Interview with Arjen Lucassen / Star One
As a new member of the team at DPRP it has been a privilege to be asked to arrange an interview with legendary prog-rocker, Arjen Lucassen. So here we have it, the all singing and dancing, warts and all, series of questions and answers from one of the most popular musicians and performers in the world these days.
A warm welcome to the hallowed pages of the Dutch Progressive Rock Page website. Strap yourself in Arjen, help yourself to the cheese and crackers and let's see what unfolds.
I'm ready and willing!
I was sent a digital copy of your most recent masterpiece, which blew my socks off. That is a bit of a misnomer as I normally don't wear any, preferring sandals in our hot sunny climate. I live in a place far south of you called Australia where we are actually allowed to listen to progressive metal / rock music. I guess you might have heard of us? We are famous for, the Victa Lawnmower, Midnight Oil, AC/DC, INXS and those head bangin' bad boys called The Wiggles.
I love the Land of Oz! Primarily because of Paul Hogan, ha! But now of course because of the Mighty Michael Mills of Toehider. So much talent down-under!
I can see that you must have invited everyone in the Dutch phone book to help with this project. I guess the offer of unlimited M & Ms was too great for some fellow musicians to resist? (Is this a confectionary product available in The Netherlands?)
Not just the Dutch phone book! Thing is, I have a lot of blackmail material on them. That's how I do it. Spies everywhere.
Can you tell us the fundamentals of creating such an album as Revel In Time? I'd imagine you'd start off with the basic riffs, add some depth, lyrics and then ask your fellow musicians to add their contributions.
That's completely right. In the case of Star One, it is a case of riff first, then the song develops, then I pick the vocalist and finally the lyrics.
How difficult was this to achieve due to Covid-19 and how long did the whole project take from inception to printing the covers?
Pretty fast. I've made this kind of riff-based music since the 70s. Writing the songs took about three months. Getting all the musicians together however took about a year. Due to Covid I couldn't fly them over to my own studio, unfortunately. But that was the only difference.
How long has it been since you have been able to perform live?
Since I started with Ayreon back in 1995, I stopped playing live. Until we did some one-week shows in Holland in 2015, 2017 and 2019.
Would you ever consider performing in Australia? I must warn you however, that a lot of potential travellers are put off by some of our unusual conditions and unknown facts when coming down-under. We have a lot of very dangerous creatures that are not always listed on our travel advisory pages. On a very positive note however, we also had electricity connected recently so you should be able to plug some of your gear in. Still interested in coming?
Ha! Basically I'd love to go down-under. But... I'm a total recluse and hardly haven't left my home in about 30 years. Sorry!
You'll need to arrange a press pass for me, so I can do a full length interview much like my fellow Aussie did for Frank Zappa!
Hilarious, I love Zappa! Did you ever hear my cover of I'm The Slime?
Seriously, you have a pretty decent following here in Australia which is great to see, but so few overseas bands travel so far south due to the cost. Are there any countries or regions you simply can't travel to due to the larger expense, compared to performing in Europe?
The only times we played live with Ayreon was in Holland. Touring would be impossible. There are about a 100 people involved in every show. Including about 40 musicians.
Can you enlighten us with some history about your musical beginnings as a kid. Did you play any instruments at school? By the way, the triangle is NOT an instrument so will be disqualified!
I started with the acoustic guitar in 1975. It just had one string, but I could play Smoke On The Water.
The overwhelming aspect about your music for me has always been how easily-accessible your songs are. This is one truly inspiring asset that I find so rewarding with your music. Were you writing these songs with me in mind?
Of course, you know that! My next album is about crocodiles.
Do you prefer writing / performing the music of Ayreon or Arjen Lucassen more than the other?
I like being creative, whatever it is.
Whose music inspired you the most from the 1970s?
The holy trinity: The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.
Is there a style of music that you can't stomach? (Please don't say The Wiggles - you know how good they are).
Anything too aggressive. I guess the Wiggles are not very aggressive then?
I see Ed Warby still plays with as much conviction as he did when he first started recording with you many years ago. He really is a great drummer.
He's the best. The perfect combination of power and groove.
What other drummers' work do you enjoy?
Cozy Powell and John Bonham. My heroes! Unfortunately not available anymore.
How about bass players?
Phil Lynott and Geddy Lee. Geddy is still there!
David Gilmour, Ritchie Blackmore, and Steve Vai. Of course, I had the honour to work with Vai on my new Star One album.
Let's not forget the keyboard maestros?
Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson. The usual suspects!
Have you heard of Australia's legendary Tommy Emmanuel? He is more of a Steve Morse / Dixie Dregs type of player but has released some amazing music that still stands up well today. I can highly recommend his Detemination album from 1991 which I saw performed live when I took my staff and partners to see him back in the day.
He's amazing! Totally love it. Supernatural player. Very frustrating!
Do you enjoy the music of your fellow compatriots?
Oh yes! Golden Earring, Earth And Fire, Kayak, Trace, Focus, etc. All old 70s shit, haha!
