ARJEN LUCASSEN – Still some genuine rest for the wicked

Like many artists, the Dutch mastermind Arjen Lucassen isn’t content to sit at home idle. In this extensive interview, we discuss not just one, but three of his exciting projects. Ayreon, Plan Nine and SImons Simons are all here!

Like many artists, the Dutch mastermind Arjen Lucassen isn’t content to sit at home idle. In this extensive interview, we discuss not just one, but three of his exciting projects. First, we revisit the incredible live experience of Ayreon’s “01011001” with the upcoming live album and Blu-ray “Live Beneath The Waves 2023”.

Next, we delve into Arjen Lucassen‘s new project, Plan Nine, in collaboration with singer and friend Robert Soeterboek. Finally, we explore the highly anticipated solo album of Epica’s singer Simone Simons.

Arjen Lucassen and the artists on stage by Cristel Brower
Arjen Lucassen and the artists on stage by Cristel Brower

A lot of work for Arjen Lucassen

How are you and how is this period treating you?

Well, I’ve had a very busy year, you know, because I’ve been doing the Ayreon on live shows, obviously, which was a lot of work, then I’d been doing the Plan Nine album, which was not so much work. And then I’ve been doing Simone Simons‘s album which was a lot of work. So, yeah, it was. So such a crazy year, you know, because when I stopped one project, I started working on the other one, and then I had an hour free, and then I started working on the third one. It was a lot of work.

And suddenly it was over, you know, a few months ago. Okay, so that’s, that’s always hard for me, that’s then my blackhole period starts, you know, because I want to continue, I want to keep working and I want to go to the next project. But when there’s no inspiration, you know, there’s nothing you can do.

So you have to just let it happen you know.

And it’s not good for me. I’m and I’m not just let it happen guy. And so that’s how I but hey, I’m doing a lot of promotion for for three albums that I’m really proud of. So that’s good.

I checked out the Bluray release. I was there on the Sunday show. So the last one.

Well, that’s that’s the show on the Bluray. Okay.

Such a gigantic production for Arjen Lucassen

Well, probably, I will see my face when I get a Bluray, because I was in the first row. But how do you look back to such gigantic production? Because I don’t want to imagine how much work in the backstage there is in the I mean, starting from the singers to be contacted preparing the parts, considering also that Floor Jansen was pregnant. Also, you know, someone that can replace her and in a good way, because the parts were also exclusively written for her, right?

Yeah. Well, you know, I was thinking, if we can’t get the most famous singer in the world, because I think Floor at the moment, must be the most famous thing in the world. Then I want like one of the best singers in the world, you know, so that was, I talked with Joost. And we were both like, yeah, that’s Brittany [Slayes], you know, she can do anything. She can sing the power belting and the opera voices. And she’s such a positive person, you know, she has great charisma, which is also very important for us.

So, so that was not a difficult choice that and we contacted her and immediately she was on board. And when I told her she will have to sing “Fate of Man” which is a very difficult song to sing, she didn’t hesitate. Also, it’s one of het favorite songs and she’s a huge Terminator fan which the song is about. It’s her favorite movie, so no problem at all.

Improvements for the scenography

And, you know, as I told you, before, I was present at the show. What I, what I marked this time that there was a huge investment also in in the scenography. If I recall the previous previous show that I attended, so I saw a lot of lights and a lot of crazy stuff. And I
think there’s a lot of pre production also in that I might say…

The good thing is this time we worked we put everything in the computer because the last first two shows we were dependent on the lighting guy you know, and a lot can go wrong. And it’s different every evening. So this time we wanted everything pre programmed. So, we started working on it more than a year before the shows. Also, of course, more than a year before the shows, you have to book the singers, because they’re all very busy with their own bands.

So, you got to be really early with that. And for the lights, we had a guy who was really good, and he knows how to program it. So we went there, like every month to work on the programming of the lights. Because we wanted everything to be perfect this time, you know, every time we’re complaining. So, we create a list with the goal to improve all these matters.

Then, everything was improved in the end, because I saw quite a difference from the last show.

