AYREON – Interview with Arjen Anthony Lucassen


Interview by Miriam Cadoni

Photo by Lori Linstruth

There’s always a lot anticipation when Ayreon mastermind Arjen Anthony Lucassen announces a new opus. Nothing like this time these words proved to be truthful. Thanks to an effective marketing strategy, the Dutch mastermind introduce his new release by simple hints and short YouTube guessing games videos. Now that the whole story was unveiled, it’s time to dig into “Transitus” together by reading this great interview. Enjoy!

Hi Arjen, welcome to Femme Metal Webzine. How are you and how these peculiar days are treating you?

I’m excellent and really I’m. I didn’t really notice the pandemic because I’m such a reclusive. Basically, I’ve been in lockdown for the last 25 years [laughs]. I’m not really a social person, I don’t have neither a family nor kids.

I don’t have any friends, so, nothing has changed for me. The only time when I leave the bubble is just one time per week for my groceries. All is fine here.

Your tenth full-length “Transitus” marks your comeback after 3 busy years with your previous release with “The Source” and other adventures. When did you start to conceive the first ideas for this new project?

Basically, all is started 3 years ago in 2017. Probably, this is the album for a longest span of time but, during those 3 years, we had also the live shows, both “Ayreon Universe Live” and “The Electric Castle Live”. Of course, it took a lot of time to organize. So, I guess, I’ve been worked on “Transitus” in total for 2 years, even if everything started in 2017.

Originally, it was supposed to be a movie not an Ayreon album. I just wanted to fulfill one of my old times dreams because I’m a huge movie fan. I love to watch movies and TV series, so, I wanted to create my own movie. So, throughout 2017 and 2018, it was still a movie as a general idea.

Let me ask you, there are any future projects to bring to life “Transitus” as a movie?

Definitely, yes. At some point this Corona pandemic started and everything blocked for several reasons, Firstly, making a movie is really expensive because it might costs even millions and millions of dollars. Secondly, you have to manage to get a lot of founding from differents people and naturally, now it makes it much more complicated.

Lastly, shooting now a movie is not feasible because the scenes entails the participation of several people and once again, Corona prevents such. Up to this moment, all the plans for this project are ‘in a freezer’, so to speak. However, I found already some people who are interested in the project which is, also, one of my favorite and one of the most Dutch famous director.

About this, I previously had some meetings with him and he’s really into it. Additionally, I had meetings with people who can found this. Despite COVID 19, this it will happen in the future.

I’m also know that you are a big Doctor Who fan and since I’m me too a fan, I was curious to learn who you do manage to get in contact with Sir Thomas Baker him and furthermore, in which manner his presence influenced the whole opera?

Well, the funny thing about the final version of the album is that had no narration and storytelling and when I played it to some people, their main feedback that they expressed was concerned about the comprehension of the entire story.

Consequently, I thought “Wouldn’t be cool if it had some narration?”. However with narration, it can turn out both sides: if you have a bad narrator that he talks between all the songs, it can be terrible and quite annoying to the point that you think “Just shut up and give me the music!”. In effect, what I needed was a voice that was so cool to listen to, someone that you are waiting for it to talk again.

So, I collected a nice list of voices and actors. Then, I started googling. It’s only way you can do it because it’s a totally different artistic environment. I don’t know anyone there and you have to go through voice agencies which hundreds and hundreds of actors to choose from. Of course, I picked the famous ones and they are the most expensive ones because you pay big prices in movie business.

So, in a voice agency I found Tom Baker and I recollected few ideas about him because back in the 70s, I watched all his 8 seasons were he was featured as Doctor Who and then, he’s quite famous for his peculiar voice for which he was featured in several voiceover works in England. Considering all, he is perfect, I thought. What’s followed next was heavy negotiating with his agency and luckily, we come to terms with a price.

The next step was up to the agency to contact him and if he didn’t like the project, we was free to say no. Nonetheless, it happened quite the opposite, he was on board on it since the beginning and he was quite hooked about it. He felt like he was written only for him and indeed, it was [laughs] because as soon as we knew that Tom Baker accepted my offer, we totally wrote the text with his voice and with his character in mind.

