For 'proggers' and 'rockers'
Into The Electric Castle was released as a double-album, featuring heavy and softer parts. For Universal Migrator Lucassen decided to use an opposite approach: "On the former Ayreon-CDs, I mixed everything, progressive parts, heavier parts, atmospheric parts. Now I wanted to do something new, so why wouldn't I split these elements? I get many reactions from fans, who say: 'I really like the metal-side, but we don't wanna be bothered with those synths and especially your distorted voice, stop it please!'. On the other hand I get reactions from prog-fans, who say: 'we really like the symphonic side of your work, but why do you spoil it with that metal stuff in between?'."
"So now I can give a metal-record to the metal fans and a prog-record to the prog-fans. That's one of the reasons for splitting them. But, of course, I hope that they buy both of them. They're not that far apart. The quieter album contains bombastic stuff and the heavier album contains very atmospheric parts. But they nevertheless are two extremes, I think. They're two sides of me and normally they go together and now they're released separately."
Splitting the styles also resulted in a different line-up for both albums: "I wanted to use two different drummers for both albums. Ed Warby is a power-specialist with his own band Gorefest. He's really specialized in this double-bass kind of drumming. I think he's as good as Mike Portnoy in that department. Ed is at the top, but playing soft is not his specialty. He can do it, but it's not his specialty. So I asked Chris Mateland of Porcupine Tree, who's a great drummer. But he didn't reply."
"So I looked around and found Rob Snijders, who plays with Celestial Seasons, formerly of Kong and Rubicon. So I went to a gig and I saw him play so well, he was the man to do this and he did it extremely well. I was really happy and satisfied. But, of course, the next morning, I got a message from Chris Mateland: 'I'd love to do it'. So I really was disappointed, back then, but now I'm really satisfied how it worked out."
The 'crews' Lucassen works with, vary from album to album, but they all have one thing in common; they consist of many artists: "I will always work with different musicians and singers. I'm influenced by so many different artists, my music has so many different atmospheres and styles, that I want to have as many singers as possible. Like in this story, there are many different ages, and I want to have a different singer for every era. I don't want to work with just one singer, I did that with Vengeance. Now I want to work with all kinds of great musicians, because there are so many of them. And, of course, the most fun part of it, is to let them sound different then. Like the boys of Stratovarius and Rhapsody, I made them sound very different from their own bands. It's great to take people from their own musical environment into mine. And, finally, I'll be honest; promotionally this pays off as well, because fans of a particular group are very interested in what 'their' singer does on someone else's record."
This brings us to the commercial side of Universal Migrator. Unlike Into The Electric Castle, Universal Migrator part 1 and 2 are sold separately, which means that fans have to pay twice as much: "It's an experiment, maybe it's not very wise, from a commercial point of view, but we'll see. If fans will buy both of them, that would be awesome, but I don't expect it. Fans shouldn't forget that Electric Castle has cost me money, because I offered them a 2-cd for the price of one, but it cost me twice as much, it takes me a year longer to make, to record, to mix, etc. I can't keep doing that, because it doesn't pay off. People tend to forget that. I was warned 'you're spoiling you're fans', which I thought was ridiculous, 'cause how can you ever spoil your fans? But now I understand what these people meant, because fans expect 2 CDs for the same price again. But, for me, they don't have to buy both of them. And if they want too, they have twice as much fun."
Gilmour and synths
Of course this is only a 'luxury' problem for the fans: they have two albums to buy, which is something enjoyable as well: "I wish Pink Floyd released two CDs! Or even one would be great. But I'm not too sure if there will ever be a new Floyd-album, 'cause Gilmour wasn't too enthusiastic when I asked him. However, it was incredible to meet him, 'cause he's my top-1 favorite guitar-player and an incredible singer and top-composer. So, when music-magazine Oor called me, if I wanted to interview David Gilmour on their behalf, at first I didn't want to. I was really scared, and besides, I'm not a journalist. But when thinking it over, I realized that this would be my only possibility to meet him, and to ask him for my next project."
"He turned out to be a very relaxed guy and the interview was perfect. I got more time than I was promised. But saying that he was 'full of energy', would be an exaggeration. He wasn't very interested in anything going around in the music-scene at the moment. I asked him if there would be a new record and he said: 'I'm always writing music'. 'So it could be a solo-record as well?', I asked. 'Could be', he said. So, that says nothing."
