Whether or not change is good there’s no escaping the fact it’s inevitable, and multi-instrumentalist ARJEN LUCASSEN is no exception to the rule.
As the master(mind) of the AYREON empire, STAR ONE and GUILT MACHINE, the towering Dutchman is known for assembling ensemble casts featuring some of the metal world’s finest voices and players – as well as discovering the occasional unknown talent – to create his now trademark epic metal operas. Lucassen composes all the music for all his projects, plays the vast majority of it (with a little help from his friends), arranges the often monstrous vocal parts and does some singing himself, yet in the end he has always been – no matter how important to the proceedings – a cog in the wheel. His latest sci-fi based conceptual outing, on the other hand, puts Lucassen front and center and behind the microphone on his own. A strange place for him to be unaccompanied but as he tells it, a hell of a lot of fun.
“I think everyone is a surprised by that,” Lucassen says of taking on all the vocal duties. “It was a big challenge for me. I’ve always liked singing. The problem was I’ve worked with some of the most amazing singers in the world. When you’ve worked with people like Bruce Dickinson and Jorn Lande, that humbles you. I could never do what those guys do. They’re amazing, having such power and technique, and I don’t have that at all. When I’m in the studio with these guys singing a melody to them you hear my little squeaky voice, and then Russell Allen sings it back like a monster (laughs). I do like the sound of my voice, but technically speaking I’m not a fantastic singer. By this point I know my limitations, though, and these songs were written for my voice so I enjoy singing them.”
As for doing away with the trademark legion of voices in favour of putting himself in the spotlight, Lucassen makes it clear that his ego had nothing to do with the decision.
“I wanted to get back the feeling I had when I started Ayreon. I wanted to make something without anyone’s expectations hanging over me. When I started doing Ayreon in ’93 or whatever it was, I was doing something that I wanted to do and I didn’t give a shit what people thought of it. I threw all my different styles into one melting pot knowing there was a small chance anyone would like it, but I didn’t care. I kind of lost that feeling over the last couple albums, especially on the last Star One (Victims Of The Modern Age from 2010). I’m really proud of that album, I think it sounds awesome, but I was thinking a lot about the fans and what they wanted to hear because they were asking for another Star One album. So, that was an album more for the fans than for me.”
“I think it was the same for the last Ayreon album (01011001), where I had 17 singers. They were singers that fans wanted to hear, so I kind of lost myself in the process of making the album and fell into the trap of trying to please everyone else but me. I figured that if I do a solo album people would have no idea what to expect, and that was a challenge for me.”
“The great thing is everyone can hear I had fun making the album,” Lucassen adds. “Everyone has told me Lost In The New Real feels like I enjoyed making it, and they’re absolutely right. There were no limitations and I did whatever I felt like doing. Some people have said ‘Well, it’s not really my music style, but I enjoy it anyway.’”
Lost In The New Real reflects Lucassen’s eclectic taste in music, which is still rooted in the ‘70s, encompassing everything from prog to folk to stoner to old school rock in one streamlined package. Ayreon fans will be stoked upon hearing tracks like ‘Parental Procreation Permit’, ‘Yellowstone Memorial Day’ and ‘When I’m A Hundred Sixty-Four’, whereas a song like the CHEAP TRICK-flavoured ‘E-Police’ is guaranteed to mindboggle even his most devout fans.
“Shit like that just happens when I’m sitting there writing;” Lucassen laughs. “I don’t know where it comes from. I hear what you hear on that song, and of course Cheap Trick stuff like ‘Surrender’ and ‘Dream Police’ was an influence, but it wasn’t deliberate.”
As mentioned, this isn’t the first time he’s been behind the microphone, having contributed vocals to his Ayreon albums since the beginning and making a rather big impression in his role of the Hippie on Into The Electric Castle from 1998. It was his performance on that album alongside vocalists like Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-THE GATHERING), Fish (ex-MARILLION), Sharon den Adel (WITHIN TEMPTATION) and Damian Wilson (THRESHOLD) that set the benchmark for Arjen’s future ventures as a singer.
“Yes, but I think The Human Equation is even a little bit more popular,” Lucassen counters, referring to his role as Best Friend on the album in question, released in 2004. “I don’t mind if people use those albums as that benchmark, as you say. That’s what I get (laughs). And really, I need those challenges.”
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