For nearly two decades Arjen Anthony Lucassen has carved one of the most influential and innovative catalogues in Progressive Rock and Metal. Whether through the hugely popular mixture of Rock and Prog that landed as Ayreon, or with the heavier, more Metallic Star One, Arjen has consistently surprised, enthralled and captivated with the breadth and variety of his music. Back in 1994 Arjen released an unheralded and, truth be told, rather forgotten solo album Pools Of Sorrow, Waves Of Joy under the name Anthony and while he has often hinted at "going it alone" again, it has taken him an amazing eighteen years to come up with his second full, solo effort, Lost In The New Real. With Arjen handling all of the vocals, a futuristic concept and the long renowned actor Rutger Hauer narrating the album, Arjen has once again come up with an intricate and complex collection of songs, but also one that shows a different, less Progressive side to his music. Sea Of Tranquility's Steven Reid steps into the New Real to find out more...
Hi Arjen, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions.
No problem, Steven!
Considering that you have over the years released albums under the names Ayreon, Star One, Guilt Machine and Ambeon. I have to start by asking what is it about the set of songs that make up 'Lost In The New Real' that made you decide to put your new album out purely under the name Arjen Anthony Lucassen?
Really it's down to the fact that I sing all the lead vocals on this album myself, unlike on my other projects.
Those other projects are well known for featuring a huge array of talented musicians and vocalists. As you say, you have handled all of the lead vocals yourself on this album. Was it a daunting task knowing that you would sing each and every song this time?
Oh yes, it was a big challenge! Working with all these amazing singers in the past made me very humble of course, but I love challenges. The challenge was - could I make it interesting enough without - hiding behind - all these great singers? I hope I succeeded, but that's for you guys to decide of course! [laughs]
Did you find yourself being more critical of your own vocal performances on this album than you would normally be when you have outside vocalists interpreting your songs?
Oh yes, I am a horrible perfectionist. And especially now, I was more critical of myself because I felt I had something to prove.
I know that you are usually the sole creative source behind all of your albums, but how did working almost exclusively alone on this album differ from the more collaborative projects that you normally put together?
This time I could write the songs tailor-made for my voice. Usually I have no idea yet who the singers will be when I'm still in the composing stage, but this time I wrote the songs with my voice in mind, and therefore within my limitations. I mean, I'm definitely not a metal singer. And the positive thing was that I didn't have to arrange - and pay - the many guest singers! [laughs!!]
Did relying on only your own performances, in a way, make this album more fulfilling than some of your previous albums?
Oh yes. I haven't had so much fun in years, it was very fulfilling! Also because there were no expectations of the fans, style wise I could do whatever I wanted.
Musically this album is certainly among the most eclectic that you've ever recorded. So are you saying that it was easier to approach things in this way while not being constrained by people's expectations as to what an Ayreon or Star One album should sound like?
Absolutely! I could get away with anything here and that felt very liberating. I think my fans and prog fans in general are pretty open minded anyway. I just let my inspiration guide me, no limits. I never really plan ahead too much, that would limit me. The only thing I planned this time was that I would be the sole singer. I have tried that before, but I always failed because there are so many talented singers to work with!
But once you'd decided to put your name on the cover was there an added pressure to produce something you'd be especially proud to put your name to?
As I was writing and recording this album I didn't care what people would say, but I must say, now it's released I'm scared as hell!
I can assure you you've nothing to be scared of Arjen! You are well known for writing albums with interesting lyrical concepts and Lost In The New Real is no exception. I have to say that I found this album to be one of the most enjoyable concepts that you've written and also one of the easiest - in a good way - to engage with. Rather than me explain the idea behind the story, can you give our readers an idea of what this album is about?
Thanks Steven, I'm glad you like it! Lost in the New Real tells the story of Mr. L, a man dying of cancer who was cryopreserved in the early 21st century and revived sometime in the undetermined future. In this future world, cancer and other diseases have been eliminated, and the social fabric of humanity has changed drastically - computers have developed emotions and most social interaction takes place in virtual reality. The line between what is considered "real" and what is not has blurred beyond recognition. The fifteen songs comprising the album follow Mr. L's emotional journey as he, with the help of a psychological advisor, the album's narrator, is confronted with various serious and comical aspects of this "new real" and tries to decide whether or not he can find a meaningful place within it.
