Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon, Ambeon, Star One…) interview – part 1

One Man.

One Legend.

One Story.

Captain`s Log – Over And Out!

1. Greetings Arjen. It is a great honor for me to be able to have this interview.

My pleasure.

2. Your music was a great inspiration through my life so this is going to be a very subjective interview full of impressions.

Excellent 🙂

3. First, could you tell me from whence the idea for creating and producing a solo album “Lost In The New Real”, after long 18 years came?

I wanted to go back to the feeling I had when I started Ayreon. No expectations of the fans, just to do what I want. I lost that feeling during the last few albums I made, I was more trying to please the fans than myself.

4. What was the duration and flow of the process from the starting idea to the final realization?

It went very fast, very natural. For inspiration I went back to my roots, so that was easy. I think this whole album took me about a year, and I really enjoyed every minute of it.

5. Every album that came out, whether it was with Ayreon, Star One, Ambeon or as Arjen Lucassen, it was a conceptual album. More so, a full rock opera. Do you think that writing a conceptual album that by the end becomes a rock opera is the most demanding thing a rock musician can create? And I mean ideally, musically and conceptually?

No, not at all. For me its MUCH easier than to come up with 20 different topics for an album! Once I start writing lyrics the music inspires me and the story slowly unfolds itself.

6. Last albums story reminds me a bit of early works by Ayreon and Star One, but in them I’m noticing a psycholigical component which is present in your latest works, from Human Equasion onward.. But the emphasis is still on the human race, the unpredictability of the future and the potential paths the human race as a whole could take and where they could lead to. Do you agree with my observations?

Absolutely. I’m not really a fantasy writer who writes about dragons and fairies. I like to take science fact and turn it into science fiction. But basically it should always be about emotions, because that’s what the music is all about.

7. How has the collaboration between you and the actor Rutger Hauer as a narrator on your last album came to be?

I just sent an email to his website and to my surprise he answered me and was interested! He is a very special person, it was an honor and a pleasure to work with him.

8. Let us return the to beginning of your career. What was it like when young Arjen came into the band Bodine?

It was a dream come true to join a professional band, make albums and tour the world.

9. Were you hoping your life would move in this direction?

Of course! There was no other way for me, it HAD to happen 🙂

10. Were you envisioning yourself as a great rock musician and composer?

Back then I really liked playing live, it was very exciting in the beginning. But in my head I was always composing, I think I always prefered the creative process to the performance aspect of it.

11. Whenever I listened to Bodine and later your second band Vengeance I would notice a few components and segments that were differing from heavy rock/hard rock scene at that time. Was that because of your universal approach to creating music or is that Netherlands has that spirit for creating any musical expression in its own different way?

I don’t think it’s something specifically Dutch, although there were some excellent Dutch prog bands like Focus, Trace and Supersister who liked to experiment musically. No, I think it’s the fact that my musical taste has always been very wide, definitely not just hardrock or metal.

12. Let us stay in the 80’s for a little bit more. When you look back today, at the time spent playing in Bodine and Vengeance, how does it seem, what goes through you mind?

The time in Bodine was a good learning proces. It was not really my style of music though, it was too restricted. Vengeance was much more experimental. But the guys were also a lot wilder!

13. At that times both of those bands had success with their albums and both the public and the critics accepted your work very well. Are you satisfied with those times?

Oh yes. We were among the most succesful bands in Holland, and also enjoyed succes outside of Holland, mainly Germany. Of course when I see or hear it now, a lot of it comes over really cheesy…but we were all victims of the 80’s I guess 🙂

14. Do you look at them with nostalgia or simply consider them a stage on your musical and creative path?

I’m not nostalgic at all, I don’t think about the past. I’m glad I did it all though, it brought me where I am today. But I would never do anything with these bands anymore. I very much live in the present.

15. If I am not mistaken, you left Bodine for Vengeance…

That is correct. The guys from Vengeance were much younger and I could develop myself more in Vengeance. And enjoy some more of the sex, alcohol and rock and roll life, haha!