Good. Good.

Arjen Lucassen and the show by Cristel Brower
Arjen Lucassen and the show by Cristel Brower

And yeah, I mean, it was a fantastic show. But the downside of it was so really first sold out.

I know. And every time we think that it’s not gonna sell out. This time, we were cautious with three shows, because we thought we just had Corona and people don’t have money, and people are afraid to travel. And we were just afraid we wouldn’t feel three shows. And of course, they were done within five minutes. So then we added the fourth show, which was the Saturday afternoon show. In the end we had a Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening and Sunday evening.

But then, there was a lot of disappointed fans because they didn’t manage to get a ticket. We were asked to add a fifth show. Of course, but before announcing that you have to ask all the musicians first because they would need to perform twice in a day. Luckily everyone said yes. I’m always insecure. I’m always like, are people going to come? And but yeah, we filled five shows and together with the tryout and the dress rehearsal shows.

The role of the municipality of Tilburg for Ayreon

But I’m gonna play a little bit the devil’s advocate right now, you know, I live in the Netherlands, like you. And I know, the 013’s capacity. Considering how much show you had to add the last time isn’t not the time to maybe change the location to a bigger one? I know that you have your reserves about that.

Of course, we have a lot of talks about this. How can we solve that, you know, because there’s people who can’t see which is not good. But there’s so many reasons to work with 013 and it works really well for us. Basically, we always say Ayreon is a family and 013 has become part of our family. Also, all the equipment is there, all the sounds, stuff is there. Everything is possible. We’re always working together with them really well. And most importantly, we have a very good arrangement with the municipality of Tilburg that supports the Ayreon week and even all the restaurants nearby are joining in and that works so well for us.

On top of that, I like to intimacy that a location as 013 offers. If you have if you play in a stadium, the audience just becomes one blur while in 013 if you’re on stage, you can still see the faces you can still see other people and you still have that intimacy which is so important with the Ayreon shows. I find important have the direct contact with the audience.

Even Arjen Lucassen takes some rest

This year, you were really busy. I mean, you had the show to editing now. We are we have total three releases: we have the Ayreon show., the Plan Nine release and, in August, we’ll have Simone Simons. I cannot imagine one day in Arjen Lucassen’s life because for me having three, three big projects like this, I need to take one of the time fully dedicate to it. So you have to explain me how can you do that?

With with these three, it’s just worked out because for the Ayreon show all my work was began a year before the actual show. During this phase, I’m picking the singers, I’m arranging the music, and I’m brainstorming for the stage. Subsequently, I pass all that to the production team and to Joost [van der Broek]. It’s just after this phase that his work starts. Instead what happened with Plan Nine is I had already this material because are 30 years old songs with complete lyrics. All I had to do was re-work them with brand new arrangements and rerecord them. But I didn’t have to be creative.

So that was good because I could do the Plan Nine album when I wasn’t creative, I could just work on these old songs. Instead the upcoming solo album of Simone Simons took a lot of work even if I was so honored with her request, I wanted to produce and create the best album I can. It was very scary for me and it represented a big challenge for me. Out of the three projects. the most intensive one was Simone‘s because I had to be really creative and compose new songs. Although it looks like I’m a workaholic, but it’s really it’s it’s not that it’s not that much.

At six o’clock in the evening I stopped like everybody else, and I just lie in front of the TV and I do nothing all evening. So it’s not like I’m working day and night or something [laughs].

Plan Nine old times Photo by Irene Vögeli
Plan Nine old times Photo by Irene Vögeli

Dusting some off some demoes for the shelves

About Plan Nine, you have literally dusted off some old demos from your shelves, how was to re-listen to them again after 35 years?

Well, I don’t like to work on old stuff because, in my view, if it’s old stuff, it wasn’t good enough. And, I want to let it keep it in the past. But the singer Robert Soeterboek is a very good friend of mine since 1989. And he asked me to help him out and then I did it because he’s been always helping me throughout the years. We started working on one song and we had a lot of fun to the point that the song was improved. During this process, I started to think that all these old ideas they didn’t make it not because they were bad songs but they didn’t make it because it was a bad time.

