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Due to the release of the new Ayreon album "The Human Equation", I luckily got the chance to talk to Arjen Lucassen himself. Though I was hell of excited, the interview went very well, Arjen even told me I asked extraordinary questions and that I'm into his music a lot :)
Well, he's right, of course and I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did!
Hello Arjen! First of all Congrats on the new album!
Yeah, you like it??
Yeah of course I do! I think I sent you an email that I uploaded the review of "The Human Equation" on Blooddawn, I don't know if you already read it.
I can't remember to be honest. I'm getting 80 million emails a day.
Well, about the story on "The Human Equation": Did you just make it up yourself? What did inspire you??
Well yes, I made it up myself. I guess I was inspired by watching the movie of "Star One", the DVD, and I noticed how many emotions there were on the stage and in the audience during "Set Your Controls". Everyone was headbanging - and then we played "Valley Of The Queens" and Floor was singing and everyone was crying, and we were joking on stage and everyone was laughing, you know, so many emotions! And I always write music first, the instrumental parts, and then I listen to it and there were so many different styles and different emotions within the music. So I thought to myself "wouldn't it be great to write a story about emotions?". And I thought that all the other Ayreon albums, like for example "Into The Electric Castle" is about emotions as well, only packed in a science-fiction/fantasy-setting. So I thought: "well, why not taking away the science-fiction and fantasy this time, and just leave the emotions?! And wouldn't it be great to let different singers actually portrait/play the emotions". That's how I got the idea, and then I started thinking how somebody can get confronted with his own emotions? Maybe in a dream or when somebody is in a coma, 'cause who knows what happens when someone is lying in a coma?? So this is how the idea slowly was built up around the keyword "emotions".
Very interesting that you got the original inspiration through the "Star One" tour, by watching the DVD again.
Well, ok. In a magazine I read that you were deeply moved by the lyrics of the song "Day Six: Childhood". I think, maybe for example "Day Twelve: Trauma" or "Day Sixteen: Loser" is a lot more extreme, why did you even get nightmares through these lyrics?
Well, to be honest, I have no idea at all because it didn't happen to me! My father was a great man, he never hit me at all, my parents were great! I was just writing these lyrics about the boy sitting in the cellar, having bruises all over because he got beaten by his father, and his father tells his mother that nothing happened, that the boy just tripped and fell down, and that image was hunting me for nights, I don't know why. Because as you said, "Trauma", where his mother dies, is really worse, or "Loser", where his father is humiliating him, are much worse.
So, is there any autobiographical stuff within the whole "The Human Equation" story?
Well, of course there's some autobiographical lines within the story because there were years when I was a kid and I was unhappy, being different from all the other guys, I had long hair and I was wearing torn jeans, and I liked weird music like Pink Floyd and Deep Purple while everyone was listening to some mainstream stuff...so I was different from the rest.
And sometimes you get lonely. I remember, before I had the music I was kind of lonely. I listened to my LPs at home, and that gave me a lot of satisfaction. And of course my own ideas are in the story, about education and stuff like that.
OK, I see...Was there any moment when you wanted to quit the work for "The Human Equation"? Maybe because you had a burnout or whatever?
No!!! Strangely enough, not at all!! I had that feeling before I wrote the music and I had a concept about a story that was kind of an "Electric Castle" Part two, where all the protagonists were going to "Planet Y" (song from "Universal Migrator"), and they were assimilated to get their human feelings and stuff like that. And then I thought, that was not going to work, a second part of the "Electric Castle" because part two is always less than part one. But as soon as I got the music for "The Human Equation" – it went very quickly by the way - I went into the studio and I did about a song a day (in basic arrangement), and also with the lyrics, it went all very wrong. But that was an advance of the story not being science-fiction-story because in a fictionary story, you have to come up with the ideas yourself, which is not easy, like in the "Electric Castle" I had to come up with the rainbow bridge and the castle hall and the mirror maze and stuff. But this story kind of wrote itself, because I didn't have to make up that fantasy stuff. It could also be based on stories which I was told by some friends...actually, this was an easy album to make.
And a great one too! So now on to the "actors". Why did you choose not to work with the "usual suspects" like Floor Jansen, Damian Wilson, Russel Allen or Edward Reekers etc. Why did you choose completely new vocalists?
