Isaac Delahaye is the lead guitarist for symphonic metal band Epica and, prior to that, he was the lead guitarist in the Dutch death metal band God Dethroned. A week ago we had the pleasure to meet him at Epica’s sold out show in Glasgow (review and images here).
The interview took place the day after the attacks in Paris and on The Bataclan music venue. We chatted about that and many other things including the tour, album, gear, and how not to go insane on tour.
Martin: Hi it’s Martin from Moshville Times and I am here with Isaac from Epica. How are you doing today?
Isaac: I’m very good, thank you.
Martin: It has been really busy time for Epica touring and promoting your latest release of The Quantum Enigma, you’ve been almost constantly playing worldwide since its release. How are you guys coping with life on the road?
Isaac: Well, you know, it’s our life. It always has good sides and bad sides but we can’t complain, the tour has been going great and the album has been doing really good. On the last US tour we had we had a little setback because Simone’s dad was in hospital so we had to fly home and cancel the rest of that tour but we have already rescheduled that so we will go back to the US early next year and yeah…it’s good fun, we have a good team, a good crew, people are coming to the show so that’s great…tonight is sold out too…you know, we can’t complain at all!
Martin: For people coming along tonight, and other dates on the tour, what can they expect from the show?
Isaac: Well, I think Epica is…we try for ourselves to always make the live show more then just playing our songs, we invest quite a lot in the production. In this tour that is especially with the lights, however this is a kind of smaller venue, smaller stage so we could not bring the whole set up, it’s still in the back of the truck but, you know, we pulled out most of it and also, as a band, we still really enjoy playing together and I think that translates on the stage. You don’t just see six people doing their job basically, you see them like having a good time and trying to entertain. Yeah, exactly, it’s always good fun.
Martin: it’s always better to see a band enjoying themselves…
Isaac: Yeah, yeah…also for the band, you know, it’s much easier to go through the whole set and the whole tour like that…if you just have a good time.
Martin: On your tour you visit many different countries: Turkey, Russia, Sweden, South America to name a few. Is there any of these places that holds any special memories for you? Is there any memory or experience you’d like to share?
Isaac: Well, you know, every country kinda has its things you kinda remember, venues or certain people who come at the venue. There’s always something that reminds me of something that happened in the past or something. For instance Glasgow: I know that the longest bar in the world is in Glasgow, it’s 32 meters long…
Martin: I didn’t know that!
Isaac: oh well, there you go then. It’s something called, I think it’s something called like The Horse Shoe? [Yup! Check this out]. So, anyway, that’s because one tour I kinda looked up on the internet funny facts about every city we played at, so that’s why I know this useless information unless you have an interview with a question like that, and then you know, the more South you go the more enthusiastic the crowd, in terms of expressing themselves, they get more wild and the more North the more reserved but that’s not always a bad thing. It’s a good change to have it like that. I remember when I played with my previous band God Dethroned in Dublin and people just stood there, they barely clapped between the songs and we actually skipped two songs on that show because we thought people just weren’t into it and afterward our whole merch booth and everything was sold out, people loved it, they came to us afterward ‘what a fabulous show’ and so, it’s just different you know and it’s the same with the food and the climate and all that, it’s just one of the coolest things to be on tour. In a very short time also you kinda go from the North of Europe to the South and back and all these different cultures and all that so it’s a cool experience time after time.
Martin: Maybe depends also on what night you are playing in the week as well if you play on a Wednesday night in Ireland, or playing on a Saturday it’s probably different?
Isaac: Yeah, I mean, also for instance Germany, the West and the East, it’s still kind of a difference. It’s just kind of a mentality thing and sometimes, especially if you play the bigger cities people are spoiled, they get to see bands like every day so it’s nothing really impressive anymore I guess, but you know, that’s just a good thing for us we just need to convince more, like do it and go for it 200%.
I like shows like that you know, it’s also good if people just go totally berserk from second one like in South America but, you know, every audience… it’s the same when people ask me ‘What do you like more festivals or club shows?’ I like both but by the end of the festival season I ache for the club shows and the other way around. I think that’s the main thing, like I said before, it’s a very versatile business. You get to play for 5000 people and then again for 500 in another side of the world and then you play a festival for 100,000 people and only 2000 know your band so it’s always a good challenge and I like it that way.
Martin: It’s a long time to be traveling how to you keep your-self’s amused and stop yourselves from going insane?
