before...

No, I haven’t and now you are making me feel bad about it (laughs).
No man, don’t worry. This is one of the biggest orchestras in Holland and they work with the biggest mainstream / Pop acts. For EPICA winning this competition means that the band gets a lot of recognition. I can understand that people from other countries may think “Ok, this is another orchestra” but it is not, because major acts have been working with them and a Metal band doesn’t get a lot of recognition in your country. For instance, mainstream TV programs are always promoting a Pop band which may have played in a venue in front of 200 people and are saying things like “oh, they are great” but they never talk about a band like EPICA that has been touring the whole world playing in way bigger venues. It is not that I don’t respect the other bands but the main thing is that you never hear them talking about Metal bands.

What was the price for winning the competition?
The price was actually to go into the studio with the Metropole Orchestra and record a song.

Do you think that you may be using this song in the next album? After all, EPICA always have orchestra parts or symphonic arrangements.
To a certain extent, this will not be new for us, of course, and I think the most important thing about this is getting the recognition from the Dutch media. Like I said, there are many Pop acts getting all the recognition and the airplay, so now people may hear about this weird symphonic Metal band that you never hear about.

Got it. Working with a live orchestra has become quite difficult economically speaking.
Yes, it has. In the last album we worked with a full orchestra so it is not impossible. And this is one of the things that EPICA has evolved: in “Quantum Enigma” we started using more live instruments instead of using software. Of course, software is getting better every year and it is cheaper but it will never top the real deal.

You also need a director to help you out with the arrangements, right?
Yeah, but we also do a lot of stuff on our own. It is a lot of work other way; in the last album I remember Joost saying that “for this song we recorded like a thousand tracks and you only need four max to keep the whole thing running”.

Oh my, that’s heavy!
Yes, it is. So yeah, in the last album almost everything you hear comes from an actual instrument and there is a real person playing it.

Awesome! So, after this tour, EPICA goes back in Europe and will be playing there until December; then you have some shows in Europe scheduled in April, so between those two, there is a gap. Are there plans to fill this?
Well, we have some touring plans but I cannot talk about the specifics yet. But what I can say is that the agenda is pretty full until the summer of 2018.

Is there a chance to see EPICA again here in the States?
I don’t think so because this is the second US tour we did for this album and, to be honest, I am quite surprised that this happened. It does not happen often to see about revisiting a continent during the same album-touring cycle.

Maybe, taking advantage of the US working visa is one of the reasons or this?
It is, but it's not the main reason; in our case, this happened because the last tour was such a success and it was great hearing from the booking agency that they wanted to do another US tour.

Yeah, that makes perfectly sense. So, aside from EPICA, do you have something else that you are working on?
To be honest, there is not much time to have side projects and especially this year has been crazy. However, I also work as a teacher in the so-called Metal Factory which is an official academy for Metal musicians and is based in Holland.

This is quite interesting, Rob. Is it recognized by the government?
Yes, it is and I think it is the first one in the world. We have a pretty cool team from TEXTURES members, the guitarist from WITHIN TEMPTATION is teaching among others. I mean, we have people from the entire Metal scene.

This is an interesting concept and I think it would be cool to see such academies in other countries.
Yes, and in fact, there is a lot of interest from people who want to come to our school but there are issues having to do with funding and other stuff so it is a little bit of complex right now. But I see this happening in the future and we will be expanding in other countries as well.

The course is done in Dutch?
Yes, for the time being the lessons are in Dutch but you never know because there is interest from people from other countries. So, yeah I have this and I occasionally I do some session work, I have also a project coming up for a video game and some other stuff; I am always busy.

Is it a well-known video game?
Yes, it is but I cannot reveal the details. There are a lot of famous musicians who will be working on this. It will be pretty cool.

And on that note, we can wrap this up, unless you want to reveal something else... (laughs)
(laughs) I think we covered everything, guys. Thank you very much.