Arjen Lucassen

Arjen Lucassen

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I believe it is common knowledge that Arjen Lucassen is a genius musician always releasing inspired album with awesome concepts and in the case of AYREON putting together impressive guest-singers lists. But, I am not sure if many know how humble he is having both feet on the ground always willing to satisfy his dedicated fanbase. So, in the context of the “Lost In The New Real” solo album METAL KAOZ got Arjen on Skype and pretty much discussed the following…

Hi Arjen how are you?
I am very well Dimitris and what about yourself?

I am also good, so let’s start this interview right away. This is kind of an obvious question; why did you release “Lost In The New Real” as an AYREON album?
The biggest difference between AYREON and this album is that I am handling all the lead vocals. AYREON is known for the many guest singers; take for example the last album where I had 17 guest singers. Also, I think AYREON is more of a Progressive Metal project; it’s very big, over the top and epic but this is different, you know; this is a very eclectic album with many styles and I think it goes a little back to the 60s and the 70s. So, if I had released this one as an AYREON album people would be disappointed or would have expected something completely different.

What did you have in mind before starting to write the music in “Lost In The New Real” in order not to step on AYREON territories?
The idea of me singing all the lyrics gave me a lot of freedom. I could just write short songs and not all these 10 minutes long bombastic and epic ones. Also, I wanted to go back to the feeling I had when I started AYREON 20 years ago. I mean, back then no one knew what to expect from me and had no idea what it was going to be like. That gave me total freedom ‘cause I have to say for the last couple albums that I did I was thinking a lot about what the fans may want to hear. I was kind of losing myself a little bit in the process. But this time it was let’s do the solo album without any expectations. No one would know what I was about to release and that gave a lot of freedom. I didn’t have to live up to expectations of people. That was really liberating to do.

It’s a little bit strange listening to you talking about artistic freedom when in every project of yours you are your own boss, right?
Yeah, you are right but I am talking about the urge to please the fans. I get a lot of e mails –I work four hours a day on the social media – from fans asking from me stuff like ‘come on do another STAR ONE album’ and the it’s like ‘make it heavy, make a Metal album’. And you get five e mails like that it inspires you, of course, but you also want to please these guys and make this as heavy as possible. Or for instance, before the last AYREON album people were asking for specific singers to guest on the album and in the end there were 17 singers…(laughs)

More than a football team right?
(laughs) Yeah, absolutely. Looking back at it now I think it was too much. People always pride me for the fact that I have singers sing better that they do in their own bands and on the last AYREON album I wasn’t able to do that because there were too many singers and I couldn’t give them the spotlight they earned... anyway, I wouldn’t call it a trap that I fell into but it felt like I was losing myself a little bit. And this does not mean that I am not proud of these albums or that they are not good enough or that I don’t like them. It was like 90% me and 10% for the fans. But “Lost In The New Real” is 100% from me without caring about what people will think of it.

But, it did work Arjen and the album is amazing.
Thank you, Dimitris. Yeah, I do think it worked but it’s not always easy to do what you want and not think about what people want. As I said, it felt like the first AYREON album; ‘I don’t give a shit what people will think of it, I don’t care at all’ (laughs). The moment you think like this you gonna make something that you like and apparently fans feel this.

I think many bands have lost themselves in traps like the one you just described.
Yeah, especially when you are successful. I mean look for example a band like QUEEN. Those guys did all these great albums like “Queen II” full of progressive stuff and then they got these hits like “I Wanna Break Free” and all that shit, you know.. and there’s no way back. You suddenly have all those fans and you lose yourself in the process. I don’t want even to fall in this trap; it’s very scary.

You are right on this Arjen. But, let’s talk about “Lost In The New Real” and the storyline; it seems to me that it’s based on a story you had in mind for a very long time.
You are right about this. I have been always curious about how the future will look like. Like I always say, I used to work in a time when there were no computers something that was only 20 years ago and I saw how the world has changed since then. And then you think if it changed that much after 20 years how much it will after a couple of hundreds of years? Then you start fantasizing about how the internet or religion will be like or about topics like population control and euthanasia. I read a lot of stuff about these topics in the internet, I watched a lot of documentaries about it and I think it’s kind of difficult to tackle all these controversial topics. But if you place them in the future and you inject a healthy dose of humor you can away with it (laughs).

So, the storyline might be funny but at the same time is a little bit frightening, right?
Oh, yes it’s a little bit of both I guess. A good example is Dr Slumber’s Eternity Homewhich is a really happy song talking how you come in and check out “in Dr Slumber’s Eternity Home you don’t have to go alone”; it’s all funny but it’s about suicide.

I see what you’re saying. Now, that you mentioned the lyrics one line that kind of shocked me was “every song has been sung before, every note has been played” in “Pink Beatles In A Purple Zeppelin” so do you think nowadays we have reached that point? I mean there are a lot of young bands trying to recreate the 80s atmosphere…
I don’t think we have come to that point, yet, and don’t forget the album’s concept talks about the distant future, but yeah it gets harder and harder to be original. I have also felt this because sometimes I have a really good idea and then realize that someone has already done this. It’s like I could sing an entire RUSH chorus for this song and then it’s like “let’s not do that”… it gets harder all the time to be original and it kind of scares me every now and then. Anyway, I think it is definitely going to what I am talking about in this song. Maybe ten years from now you will be able to use your computer and punch in your favorite bands, in my case THE BEATLES, PINK FLOYD, LED ZEPPELIN, DEEP PURPLE, and request a song with a style from all these bands; have Robert Plant singing, John Bonham or Cozy Powell play the drums, Ritchie Blackmore on the guitar and let the computer program create a song for you. It’s a frightening thought but I believe it can happen.