Well, each time I make an album, I want to have a challenge, something new, like the first Ayreon-album ("The Final Experiment") was a very bombastic album, and then the second one ("Actual Fantasy") was much more modern, next one being a huge concept-album with many singers and dialogue singing ("Into The Electric Castle"), and the 4th and the 5th were kind of "separating" my style, a soft one ("Dream Sequencer") and a heavy one ("Flight Of The Migrator").
You consider the two "Migrator" albums as two different albums? I have always seen it as one album, because they are connected in some way.
The story is connected, but definitely, I see the music very differently, like two extremes.
While looking back at these albums, I thought it might not be good to seperate the styles in Ayreon because I guess that's what a lot of people like, the two extremes within one story, on one album. On these "Migrator" albums, that was a little bit lost, it was like a formula, I did set myself limitations, I wanted to do a heavy album and a soft album. So this time I didn't want limitations. For me, new musicians bring new inspiration and new input, and no limitations. And it sounds fresh. Having the same people in the studio, the freshness and also the challenge get lost a bit. You know how they sing, and people know their voices. Actually, I wanted Russel Allen (Symphony X) on this album, but I said to myself "no!" because that would have been one kind of limit. Only new singers !!!
OK. I got a question on Mikael Åkerfeldt. A friend of mine told me that Mikael doesn't need any effects when he's doing his grunts. Have you been there when he was doing his vocals?
Yes, all the singers where here in my studio, except for Devin Townsend and Mike Baker. But being the personal amd emotional album that it is, the others were here in my studio, "the Electric Castle". And concerning Mikael – that's just the way he does it. You can see it on the DVD as well, there are many singers filmed. And he definetely needs no effects, however...
I read you maybe want to go to an opera with the "The Human Equation" story. Is this still in sight or was this only a dream?
Well, yes, there are options. People are interested, but it would take about two years to set it up, with rehersals and all, and it would cost about two or three million euros. There's a whole team working on it for two years, so I would have to find the right sponsors and find the right people. So we're working on that but there's nothing definete yet. It might take a long time. And if this happens, it will be out of my hands. There will be no metal singers and stuff, it will be done by theatre people.
Another question, about the pictures on the homepage and in the booklet as well. Why is there no picture for "Day Nine: Playground", the instrumental?
Well, there are two reasons. First: It's an instrumental song. We had a few pictures for "Playground", but I didn't like them. There was a merry-go-round and a boy sitting on it and somehow I think, the picture wasn't special enough to give it a seperate page, because there are no lyrics anyway. That's the reason.
Well, there's that thing that amused me a lot! Why did you put "Dream Sequencer System Offline"” at the end of the album?? Are the albums really connected in some way, or did you do it "just for fun?
Well, I came to the end of the story, and I said that the story kind of develops itself, so I never really know what happens next. But when it came to the end, I didn't want a "Hollywood" ending. Everyone expects a happy ending, and I didn't want that. Then I thought what many people would say. "Wow, Arjen has finally grown up, no science fiction and fantasy stuff this time!". And I didn't want that!
But no "real" connection to the "Migrator" albums?
The "Migrator" albums are connected to the previous albums. On the one album, we beat the alien forever, it's the song "Out Of The White Hole", sung by Timo Kotipelto. So somehow all the albums are connected, and that's the connection to the rest.
Well, let's talk about "Star One". I attended the concert in Aschaffenburg and it was a great gig, some kind of magic feeling between the artists and the audience. So, you said, you didn't plan a live-CD or even a DVD, so did you really expect the great success of the tour?
Basically, the whole album was weird. I just started writing some heavier songs because after having worked with Astrid van der Veen on Ambeon, where I was behind the computer all the time, I wanted some heavy songs, and maybe I play some gigs under an unknown name or something. And then I had twelve songs, and I was going to work them out, and at that moment, Bruce Dickinson contacted me and said "hey, let's do an album together!" and he heard the songs and he said "yeah, that's exactly what I want!" and he was going to write lyrics to the songs. But then it all went horribly wrong because I talked about it with friends, and one of them put it on the internet, and Bruce Dickinson's manager got to know it that way, and he didn't know anything about it yet, so ... that was cancelled.