Then, I went to England for record him. It’s always scary to meet one of your heroes because it might turn out a disappointment or he might have a bad day but this, I can tell you, it was no disappointment at all. He was a true gentleman, he holds a true interest in my project and for him, it wasn’t just another job for him.

I could sense he put his personal attachment, dedication, personality, humor in it. I don’t know if you had the chance to see the latest video of “This Human Equation” and in its intro you can hear Tom Baker improvising and saying something like “Ahh, poor people…”. That’s totally him, that’s totally spontaneous and that’s so cool.

Now, I would like to approach you for a general question: you know, I’ve been following Ayreon since I was a child thanks to my dad’s passion. However, I’m aware that Ayreon features a lot of artists, so, logistically speaking, how difficult might be to organize everything?

If we consider “Transitus” alone, your main character is Oceans of Slumber‘s singer Cammie Gilbert who is based in Texas then you have Tommy Karevik from Kamelot who is based in Sweden, so, something I think it can turn out something gigantic to deal with…

It is and it’s terrible [laughs]. I hate organizing everything because if I don’t it myself, it’ll never happen. It’s better that I contact the people myself and then, of course, you have to arrange a lot of stuff. For example, I want to fly them over because I want them to record their parts in my studio in the Netherlands. It’s very important for me.

In the specific case of Cammie, she came all the way from Texas and she was really happy to join me here. She came together with her partner Dobber Beverly, the drummer of the band. It was great, you know, she’s just a sweet girl, they stayed here for a couple of days and we had a lot of fun. Having the artist here, it makes it much more personal because we work together on it.

Instead, for Tommy Karevik, it was different, he recorded everything in his own studio. Since we have collaborated several times together, I know already what he can do and he already was aware of what I wanted from him. Also, he had all the time of this world for record on my own. He got around a couple of months for finish everything and he’s only exception to the rule. He just recorded and sent everything after.

Photo by Lori Linstruth

So, are you telling me that even Twisted Sister‘s Dee Snyder who portrays the role of the Father flew here in The Netherlands for his part?

No, no, unfortunatly he was really busy and he didn’t manage to come here. However, it was just one song and it would be crazy to make him fly all the way from New York only for that. I gave him some really good instructions with some guide vocals sung by Micheal Mills.

Plus, I explained him how he should have interpreted his role: he’s the Evil Father and he had to sound really powerful and charismatic. Basically, he knew what to do and I know how good he’s. Then, he rented a studio in New York and recorded there.

I’ve been following all the guessing games videos and I was completely and positively impressed by Caroline Westendorp. I’m quite familiar with her old band The Charm and The Fury and I was curious to learn how was collaborating with her and also, how did you manage to convinced her to use her amazing clean vocals?

Well, of course, Simone [Simons] is the Angel of Death and close to her, I needed two Furies, who are her helpers. Naturally, Marcela [Bovio] is always there and I’ll always work with her, so, I asked if she did know a good, charismatic singer.

Due to the reason that “Transitus” will be in the near future a film, I plan to feature these singers too. For this role, I needed someone a bit cheeky and Marcela worked out on few options and watched some material on YouTube.

Then, I come across Caroline‘s live performance with her past band during a Dutch festival, oh damn, she was so powerful. She had so much charisma, she was great on stage that I immediately understood she was the one. I straightly contacted her and consequently, asked if she wanted to sing with her clean vocals too.

She was instantly in and she was already familiar with my music because she was a DJ on a Dutch radio station called KINK. Of course, she came at my studio and surprisingly, I’ve discovered that she’s also a great singer. I was so surprised that she didn’t exploit her clean vocals on The Charm and The Fury that at the question, she candidly replied that she wasn’t allowed to do.

She has this cool vibrato and grandeur that resembles to Shirley Bassey‘s vocals on “Goldfinger”. During the recording sessions, I was motivating her to use that vibrato that she has ingrained in her vocals. Probably one of my main talents, is to motivating the artists in showing their other sides.

Another example of this situation, is Simone [Simons]. Because when she sings with Epica, she stands on the stage quite serious and beautiful but when she comes here to record, she has always that prickle in her eye and she’s always so funny. I convinced her to concentrate her on that and bring it out in her interpretation.