In the beginning of the 90’s, grunge was proponderant and bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were the height of their popularity. In the end, people were not waiting for this kind of music. And also, we didn’t have any money to professionally produce ourselves. However, what we had were all these silly little ideas on a cassette that we recorded in a little room two by three with a mattress and the tape recorder.

And that was it. At the time, we didn’t have any power to push it a record company to release this material. At some point, I felt like it would be a shame if these songs would never be released. Thanks to my knowledge gained through the years in sound and arrangements, I could improved them so much. Then, once we re-worked just one, we were motivated to continue also on the other demoes.

The musical palette of Plan Nine

Indeed, what I liked the most about the album is its music. There are different there are different musical flavors in it. You have the bluesy and melancholy song like “Before Morning Comes” and then you have this straightforward 80s arena rock song like “Ice on Fire”. All in all, they look different, but when you they have put it together in an album like Plan Nine you don’t even realize the difference.

Good, good. Well, that’s what I liked about 70s music, it was so adventurous. If you take old Led Zeppelin albums such as “Led Zeppelin Three”, you get blues, folk, country and rock songs. Like you said, Plan Nine it doesn’t feel like they don’t fit together, it feels like they’re all connected. This also possible thank to the main structure, we have the guitar sound, the hammond and we the amazing backing vocals of Irene [Jansen and Jane Goulding] on each song. With this release we established a sound and within it, we tackle lots of different styles in it.

Diversity is the law

It feels like an album composed with fun, but it also has differences of different flavors. It’s like going to a barbecue and you are free to choose what you like. For example, if you are vegetarian, you’re gonna just fish. I really like it because, you know, proposing always the same recipe. It tires also the listener.

Totally, totally. And that’s also why I do all the side projects. I could not release the same musical style like AC DC, Iron Maiden or Motorhead. As a listener, I also like many different styles of music and if you look in my record collection, you’ll be amazed of how many different styles are present. It’s for people with an open mind. And luckily, nowadays, there are a lot more people with an open mind. And back back in the 90s, during the period of grunge, you were not allowed to look good, or special clothes. You had to look as if you didn’t care and, the keyboards were not allowed. Right now, there are no more rules.

Arjen Lucassen & Robert Soeterberg's Plan Nine Photo by Lori Linstruth
Arjen Lucassen & Robert Soeterberg’s Plan Nine Photo by Lori Linstruth

The partecipation of Irene Jansen

And also what I love this Irene Jansen and Jane Goulding. Yeah, I find that a bit reductive to call them backing singers. I think they are one of the important ingredients of Plan Nine for me because they are that. I don’t know, they have that special flavour.

Totally and it fits Robert [Soeterboek]’s big, low voice. As a contrast, you need something on top of that. And the first person we thought about was Irene [Jansen] because I’ve been working with her since Star One in 2003. She has so much power and she’s such a great person as well which made an easy choice.

Second album? Arjen Lucassen says no

Do you forseen maybe a second Plan Nine album with Robert? Or we have to consider just a one time only happening?

For me yes because it’s the songs were already there. I didn’t have to create new songs and that was very easy for me. I love always work on new projects and after this, I’ll probably do solo or an Ayreon album. However if Robert wants to do another album I’ll surely help him out by producing something. But if he wants to write his own songs, or write songs with someone different, it’s fine by me. It will happen the same situation like with Stream of Passion, The Gentle Storm and Vuur. I was involved in the writing songs in the first album, and then, they just continued with their own material.

Arjen Lucassen’s solo “Pools of Sorrow Waves of Joy” re-release

In relation to solo albums, eight months ago, you have announced re-release of Arjen Lucassen’s solo “Pools of Sorrow Waves of Joy”. And then, apparently, there was no follow up on that announcement. So, I’m wondering is still in the works?