Isaac: (Laughing) we do occasionally go insane but that’s alright. Well, it depends again on what you are actually doing, right now we are working on a new album so obviously when we are on the road some of us still like to work on that. I really love playing finger picking acoustic guitar so whenever I have some spare time I would get it out of the bus and just noodle around. Eventually I maybe want to record a solo album with stuff like that, like Chet Atkins or Tommy Emmanuel stuff, which is totally different from what I do but I just love the fact that you can do it on your own, you don’t need a band, all you need is a guitar and that’s it. Apart from that I like reading, staying in touch, nowadays it’s easy with the internet, stay in touch with family and friends at home, the older you get it seems like the more important it is so that’s also something which kinda keep us busy some hours a day I guess, and you know now I have a disc herniation which I am still trying to get rid of, but usually I would do workouts on tour and just try to stay healthy. Simone likes shopping for instance so I would occasionally join her for that or just go and see the area if we haven’t played there a million times before and it’s still new or go back to places where you had good memories or something…there’s always enough stuff to do, this is kinda…some people like my friends don’t always get what it’s like to be on tour but you have friends all over the world and you have cool bars and cool people, the same with the first question, there is in every country, every venue, every city has kinda its memories and you make a habit of…for instance in Berlin we always have a party on the bus afterward and in Zlín, Czech Republic, we always have our tour manager baking pancakes for us…it sounds very silly, you know, but if you are on the road it’s kind of a routine and it’s just cool to…
Martin: ..something to look forward to…
Isaac: Exactly…it keeps it fresh and it’s a kind of homecoming feeling whatever you wanna call it…
Martin: You mention you had a herniation, I didn’t realize that, what’s that? What happened there?
Isaac: I think because of 15 years of crazy headbanging I got it. My chiropractor at home was a really good friend of mine, he was very kind to help me out but if the job calls I have to go out on tour and go on stage again so I have to do it, I don’t do the windmill anymore because that’s the baddest thing for me at the moment but I can’t just stand there and play my part, I have to go crazy once in a while but it’s going alright. It happened during the last US tour, one day I woke up with my whole right arm up to my thumb that felt really numb and I felt like shooting pain so that was not good but now it’s better I reckon. It was also hard to play because I couldn’t really feel the guitar pick in my hand so it was not very comfortable but now I am alright again so I just don’t windmill anymore and that should do the trick I guess.
Martin: You’re almost at the end of the UK length of the tour and in just over a weeks time you’ll be headlining the first edition of your own “Epic Metal fest” in Eindhoven. How did this event come about, can you tell us a bit more about it?
Isaac: Sure. Basically a couple of years ago we had a decade of Epica and we did the Retrospect show and we also recorded a DVD of that event. It was with full choir, full orchestra, a really great show and a cool venue. It’s a 4500 capacity venue in Holland and we sold that one out for Retrospect and basically around that time we also kinda had the idea to maybe do something with a festival. You know, it just seemed right now to do it. We started to look out for partners, asked a couple of bands if they were interested to play at the show and so far we have bands like Sepultura, Moonspell, Fear Factory, Eluveitie, Scar Symmetry, Dagoba, Delain…there’s nine bands in total and as you’ve already mentioned it’s the first time, so we just wanna see what happens. Pre-sales are pretty good…
Martin: It could be an annual thing, depends how it goes?
Isaac: Yeah, if this is like…we don’t expect it to sell out or anything we just wanna like test out the water so to speak and just see if there’s people interested to come to the show and then, like you said, we can do it maybe annually, maybe take it to different countries, we can just see whenever we think is good and in one week basically the new album should be out somewhere at the same time like one year from now so it could be a good reason to do it again and have a release party, being Epic Metal Fest part 2…
Martin: Will you have a full orchestra for that show?
Isaac: No, no, now that’s gonna be the last Dutch show for The Quantum Enigma because then, basically, we go back to the studio and start recording so, like I said, we just wanted to test out the waters and see what happens. The orchestra and the choir is such a huge undertaking and we just wanted to focus first on the actual festival because that’s already enough work. The other show was just Epica playing, no other bands so then we could focus on the choir, and the orchestra, we have one week of rehearsals in the venue now that’s not possible we just do this one day. If things turn out well we can do it again.
Martin: Yeah, I am sure it would be great…
Martin: Can you tell me a bit about your gear and setup? What guitars, amp, pedals do you use when you’re on the road?
Isaac: I use Ibanez guitars, it’s a custom 7 string Darkstone model, basically, when I joined Epica I went to Ibanez headquarters in Holland and tried some models and I really liked the Darkstone 6 strings but they didn’t have it in 7 strings so I asked them if they could make it. They made three prototypes which I have myself still to today…yeah, I just liked that they are pretty heavy for an Ibanez guitar and it kinda has a thicker neck which I like. It’s harder for soloing but for rhythm guitar is really tight, I like a thick neck.
Martin: They made it into a production guitar now or is still a one off only for you?