16. …and Vengeance for your solo career…

No. Vengeance was just not popular anymore, the 80’s were gone. We couldn’t get a deal anymore.

17. …and aspiration towards a more progressive sound?!

I’ve always wanted that, but neither Bodine nor Vengeance were the kind of band to explore the progressive direction.

18. How would you describe the early days of your solo career, the years of ’92. and ’93., when you left Vengeance and started your solo career?

They were dark times. I was lost. The band split up and I lost my girlfriend. I tried to go in a commercial direction with my first solo album Pools of Sorrow, but it flopped hopelessly.

19. Were you afraid of what the future might hold or did you dive just right into it full of elan, energy and enthusiasm?

Yes, definitely when I started writing for Ayreon back in ’93. I didn’t have to think about what the bandmembers, record companies or even the listeners wanted anymore. I just wanted to create something for myself, even if it was the last thing I would ever do. Something I would be proud of for the rest of my life.

20. Was the band Planet Nine ever created or was it just an idea that from the start received a bad response?

We did form an official band who rehearsed and we played live only once. Again, we couldn’t get a deal based on the demos.

21. Later you made this statement: “nobody even wanted to touch it”. Do yu think that you were so ahead of the times that people from those early days of your solo career just weren’t ready on such musical expression?

Oh no, the music just wasn’t good enough! I was still trying to please bandmembers with Planet Nine. The singer (Robert Soeterboek) wanted to go in a bluesy direction, he was a big Coverdale fan. So that’s the kind of songs I wrote. Guess my heart wasn’t really in it.

22. Your first solo album “Pools of sorrow, waves of joy” was commercially unsuccessful. How did you feel at that time?

I don’t think I expected too much of it. Deep down inside I knew I wasn’t following my heart, and that couldn’t lead to succes. Looking back I’m glad it wasn’t a success, I’d hate to still be singing silly country songs like Midnight Train!

23. Were you at least partially expecting such a response or were you shocked by it? I find it strange that many fans of hard rock, art rock and prog rock did not recognize the records quality? Especially fans of bands like Led Zeppelin or Mike Oldfield, Bodine and Vengeance?

There were too many different styles on the album, and there was no concept to hold them together like on the new solo album New Real. Also, I didn’t have any money or equipment in those days so a lot of the instruments were fake, like the drums and the strings. There were some good songs there though, and it definitely laid the foundation for Ayreon.

24. How do you feel about Ayreon’s first phase, the albums “The Final Experiment”, “Actual Fantasy” and “Strange Hobby” when today you look back upon it?

I’m proud of each and every Ayreon album. They are my babies! Strange Hobby was just a bit of fun, not to be taken too seriously.

25. How did you decide on starting the project “Strange Hobby”?

I recorded that in just one month, basically to blow off some steam after the complex Actual Fantasy album. They were all covers from 60’s songs, so I didn’t have to do any writing. I played all the instruments myself and sang everything.

26. Did you perhaps not release it as a part of Ayreon because of the covers or its different concept which did not fit in the opus of Ayreon’s albums nor the solo albums opus or simply because you were not the only author on the album/project? How did you come up with the idea of covering psychodelic rock songs from the ’60s? Was it to honor your roots and idols?

I had just ‘discovered’ the 60’s, and loved it. People were still experimenting and writing great songs. But some of the tracks sounded quite bad because of the recording restrictions in those days, so I thought I’d try to modernise them and bring them to a younger audience who weren’t familiar with these songs. Stupidly we decided not to put my name on the album, so people would think it was an album by someone really famous. What a bad idea…it completely backfired!

27. “Final Experiment” was a complete novelty for the music scene at that time.

Which is weird, because I was very inspired by the great rock operas from the late 60’s and early 70’s like JC Superstar, Tommy, Six Wives and War of the Worlds. So I didn’t feel like I was doing something new. But I guess the combination of styles and the fact that it hadn’t been done in such a long time struck a chord with the people. Especially those who weren’t into the whole new Grunge scene started by Nirvana, they wanted something more adventurous.

