2004's The Human Equation was not only Ayreon's debut on Inside Out, but it also became Arjen Lucassen's most acknowledged work, selling more copies than his entire back catalog. With a stunning list of vocalists, interesting concept story, and stellar musicianship, it immediately won over a new legion of fans for Ayreon. Many fans, old-timers included, were skeptical as to whether Mr Lucassen could ever match the brilliance of The Human Equation. Now, after four long years comes his new opus 01011001, another double-disc record. Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Murat Batmaz spoke to Arjen Lucassen about the new album, vocalists he might work in the future, Star One, and more.
SoT: How do you evaluate The Human Equation four years after its release?
Arjen: I'm very happy with the story and most of the songs, and especially the singers were great, maybe the best so far. I think most of my choices were quite unique and personal. I'm not entirely happy with the production though. The drums sound a little thin and the vocals are a bit too loud. The new album sounds better.
SoT: Are you pleased with the reaction your new album has gotten so far?
Arjen: Way above expectations. Because this album was conceived in a very dark period I didn't expect the reactions to be that good. It's also my first album that has entered CD charts in no less than 13 countries.
SoT: How do you think the new disc compares to The Human Equation?
Arjen: It's to early to tell. I can't be objective yet. The reactions to The Human Equation were extremely good, it was hard to live up to the expectations of the people this time. I guess the new album is more of a grower than The Human Equation is, probably because of the many singers. I think 01 is a bit heavier, and the story is more cryptic.
SoT: Were there any differences while conceiving 01011001 or was it written, recorded and arranged the same way as your previous album?
Arjen: No, this time I wrote more songs in the studio, instead of entering the studio with finished songs. This gave me more freedom.
SoT: Do you feel that the number of singers on 01011001 has sort of limited the vocalists at all?
Arjen: Yes, absolutely. There simply wasn't enough space. It was a luxury problem; they suddenly all said yes! Hmm...17 singers may have been too many to fully show each singer's potential.
SoT: While you used to let singers do entire stanzas on your earlier albums, now it seems you favour them to swap lines in a vocal-dialogue kind of way...
Arjen: The story demanded that there would be a lot of dialogue. Also it was the only way to divide so many singers over the songs!
SoT: It seems Jorn Lande pretty much dominates your new CD. Was that pre-planned or did it just develop like that in the studio?
Arjen: That was pre-planned. Because he's so versatile I wanted to use all the facets of his amazing voice.
SoT: You've worked with just about every amazing singer prog fans might have expected from you except for Roy Khan. Have you ever thought of having him on one of your CDs?
Arjen: He was going to be on this album. But at the last moment he had some voice-problems and because I couldn't wait I had Daniel Gildenlow do his parts. So yes, I would love to work with Roy one day.
SoT: Is there a possibility you may ever do something like Star One with fewer vocalists? If so, what kind of musical style would you pursue?
Arjen: Star One would always be the heavier side of Ayreon; it would be in the same style as the first album. Fewer singers is definitely an option.
SoT: You've worked with both Dan Swano and Magali Luyten in your career, but both vocalists were underused in my opinion.
Arjen: I agree about Magali, but I personally think Dan did a great job on Star One; he's in practically all the songs and I think he got plenty of room. He actually came up with most of his own brilliant harmonies.
SoT: Interestingly enough, these singers are now going to be featured on the third Frameshift disc.
Arjen: Ah, I didn't know. What a copycat, haha!
SoT: Do you have any intentions of working with Dan Swano again in the future
in a project where you can make use of his broad singing style?
Arjen: Yes, I really like Dan as well, not only his voice but he's also a great person, which is very important for me. So yeah, that's definitely an option.
SoT: Have you ever heard of Ulver and their singer Garm? He also sang on a duet with Anneke van Giersbergen on The Gathering's Souvenirs album. I think he would make for a great choice on your Ayreon project.
Arjen: No, but thanks for the tip; I will check him out!
SoT: You're always praised for getting the best out of singers and making them sound different than their own bands. Do you purposefully seek to achieve this feat or does it simply turn out that way?
Arjen: Of course I aim for that! I love to use their voices in a different way.
SoT: Will the next Ayreon disc feature all new singers again or will you getting vocalists from your previous efforts this time?
Arjen: Anything is possible. That rule of 'only new singers' only applied to the Human Equation. I love to work with new singers though; it keeps things spontaneous and fresh. I won't work with as many singers as on 01 anymore, though.
SoT: If you were to name your three favorite singers you've worked with, who would they be?
Arjen: That's like asking a father which kid he prefers! No, I couldn't say because they are all so completely different from each other and I'm proud of them all. Of course it's the greatest thing to work with singers I actually grew up listening to. But it's equally great to introduce new talents.
SoT: Are you a fan of Tool and particularly Maynard Keenan's vocal style?
Arjen: Absolutely, it's unique! Would love to work with him, but I'm afraid my shit would be too proggy for him (laughs).
SoT: Would you mind talking a bit about your new project? What's it going to sound like and who will you be working with?
Arjen: It's not a metal album, although each song has some pretty heavy parts. There will be many long songs, around 10 minutes each. I will try to work with just one singer this time. I have a list of about 10 singers but I have not chosen one yet. It will depend on the finished material, which voice will fit the songs the best.
SoT: What bands have you been listening to lately and have you discovered
any new bands as of late?
Arjen: I listen to different music every day, but there's not much that I like enough to actually buy the CD. Mostly it's just one or two songs I like. I just heard the new Opeth though, it's pretty amazing....