From eighties/ nineties "hair-metal" band member to "concept album" mastermind, Arjen's career has turned Europe's rock and metal scene on it's ear! In our interview, we talk to Arjen about his latest album ( "The Source" ). We ask him about the album's roster of guest musicians and delve into the gear and studio craft behind the album.
I want to thank Arjen for taking time from his busy schedule to answer our interview questions. Despite the fact that he was in the midst of promoting the new album ( -and setting up live performances of it in Holland ), he managed to carve out some time in order to answer our questions. For that we are extremely grateful. And so, without further adieu -here's our interview with Arjen:
Arjen at the Hammond. One of the classic rock axes you'll hear on Arjen's latest album, "The Source". Beyond guitar and organ, Arjen also plays bass, synths and ( -would you believe: banjo from time to time? ). Combining the elements of rock, prog, metal and spacerock ( -along with the occasional lilting Celtic riff to spice things up ), Arjen's broad kaleidoscope of musical influences range from Ritchie Blackmore to the Beatles to Pink Floyd, ELO, Hawkwind and Camel. No wonder his music appeals to so many people!
Creative Tech Nerds ( CTN ): Tell us a little about the new album, "The Source" ( i.e: it's concept, story line and what inspired it? )
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: This time I was inspired by the artwork of Yann Souetre, which brought me back to the original "Ayreon" timeline. This is a prequel to the Planet Y/ Forever story. It explains where the Forever race comes from, and how they lost their emotions.
*NOTE: For the uninitiated: "Ayreon" ( -and the Planet Y/ Forever story ) are a science fiction story line developed by Arjen which threads it's way through most of his "Ayreon" project albums.
Arjen: "Yes, a true vintage Minimoog, warts and all!". Another one of the vintage rock instruments to be heard on "The Source". A drop-tuned Ibanez RG 7-string was used for the album's rhythm parts. Solos and melodies come courtesy of a Fender Strat.
Arjen's Hammond A100, and a 5-string Dingwall bass ( -through SansAmp RPM pre ) trade chunky licks on several of the album's cuts. A Prophet 5, MKS Super Jupiter, Juno 60 and Solina strings round out the album's key-board arsenal. When asked where keyboard aficianadoes might find juicy solos on the album, Arjen replies: "Hard to say, they are all over the place!"
Creative Tech Nerds: You brought back a lot of singers and musicians from past "Ayreon" albums for this project. Can you mention a few of them ( -and tell us why you thought it was important to include them on this album? )
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: On a few albums I had the rule that I only wanted to work with singers I never worked with before, but this time I simply wanted the best singers! And I got them.
Creative Tech Nerds: I understand you're planning to do some live performances of "The Source" in the Netherlands featuring these performers. Are there any plans to videotape these concerts ( -and make them available on DVD for fans in Europe, the UK and USA, etc. ? )
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: Yes, we will definitely film two of the shows for a DVD/ Bluray, to be released in 2018'.
Floor Jansen ( -of Nightwish ) returns to add her vocals to the new album. She plays "The Biologist" in the album's cast of musical characters . The new album brings the "rock opera" aspect of Arjen's "Ayreon" saga to a whole new level.
"The Source" was released April 28th, 2017' in a variety of packages:
Limited Edition colored 2 LP + MP3,
Digibook 2 CD + DVD,
Earbook 4 CD + DVD ( -includes 5.1 audio ).
Regular Editions include:
2 LP + MP3, 2 CD jewel case and Digital & MFIT
Creative Tech Nerds: Can you tell us a little about how the album is structured ( i.e: into "Chronicles" ) and how the performers ( -particularly the singers ) play characters within "The Source's" story line? ( -Did you cast these parts based upon the performer's unique vocal qualities? their personalities? personal interests? or a combination of these things? ).
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: I actually base the characters in the story on the personality of the individual singers, and I write the melody lines and lyrics especially for their voice and identity.
Creative Tech Nerds: I understand some of the performers weren't able to record their parts in your studio ( -which is usually how you've done it in the past ). Did this cause any problems? ( -either from a technical standpoint or merely in trying to maintain the song's "vibe" and energy level -which is easier to do when singers and musicians are interacting with one another within the same physical space? )
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: I prefer to record the singers in my own studio, because there is always some magic and chemistry happening. But this time I worked with the best singers in the world, so I could completely trust them to record it on their own!