28. How happy are you with the records reception?

I was amazed, I never expected people to like this weird mix of styles! I couldn’t believe it when it actually entered the charts.

28. In my opinion, no one before you managed to resurrect and fill the emptiness which came to be since the works of Jeff Waine, Rick Wakeman and Alan Parsons and the concept of rock opera and the first Ayreon record. Do you think of “Final Experiment” as an evolution in space/prog rock of the 90s and music in general?

Well, if I’d agree to that I would be pretty arrogant, haha! But yeah, I do think I started a ‘new’ trend there. People noticed that I had success with this and started to do the same thing. A big compliment for me of course!

29. How did you come up with the idea of cooperating with names from rock and metal scene; a cooperation that further on will become one of your primary characteristics?

I always liked that about JC Superstar and Alan Parsons. The variety in singers. And of course I needed different characters for the story. Altough the character distribution on The Final Experiment was kind of a mess, different singers for the same characters!

30. How did the collaboration, on the song “Eyes Of Time”, between you and Lenny Wolf from Kingdom Come came to be?

I was a big fan of Kingdom Come. I needed a Robert Plant-kind of voice for that song, and he was my first thought. He recorded one of his albums here in Holland back in the 80’s, so I got his phone number from the studio. Luckily he liked the song and came to Holland. In return I helped him in the studio with a Kingdom Come album.

31. How come “Sail Away to Avalon” was chosen for a single?

Firstly because it has Barry Hay of the Golden Earring on vocals, the most famous singer in Holland. Secondly I really liked the song and I thought the chorus had commercial potential.

32. How did the collaboration between you and Barry Hay came to be?

I knew Barry from the Vengeance days. He helped us with lyrics (he was born in the UK) and he joined us on stage once to sing a Golden Earring song (Back Home).

33. A long long time ago when I first heard the album “Actual Fantasy” I was taken by surprise by a completely different approach than the one on the “Final Experiment” album. More electronics, vocoder vocal, the heavy usage of the Minimoog, those were the things that completely blew me away. To this day, the song “Computer Eyes” is, to me, your best one and the guitar and synthesizer solos on it are one of the best of all times.

Thanks for the big compliment! Yes, that’s one of my favorites as well.

34. I still do not understand from where did you pull the inspiration to evoce the 60s, 70s and 80s electronic music and combine it into a such unique and extraordinary style. I have to ask: from where did the inspiration come to make something that no one before or after you has done (and that you yourself did not repeat on the later albums)?

I hate to repeat myself. So even though the first Ayreon album Final Experiment was a big success, I did something completely different with Actual Fantasy. I wanted to combine electronic music (Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk) with Led Zeppelin rythms (John Bonham) and use the vocals as polyphonic instruments, instead of solo vocals. Unfortunately most people didn’t understand it and it’s still my least selling album, unfortunately…

35. “Into The Electric Castle” is the album that introduced me to your music. I have to admit it wiped the floor with me from the beginning. Many big names from the worlds progressive rock and heavy metal scene were guest on the album: Anneke Van Giersbergen, Sharon Den Adel, Fish, Damian Wilson, Clive Nolan…An opus consisting of synth pop, early electronics, film music, classical music through to symphonic rock, space rock, krautrock, progressive rock to heavier metal…How did you manage to combine it all into a single unity?

That album was my ‘make or break’ album. Because Actual Fantasy didn’t sell well, this one had to be a success or it would have been the end of Ayreon. So I threw everything in that album that I had. Including all the money I had, the musicians were expensive! But it turned out to be a great investment, the album is STILL selling very well.

36. Was the concept from “Actual Fantasy” a sort of a spring board to create a universal masterpiece that “Into The Electric Castle” is?

No, again it was very different from Actual Fantasy, like every album I do is very different from the one before. Electric Castle was much warmer, more eclectic and all real instruments. A very transparant and honest album. And unlike Actual Fantasy is had a continuous story.