For me, it’s a big compliment if listeners/artists tell me “wow, that singer sounds better on your stuff than in their own band”. Of course, it’s not nice for their own bands but I work hard with the singer to bring out the less know side of their talent. Once again, one of my many talents is by detecting a voice, I know already what they can do and get out of it their best.

That’s why I want that the singers come physically here to record next to me. If we refer to Cammie, she was great and she was herself surprised of the final outcome. Before coming to visit me, I learned through some interviews that she took some acting lessons for the videoclip. She’s so talented, sweet and cute and that was a total success.

Amazing but what even more interesting is that for you too “Transitus” was a revelation. You officially stated that the entire project pushed you out of your comfort zone. For you as an artist, which limits pushed this project?

Well, usually I compose rock operas but this time, I wanted to do a rock musical and I never done it before. I wanted to be music quite cinematic and very visual. So, how usually works is that firstly, I create the music and I subsequently let inspired me for a story and then, I write the lyrics.

However, this time was the other way around. I already knew the story and I wanted the music to fit the story, which was a big challenge because I never worked that way before. So, with each part of the music, I was previously aware of what it would happen in the story and additionally, I wanted to work with a lot of new instruments that they have been not featured before.

For example, on “Transitus” we can find the hurdy gurdy, a real orchestra, the glockenspiel and many toy pianos. I wanted this release to be different from my previous album and I wanted something warm. If “Transitus” has a warm atmosphere, surely “The Source” is quite the opposite to the point that can be define a “cold industrial” album. Of course, I like that album too but this time, I wanted to do something different and natural.

As I have told you before, I’ve been following Ayreon since its inception and I still remember in old interviews, you stating that the project was solely studio-based with no chance of live performances whatsoever.

Instead, in the latest few years, I saw Ayreon in Tilburg a couple of time. Out of these two live experiences, there were released some live recordings. So far, did you expect all this success and do you think that in the near future a live event of that magnitude might once again happen?

First of all, I didn’t think it was possible because there so many singers, musicians, effects, weird sounds and also, I think that 20 years ago this would have been possible. Not 25 years ago, even 25 years ago and even maybe not 10 years ago.

But then someone produced the “Theater Equation” which is a theater production of “The Human Equation” and that event led me to believe that was possible. I also seen that the musicians and the audience were happy too. It was sold out 4 times.

And all this reasons triggered me to consider to take all this project in my hands. Though, basically who makes it everything happen is Joost van der Broek. If it wasn’t for me, there should be no Ayreon live. He’s the guy who came up with it, who has the view, who has the knowledge to do this.

So, with him we did “Ayreon Universe” which was a huge success and then we did “The Electric Castle” which surpassed the first one in terms of success because we had 12.000 people from 64 countries. Definitely, it was so much fun with everyone involved.

We surely want to do it again and we have already planned something for September next year. However, it’s look really really bad and I actually I don’t think it will happen because a lot of people have to travel from so many different countries and we seriously need that people to come in order to make it even with the production’s cost.

Unless some miracle happens this year, I don’t think we can do it next year on September. Despite this hiccup, we want certainly to do another show.

Even if the production is stopped due to the COVID 19 pandemic, I’m really happy to hear that you are so motivated to go forward with this adventure. However, I can perceive that there’s a lot of work behind the scenes…

Well, the work is cool but the playing live itself for me is really scary [laughs]. You know, but the whole work on it, it’s really cool thanks to our great production team and big and dedicated fans.

We have work meetings every month and actually, it’s something I looking forward to. I mean, designing and working on it is amazing but once again, performing for me is pure hell.

So, Arjen, this was my last question. Please be free to say hi to your fans and our readers. Thank you so much for this interview.

Thanks to you all the loyal fans out there. I mean, without them, it would be impossible. It’s so cheesy to say but they are the best fanbase in the world. For example, we have the pre-sales for “Transitus” and it’s the best pre-sale we ever had. Just think about the fact that people have hardly listen to something and they keep having full confidence in the end result. That’s great feeling.






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