But Lucassen appears to be critical at his guitar-hero as well: "He has just released a rock-and-roll album with Paul McCartney, but I don't like that at all. It's terrible, but it's their roots. So I can imagine what it means to them. Maybe metal-fans don't like it when I would play Pink Floyd, but that's where my roots are. So I can imagine someone 'going back', but still it's horrible, he shouldn't do that. I saw it on TV, and he suddenly looks very old, which isn't necessary."
Biggest disappointment was the fact that Gilmour -contrary to Lucassen himself- didn't seem much interested in the prog-scene: "He didn't like prog at all. Pink Floyd has an own identity, he's very clear about that. He doesn't want to be restricted by any labeling: 'Pink Floyd is Pink Floyd and not prog'. I said: 'like Yes and Genesis', and then he looked very ugly. Of course, Pink Floyd is something different, but that's not a reason not to like prog. I, myself, don't like all prog around, but in general, I'm interested. I think I make prog as well. When you have a look at my CD-collection, half of it is prog, so that's my favorite music. I have to add that, for example, the psychedelic Beatles-music, like I am The Walrus, is prog as well for me. Just like Led Zeppelin III, where they really experiment. When people cross boundaries, that's what progressive music is about. For me, music has to be adventurous and prog is adventurous: many concept-albums, stories, crazy sounds, synths, etc."
Talking about synthesizers, Lucassen comes to the point where he admits that he would have loved to play keyboards from a much younger age: "I really like synthesizers, as you might understand by now. But when I was young, I saw Alice Cooper on TV and that's what I wanted. And you don't have a mini-moog in your room right away, so you buy a guitar and become a guitarist. And then I got interested in Deep Purple, so I was drawn into the hardrock-camp. That's how things go. But maybe I'd rather have... well, what I do now, in fact. I am a sort of keyboard-man now. I cannot really play well, but I do know how to create awesome sounds, because I really love that. Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman, those are the men."
Choices and influences
As becomes clear, Lucassen has been influenced by many artists. But what would happen if he really had to choose? "If I was allowed only to take 5 records out of this house to a deserted island, I would certainly take Wish You Were Here with me. And then a compilation of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the EMI-years. I know that's cheating, but still... err.. I think Rush, 2112 or Hemispheres,... Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick and Porcupine Tree, not their latest, but the one before."
More difficult than selecting five albums, would be selecting four or five people to make an album with, like the recent Magna Carta-project, such as Liquid Tension Experiment and Transatlantic: "For me, it's impossible to do such a thing. I can't work with people, making compromises; I've done that. I was amazed how Neal Morse did that with Transatlantic. I worked with him, and he didn't seem to be a man of compromises. And it shows, because that album sounds like Spock's Beard a lot. Well, that's unfair to say, but it's more Spock's Beard than any of the three other bands."
Apparently Lucassen is not very fond of the idea of such a project: "But if I liked the idea and I had to choose people, that I haven't worked with already, the I would chose... err... well Cozy Powell, but he died, so that's difficult. (thinks long) Man, they're all dead!! I'd say Phil Lynott on bass, Cozy Powell on drums, John Lennon on vocals and.... err.... I don't know any dead keyboardists. Well, that would be Keith Emerson, just because I can't think of a dead one!"
Creating a fantasy line-up for the next Ayreon-project, however, appears to be much easier: "Well, of course I would love to have Paul McCartney, but that's impossible. Ian Anderson I've tried, both as singer and as fluteplayer. Jon Anderson would be incredible, although I've heard that he's not the easiest person to get along with. But that's a challenge. And of course Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman would be incredible. Geddy Lee, of Rush... More or less the persons on the CDs I just mentioned. Steve Wilson I asked, but he didn't want to. He doesn't like progressive music. My music is way too progressive. He likes it, but he doesn't want to play on it. And of course there's loads of great rock-singers, like Ronnie James Dio or Steve Walsh of Kansas. I could make a list of over 100 people, but it always depends on your contacts to people."
Both Lennon and McCartney have been mentioned in this interview. The influence of The Beatles and Lennon in particular is very obvious. On Electric Castle, but especially on Dream Sequencer, his influence is very audible, including the use of soundeffects on the vocals: "I really like distorted voices, from the very first Pink Floyd albums. John Lennon didn't like his own voice, so he used delays and Hammond-speakers, but that's not the case with me, I just like it. However, I would never distort other people's voices only for that reason. But with my own voice, I can do freely whatever I want. I once did a secret project, called Strange Hobby, and there I distorted my voice constantly. I recreated some sixties-songs there, in a different, heavier way. But, because people expected it now, I haven't used any Leslie, or whatever, this time. And I'm really satisfied with the results. So I'm not doing that out of insecurity, but just because I like the sound of it."