And I still had these songs and I didn't know what to do with them because they didn't sound like Ayreon! My next plan was to do it with one singer only but that didn't feel right because I had all these different parts in the songs. And then I thought "well, two singers" and then it came up to four singers. And I released it under the name Star One because a new band was born, that was no Ayreon music. It started really crazy, InsideOut did a great job and then someone came and said "hey, you always said you wouldn’t play live with Ayreon, because of the too many singers, but now you can tour with Star One! So now you must play live". And then I couldn't say no anymore, and I said "ok, let's do a little tour for the fans". But I couldn't limitate myself, I thought about the stage and this stargate and spaceships and before I knew it, it was a band of ten people. The gigs in Holland were completely sold out, and I thought "wow!". I didn't expect that at all! And, as you said, I didn't want to record it all because of two reasons. One: Everyone should have fun, there should be no pressure at all. Two: We are not a band that is together for years. We rehearsed for like one or two weeks, and how can a band be good enough for a live CD or DVD after only two weeks??? But then, by chance, fans filmed the last gig, and we recorded it just for fun, and afterwards we looked at the material and we thought "well, it's not that bad, we can release a CD or a live DVD". And the reason for that great atmosphere was because there was no pressure, I'm sure about that! Everyone was having fun and that was the reason.
Nice to hear! What do you think, will there be another Star One, maybe a Star Two album??
I guess so. I never plan what I do next. I enjoyed being in Star One and it was easy to make, much easier than an Ayreon album. And... yeah, I think there will be another album. Maybe not right away but some time. I have no clue yet about the theme and what musicians but I think there will be a next part of it, yeah.
OK, I'm really looking forward to it!
Do you have a favourite Ayreon album? It must be very hard for you to say because they are all your "babies", but can you tell what's your fave?
Absolutely not, I can't say that! It's always the same. I play one and I think "That's the best" and then I play the next CD and I think "naah, this is the best one", you know? They are all special in some way. Like for example the first album was very emotional because it could have been the last thing I have ever done in my life, and I didn't know what people would think about it. The second Ayreon album was recorded completely here in my studios, the first album here and all on my own, so that was something new. "Electric Castle" is the best selling album so far, so that impresses me a lot...it's so hard to say for me...of course I cannot be objective!
Of course. Is there a singer that you like best on one of your albums? Or is it just like the album, that you like them all?
Of course, I do have my favourites, that's clear, but I will not mention it. Like if I say now "that one singer is my fave!" and another singers is reading the interview, he might be really disappointed. I definetely won't mention it. Basically I am proud of them all!
And is there any personality in the business where you say "oh, I want to work with him in the future"? I read you want to work with Rob Halford...
That would be fantastic, of course. I grew up listening to Priest from the first album on, you know? I got the first album "Rocka Rolla" when it came out and "Sad Wings Of Destiny" might be one of my faves. I grew up listening to his voice, so that would be amazing. And that's the thing. If I could work with the singers I grew up with, that would be great. For example Ronnie James Dio or Alice Cooper or all the prog-singers...the list is endless, you know?
You recorded "Actual Fantasy" with a drum computer and now I read that you might want to re-record that album.
Yeah, I plan to to that. But actually, I only want to re-record the drums. But then, the timing gets slightly different, and I have to re-record bass-guitar and the guitar. I think I can keep most of the keyboards, and of course I will not change the vocals, that would be too much. It will be a lot of work re-doing it, I hope I find the time to do it. And I plan to do a 5.1 mix because of all the different effects and the singers and vocal-effects. It is my least-selling album, and it didn't get much attention, so the promo-factor might be a reason too!
Why do you think "Actual Fantasy" is the least selling album? Because the one afterwards is the best-selling one? Was there no good promotion or...?
Well, I think it is a combination of many things. The first reason is that it is not a continuation of the first album, it was very different. I don't know if arrogant is the right word, maybe conceited. People expected another "Final Experiment" maybe and I thought, "I'm NOT gonna give it to them!". Another reason might be that there are not really famous singers on the album, that there's not a whole story, it's no rock opera, maybe it's even a bit too electronic, with the drum computer and sythesizer and stuff. Those could be that main reasons because I think there are some great songs on it. What do you think is the reason for "Actual Fantasy" not being so popular?
I don't know. I can't tell what I like or don't like. Maybe, as you said, there's no straight story all the way or because of the loads of effects...
