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ARJEN LUCASSEN (Netherlands)

 

Andrew Gabriel

 

Arjen Lucassen 1

No matter how busy he might be, he always find the time to speak with people that want to know more. As always, it was a real pleasure and a big honor for me to have this conversation with Mr. Lucassen which has always some good stories to share.

Good morning! Greetings from Greece. How are you today?

Hello, I’m fine, thank you very much. I wanted to say it’s a nice day, but now it started raining.

Oooh. We can always say that’s it’s nice here. So, how many interviews have you already given today?

Today not so many. I had two Australian before this. But my record company told me that I have now made 250 interview in the past 2 months, which is good though. It means people are interested in what I’m doing. So I’m not complaining.

Tomorrow is a big day. It’s the release of your new album called “The Source”. How are you feeling about this?

Yes! I’m feeling well. Usually I’m insecure at this time, it’s like I’m scare and “oh my god” but the reactions have been so good so far and I just got the reviews and they are all positive. I just read a bad one (laughs). It’s funny, you know, you read like a hundred of good reviews and there is one bad one and you feel like sick. But he was mainly complaining about the lyrics so I don’t really mind. That’s ok.

 

arjen thesource

 

But why about the lyrics? Most of the times you have wonderful lyrics.

Well, thank you. He thought it was too literal. Like I was treating the readers as kids he said. He was talking about “Sea of Machines” saying “why do you have to tell me there is no computers, no tv… and what about toilets. Do they have no toilets either?”. I could answer on line: my toilet doesn’t run on electricity (laughs).

Neither do humans!

Not yet! Not yet! I’m feeling pretty good though. I’m not nervous, cause the presales are amazing. They are the best ever. In fact, I went to the record company yesterday since I had to sign again, I already went there 4 times, and the whole record company was working there. Even the boss was packing cds. They didn’t even see me there since they were working so hard there.

That’s good! Can you tell us some things about the concept of the "The Source"?

It’s a prequel to the big Ayreon story. Basically, I stopped this Ayreon story on 01…01011001 and I went to a different universe with the “Theory of Everything”, but this time, because of the artwork I went back. It’s called “The Source” and it’s basically the source of mankind. Where do we come from? And also the source of the “Forever Race” which is the race that I introduced in the “Electric Castle”. Where does the Forever Race come from? Maybe we come from the same place? So that’s the basis of the story. It’s the beginning. It depicts on planet Alpha, where alpha is a synonym, well you know being from Greece, to beginning.

You mentioned that you created another universe. Why would you create another universe and not stick to the other one?

Basically, it’s the same universe. The same universe we live in. Cause I’m also digressing, but I believe that there is a multiverse. I believe that there is not just one universe. I think there are countless of universes and we are just one of them. But my stories are in one universe. It’s actually this universe cause I’m explaining the story of mankind and my previous album “The Theory of Everything”  was about physics and this genius boy who was trying to solve the theory of everything. It was also in this universe, it just wasn’t connected to the other stories. I think this started on my third album where I had connections to my first album, and after the Universal Migrator albums had connections to all my Ayreon albums. Somehow this whole Ayreon universe came to being. I didn’t create it that way, it just happened.

I think this year’s lineup might be the most powerful so far. Can you tell us a few things about it?

Well, basically I always say that about every album I do with Ayreon. Like “this is my best cast ever”. But yes, I can say it again now. On “The Human Equation” and “The Theory of Everything” I had this rule where I could only work with new singers. But this time I found this to be a bit limiting, because there were parts where I heard James LaBrie, or other parts where I heard Floor. So, I decided to ask the singers that I think that would fit perfectly to this album. And I asked them all and I got them all! It’s amazing. Usually I ask 20 singers and only 5 of them say yes, but this time they were all interested. Great people, fantastic singer, what more can you wish for?

Exactly! Speaking of this, was there any time in the Ayreon history that a singer/musician gave a hard time to get him on an album?

Oh yes. Always! Actually it happened on this album too. There is always one or two who just don’t answer my mails or they are like “I’ll tell you in a month”. That always happens. It’s not always as easy as people think.

That’s normal, especially for musicians that are busy most of the times.

True! They are busy, or they don’t know my music and when they check it out it’s not completely their style. For instance, it’s really hard for me to get singers that are not from the prog or the metal scene. It’s really hard to get them. I think prog and metal are their dirty words. That’s a shame though. I would be openminded. For example, I don’t like hip-hop at all but if a hip-hop artist would ask me to play a solo on his song, I would like to. It would be a challenge. Maybe that’s why we are called prog.

Maybe! Who knows? Moving on, what are the criteria that someone must fulfill to end up playing on one of your albums?

For singers it’s the voice. It’s not the technique, it’s not how high someone can scream or how low someone can go. The voice must somehow give me goosebumps. That’s enough for me. If I don’t like the voice, even if the technique is brilliant I won’t be interested. And the same goes for musicians. If there is a guitar player who is totally technical and fast and doesn’t sound that nice, I’m not interested. Guitar players that have a great sound, like in this album Guthrie Govan are the ones I’m interested in. To simply answer your question, it must give me goosebumps, and if I don’t get that it’s not going to work.

Is there any difference between “The Source” and your previous albums, mostly musically since you said it’s in the same universe lyrically?

