Recently I had the pleasure of doing an interview with Arjen Lucassen, the creative mastermind behind Ayreon, Star One and Guilt Machine. His latest venture is a new solo album, entitled “Lost In The New Real”. We talked extensively about his new solo record, his passion for vintage sixties and seventies music, working with Rutger Hauer and about technical developments spiralling out of control…
Let’s talk about your latest endeavour, namely your new solo album, entitled “Lost In The New Real”. Why the craving to release something under your own name?
I wanted to make a solo record for a very long time, but always something came in between. Every time when I started to work on something names of various singers popped up and it always turned into an entirely different project. Before I knew it I invited like ten to twenty guest musicians, so it could hardly be called a solo album anymore, haha.
Guilt Machine was supposed to be a solo project, but then I discovered a Belgian singer called Jasper and I really wanted to have him on my record. This time around I was aiming for something more positive and upbeat, after making three albums full of dark themes with Ayreon, Star One and Guilt Machine. I wanted to return back to the time when I started with Ayreon. People didn’t expect anything from me and I could do whatever I pleased. I tried to recapture that spirit and feeling again on my new solo record. It was a very nice and enjoyable experience.
“Lost In The New Real” conveys that sense of freedom and joy very well in my book…
I didn’t had this much fun making a new record in a very long time. Especially with the last Star One album I tried to fulfil the wishes of my fan-base too much. I was constantly questioning myself whether my fans would like the music and the choices I made, but in hindsight my heart wasn’t really into the whole project.
I have to admit I get that very same feeling when I listen to the last Star One album. It’s still a good album by any stretch of the word, but it’s lacking in spirit…
Very true, but the weird thing is that I didn’t notice it when I wrote and recorded that album. When you notice such things during the creative and recording process you still have the chance to mend things. In hindsight it’s still a fine record with a decent production, but it doesn’t give me the same feeling of joy and accomplishment as the first Star One album.
You did say that people wouldn’t know what to expect from an Arjen Lucassen solo album. “Lost In The Real” sounds different from Ayreon and Star One, but your love for Deep Purple. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Beatles still shines through. For any long time Arjen Lucassen adept your new solo record doesn’t hold that many new surprises. How do you see things?
People who are familiar with the music that I grew up with won’t find anything out of the ordinary on “Lost In The New Real”. However, when you compare my last record to the full metal assault that is Star One it’s a completely different story. People who are only familiar with Star One may expect a full-blown metal album and people who only know Ayreon may expect a rock opera with countless guest musicians and all the musical fanfare that comes with it. People who like Stream Of Passion would expect something totally different altogether. Some people asked me why I haven’t released my new album under the Ayreon moniker, because there are so many musical similarities. From a commercial point of view that would have been a solid choice. However, many people would have been disappointed, because “Lost In The Real” doesn’t contain a whole cast of guest musicians and the usual Ayreon bombast.
Let’s focus on your post Ayreon albums, such as Star One, Guilt Machine and your current solo record. They are all much smaller in scale and ambition. Is this some kind of reaction of all the hassle that comes with recording a proper Ayreon record?
Absolutely! The logistics behind any Ayreon album are just an absolute nightmare. It takes a lot of time and effort to convince the musicians and guest singers I’m after to participate, let alone actually getting them in my studio and record their parts. They all have their main bands and different projects and you have to work around their schedules as well. Many artists and musicians are very much willing to work with me, but trying to convince someone with a really big name is quite hard.
It’s an expensive venture as well, because they all have their fees and I have to pay for their plane tickets as well. That’s the part of Ayreon I really dislike. Having said that, when you finally have one of those big names recording in your studio singing over the music you’ve written that makes it all worthwhile. I would go mental if I work on Ayreon albums all the time.
A couple of years ago you went through a difficult period of depressions and other issues. “Lost In The New Real” sounds like you’ve managed to overcome it all. What’s your take on this?
I think you’re right on the money there. I vividly remember working on the last Ayreon album during my depression. The first couple of songs I wrote were very dark and heavy. When I felt slightly better I wrote some more upbeat and happier songs, like “The Truth Is In Here” and “Connect The Dots”. By the time Guilt Machine was released I managed to overcome my depression, but I still needed to get it out of my system. When you’re into a depression you don’t want to talk about it, however once you’re able to get out of it it’s something you want to share with the rest of the world. I couldn’t have made an album like “Lost In The Real” when feeling completely down.
The one element that ties all your different projects together is your profound love for rock and progressive music from the sixties and seventies. What do you find so inspiring about bands, like Lep Zeppelin and Pink Floyd for instance?
It’s the music I grew up with in my teens. It’s that type of music that resonates strongly within me still. That goes for a lot of people I think. In those days I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the latest Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd albums.
I read a whole bunch of reviews and I went to the local record store asking the owner whether the new album was already available. I washed a lot cars in order to buy the next LP. Getting that LP gave me quite a high. I could look for hours admiring the album artwork and of course listening to that album. Even the songs that I didn’t like at first grew on me later on.