Basically I didn't use the singers as singers, I used them as instruments. Maybe it's my most personal album.... naah, that's not true, that would be the first album I guess... but they are all personal. The least personal albums are the two "Migrator" albums because I kind of used a formula, for a heavy and a kind of soft album. Well, there are songs on "Flight Of The Migrator" that are not that strong. And there are some old songs, just polished, like the opener "Chaos" is a song I wrote ten years ago, I'm influenced a lot by Steve Vao, you can hear that a lot, and "Sleeper Awake" is an old Vengeance song from ’91 or ’92. It was a shame that we didn't use it in the Vengenace days...
I'm not too familiar with Vengeance, I have the "Arabia" CD, but I'm not into it. Why did the band split up?
Well, there were a lot of problems within the band, we had a singer who was crazy on stage, but unfortunately he was crazy off stage too. So we more or less threw him out of the band and we stopped it then. Later, we re-formed and we got another singer, who was Ian Perry, and we didn't really know what kind of music to make. Ian Perry was not like the old singer and we tried to sound like we sounded before, we tried to push him into that corner, so that didn't work out. Also the 80's metal was going out, so we didn't know what to do. We thought too much what the people wanted, not what we wanted, and in the end, we couldn't get a record deal anymore and we got depressed and we stopped, and I was glad we did. Right afterwards I started my own thing with "The Final Experiment". Oh, and before I started a band called Planet 9, a band in the Whitesnake style but that was out of date as well. And I did a solo-album in between, "Pools Of Sorrow, Waves Of Joy" (published under the name Anothony), and many people didn't understand that. The hard rock guy, having been in metal bands for 15 years, now is doing some country stuff...though it has some good stuff on it, it's very different, of course! But I was lost in those days, so...
I like that album. Different, of course, but good in a way!
And the next thing, in the credits you are always mentioning, more or less, your brother Gjalt. What does that mean?
Well, he's my older brother, and he is more intelligent, he finished school early and went to the university and he always made his homework. So he was everything I was not. I had my hair too long, and he was teasing me all the time, that I never will be successful, and then I started Ayreon and I gained success, and he thought "wait a minute, what's happening?", and he was listening to my albums, and he liked my albums! It was actually not his kind of music but he liked it. And so he started to be proud of me, and then we became friends, what we never really were before - because now we had something in common, which was my music, but in each booklet I get back at him, due to the old days, you know?
Now there are these standard questions...Where are your musical roots? You mentioned bands like Priest, Dio, Deep Purple...
Well, I have my roots in every decade. Starting with the 60's, I like the psychedelic stuff like the Beatles, then the beginning of the 70's which might be my favourite roots, like Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd of course but also the rock bands, like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, you know? In the 80's, I like the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal which is like Priest and Maiden and stuff, in the 90's I like Alice In Chains and bands like Dream Theater who are combining prog and metal sounds in a special way. And still I can find great bands. My greatest fear is one day not to find bands and music anymore because I wouldn't have any inspiration left. Hopefully there are always new kinds of bands.
I think there will always be. So, what music do you listen to at home, when you are not into Ayreon?
Well, I listen to different bands every day, so that's hard to say. I like alternative like Muse or Placebo, then I listen to prog like Porcupine Tree, AnathemaA, Spock's Bear, Neil Morse, a lot of stuff that InsideOut is releasing, I like most of the bands. Of course the bands whose singers I've been asking, like Dead Soul Tribe or Devin Townsend, and I even listen to pop music. Well, all kinds of different stuff, to get the most possible inspiration.
What is you favourite CD ever?
There's always a fight between Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and Rainbow'ss "Rainbow Rising", I cannot tell which I like best. Somehere in between.
And which was the best concert you saw?
Well, that must have been one of the first concerts I saw, like I saw the Scorpions with Michael Schenker in their "Lovedrive" period, and I was like "WOOOOOW!!!", that was a great moment. Bad Company was one of my first live concert, Blue Öyster Cult with the huge laser show, and I was happy and lucky enough to see Led Zeppelin when I was really young, and of course all the Rainbow gigs, especially the one with Dio. That must have been "Rock Palast" when there was Cozy Powell in the band. The holy trinity, Cozy Powell, Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio. That was really great. One of the few gigs when I actaully cried was when I saw Kansas, it was so great to see them on top at that moment, when "In The Spirit Of Things" was released.
Well, no more questions from my side, thanks a lot for the interview.
Thank you. I really see, you are into my music, so you are asking different questions.
Well, thank you, and I hope to see you on tour with Star One and Star Two or in the opera in the Netherlands, who knows?!?
Yeah, maybe, hope to see you too.
submitted by Paddy 10.07.2004