Same universe but different story. Indeed, musically is very different. I think “Theory of Everything” was my prog album, since it featured members of the biggest prog bands. It was very keyboard oriented because I had Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Jordan Rudess. This is much more a guitar oriented album. I have a couple of great guitar players. And the songs are more riff oriented than in “The Theory of Everything”. “Theory” was a difficult album, it had all this little parts glued together and these big 20 minute songs without any structure or chorus, which was cool for me, it was a challenge to work like that. This album is more structured. It has more songs, it has more choruses. I think I was getting a bit tired of people saying they have to get used to my albums and after hearing that for 10 times I was like “I don’t want you to get used to it, I want you to love it!”. So, this time I tried to make a bit more of a catchy album.

Is there any specific routine that you follow when composing or recording an Ayreon album? And was there anything that you tried for the first time in “The Source”?

Usually, I look for the artwork when I’m completely ready with the music. This time I thought, why not start with the artwork? I went to google images and googled a lot of sci-fi artists and came across this guy called Yann Souetre who makes all this amazing stuff (proceeds to show me the booklet design which was truly amazing!). And then I saw the front cover, with the woman underwater and the tubes which inspired me for the story. I thought that it would be cool if that was a Forever which means that the Forever Race was once human which means that we all come from the same DNA. That’s how it happened this time.

Moving a not so many years back to the Theater Equation. What was the sparkle that made you engage in this project in the beginning?

Basically, I was not directly involved with it, because I know nothing about theater. I was going to a  signing session with my former manager, and since she had a background in the theater area, she said “I need a challenge” and I said that she could make a theater play of the human equation. So she did. As I said, I wasn’t involved with it because I’m a control freak and if I’m involved in something I take over and she didn’t want that. So she set it up and I choose and arranged the singers and the musicians. I only got involved the last couple of weeks when I noticed everything was going totally wrong. I had to step in and correct a lot of things. But in the end, it was a big success. Even though there was a lot of stress behind the scenes and a lot of things were arranged really badly, people didn’t notice it. All the musicians and the singers were great. All in all, it was a success

As you said, you chose “The Human Equation” album for this. Was there any other album that you were thinking instead of it?

If you do the Electric Castle one you have to build a rainbow bridge, you have to build an electric castle and lots of stuff that would end up being very costly. You can only do that if you have a really big stage and a lot of investment and a lot of money and you would have to perform it for a year. 01 is a science fiction story on a water planet, which would require a giant aquarium on stage. Universal Migrator was about travelling through space. How are you going to do that on stage? But this one was happening inside a man who was in a coma. So all we needed was a hospital bed, a car and that’s it. Apart from that the singers had to do the rest of the work. It was the most obvious choice.

Was it hard or easy to persuade the original singers that sang on “The Human Equation” to play a theater piece? What were their reactions?

The funny thing was that the whole plan my former manager wanted to do, and that’s where it all got wrong, was that it was going to be a very small act somewhere in a tiny theater, just with friends. That was the plan. But then James LaBrie heard about it and he was like “hey man, I wanna be in it”, and we thought that if James is doing it, maybe other people would do it as well. So I contacted the original cast and most of them said yes. So we immediately went from this small theater to this big professional thing. It was of course great. The singers were so excited to do this.

How did you enjoy it as a spectator?

Like a lot of people, I was crying. I was like “this is my story, my music” and the moment it started, it was coming to life. It was the first time one of my stories came to life. So it was a really overwhelming experience, not only to see the musicians and the singers, but to see the crowd being very emotional as well.

Speaking of concerts, what was the best concert that you ever gave, and the best one you ever attended?

The best one I ever attended would be a Rainbow concert with Cozy Powell, Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio. Oh my god. I saw all the Rainbow shows, the ones with Dio and later on with Joe Lynn Turner, Graham Bonnet and Doogie White. But the ones with Dio were my favorites. The one I did… I toured the world for 15 years, but probably the Star One that was filmed for a DVD. I think that was the most magic show I ever did. It was just seven shows, so there was no routine involved, everyone still liked each other even though there were some pretty big egos there which were clashing so it shouldn’t have lasted longer. But it was still on the edge, it was still cool and we actually didn’t know that it was being filmed. We had one little camera for ourselves so we could see it back and we had no plans of an official DVD release. We were recording it in some computer that was in a car. That’s why I think it was so magical, cause no one was nervous about being filmed. It was a very spontaneous and a very real show.

 

arjen lucassen 2

 

Time for the Justin Case special question! What is your life philosophy?

The meaning of life is to give life meaning.

Ooh..

Actually, I came up with that myself. Everyone is always looking for the meaning of life. Is it some big secret? No it isn’t, you know. The meaning of life is to give life meaning. And it’s not easy, it’s hard. I give my life meaning everyday. I get up in the morning and I’m thinking “aah.. I’m gonna have a nice walk with the doggie, and after that I’ll have a nice breakfast and watch a good TV series. Later I’ll answer some fan mail, see what people have to say…”, it sounds really small but that’s my way of giving my life a meaning. It sounds really simple. I think Rush said it well “Why are we here? Because we are here. Why does it happen? Because it happens” on “Roll the Bones”. I love that album too.

If you would have a dream sequencer, what would you do with it? Were would you travel?

Really, I would stay where I am. I like it here. You know, I’m a recluse, I live in a bubble with my doggie and my girlfriend, my music is successful, I get lovely mails from people saying I improved their life. I wouldn’t want to get away from here. I would just not use it. Actually it’s hanging on my wall as a painting.

So you already have yours.

I already have mine, it’s just a painting and it’s just enough for me.

 

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