It’s finished. I’ve been working on it the last month. I found a lot of demos. So there’s a bonus CD with over an hour of unreleased material, a lot of cover versions and stuff like that. The issue is with this release, it will be the fourth one, people are gonna kill me [laughs]. I cannot inflate the market with one Arjen Lucassen release.

So that will be released for next year. However, if we do shows again in 2025, which is a big chance that we will happen, I would sell Arjen Lucassen‘s solo “Pools of Sorrow Waves of Joy” there, which would help the fan in saving shipping costs. That’s currently the plan in mind. However, I’ll independently release it which means understand how to correctly press CDs, And and the packaging.

Arjen Lucassen photo by Lori Linstruth
Arjen Lucassen photo by Lori Linstruth

Jumping into the unknown

First of all, I want to ask you, why did you decide to going solo without your label this time? And secondly, did you think about crowdfunding?

Yeah. True. But I don’t really need the crowd funding, I have the money to invest on it. And I need to release it independently because I don’t own the rights. The rights belong to another label, and they don’t want to sell it. It’s not that they are bad people, they don’t want to give it away, or they don’t want to sell it.

However, they have allowed me to release it myself. Though if I’ll do with Mascot, it would be gonna be a different financial setup. So that’s why I’m doing it myself. In this manner, I can give this label who owns the rights their share. Even though, it’s complicated and I’m sure that we’ll work out, we’re busy with it.

Well, I hope that that will work out. It can be also a bit of a jumping into the unknown if you allow me…

I love jumping into the unknown and I do it with everything I do. I’m sure about its outcome and probably, like you suggested, I’ll use a crowdfunding, or maybe I can already have people preorder it. And through that, I can approximately know how many CDs I have to press and stuff like that.

Arjen Lucassen and Simone SImons [no photo credit avalaible]

Arjen Lucassen new project with Simone Simons

The third project that this year is on the mouth of every fan is Simone Simone solo album. I loved “Aeterna”. Since I’m a big Epica fan, I’m used to high quality standards. Considering her new album, what we have to expect from that?

Again, like which project I’m involved, you can expect everything on this album. If the listeners think that it will sound like “Aeterna”, that they will be wrong because it won’t. The reason behind “Aeterna” as first song is because it’s the closest to Epica and Ayreon. It’s just bombastic and it has the choir. We didn’t want to alienate people because the moment you release something different than usual, listeners will be like “She’s has sold her soul to the devil”.

We just wanted to show that it’s not a pop album or whatever. At the moment, what I can say is that there’s all kind of stuff on it, I would say half the album is very atmospheric and half the album is pretty heavy. And you’ll notice with the release of her second and intimate single which will be out pretty soon.

My last last question is related about your upcoming future plans. During the interview, you have mentioned that there’s a huge probability that next year that an Ayreon of a Star One show will happen. But, also that you’re momentarily stuck with the writing. In the end, On what are you working right now?

Well, I can tell you that we are already working on the shows for the next year. It will be happen for sure. As you have mentioned before, I’m literally in the black hole right now. I’m not working on anything expect the remixes of “Human Equation” which is 20 years old. I decided to work on the album because I don’t like how the drums sound. Despite my black hole, I’m hope to get new ideas soon. And, by then, I hope to start working on a Arjen Lucassen album. But we’ll see.

You May Also Like

Jyou & miko – exist†trace

Interview by Miriam C. The J-rock legends exist†trace, after the critically acclaimed mini albums previously released “Spiral Daisakusen” and “DIAMOND”, further enhance their new musical evolution with their second album “WORLD…
View Post

Maxine Petrucci

Interview by Robert Brady It certainly does not feel like 30 has passed since I first discovered Maxine Petrucci– former MadamX and now solo artist along with her sister Roxy…
View Post

Chelsea Wolfe

Interview by Miriam C. Chelsea Wolfe is really a strange beast. Musically is quite impossible to define [she mixes doom, folk and acoustic music] her but the beauty in her…
View Post

Noora Louhimo – Battle Beast

Interview by Roberta Ilaria Rossi What a great year for Battle Beast! After a great tour that has seen them supporting Nightwish and a huge change in the lineup, where…
View Post