37. Is “Universal Migrator” a direct heir to “Into The Electric Castle”?

Again, quite different from the Castle. I seperated the heavy and the soft side of Ayreon. In hindsight, that maybe wasn’t such a great idea… I think the variety of styles is Ayreon’s strength.

38. Many famous names are guest starring on the album, names like Bruce Dickinson, Russell Allen, Ralph Scheepers, Andi Derris, Tim Kotipelt, Fabio Leone, Garry Wehrkamp, Ian Parry, Floor Jansen, Johan Edlund, Clive Nolan, Damian Wilson, Erik Norlander, Lana Lane, Neal Morse and many more…How did this large gathering od such famous names happen?

The record company wanted a lot of famous names on the album, to build on the succes of the Castle.

39. Was a long time needed for such names to gaher?

Oh yes, that is really the downside of doing an Ayreon. It’s a logistic nightmare. And a financial nightmare as well, haha!

40. A nice anecdote from my journalist past pops into mind. I had an interview with Floor Jansen, just a few months after the “Universal Migrator” came out and I asked her what was it like to perform with Johan Edlund on the song “My House On Mars” wo which she answered: “We never met. We recorded our parts separately!”. It reminded me to ask you: were recordings for a lot of musicians, especially vocals, done “on the distance” or did a big number of them come to your studio?

They mostly all come to my studio. I prefer it that way, it’s much more personal and the results are a lot better.

41. How was it to work with guests from so many different musical expressions and with so different characters?

A true joy! I love all these different voices and personalities. Because there are so many different moods in the music, I need the variety in singers.

42. And of course how did you manage to mold and shape so many different characters into one conceptual entity?

No masterplan, I just let it happen naturally and in the end it always falls into place. It’s a lot easier than it seems. Just don’t plan anything, because plans rarely work for me, I keep changing my mind!

43. What I noticed is that the story from the “Universal Migrator part. II” album is a lot like Stephen Baxter’s “The Time Ships” story…Was that book an inspiration for your story?

Sorry, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never read a book in my entire life…

44. How did the cooperation with Astrid van der Veen and the starting of Ambeon happen?

Someone send me a recording of her. I didn’t listen at first, because people send me so much stuff, but the guy insisted I’d listen. I couldn’t believe that she was just 14 and from Holland!

45. Was Ambeon your aspiration for a different concept than Ayreon or?

Well, I was just learning a new recording system called Protools, and decided to make an instrumental album based on Ayreon songs in the process. But when I heard Astrid it turned into a vocal album!

46. Why was there never a follow-up on “Fate Of A Dreamer”?

Because things didn’t go so well for Astrid and so she was unavailable. She told me she’s doing better though now and she’s even making a bit of music again.

47. Was the cooperation between you and Astrid(which many called the new Anneke Van Giersbergen) cut because she turned to painting and left her musical cereer?

We never planned to do another album, this was just a spontanious thing. I never plan anything, so everything is possible.

48. Do you plan on recording a new Ambeon record in the future and if you do would you again take Astrid as the main vocal or would you take someone else?

I would only do another Ambeon if Astrid would be available.

49. On the “Human Equasion” record there are a lot of famous names: vocalists James LaBrie, you, Mikael Akerfeldt, Eric Clayton, Heather Findlay, Irene Jansen, Magnus Ekwall, Devon Graves, Marcela Bovio, Mike Baker, Devin Townsend, Peter Daltrey and instrumentalists Joost van den Broek, Martin Orford, Ken Hensley, Oliver Wakeman, you, Marieke van den Broek, Jeroen Goossens, John McManus, Ed Warby, Robert Baba…I just have to ask again, how was it to gather such names from the worlds rock and metal scene, names from bands like Dream Theater, IQ, Uriah Heep, Shadow Gallery(just to name a few)…?

A dream come true of course, and an honor to work with these amazing talents! I still can’t believe that all these great musicians are willing to work with me, I’m not worthy 🙂

50. I had planned only 20 questions at start… 🙂

Wow…Dalibor, these were WAY more than 20 questions! But excellent questions I must add 🙂

Arjen Lucassen official site

…to be continued…

Dalibor Mladenović