Arjen in his studio. This time, not all of Argen's guest singers were able to record their parts in his studio ( -as is normally the case ). That hasn't effected the album's results however.
Just take a listen to Michael Mills' phenomenal, multi-layered vocal on the album's opening track "The Day the World Breaks Down". I've never heard binary code sung better!
Creative Tech Nerds: Since there are bound to be lots of "guitar heads" reading this interview -I'll ask this question on their behalf: You've established quite a reputation as a guitar "tone meister" over the years. Can you tell us a little about the guitars you played on "The Source" ( -as well as the effects pedals, load boxes or DI's, preamps/ amps and cabinet-miking techniques ) you used to get your distinctive "guitar tones" on "The Source"?
Have you had any modifications ( i.e: new pick-ups installed, etc. ) performed on these guitars to help improve their "tone", etc. ?
Arjen Anthony Lucussen: Thanks for the compliment! I played all the rhythm parts with an Ibanez RG 7-string, and all solos and melodies with a Fender Stratocaster. A simple set-up: a modified Marshall amp and a Celestion speaker, that's it. I use three mikes: a Shure SM57, a Beyer M88 and a Peluso ribbon mic. The speaker and the mics are the most important factor for me in the sound.
Creative Tech Nerds: As a synth freak myself, I have to ask you about the synths and keyboards you played on "The Source". I understand you have a Minimoog, a Hammond and a Mellotron ( -and probably a few keyboards I've missed! ). Can you tell us about your current keyboard arsenal ( -and whether your Mini is "stock" or heavily "modded"? ).
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: Yes, a true vintage Minimoog, warts and all! An A100 Hammond with 145 Leslie. I also use my Solina strings a lot, and my Juno 60, Prophet 5 and MKS Super Jupiter.
A few of Arjen's guitars. While he could've gone "guitar-crazy", he chose to rely upon a few choice axes for this album:
An Ibanez RG 7-string and Fender Stratocaster. He also made use of a 5-string Dingwall bass ( -routed through a Sansamp "RPM" preamp ).
Creative Tech Nerds: In a similar vein, are there any synth, Hammond or Mellotron solos/ riffs you're particularly proud of on "The Source". If so, in which songs can we find these solos/ riffs?
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: Hard to say, they are all over the place!
Arjen's "Space Metal" album is a science-fiction masterpiece. Songs like "The Eye of Ra" and "Star Child" combine heavy metal and space rock, exploring space and sci-fi themes. Hawkwind founder Dave Brock was brought in to sing a Hawkwind medley of tunes on a special edit-ion. Recalling the experience, Arjen relates: "It was a dream come true, he's my hero! I spent a few days on his estate and he's a true gentle-man. It's so great to meet your heroes and find out that they are nice guys as well!"
Creative Tech Nerds: Dave Brock of Hawkwind ( -whom you worked with on the "Star One" Space Metal album ), cites science-fiction as one of the primary influences upon his music. What interests and hobbies ( i.e: science, astronomy, physics, literature, sci-fi, etc. ) would you say have exerted a continuing influence upon you and your music?
Argen Anthony Lucassen: I've been a sci-fi fan ever since I first saw Star Trek as a kid! Besides that I'm really interested in science ( -mostly physics ) documentaries, like Stephen Hawking and Through the Wormhole. I love turning science into fiction.
Creative Tech Nerds: And by the way, as a Hawkwind fan myself -can you tell us what is was like working with Dave Brock ( -on the "Star One" Space Metal album )?
I'd imagine you've gained some "cross-over" fans from Hawkwind as a result of that album. Arjen Anthony Lucassen: It was a dream come true, he's my hero! I spent a few days on his estate and he's a true gentleman. It's so great to meet your heroes and find out that they are nice guys as well!
James LaBrie of Dream Theater plays "The Historian" in "The Source". Eleven major singers ( -from the world of rock, prog and heavy metal ) were brought in to contri-bute their vocals to the album. Arjen crafted each song to suit the vocal strengths and personality of each singer. The results speak for themselves. Impressive stuff!
Creative Tech Nerds: Unfortunately, here in the US, "Star One" and "Ayreon" albums get no airplay on radio stations. Even here in St. Louis ( -home of the oldest FM rock radio-station in the country: KSHE 95 FM ), Ayreon and Star One albums are virtually never heard.
