AT HOME WITH ARJEN LUCASSEN
Having arrived at Roosendaal train station on the last leg of a slightly bizarre journey from Manchester via Zurich then Amsterdam, I expected to be met by Star One/ Aryeon mastermind Arjen Lucassen’s manager Lori but was greeted by the man himself. Arjen Lucassen, a giant at 6 foot 7 inches tall, is as congenial a host as you could hope for.
As we travel to his home for the interview, Arjen enquires about my tastes in music and we wax lyrical upon favourite artists. Once at the house of Lucassen, you know this is a musician’s home. A piano stands in the hall and pictures of The Beatles stare down at you from near the staircase. The living room is full of CDs and DVDs including a ton of pre-ordered copies of his latest album which are being sent by Lori to fans hungry for their fix of Space Metal.
I start by asking Arjen why he decided to make a second album after previously stating that he was “Not a fan of sequels”. “Well, as I always say in each interview, every album I do is a reaction or a contrast to the album before that. If I do this huge record like the last Aryeon album (“01011001”) which has seventeen singers and twenty five guest musicians and was a double CD with extra DVD and a big science fiction story then I want to do something small like the Guilt Machine album which had only one singer, drums, guitar and keyboards. It was an atmospheric album with long songs and very profound lyrics like about depression, as Lori and me were both going through that, so it was to exorcize our demons. People didn’t really get it and it didn’t sell as well as my other projects, unfortunately, so the reaction to that is I’m going to do an “in your face” metal album based on guitar riffs where the songs are a bit shorter, more catchy and to the point. I’ve already done so many projects and basically Star One is the metal side of Aryeon. I always call Aryeon my mothership as it has all the styles from metal to prog to psychedelic to folk to electronic to death metal to whatever! I was listening to the first album thinking “I can improve this”. “So that’s what made me decide to do the second album.”
One thing I noticed about new album “Victims Of The Modern Age” was the themes on the record reflected films of a darker nature that were set on earth. I wondered if Arjen had consciously decided on darker topics for a harder record. “Yeah it’s not a case of “I want to do something, let’s select these songs to fit the movies”; it’s the other way around. I think because of the heavier guitar sound, the music just got darker. I always listen to the music first then write the lyrics that inspire me. The first Star One album was very spacey with the Hawkwind medley and I thought Hawkwind had made Space rock so let’s take it one step further and do space metal! On the new record the movies are darker and dystopian and post-apocalyptic. “It All Ends Here” was very obviously Blade Runner, very slow and dark and “Digital Rain” is a very fast technical song.”
The album features four singers: Floor Jansen of Revamp, Dan Swanö of Edge of Sanity/ Nightingale, Damien Wilson of Threshold and Russell Allen of Symphony X fame. Were there any issues when a vocalist wanted one particular part? “It was different. I sang all the guide vocals and the singers get my guide vocals and I tell them “I can’t sing like you can.” “They are only there so you know what the lyrics are, where to sing and what melody I had in mind. I even tell them if they don’t want to listen to it, don’t. Just come here for two days and we’ll work on it spontaneously. That’s when you get the best results. They were all here separately. They didn’t see each other. They each came for two days and they are the best singers in the world. So completely different and that’s the reason I wanted to work with them again because they complement each other.”
Having worked with over one hundred singers now I wondered, “Was there anyone else Arjen wanted to work with?” “Oh yes the list is endless. Ok, John Lennon is gone but if I could work with Paul McCartney or Robert Plant, Ian Gillian or Geddy Lee. I’ve tried them all I’ve tried Geddy four times and Alice Cooper too. You gotta be fast. The same with Dio- he’s the best singer ever. It’s great to work outside of the metal and prog but they are dirty words for some people. Like if I wanted to work with Kate Bush, for instance, I tell her manager what kind of music it is and they say no. It’s difficult.”
Is there was any quality that Arjen looks for in a musical collaborator? “For singers it’s the sound of the voice. Glenn Hughes is one of the best singers in the world but his voice is not my thing but Ronnie James Dio or Robert Plant – “Hell Yeah!” I was on Facebook a couple of days ago and saw Robert Plant talking about his new album and just to hear him talking was awesome” Lucassen beamed. “The same for guitarists like Eddie Van Halen and Dave Gilmour and Steve Vai.””It’s about feel over technical ability.”
The special edition of “Victims…” second CD features Tony Martin of Black Sabbath fame along with Mike Andersson and Rodney Blaze. Why didn’t these songs fit with the rest of the album? “I had thirteen songs in total which didn’t fit on one CD. I wanted to make a typically aggressive metal album and chose eight songs that fit that bill, the five songs left had a different feel. I like them just as much as I do the other songs, that’s why I persisted with the record company and said this is not a bonus disc, it’s CD one and CD two. I actually approached Tony Martin for “Electric Castle” back in 96 or 97. Back then he was way too expensive. You could buy a Mercedes for that amount of money but last year I saw him on Facebook and I asked him to work with me again so I sent him this track and we would work the financial side out. I got it and I had goose-bumps all over. I had that feeling with Bruce Dickinson back in 99. If you had told me, back in the day when Bruce joined Iron Maiden that he would come and sing in my studio, I would have told you to get out. Ha-ha!”
Talking of notable vocalists again, I broached the topic of Arjen working with Steve Lee of Gottard who died recently following a tragic motorcycle accident. Steve is credited as the first vocalist on Aryeon’s My Space page. I wondered if they had been close? “I put him on top immediately the moment I heard it. We go back to the eighties. He was a drummer back then. He gave me a cassette and I heard him sing and what a voice! So I called him and he came to Holland and we worked on songs. It didn’t work out as he had plans to set up Gottard but we kept in touch and for the last album he had a couple of days off and came to the studio. I remember he had this horrible manager that was a real asshole who told me “You’re only allowed to do four songs with Steve.” He came down and did eight songs and he was such a gentleman such a great guy and a great singer. He had another accident before this and he said “I’ve got a guardian angel looking out for me” but they were not there the next time. It’s still hard to believe.”
Finally I wanted to ask if there was any chance of more live shows from Star One. Considering the large cast required, had Arjen thought of arranging anything? “The problem is getting everyone together to rehearse. You need months of rehearsal. I need to fly them all to Holland, it’s very expensive and time consuming and of course the musicians all have their other bands. The first tour we did eight shows and sold out all of them, even the biggest places in Holland, and we didn’t break even because it’s so expensive. But I’m not ruling it out, it’s an option. The first show recorded for the DVD was so spontaneous so I need to know we could capture that magic a second time but the fans want it so we’ll consider it.” Arjen Lucassen, boldly going where no musician has gone before.