Interview with Arjen Lucassen Part II “I wouldn´t wanna become mainstream”
….and we´re back! Here is the second part of the interview I conducted with Arjen a couple of weeks ago. When we left off we discussed the new album “Transitus” that started up as a movie and gradually became a musical endevour.
– So with the filmed material we shot with green screen we now have audition tapes that we can show the producers. And it´s great that we did that because now we have released some videos featuring that footage.
One of the singers on “Transitus” is Paul Manzi from The Sweet and Arena, well, ex-Arena now where one of your singers, Damian Wilson now has taken over. How did you meet Paul?
– We actually met in London at the Prog Awards about ten years ago. And I got an award, I think it was for virtuoso, which I am not! (laughs) It was scary, you know? I had to make a speech and in the audience there was icons like Rick Wakeman and Peter Gabriel, it was like; f**k! (laughs). Paul knew of Ayreon and he came up to me and said “hey, we have to work together one day!”. And after that I checked him out and loved what he did so basically he has been on my mind for ten years but again; I need the right part for the singer and now I had.
I´m certain you´re sick to death of questions of why your usual drummer, Ed Warby isn´t behind the kit for this one so instead tell me about this new guy, Juan van Emmerloot weilding the sticks, how did you discover him?
– It was weird, this was while I was planning to re-release my solo album (Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy) of which only a few thousand copies were sold and it has not been available for many years and is now selling for hundreds of euros, ridiculous really. So I wanted to re-release it and was looking for bonus tracks and I remembered that… this was even earlier, I had recorded a song where he played the drums and got in contact with him to see if he still had it. We got along great and I checked him out on Youtube and my reaction was that, “Oh my God, this guy has gotten even better than he was back then” and that was 35 years ago I think.
This was during your tenure in Vengeance, back in the 80s?
– Right! It was in 1984 or -85 or something. And then I thought that he would be perfect for this movie project I was working on because, as I said earlier, this wasn´t supposed to be an Ayreon record, because then it would have been Ed, you know? But as this was going to be something different I wanted to work with different musicians as well. Also a drummer that was more eclectic. Because Ed is, let´s face it, a metal machine, hahahaha!
I mean, I discovered Ed when he was still in Gorefest which is a death metal band. So I looked for a drummer that was more versatile who also understood that “metal feeling”, that is very important for me. Because I have worked with drummers like the guy from Porcupine Tree who is amazing but when this heavy part came during recording he didn´t really had it in him, that was missing so I had to have someone who can do it all. And that guy was Juan. A great thing is that he has his own studion so… he lives in this huge house with a studio in it and that enabled us to work on the songs together even in the very early stages when the songs were little piano demos. I went to his place and together we went through it, like “what can we do here, what weird thing can we do there, let´s find something that people won´t expect!”.
It is a bit think-outside-the-box approach to the drumming this time around.
And I love the drum sound, even though this is not a metal performance, all the nuances are captured, it is so dynamic.
– True. We first recorded it in his studio but I wasnt a 100% happy with it so we went to another studio and re-did it there. He did the whole album in just two days which is insane, hahahaha! We first recorded it in his studio but I wasn´t totally happy with the results. So we went to the studio where I always record my drums and he worked so fast, I think he did the entire album in just two days!
– I know!
And because it wasn´t a metal album I could give it a lot of space, we didn´t have to put any samples on it or I didn´t have to make it sound really heavy. I could just give it some breathing space.
The same with guitars, usually I double every guitar six times and makes them sound, like big and heavy, but this time it was just two guitars, left and right, just very simple; guitar, amp, speaker and mike. That´s it. That way the whole production will become warmer and have more space for all the other instruments.
I can totally get onboard with that. This is a warm sounding record whereas “The Source” and “The Theory of Everything” were these cold and heavy as hell progressive metal albums.
– Well, that´s exactly what I wanted this time. If this turns into a movie you wanna get people to the theater and you´re not gonna get that with a cold metal album. But without becoming mainstream because I wouldn´t wanna become mainstream with songs that are TOO catchy and where I can´t even recognise my own style anymore. So I had to find a really good balance between what I like myself and what I Think people will like.
One of the new faces and voices for Ayreon is Cammie Gilbert (Oceans of Slumber) How did you discover her?
– As I said earlier my first two characters were Tommy (Kärevik, Seventh Wonder, Kamelot) and Simone Simmons (Epica), they were gonna be the rich man´s son and the poor servant. But then I heard a cover of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (Procul Harum) on a compilation album. I subscribe to a lot of magazines and most of these have a cd with them which I always listen to, mostly to discover new stuff and I heard her and went “holy shit, she can really sing!”. Then I looked her up on Youtube and of course saw that she was a dark girl and thought she would be perfect for this story so I contacted her and expected her not to know me but luckily she did. More than that, she and her husband Dobber, whose the drummer of Oceans of Slumber were both fans, so that was very cool, hahaha!
She came over here, all the way from Texas and I asked her, “Do you like this story, do you like the fact that your character is a black servant and is getting into a relationship with Daniel that people don´t understand and respect?”. But she was like “No, no, no, that´s good, that makes the story more interesting”. That´s what I meant earlier were I adapt to the Changes. I hear Cammie and that changes the story.
Roll with the punches.
-Precisely! But then I had to do something new for Simone, a cool part for her. So then I thought, what about if, when Tommy… I mean Daniel in the story dies and goes to this weird-like limbo where he meets the angel of Death who will decide if he goes to heaven or hell? And that was an even better part for Simone, you know?!
Yeah, she fantastic in that role! And she brings that quirky sense of humour where she goes: “Well, hello there” (this is when the nerd behind the keyboards does his best trying to sound quirky and seductive and fails harder than Donald Trump at an Empathy Contest)
-Hahahaha! And that´s the cool thing: that is how she is! You don´t get to see her doing that since Epica are very grand and serious but Always when she comes here there´s a glimmer in her eye and always laughing and joking around so it was cool to highlight that aspect of her as well.
That concludes our second part of this interview but do stay tuned for the third and final installment as we get to hear little about the top three musicians Arjen most would like to work with.
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