Isaac: Yeah, it’s a one off. I think even the 6 string model they took it out of their line so I’m lucky enough to have those three, they actually don’t own any of the prototypes themselves so I got really lucky with that. We are renegotiating on what we can do for the future and all options are open I guess, but so far I still use those and they are still great, no need to get new stuff. Then for amps I use Bogner Uberschall and I’ve been using those for years. It’s a very raw amp, no bullshit, no reverb, no nothing, just two channels: one clean, one gain, and that’s it, you know, the less the better.
Martin: …less to go wrong…
Isaac: Yeah, I used to have these days when I was 16, I wanted to have all these 19 inch racks and all the blah blah blah but you know…
Martin: …it looks nice with all the fancy flash lights…
Isaac: Yeah, exactly, it’s fancy and all that but it doesn’t make you play any better so…also all the delay or reverb I would use over solos it’s all controlled from the front of house, I don’t do it myself…
Martin: …so you never press any pedals someone else does it for you?
Isaac: …well I have the only two pedals I use is the noise suppressor to get the rhythm stuff tight and I just push it whenever I have a solo and push it again if I go back to rhythm guitar and that’s it. I have of course a channel switch and I have a tuner, that’s it, very simple. We all play with in-ears so for the solos I get the dry signal which is sometimes challenging because you don’t hear the delay or anything like that but it makes me play better actually, you don’t get all the fancy stuff so you have to concentrate on the actual notes and that’s basically it. Ernie Balls 7 strings purple pack, the standard pack, and 1mm guitar pick.
Martin: is that like a Dunlop Jazz III or something?
Isaac: It’s from InTune Guitar Picks, they are custom made for us. It’s just a brand you know with the Epica logo on it and then my name. I don’t care too much which brand it will be as long as it is 1mm.
Martin: Do you use that same setup live as you do in the studio?
Isaac: No…well…basically I do but there are some changes here and there. Like I said before the Darkstone is not really made for fast shredding because of the thick neck so sometimes I still use it for solos in the studio but mostly I would go for a more of a small or thinner neck, for some parts I use a 6 string Les Paul Black Beauty ’cause it’s really tight in the 6 strings region. I used one of the Bullseyes guitars of Zakk Wylde…what’s the brand again…Epiphone custom. Sometimes I use classical guitars, and acoustic is a Maton which is an Australian brand it’s a Tommy Emmanuel 808 custom series. As far as amps go for the last album I used the 25th anniversary Shiva Bogner which is very very good and has a, like the Uberschall and it’s like a beast in a box if you wanna look at it like that. It kinda goes everywhere and at the same time is very angry and the Shiva’s kinda got the same gain, same aggression but it’s more compressed so you get it more evenly out of the amp.
Martin: Is it a lower wattage amp, is it?
Isaac: No, I don’t think so, I can’t remember exactly…it’s also different from the normal Shiva version, that version is really…when I heard I was like ‘Yeah I wanna use that!’ and than for the more, let’s say, higher pitch, crunchy sound and overall sound I used the SansAmp pre-amp and for the Axe-Fx, second version, for more the bottom end I had the mid-range coming out of the Shiva and then added a little crunchiness with the SansAmp and added a little bottom end with the Axe-Fx and then you can blend it in wherever you need it.
Martin: Would you do it all on the one guitar recording or you record several guitars?
Isaac: This time we just had like two guitars, I record all the guitars and I would just go left and right basically, and just record one track per guitar. There’s different layers of chords and sometimes if you have melodies, but the basic rhythm guitar is just two guitars.
Martin: Do you have a warm up routine that you go through before going on stage?
Isaac: Basically I drink a glass of wine, maybe more and I go through all the solos I play that night, that’s basically it, and I do all the basic trrraan trrraan trrraan (you need to hear that!) stuff like that to warm up and get the right hand for the rhythm going and for the left hand just do the solos. It’s five minutes maybe.
Martin: Your music is made of a complex layering of orchestra, metal instrumentation, choir and different vocal lines. How do you go about writing music this complex? Do you start with the harmony, the melodies, or the lyrics?
Isaac: It’s always different, you know, lately we all write, except for Simone but all the guys are writing songs and as a guitar player I would mostly start with a guitar riff and take it from there but sometimes I can start with just the melody I kinda hear and for some reason when I start writing a song…two days later it’s finished. I don’t need a lot of time, I mean finished…we still have a lot of orchestration and all of that but the basic structure and the melodies and all that…I don’t really need a lot of time to do that but then for the keyboard player he writes more out of a keyboard view so he uses different changes or concentrates more on the melody first and less on the guitar riff. Our drummer is also…he has absolute hearing [Is this another name for perfect pitch perhaps?] so he can also write and he comes up with mostly very groovy stuff, really interesting stuff for drums, very fast double bass patterns and stuff like that and he just writes guitar riffs without knowing if it’s even possible to play them, then I have to figure out if I have a way to wrap my hands around it and make it work which is sometimes challenging. Then again…I would have done it differently so it’s a good thing, everyone’s writing in a different way, the bass player always has a very groovy solid base and then you build everything around it so it’s good, you have different kind of input on the same product.
