Second Chances: An Interview with Jack Driessen


Keyboards

Understandably, when symphonic death metal band MaYaN was first announced to the world, all eyes were firmly on lead singer Mark Jansen. After all, his main band Epica have achieved considerable success, even eclipsing that of Mark's former band After Forever. But MaYaN isn't just a side project for Mark, this is a new band in its own right – a band that isn't simply focused on the band's singer. The band's history also stems further back than their introduction last year.

The band's story starts far back, at the turn of the millennium, long before the female-fronted symphonic metal genre had really taken off. After Forever, a young band from the Netherlands, had just recorded and released their first album, Prison of Desire. With the band becoming more serious and progressing out of just being a hobby, several of the band's members began to question whether this was the right path for them. One of those people was keyboardist Jack Driessen.

"It was difficult for me because I had to decide between my studies and After Forever," the keyboard player explains; "After Forever was becoming a full time job rapidly, so I had to make a difficult decision for myself."

A difficult decision indeed - on one side, his band had a real shot at success, but on the other they could have quite easily struggled and not made ends meet. For Jack, the risk was too high. He quit the band, and returned to his studies – in computing. Jack went on to live the quiet, unassuming life of a software tester; "I still like it because it's on the human side of computers. It's what the humans see, whether it's something usable."

This could've quite easily been the end of Jack's story, a footnote in a disbanded metal band's history, forgotten by all but their most hardcore of fans. But like anyone who has had the slightest taste of artistic fame and success, has known what it has felt like to get on stage, Jack wasn't entirely satisfied; "I realised it will never leave you. If you've played keyboards or any instrument, or been involved in music, that passion will never go away."

“ that passion will never go away ”
- Jack Driessen

Nor do past friendships, as it happens. Seven years after leaving After Forever, many things changed. Jack's fellow band member, guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen, was effectively fired from the band. He bounced back, forming Sahara Dust, later to become Epica. Jack's position would be replaced not once, but twice, whilst the band's main songwriter, Sander Gommans, would endure horrible black outs that would put the entire band in jeopardy – eventually leading to the band's demise. It was around this time that Jack, who had been uninvolved in the music scene since his departure, would run into his old friend Mark at a music festival in his home town.

"We hadn't seen or spoken to each other in years, since we were together in After Forever." comments Jack, adding; "There were some issues that we had to discuss, which we did and left it behind us."

Indeed, the relationship between Mark and his former band mates might have soured (he was fired, after all), but in the years following from his new band's success, Mark had started restoring his relationships with them. The restored relationships allowed for many noteworthy collaborations, including some between Mark and Jack; "I met at Mark's place and we just started composing music again. It started actually with what would become one of Epica's songs on the Design Your Universe album."

Not any song either – that song would become opening track Resign To Surrender, one of the highlights of the album. Realising that the two still had chemistry together as songwriters, the duo decided to cement their working relationship and seek to write more music together. To complete their writing team, they sought out a third member. Initially, this was another member from the now defunct After Forever – guitarist Sander Gommans. However, a mini After Forever reunion of sorts wasn't to be, as Jack explains; "After a few tracks it went really well, but he just hadn't enough time for it. He had blackouts a few years ago, so he really has to take care of himself, and we fully understood that."

However, all was not lost. Instead, the band enlisted a less well known guitarist, Frank Schiphorst; "I'm happy that Frank joined us because he loves much more harsh metal and more thrashy stuff and more freaky stuff, and I think that worked out very well with the three of us together."

Both Frank and Mark played together in the live symphonic metal project Christmas Metal Symphony (itself musically directed by yet another former After Forever member, Jack's eventual replacement Joost Van Den Broek). Whilst Mark had already been impressed by Frank's incredible guitar playing skill, the two of them were still surprised at how well the three of them fit together; "When one of us had an idea, the others got inspired by it and so on, so it kept on going. There was no time when we were out of ideas."

With the three together, MaYaN was born. Jack relished the opportunity to be back in the saddle as it were, excited to once again be writing, playing and composing symphonic metal again; "A few years ago I was at that point that I thought 'It's a shame you don't do anything any more, because you played the keyboards and it was nice and fun, and for years you just let it down'. So when we started composing, I realised you have to go on and make something out of it again."

He continues; "When Frank joined us as well it went so fast. Sometimes I still can't believe we're now ready with this band, and with a new album."