Norlander and Highlander
One of the persons Lucassen works with on both albums is Rocket Scientist keyboard-player Erik Norlander: "I asked Erik for the solos, he just sends them in, 'cause I know what he's able to do. And he's really free in that, I just want a solo." In return, Ayreon played on the Rocket Scientist-album as well. "I was pretty free to do what I liked as well. But of course they're very different bands. Rocket Scientists is also Marc McCrite, who's very important. Norlander is more the Keith Emerson of that band and Marc McCrite is the McCartney-side of the band. And of course it's totally different music, so it's a complete other world."
"But the two of us come closer, especially since Erik's solo-album features four Ayreon-members: Ed Warby on drums, Edward Reekers and Robert Soeterbeek on vocals and myself on guitars, but still the compositions are very different. But I've also written a song for the Lana Lane-album, so these all come together, but you still hear the difference. But I'm aware that I have to be careful with that. I also played on an album by Glasshammer, so that's three projects altogether and I want it to be exclusive. Just like Ayreon has to be exclusive. I'm not going to release anything twice a year, like Fish does. Ayreon has to be exclusive and can never be in the 'sales' department. I don't mind piles of CDs at the record-company, but not in the 'sales'! Every other year there will be a release and that has to be incredibly good."
Talking about Fish, Fish-fans have reacted very negative on an interview with Lucassen in the Dutch prog-magazine iO-pages where he seemed to be very critical on Fish and his financial situation. Now Lucassen puts that into perspective: "Although I've experienced a lot when recording with him, I'm not negative at all about him. It's true, that he sang the songs on Electric Castle when drinking four bottles of wine. But that's not negative, that's just true. I still would love to work with him again."
"I think Fish has learned to see that it's not possible to bring along, for example, a cook on tour, like in the Marillion days. He already has to pay anyone he brings along. Unlike a real band, who don't earn a penny when they lose on a tour, he still has to pay his personnel. So when I commented on his financial situation, I wasn't negative at all, I was commenting the reality of the music-business."
Stories and fantasy
Not only in real life, but also in his music, Lucassen seems to want to escape from reality and everyday problems. On his albums he creates a world of fantasy, which is not always to be taken too serious, as he explains: "The story-line in Electric Castle was meant as a joke. It was completely over the top. The Barbarian wanted to fight everyone, the Roman wanted to be a leader, a hippie, who was stoned all the time, the Indian being spiritual. So I made very clear that it was completely over the top. That's also what I told Fish: 'please, exaggerate as much as possible in the lyrics'."
"The Final Experiment had a message: we should really take care of ourselves and of the earth, which is going to collapse otherwise. But that happened by accident, because I really don't like messages in music. I don't want to hear opinions; I want to enjoy music. People must have the possibility to escape reality. So the message in Final Experiment wasn't meant to be, and some people even took it very seriously, which wasn't my purpose at all. So, with Electric Castle I wanted to avoid that."
"And now, with the new albums, I just wanted to create a science fiction-story. If you really, really want, you can find enough in it, between the lines. But it's not necessary and not my main purpose. I just want to let people escape from the real world, because I don't know anything myself from this world. Like I said, I don't read newspapers, I don't watch TV, I meet very few people, I sometimes even hear the news about our country from foreign journalists."
"So my stories are just that: stories. It's not about me, I'm not important, I won't dictate any opinions. People are free to think of these stories what they want, as long as they take the music serious."
And that's were the tape stops... An hour, full of stories and anecdotes has passed without notice. But 'off the record'-stories keep coming, especially when Lucassen takes a look in his music-collection and shows us the aforementioned albums by Samson, with Bruce Dickinson on vocals.
He takes the vinyl and puts it on the pick-up. What we hear is bare, but pure hardrock, with excellent vocals by a young 'Bruce, Bruce'. Lucassen seems as enthusiastic about it as he must have been 20 years ago, when he heard it for the first time.
When we've finished tea and cake, he gives me an advise on some great science fiction movies and we walk downstairs to take a final look at the marvellous artwork of Electric Castle. It's time to leave, 'cause Lucassen has to answer his fanmail. He does this every night, he explains. Otherwise there would be too many e-mails to reply to.
Outside it's dark already, but thunder and lightning are still there. Into the darkness of the woods we disappear.....