Is your new record label ( -Mascot Label Group ) making any attempts to get your albums into the hands of rock station program managers here in the US? I'm sure rock stations in Europe give your albums plenty of airplay.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: Yes, Mascot are doing their best! But I realize that it's really hard to get into that world. I have to accept that I don't make mainstream music, and I really depend on my loyal fans worldwide to spread the word.
Arjen with Australian vocalist Michael Mills. Michael plays "TH-1" on the new album. Check out Michael's incredible vocal ( -starting at: 7:18 on "The Day the World Breaks Down" promo video below ). His astounding vocal acrobatics and overdubbed harmonies ( -singing "001100101100110010" ) border on the operatic. A truly amazing performance!
Creative Tech Nerds: Considering your various album projects, DVD's, and live-performance efforts over the years -I'm wondering if at some point, we might see a new "Ayreon" or "Star One" European or US concert tour film happen?
Or perhaps an "Ayreon" multimedia project ( -based upon your past album themes or story lines ) done either as a traditional film ( -with singers and musicians playing parts and dubbing their vocals onto the soundtrack ), or done utilizing computer animation or a "mix" of the two, sometime in the future?
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: Yes, that would be great! Of course this cost many millions. But if someone is interested to set this up, I'm game!
Melding rock, prog, metal, spacerock and "rock opera" into a whole new category of music, Arjen Anthony Lucassen's music defies easy categorization. Maybe that's why his "Star One" and "Ayreon" concept-albums have received so little airplay on US rock stations. And that's a shame! If you're a fan of Arjen's music, contact your local ( -progressive minded ) FM rock station and challenge them give Arjen's music some airplay!
Creative Tech Nerds: I would imagine it's very difficult to organize recording sessions for albums like "The Source" ( -where you're bringing in performers -some from foreign countries ) to sing and play on the album. I mean just finding slots in these performer's work schedules must be a challenge ( -not to mention getting them to and from the airport as well as arranging their lodging! ). It must be a logistics nightmare. Do you have a team of people doing this for you or do you still do this yourself?
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: Luckily, I don't have to organize the logistics like arranging flights and stuff myself, but I mostly arrange the dates with the musicians directly. I always pick them up myself, if I can!
Creative Tech Nerds: I'm wondering if this has ever led to any funny incidents you could tell us about? Similarly, have any funny or amusing things ever occurred during any of your "Star One" or "Ayreon" recording sessions?
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: Not really! I'm a terribly boring and anti-social nerd so I prefer to go straight to the studio and record.
-END OF INTERVIEW-
For rock music afficianadoes and progressive rock station program directors ( -unfamiliar with Arjen's music ), below are the FOUR "must have" Arjen albums you need to get!
This is the album that made me a believer! It never fails to impress. Usually takes just one listen to turn most rockers into diehard Arjen fans! Songs like "Dragon on the Sea", "The Druids Turned to Stone" and "Planet of Blue" are "go to" cuts for progressive rock jocks. This album has it all! Rock, metal, prog, spacerock. Even ballads. Pink Floyd fans will absolutely love it! Some of the songs sound as if they were culled from Floyd's 1975' "Wish You Were Here" recording sessions. *See our full review of this Ayreon concept album on our "MUSIC REVIEWS 2" page.
"Space Metal" is Arjen's premier "Star One" concept album. It combines heavy metal, spacerock and sci-fi themes. Cuts like "Eye of Ra" and "Star Child" are standout cuts for progressive-minded rock stations. There's a special edition version that includes a medley of Hawkwind tunes -sung by none other than Dave Brock. I don't know if this ( special edition version ) is still available -but it's well worth searching out. A "must have" for all Metal and Spacerock fans!
"Into the Electric Castle" is widely acknowledged as Arjen's most popular "Ayreon" album. It has some great cuts. Progressive rock stations should have no problem finding tunes from this album to put into their regular airplay rotation.
If you've read this interview, you'll know that Arjen's latest album "The Source" is now available. It's another of Arjen's "Ayreon" concept albums -sure to find favor with many rock music fans. The musicianship, vocal talent and studio craft displayed on this album is nothing short of incredible. Progressive rock station PD's won't go wrong playing any of the cuts from this album. Dream Theater, ELO, Jethro Tull, Camel fans and others will all find something to love in this album. Highly recommended!
-And so it goes....