One more song that I really liked the lyrics was “Where Pigs Fly”; there you almost describe an alternate reality so do you think there are parallel universes or realities?
I was watching “Through The Wormhole” with Morgan Freeman, a scientific documentary in Discovery channel, and it was about the Large Hadron Collider and they were talking about 11 dimensions where all the equations have a solution. Since we are only aware of four dimensions (the fourth being time) they discussed about alternate realities or parallel words; each decision leads to another dimension and a different parallel world. So, inspired by all this I started thinking how a parallel universe would look like. As a joke I made this verse about Eistein traveling in time and Darwin defending religion (laughs), it was kind of funny, and I could not stop with this upside-down world stuff and before I knew it I had an entire song. In fact, I had 15 songs for this album that were too many for a single release so, 5 of them had to go to a second CD. And I could not choose since I cannot be objective with my own babies, you know. So, we had these listening sessions with 40 fans in a school somewhere and I played all these songs and they had to rate them and write notes. It was surprising because there were all these FLOYD-ish songs like “So Is There No God?” and people did not really react and there I was sweating thinking “Oh my God”. And then “Where Pigs Fly” was next I was thinking that it stood no chance since it was based on a joke and it would end up like a bonus track. But, after listening people stood up and applauded saying how cool it is. So, I decided that this song would definitely be on the CD one.

And this leads me to the next question; 15 songs? How long did it take you to writer all this music Arjen?
I think I had been working on this album for almost a year. Something that I did not expect you know, since it was going to be a solo album without having to arrange all these guest singers. I thought it would take be half a year. I think I had something to prove with this album if I was able to make a solo album without having guests. Sometimes there are album reviews say that it’s easy for Arjen to make albums with all these guests. So, it was like a challenge for me and I had been working on these songs even more that I usually do for an AYREON album.

You said that you read the reviews and you try to meet the fans’ expectations so after all these years you feel the need to prove yourself?
Oh yes, and I think it gets worse with time (laughs). In the first AYREON album I did not have that feeling and it was like doing an album by myself just like the way I wanted to be. I had not done that with all the bands I have been with before; there were concessions with the other members  of the band and compromises to record companies and so on. Anyway, this was a challenge for me; I don’t have to prove myself onstage but with my albums I feel I have something to prove. Take for example AYREON; everybody likes “Electric Castle” and “Human Equation” so every time they say “you will never write another album like that” and make this even harder.

You keep raising the bar…
Yeah, but at the same time I need this to make it interesting for myself.

What about Rutger Hauer, how did you contact him? Did he listen to the music beforehand?
Oh yeah! I just an email to his website without expecting an answer but to my surprise I got one. And he said “play me some music, tell me the story and send me some lyrics”. He literally said “let’s see if this is real”. And I think I send him everything at least ten times because he kept losing the files. This guy is extremely busy filming movies, doing scenes and stuff like that. Anyway, I think he googled me thinking something like “Ok, who is this guy real, is this some idiot or something?” (laughs). I think he liked the concept but I am not sure if he liked the music since he never realty said something. But he really wanted to do it and the proof is that the only thing he had to do was read the narration we wrote for him. But, I sent him the narration, he printed out and he threw it away (laughs) and completely re-wrote it and made it his own. This took him three weeks and in the meantime we were talking via Skype writing stuff and discussing the concept. Having his own words in the album made it really special for me knowing that this is real and not just him reading from a paper.

Awesome! Have you ever consider of doing something like a Rock opera and take the production on the road with many artists and even write storyline for actors?
To be honest playing live is really not my thing, I did this for 15 years ever since ‘78  until ’92 and I can say it’s not my way of living. I am much more of a composer and a producer; I love being in the studio composing music instead of being on tour and not being creative. It’s a lot of waiting, traveling and a lot of socializing with people something I don’t like at all (laughs). I like doing this on the phone, on Skype or sending emails and in fact there is a song in the album about this; “The Social Recluse” and that is me! I have also to say that I really don’t know a lot about Rock operas, movies or theatre productions; this is an entire different world that I know little about it. But if someone wanted to do a movie or something like that of course I would applaud it! But to be there myself all the time and travel around is not an option.

So, having Arjen live at the US is out of the question?
Hm, yeah but I wouldn’t say never. I said no before the STAR ONE tour and then again before getting on the road with STREAM OF PASSION… it seems that people know a way to convince me to do this. But definitely there are not plans to do this.

What about writing a sci-fi book? You seem like a very good storyteller…
I see my lyrics as an extra dimension to the music so I don’t think they can survive without the music. I don’t think I am good enough for this. I am also ashamed to say that actually I have never read a book in my life (laughs) so let alone writing one.

Ok, that’s interesting… so what is next in your calendar?
Basically I never plan ahead and I am just waiting for my inspiration and then start writing. And after a couple of months I listen to what I have done and decide what I will do with them. Having said that I think it’s about time for another AYREON album. It has been four or five years and I think people expecting one. I hope I’ll have the inspiration to make a new AYREON and as I said it will be a new challenge for me doing something different and better.

You have to know that I keep holding the perfect rating for your next album. I keep doing this every time.
(laughs) That’s great Dimitris keep doing this. Do not ever give me 10 out of 10 because then I’ll have to die. (laughs)

I definitely do not want to do that. So, Arjen thank you for your time it was a genuine pleasure talking to you although I feel sad that you won’t be going on tour…
I am sorry for this man. The only reason to do this would be for the fans just like I did in the past. But doing this by myself is like a nightmare; every week I have touring nightmares being onstage without my band or with no strings on my guitar, or not finding the venue (laughs).

This sounds like a very good concept for the next album.
Yeah, actually it is (laughs).

Ok, Arjen have a great night and thanks again.
Thank you too Dimitris and let’s talk again for the next AYREON album.

Richie Blackmore