All those things made such a great impression on me. It may be an age thing, but I feel that music from the sixties and seventies have this timeless quality to them. Other people may argue that the eighties are better with all the classic Iron Maiden and Judas Priest albums. Like I said before, it’s an age thing.
At the risk of sounding like an old fart, but I feel that many pop music nowadays lacks some genuine soul. It’s all about gaining a quick buck…
It’s that same timeless quality again that makes music from the sixties and seventies so appealing to me. Back than experimentation was something that was actually stimulated. In the eighties everyone suddenly started to use samples and weird electronic effects.For me, it went from bad to worse in that era. It was all about fitting in a strict marketing-based profile. In those days I was a member of Vengeance and Bodine, so I have first hand experience.
When you’re in a band yourself every other outfit out there simply sucks. Especially when they’re better than you there was even more reason to envy them, hahah. I really hated Vandenberg at the time, because they were more successful than me. In hindsight, they made some really good songs and Ad van den Berg was one heck of a guitar player, certainly in those days. Rivalry is certainly a part of being in a band. Back in the Vengeance days we pretty did as we please, until grunge music swept away all the 80’s hardrock. We were completely lost back then and we tried to be something we’re not. It was a very dark and difficult period. We couldn’t get new record deal and our album sales suddenly collapsed.
Oddly enough I did an interview with Ian Parry of Consortium project fame in which he complained about the current state of the music industry and that his livelihood as a musician was in serious jeopardy…
Yesterday, I received an email from Ian Parry exactly outlining the same problems he told you about. It’s a confusing period. You can be angry about it and complain about it all you can, but you simply can’t do nothing about it. It’s the way things go nowadays. I can imagine why people download music when it’s out there for free, instead of buying music in a record store. Life is expensive enough as it is nowadays. I don’t blame the people who download the music, but I do blame the facilitators. I still don’t understand why those people aren’t persecuted for this. I mean, it’s the end of music as we know it. That goes for movies and high-end TV series as well. But then again, I’m just a musician and I don’t have all the answers. Like I said before, you can complain about it, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s a very difficult and complicated situation.
The internet has given my career a boost as well in terms of promotion. Way more people get exposed to my music. That’s the main reason why I started out as a musician in the first place. Yesterday, I put a new track online on Youtube and to my utter amazement it got 10.000 views in no time. It’s only too bad that this doesn’t translate into better album sales. Something needs to change. One of the songs of on my new solo album, called “Thought Police” is about the internet, albeit in a more extreme George Orwell-styled setting.
I’m an entertainer and I want to offer a form of escapism. It’s not to me to educate people on certain issues. That’s why I chose to address certain subjects in a somewhat comical science fiction-styled setting.
Let’s get back to “Lost In The New Real” then. The main storyline is about a person who decides to dabble with cryogenics in the hope of being re-awakened again in a new and more advanced world. When this actually happens he founds out that he can’t cope with all those changes. When you take this theme out of the science fiction framework it has some eery similarities to elderly people who become more and more socially isolated because they can’t keep up with the pace and scope of technical advances…
Absolutely, I have the same feeling. I grew up in a time before personal computers, internet and cell phones. It’s completely mind-boggling who fast things changed the past twenty years. Things are going so fast that people simply don’t have the time to deal with them properly. We’re barely able to keep up with current developments, so imagine how things will go in a couple of hundred years from now. New developments aren’t going gradually anymore. My own mother is 80 and I tried to convince to buy a computer and get on the internet, but she was simply unable to grasp the whole principle behind it. It was a lost cause. My mother has serious problems with this. She tries to call me on my telephone, but I almost forgot how to use that thing. I use Skype, Facebook and Twitter to communicate most of the time. I can only imagine how sad it must be when you start to realise you can’t keep up because of age.
Talking about elderly people, how did you manage to get renowned Dutch actor Rutger Hauer as a narrator on “Lost In The New Real”?
That was fairly simple. I visited his official website and I sent him an email telling him about my new project. To my great surprise he actually told me he was interested in participating. It took some months before he really got into the whole project, but after that he gave it his all. He wrote all his parts himself and recorded them in a studio somewhere in the US. He could have limited himself by simply narrating the storyline I’ve send him, but the most astonishing thing was he that he actually added whole new storylines to my concept. I felt and still feel very privileged having him on one of my albums. He’s one of my favourite actors since my early childhood and his acting in Bladerunner is simply fantastic. There are a lot of similarities between the plotline in Bladerunner and my own story. Both are about what’s real and what’s not and the fading line between them.
Time for the final question. What’s next in terms of new projects and is there perhaps a new Ayreon album in the works?
I’m working on something that could be the next Ayreon album yes. I never plan things in advance though, because I don’t like to limit myself. I also need to come up with a new storyline, because the ongoing Ayreon saga ended on the last Ayreon album as you may know. I’ll just wait and see where my inspiration takes me next.