The Music Business
I see that most of the autographed / limited edition copies of your new album sold out very quickly. That must be a very satisfying result when you consider so many bands and artists need to crowd-fund a new project to cover productions costs. You might be aware that even bands as popular as Marillion have sought crowd-funded finance before embarking on a new album. Have you ever had to do likewise?
No need to, really. I sell plenty of albums all over the world. I always enter the charts worldwide. I feel I'm stealing enough money from the fans as it is!
Since the days of Napster and other similar sites, the sale of CDs globally has been in serious decline. Do you shift enough physical product to make it all worthwhile or are you annoyed at the number of free downloads that seem to proliferate?
Of course I'm annoyed! Mainly at the low rates the artists get from streaming. But luckily I have plenty of fans who still buy the physical product!
Do you have a sales breakdown between physical CDs / vinyl / digital downloads / streaming for your music? I guess it's too early to tell yet for Revel In Time, but I'd imagine your earlier material still sells well.
Oh, I never check these things. I don't want to know! As long as I can make the music I like, then I'm happy.
Is there a prospect of seeing Revel In Time performed in its entirety as a live show?
No, sorry. We could play some tracks of it when we do another Ayreon show. Possibly in 2023, once again here in Holland.
There have been so many recently-formed bands who have eclipsed some old prog favourites from the 70s. Bands such as Kayak, Gentle Giant, Yes, King Crimson plus others, are being overtaken by bands such as The Flower Kings, Riverside, Porcupine Tree, Transatlantic, Flying Colors, Airbag, Nightwish etc. Can you tell us what recent music gives you inspiration and enjoyment?
I'm afraid that I just can't listen to music anymore as a fan, like I used to do in my formative years. Unfortunately I can only listen to newer music as a musician. I just know too much, damn! But those bands you just mentioned are all amazing indeed.
This is a question you probably get asked a lot but can you list your most favourite albums (any genre)?
Rainbow - Rising, Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here, Led Zeppelin - 3, Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick, Triumvirat - Spartacus, etc. etc. etc.!
I saw recently a list of all the musical equipment you own. Do you realise that that equates to more instruments than there are currently available in Australia. You must be trying to corner the market?
Haha, it's not that much! And I use it all.
What are your favourite guitars and keyboards you use on stage and does that also apply for your work in the studio.
For rhythm guitar, I use the 7-string Ibanez and for solos the Fender Stratocaster. My favourite keyboards will always be the Minimoog, the Hammond, Mellotron, and Solina.
I've heard that you don't consider yourself such a great guitar player. Why so?
I hate to practice! I gave that up when I first heard the likes of Malmsteen and Vai.
Are you familiar with the name, Arne Stockhammer? He fronts Edenbridge but also has released 3 excellent solo albums under the name Lanvall?
Yes, he's friend of mine, we mail a lot.
The reason I ask this is because of the opening track on his last album from 1997, called The Pyromantic Symphony. The track is called The Crystal Entrance and is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. The brilliant aspect to this album is the way the closing of that track segues into the second. It's on Spotify if you are curious. Can you enlighten us on any very melodic guitarists who you listen to repeatedly?
Dave Gilmour of course! The best ever. Amazing sound and very tasty choice of notes.
What other ethnic instruments might you consider in the future to add some variety or influence?
I've had them all on Ayreon! And of course the Didgeridoo, you may have heard of it...
Believe it or not, I actually own a rather old original didgeridoo which is now worth quite a small fortune!
I can't help but notice that you seem to be in pretty good shape physically. Do you workout much or have a specific diet that keeps the kilos off? (Signing all those limited editions doesn't count because you'd probably do that sitting down.)
Yes, I work out every other day. And I've jogged like crazy for 40 years. Unfortunately my knees are destroyed now.
Do you get time for other interests and can you indulge us with the sordid details?
Yes, I love to watch TV series and movies.
The world is a pretty screwed up place right now, considering the huge number of issues we all face. Do you get anxious about world events in general or are you able to keep concerning matters like that in the background?
I'm a total anti-social recluse. I really have no idea what's happening in the world. I believe there's some kind of pandemic going on now?
What is the album or live project you feel is the best from your career?
I'm extremely proud of the Ayreon Universe live show. And my second solo album Lost In The New Real.
What's your take on the growl vocal style that a lot of metal bands employ? Is this being overdone too much these days and is it really necessary to drive a message home if a singer has got a great voice.
I think it's cool for effect. But not a whole album. I've used it on some of my Ayreon albums. But just a few lines here and there.
Do your neighbours ever complain about any of the loud music being played at your house / studio or do you simply invite them in for a listen and a serving of M & Ms, just to shut them up?
I live in the middle of nowhere. No neighbours. I can make all the noise I want. And I do.
Finally, are there any types of music that you really enjoy but are too embarrassed to admit to? (Mine is Roxette, Enya and Sarah Brightman...)
Oh yes, I think people would be shocked at the stuff I listen to, completely different from the music I make! To start... I was a fanatical punk in '76, pogo-ing all over the place!
Well Arjen, it's been great to get your take on the new album and some background details about how you work. I think the fans of DPRP will appreciate you dropping by. Take it easy, enjoy the rewards that will surely follow after another sensational album and let's all hope for a bright future musically.
Thanks, Greg, Cheers!