» Isaac Delahaye - Epica
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Interview conducted March 1 2017
Interview published March 12 2017

"You wanna keep doing what you do now and make some smart decisions about that."

Metal Covenant met up with Belgian lead guitarist Isaac Delahaye of otherwise Dutch symphonic metallers Epica before the band's performance in Stockholm on their European Principle Tour in support of last year's album The Holographic Principle.

Tobbe: Many people tend to put a lot of bands with a female vocalists in one specific genre, like female fronted metal, and after all these years, are you okay with that label, or would you rather prefer being called, like, symphonic metal?

Isaac: Oh, you know, it's something that I couldn't care less about. I know that journalists kind of have to put you into a certain category, because you kind of have to talk about what's going on. You know, if you have a magazine you have to tell the people with words what it sounds like or you have to kind of address a certain review to a certain fan of a certain genre. So I do get it and if they wanna call it symphonic, or female fronted symphonic, or whatever, I don't care too much about it.

You know, whenever I read a review of a band I don't know I would just, like, go on YouTube and check them out and then you know what they're talking about. If you just read the words you have no clue, so. But I do get it, for journalists, they have to fill up all the pages on that magazine and all that and they have to get new content, so I do get it.

Tobbe: At the same time you're involving a lot of other different things in your music too, like harsh male vocals, and might that be a little bit confusing to people who listen to it for the first time?

Isaac: Oh yeah, I guess. I mean, if they expect female fronted and they hear Mark [Jansen. Also guitars] grunting, then that's something you wouldn't expect, I guess. And then again, you know, it's hard to put a label on a band. I can understand maybe in the beginning of heavy metal that it was all heavy metal and then after a while they started coming up with different names.

So to me it makes more sense to call it symphonic metal, 'cause it's metal with a lot of symphonic influences and classical music, and movie scores, so there's kind of a symphony backing us up. But then again, even if you have the same band not every album is the same. If you listen to the first one we did and then the last one it's the same band, the same ingredients, but it's just a different look on the same genre, I think.

Tobbe: Your last record, The Holographic Principle, was out in September last year and what does that record have that your previous records don't?

Isaac: Different songs. [Laughs] No, I mean, back in the days I think Epica was more of a, let's say symphonic band backed up by a metal band, so to speak. You know, there was lots of focus on the orchestral melodies and all that and the metal band itself was more like a… Well, it's not as black and white as I say it now, but it was more like backing up the orchestration, whereas now I think it's pretty much upside down where you have a pretty heavy metal band which is backed up by orchestration.

And you still have all the same elements. But yeah, it just kind of changes that way and for some reason we're a band who with every album gets heavier. I don't know why, but, you know… And in the past, sometimes for certain people it was, like, too hard because of the grunts and that stuff and then for other people it wasn't hard enough and "Oh no, you have a girl on vocals and there's violins and all that, so it's nothing for me." and I think nowadays we just have kind of a wider fanbase because we just kind of claimed that position into the really heavy bands, but also sounding different than a death metal band, you know.

Tobbe: So is your goal always to improve with each record made or have you stopped looking back at what you've done before? Like "Let's make the best possible record without looking at the past."?

Isaac: Well, I think we do look at the past and you just try to learn from your mistakes or you try to learn from "Okay. We've done this and I think we're at the end of that road. Let's switch to a different road.". It's difficult to say, because I just pick up that guitar or I have a melody popping up in my head and then I start working on it and you just put the elements together and you just hope for the best. [Laughs]

I mean, along the years we do know all the strengths and weaknesses of each band member, so for choir arrangements, it's Coen [Janssen, keyboards] who's doing that. He's like really brilliant with that. You know, so you just go with whatever you have in the band and it's about being honest. The last two albums we actually rehearsed, which is for most bands probably a normal thing, but it wasn't for us, 'cause we just wrote everything in our home studio and sending files via email and then having a drop-box and just having that going on.

And now, with the last two albums we started rehearsing again, after writing stuff in our home studio. It makes a huge difference, you know. And then you have to be honest. You have to tell some other guy who just wrote what he thought was a brilliant song, like "Nah, I'm not sure.". But the other way around as well. You know, where people would comment on my songs and like "Ah, I would skip this whole part." and you're like "Oh. Why?".

But in the end you just want everyone to be happy and you have to be open-minded for that and it's not always easy, but, you know, we're at this stage where you should just say whatever you think, right? And I guess that's also part of the strength of the band, where you can get better because of more experience.

Tobbe: Ever since you joined the band in 2009 you've always contributed to the songwriting and was that kind of a demand from your side when you entered the band?

Isaac: No, not really. Actually I joined on January 8th, I think, and on January 9th, which is my birthday, I already was sitting behind my computer in my home studio and rearranging guitars for Design Your Universe [2009]. So from day 1, they gave me all the demos they had. "This is what we came up with and whatever you come up with we can just see where it takes us.". So it was pretty much, you know, a very smooth thing. So I joined the band when the songwriting for Design The Universe was already done and I did change a good bit of the guitar parts, but the actual writing started for me on Requiem For The Indifferent [2012].

Tobbe: So in your own words, to which extent has your input, ever since you first joined, affected the band, in a positive way?

Isaac: It's of course really difficult to say, but I think I'm part of the reason we get heavier and I think I'm part of the reason to, what I explained earlier, like, we have the same ingredients, but we just kind of switch it around, where the guitar riff is more prominent. When I was around, let's say 15, I got to know Machine Head, Pantera, Sepultura, Rage Against The Machine, all these bands. They were popping up, just like that, every week a new band, and I was blown away, literally. Just amazing albums and it was all kind of new to me and I discovered this whole metal scene and it blew my mind.

