Arjen Lucassen Interview
April 16, 2001
by Steph Perry
It appears you have to dig deep for good rock these days. One particular gem is hidden away in the woods of Holland, guitarist/composer Arjen Anthony Lucassen. We hooked up with Arjen by telephone to discuss his last Ayreon release, Universal Migrator, and his just completed Ambeon CD, Fate of a Dreamer. This project is a departure for Lucassen, who described the album as ambient and soft, with very dark lyrics and stirring vocals by the teenage Astrid van der Veen.
The Ambeon project came about after Arjen downloaded some of his Ayreon songs into his new computer to “discover things that are buried somewhere in the music in order to make some new songs”. The original concept was an “instrumental atmospheric album”, but after meeting Astrid and hearing her sing, he offered her the chance to collaborate. So his idea for an instrumental album quickly turned into a vocal album. The album release date is May 10. American fans will have to get it on import.
Lucassen began writing music when he was 15. His influences are many, from pop to heavy metal to acid rock. He relates, “I’m a huge Beatle fan, that’s where it all started for me.” His favorite lyricist is Neil Peart of Rush, and he counts seeing Rainbow (with Ronnie James Dio and Cozy Powell) as the concert that most influenced him.
Arjen wastes no time in collaborating with some of today’s brightest musicians. From metal’s Bruce Dickinson and Andi Deris, to proggers Lana Lane and Erik Norlander, Arjen molds his compositions to best fit the strengths of his performers. Lucassen doesn’t seem to mind the influence of his ever-growing roster of collaborative musicians. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact Arjen leaves on them.
Although Arjen doesn’t usually perform live, he recently joined Norlander on stage. They performed the Ayreon songs “Dream Sequencer” and “Dream Sequencer Reprise”, as well as two Rocket Scientist (Norlander’s band) songs “Mariner” and “Space 1999″. He said, ” I was extremely nervous (hadn’t played live in 7 years) but it went very well and I was glad Erik talked me into it”.
Arjen likes to run. He said he gets ideas when he runs. He also said, “I’m kind of like a recluse. I don’t watch television and I don’t read the newspapers, so I’m not of this world. Absolutely not.”
Out of the woods of Holland we await the next chapter from the progressive rock master, Arjen Anthony Lucassen…stay tuned.
Has enough time elapsed where you can listen to and enjoy the Universal Migrator epic?
Yes…usually it takes about a year until I can listen to it. I just bought a new car, with great equipment in it, and I tested it out with my own CDs. That was the first time I listened to them since I made them. Yes I can enjoy them, absolutely. I think I enjoy part one more than the other part.
Do you know why?
Well, I think I prefer playing metal music but listening to prog music. I think that’s it. My body needs metal and my mind needs rock! That’s a good one, I just made that up! I think the first album, The Dream Sequencer, has no weak points, for me personally. I thought it was a really strong CD. Strange to say of my own CD because usually when I just finish a CD, I hate it…I think people are gonna laugh their heads off…but then a year later I hear it and think, this is so good, I’ll never do anything like that again!
Were there other moments in history that you wrote about but didn’t include on Dream Sequencer?
I don’t think so.
I just find it really interesting how he goes back in time, and sort of becomes these characters, and you really get a feeling for these times in history.
If I explain it, you’ll laugh! I used a children’s encyclopedia…And it just states the important things, you know? So that’s where I got all the information in the first place. Then, of course, as soon as I had a subject, I really went into it by buying other stuff or watching movies or whatever.
What are you working on now?
Well, it’s kind of a secret… It’s going to be a heavy album. It’s going to be a metal album. Which is good because I just did the Ambeon thing and it’s very ambient and soft. It’s great to go for it now, to do a heavy project.
When you’re composing, what comes first – the characters and the story or the music and melody?
First it’s me sitting in the front of the TV with my guitar with the sound off. Just fooling around. Then as soon as I think, “Woa, this is good”, I’ll write it down – because I can’t write music. I just write down “sounds like Led Zeppelin” or “sounds like Jethro Tull” or whatever. Usually when it’s a chord sequence, it’s gonna be sort of like an atmospheric thing, or when it’s a guitar riff, usually it’s gonna be a heavy thing. After a few months, I take everything I wrote down and I play it, and I think, “Woa, I have enough stuff for an album”. And then I go into my studio and program the drums and keyboards and stuff, and I work the songs out until I feel they are completely finished. And then I let the music inspire me to write the story. And then I go looking for the singers, and usually I even adapt the lyrics to the singer. So at the very end I write the lyrics.
Do you have any non-musical influences that give you inspiration, besides TV?
Sure. Films, movies, old English television series. And science fiction and fantasy stuff absolutely influences me.
Who’s on your wish list for future collaborative efforts?
Each time I make a list of 50-100 musicians, and I try them all. No matter how big they are, you never know. I couldn’t have wished or hoped that someone like Bruce Dickinson would sing my song, you know? To come to my studio, and stand beside me and sing my songs, it’s such an amazing feeling.
Do you find that the progressive movement is gaining more momentum?
Yeah, I think so. I think bands like Dream Theater and Spock’s Beard are doing a great job for that.
Do you use the internet often?
A lot, yes. It’s funny because my second album was called “Actual Fantasy” which is the opposite of ‘virtual reality’. It was completely against computers and against people not using their imaginations anymore. It was so funny. I was doing the sleeve for that album, and the artist that was working with me — I had to drive to his place all the time and it was like 50 miles away — he said “you have to get internet, man, I can send it you”. And I said, “No! I hate that, I just made an album against it”. So he said, “I don’t mind, I’m coming to your place this evening and install internet for you”. So he did, and well, I’ve never looked back. Since then I’ve been behind the computer 4-5 hours a day. It’s become a day-time job. And, of course, it’s a great way to stay in touch with musicians.