That new album of course would be Quarterpast. With all three members of the band energised and excited to work on the album, the album was written very quickly, especially given Mark Jansen's busy schedule with Epica. Jack elaborates; "The whole album has been written in less than a year. It went so fast that sometimes we would have one and a half songs ready in one evening, that was amazing. "

Obviously a band can't exist with just three members – at least, not one of MaYaN's style. First of all, the band needed a drummer. For that, they turned to Mark's Epica band mate Ari ën van Weesenbeek. Jack laughs, thinking back to when they drafted the drummer into the fold; "We told Arjën that he'd be a part of our band, he didn't have a choice at all!"

Along with Arjën, fellow Epica and ex-God Dethroned member Isaac Delahaye joined on second guitar, leaving Mark Jansen free to focus on the screaming. For bass, there were some difficulties; "In the beginning Jeroen Paul Thesseling from Pestilence played bass guitar, and is on our album, but he hadn't enough time for it, so he was replaced by Rob Van Der Loo from Delain. He had left Delain a while ago and wanted a new challenge. I think he's happy with it."

"We have a nice band together," the keyboardist smiles, as he reflects on the group.

For the album itself, the band sought several guest singers. Both Floor Jansen and Simone Simons, singers for After Forever and Epica respectively, already seemed like obvious choices for the project; "Simone has a very sensitive voice, which sounds very emotional, whilst Floor has a real powerful voice."

Next, the band required a male singer, to contrast with Mark's screaming, which they found within the ranks of their friends Sons of Seasons; "We knew Henning Basse already... this guy, he does everything, he does the clean stuff, very sensitive, very harsh, even grunts and screams – you can ask him to do almost anything!"

Perhaps the least known of the band's guest singers though might also be the most impressive. At the time, Laura Macri was a little known opera singer from Italy, but a singer with an enormous talent; "Mark knew her and he didn't even know that she could sing opera that well. At that moment she was just an upcoming talent in Italy, and now she's being discovered by the opera world in Italy."

The impression the singer left on Jack is noticeable; "She did a fabulous job. Great opera singer."

The album itself is different from what we've come to expect from the creators, but at the same time quite familiar. Jack, Mark and Frank have written a noticeably heavy album that still retains the symphonic traits that made Epica so popular. However, Jack doesn't expect that all Epica fans will take to the band; "I'm very sure some won't like it. Lets be honest, it's much heavier than Epica in most aspects. Not all songs, not all pieces, but on the whole if you look at the whole album it is definitely heavier. I look at it like this - there will be Epica fans who'll think this is too much, and they'll stick with Epica, that's fine."

Despite this, Jack seems confident that the album will find its audience; "I think fans of death metal will like our stuff because it has much more death and thrash elements. It's more chaotic."

Perhaps one of the advantages the band does have though is in the name recognition of both the band members themselves, and the guest singers they've brought into the equation. In fact, with so many guest singers, one could even think of this as a death metal version of projects such as Avantasia or Ayreon. Jack isn't entirely adverse to the comparison; "I'm sure that comparison will be made, and indeed I also think we're a bit heavier than those bands. But that's a good comparison, I'll keep that in mind!"

With the album now out, and MaYaN already touring, things are moving in full swing for the band. The most important thing about MaYaN though is that they are a band, not a one-off project. Mark might be busy with Epica, especially with a fifth album on its way, but this will not be the last we'll be hearing from them. Further material might not just be restricted to the original trio, either; "We're a band now and we want to stay that way. In the composing process, who knows what will happen. It went great with the three of us, but if anyone else in the band has ideas then of course we're open to it. If the music can benefit from it, then why not?"

“ there will be Epica fans who'll think this is too much ”
- Jack Driessen

In fact, with the band's first album now out, the band have gone straight back to writing new material; "We are already writing songs for a new album, because we just wanted to do it, even if we are already busy with all the preparations for the gigs"

Jack smiles, as he asserts; "But we will definitely stay a band."

We can only hope that statement is true. Whilst many bands can come across as cynical or lacking genuine enthusiasm, the impression that Jack (and through him, the rest of the band) gives is that MaYaN are truly excited about what they are doing. The bonds between the members of this fledgling band feel strong, ready for future tours and albums ahead. Where once Jack seemed ready to turn away from music for a less exciting life, he now sounds ready to give it a go once again, having been given that second chance. Hopefully Jack, alongside Mark, Frank, and the rest of MaYaN, can continue to feel such excitement as their band's story begins to unfold.

Live Photo: Evelyne Steenberghe | www.vlien.net

Written by James Donovan
More: Interviews,

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