And I still remember that feeling, but nowadays if I listen to albums I don't have that feeling anymore. You know, you have heard a lot of stuff and it's very rare that you find an album where you're like totally blown away or that you're super excited. So with The Holographic Principle, what I wanted to do was, like, to impress the 15 year old Isaac, so to speak. Like, I wanna write riffs where if I were 15 again and I would hear this album I want to be blown away by the guitars. Of course there's so much stuff going on in our music so I couldn't do that with every riff and there needs to be a certain balance as well.

But, you know, I'm always after writing stuff and I was, like, taking a little distance and just thinking if that was something that I would be impressed by if I were 15 again. So that's how I approached the guitars this time and I think it kind of worked.

Tobbe: On your 4 albums with Epica you've worked with two different producers, Sascha [Paeth] and Joost [van den Broek], so what's the difference between working with those two guys and in what way do they influence the band?

Isaac: Sascha is located in Germany, so being a Belgian/Dutch band it's a bigger distance, so you actually go there and then you record. And with Joost nowadays, it's in Holland so it's pretty close by and I can just drive up and down and just call in and, like "Oh maybe next week you have an afternoon for me and we can work on stuff?". So that's already different. And it's the same language we speak, so that makes a huge difference.

But Sascha was still involved for the latest two albums, or partially involved, in the writing of some vocal lines, 'cause he really has an ear for that and he can just pop out a really nice, catchy melody, so he is still involved. You know, we had this Retrospect show, 10 years of Epica [2013], and it was like "Okay. If we wanna go on for 10 more years we shouldn't do exactly the same. We should maybe try to find something else.". So it's not like we didn't like Sascha anymore and whatnot. It was more like "Okay. We feel it's maybe time to search for something else.".

And we had this project for Dutch TV where someone who had a dream, like a sort of dream factory, and he wanted to record a song with Epica. So we participated in that project and that was with Joost in his studio because that was logistically more easy for the TV show and for us and all that. So that was the first time that we did something not with Sascha, for Epica, and it was pretty cool, you know. It was very smooth and all of that, so that kind of made us think of maybe changing something. So yeah, I think it's just refreshing if you now and then just change things around.

Tobbe: So Epica is not really a big act, but not some small act either of course, so is a band of your size, like, always in a region where you have to all the time live with a certain amount of stress to keep yourselves above the surface?

Isaac: Well, you know, we just, like, sold out the Zénith in Paris, which obviously is not something a lot of bands do. [Almost 5000 people watched the show.] But then we're here in Sweden and for some reason it's really, really, hard for us here, but we love to come back 'cause we love to play and all that and as long as people want us here then we'll come back, but then we're in a small venue like this. [Debaser Strand. Capacity about 400, I reckon.] So it's always kind of going up and down, you know.

Like in South America we're pretty big and then also I see us, like, climbing up on European festivals and always getting higher on the bill, so I guess we're still growing as a band. But yeah, for some reason the Northern countries are not really that interested in Epica. But then again, you have a million bands here, so.

Tobbe: And as you are getting older and start having families and stuff, does the room for Epica become smaller and smaller all the time, because, as you know, combining family life with being a touring musician isn't always a walk in the park of course?

Isaac: We have some, like, rules about that, if you want. Of course we're doing, like, a world tour, but we have different sections and in between those sections we have a couple of weeks at home. I don't have kids, but Coen has two kids and Simone [Simons, vocals] has one son, so for them it's probably more difficult. We used to play way more, but now we have these breaks in between and all that and it seems to work up until now.

And I mean, in the end it's what you choose for, so you kind of know it's gonna be like that, and it sucks, but then again, you know, if you work 9 to 5 I guess some days you go to work and you think that sucks as well. So, the grass is always greener on the other side…

Tobbe: But is that also a way to be able to recharge your batteries?

Isaac: Yeah, of course. Because it's not only like, like you said, a walk in the park, even if you're on tour and that's the only thing you want. Just to keep the train going you need this time off to, like, prepare stuff. We have a manager, but we still try to be involved ourselves as much as possible, even if it's sitting at home and making the next rider for a coming European tour in half a year or thinking about or designing new posters or artwork or whatnot. This all has to be done and it's really difficult if you're on tour to get a lot of work done. So it's good to have some consistency with that as well.

So, it's charging the batteries, meeting up with friends and family, just relaxing at home, but also getting work done, so you can continue to do that. 'Cause at a certain time in the past we didn't have a manager. Up until 2013, so the first 10 years was without a management and at a certain point you're, like, touring so much and you just go with the flow and you're like "Okay. You booked that tour and that's fine for us.", but nowadays we go way more into detail about everything, which is good.

Tobbe: What's the most important thing that you guys in the band discuss today, at this point in your career?

Isaac: Well, I guess that's the balance between this life, so to speak, and your life next to the band. I guess that's it. You know, that's probably the most important. I mean, we're not 18 anymore, so. At 18 you don't give a shit and you just wanna play.

Tobbe: But you're not that old…

Isaac: Well, but still. 35 is an age where you kind of, you know, I've bought a house and I have a girlfriend and all that. So you kind of need to also think about the future. You wanna keep doing what you do now and make some smart decisions about that. And it still has to be fun, for everyone, and not everyone has the same opinion, so that's why we could have a discussion about certain things, like "Do we wanna do this tour or that tour?" or, you know "What's the plan for the future?". So, I would say like that. To keep the balance within the band and within the two different lives.

Tobbe: So you're pretty open to each other in the band?

Isaac: Oh yeah. You have to be, which is not always easy, 'cause everyone has a different perspective on life, on the band, on whatever you do, you know. You have to be honest and respect each other's choices or views on that.

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