Martin: Yeah, it keeps it interesting…
Isaac: Yeah, exactly.
Martin: I interviewed Magnus Karlsson recently (you can read/hear the interview here) and Jacob Hansen was involved with his new album. I noticed that Jacob was also responsible for the mixing of your album. How did you become involved with him?
Isaac: It was actually that we wanted a mixed pitch. We just sent out a rough mix to a couple of guys and just asked them if they had time to do it and to see where they could take it and at the end we had three or four guys doing the mix for one song and when we got those results we would decide who could do the whole album. That’s what happened. We didn’t know, we just got it from our producer like here’s the four versions, picked out the one you liked most and that happened to be the one from Jakob. He actually only had two weeks, he was very busy, he is always busy, but he had only two weeks to finish the whole album which is kind of a challenge I think with the million/billion tracks we always have and that’s why our producer also flew over to Denmark to keep an eye….it worked out great, I still like the album very much and the production sound really good.
Martin: Yes, it sounds really good. There seems to be a theme running through The Quantum Enigma to do with quantum physics where the act of observing influences the thing that is being observed. It’s quite a different concept for a metal album. Where did this idea come from?
Isaac: Basically Mark, the other guitar player, who was also doing drums, he mostly kinda divide lyrics 50/50 between Simone and Mark, he’s always been interested in more like spiritual or psychological things in life…we’ve always been writing about stuff like that and he came across this concept of the quantum enigma itself and found it very interesting to write about ’cause if you really think about it the moment you look at something it kinda changes or adapts and if you take that into the whole world it could be something really interesting. It’s not that all the lyrics are about this concept but most of his lyrics are about this and, I mean, it’s just mind-blowing if you really start thinking and reading about it, and if you look at the experiments like the dual slit experiments, it’s so weird if you think about it how when you wouldn’t observe it would go in all directions the protons and if you look at it’s just two outcomes instead of two billion or something…so yeah…it’s just an interesting thing. Obviously we still write about, you know, we are always very aware of the fact that if you sit back and do nothing about what’s happening in the world then there won’t be a change, and whatever we write about that always comes back and it’s basically also the album titles: Design Your Universe, it’s like design your own world, go for what you want, chase your dreams. Requiem For The Indifferent if you are indifferent for what’s happening around you nothing will change so it’s kinda like the big concept of the band.
Martin: You did some French dates last week. It must have been a bit of a shock for you to see the news about the attacks in France. How were you guys feeling?
Isaac: We had a day off here in Glasgow, so I was at the hotel and suddenly the news came in and I mean, we sold out The Bataclan a couple of times so I know the place, I know the area and I know people in Paris so it’s just shocking to realize that they are still not certain about how many people exactly were shot. They said around 100 and it’s a 1500 capacity venue so if you just realize that one out of 15 people has been shot…I can’t wrap my head around it, it’s really crazy. Also I heard that the merchandiser, and the front of the house guy of Eagles of Death Metal was shot, the tour manager ended up in hospital. I can not imagine as a band how it must feel to go through something like that. Also today I posted it on my Facebook and I’m happy it sold out and I’m happy to go on stage because that’s what I like but it’s still kinda strange. Later on today I’ll go on stage with a mixed feeling. You don’t want to send out the message to whoever would like to see that happening that you can’t have fun anymore, or you can’t do what you like, because they want to scare people. That’s not what you want to do but still in the back of your head you have all that information. It was the same with Dimebag at the time, it’s a whole different background on that story, but still those are the times where you’re like ‘Ok this is kinda strange things happening’. If you ask me it’s just the beginning. Also today in airports in London they found people with grenades and so I don’t know what’s going to happen but I don’t think it’s going to be any good.
Martin: Finally do you have a message for all your fans out there?
Issac: Of course. Happy to be here because it’s sold out. That’s great for all your support. I always love being here. I come from Belgium which is a very small country squeezed in between France, Holland and Germany and people in Holland call us their little brother and people in France says ‘Petit Belgie’ (the small Belgian guy) so being here maybe you guys have the same thing and I always can connect in areas when you only have a small group of people against the whole UK if you want…so it’s always good and I like being here. I like the whiskey and all that shit…thanks to all the people here for the support, it’s always good to be back.
Martin: Good to see you again, looking forward to the show.