It's interesting that you should mention the contrast between the serious and comical sides to Lost In The New Real. All of the songs on the album drive the concept of the story along. However you've struck a great balance between serious comments on the present and future of mankind and our relationship with technology, and a more humorous approach. Why did you decide to attack the subject in two separate, although complimentary styles?
Well, there are some pretty controversial topics on the album like population control, euthanasia, religion, copyright control and so on. The only way to get away with this safely, was to transpose them to the future and then insert a healthy dose of humour!
I do however think that some of the more "light-hearted" tracks on the album make some extremely poignant comments on the state of the entertainment industry and our approach towards it these days. Could you tell us a little more about the motivation behind the songs 'Pink Beatles In A Purple Zeppelin' and 'Where Pigs Fly'?
It's becoming harder and harder to be original in music. A lot of bands are harking back to the glorious days of the 60's and 70's. Myself included. I figured that if it's already hard to be original now, after only about fifty years of rock music history, it is going to be virtually impossible in a couple of hundred years! My guess is that by then people will have invented a computer program that creates music for you, tailor-made. Just punch in - maybe even just think of - your favourite bands like Floyd, Zeppelin, Beatles and Purple and the program will make a nice new composition for you, with your favourite singer.
Well, I for one hope we never reach that stage! One of my favourite films of all time is 'Blade Runner', so I was really pleased to see that you managed to get Rutger Hauer, who played Roy Batty in that film, to narrate the album. You must have been delighted to have such a respected actor want to be involved with your music?
It was truly a dream come true. Because I really have dreamt about it! I've been a fan of Rutger ever since I was 10 years old. And yes, Blade Runner is my fave sci-fi movie of all time as well.
Did Rutger get involved with creating the story of the album at all?
Oh yes! He wrote about 80% of his own narration. We've been Skyping for weeks! This makes it really special for me and very real. He's not just reading other people's words. Instead he really dived into the story and music to make the narration his own.
Rutger's character on the album introduces himself as "Voight-Kampff", which is also the name of the machine used in Blade Runner to determine whether an individual is human or a replicant. I presume the link to Blade Runner was intentional?
Indeed. The main question of both Lost in the New Real and Blade Runner is "what is real and what isn't". I asked Rutger to use a Blade Runner reference and he chose Voight Kampff... the perfect choice I must say!
The album is a 2-CD release. The first disc contains all of the narration and seems to complete the story arc of the album. However the second disc also has some new songs that further the theme of the album, alongside a great selection of cover versions that also seem to come from a same ideological place. Did you initially intend to make a fully fledged double album of new material?
Not really, but like I said earlier, I don't plan these things. When I finished writing I found that I had fifteen songs, which was too much for a single CD. I liked the tracks that went on to the second disc too much to just call them bonus tracks, so I recorded five covers to even the score and make it a double album instead of a single album and a bonus disc. A bit confusing I must admit, but there you go!
As I mentioned, the cover versions you've chosen all have similar lyrical themes to the songs you wrote for the story of Lost In The New Real. Was that the main criteria for choosing them, or are they songs you've wanted to cover for some time?
Both. They definitely had to be related to the concept of 'the future'. But they also had to be very important and influential songs for me too.
One of the things you always do when you write and record an album is make the whole process very interactive through video updates. You always seem to have a great time doing these short films for your fans. How much do you enjoy doing this side of things?
It's a bit of a mixed bag. I hate being filmed! I guess that's why I'm often joking around in the videos, I just feel uncomfortable. I want to be myself, not having to act. But once we're working on them and especially when they are ready to be shared with the public I enjoy it immensely.
As the music industry evolves, how important do you think this sort of artist-fan interaction is becoming?
Very, very important. Luckily I really enjoy the contact with the fans, so it's no problem for me, but yeah, it's getting harder and harder these days to sell CDs. The song "E-Police" on this album is actually about that.
While personally I think that this album and your last two from Star One and Guilt Machine are amongst the best you have produced, I know that some of your fans are extremely keen for you to start work on another Ayreon album. You always seem to have quite a clear vision of what you will be working on next. Are you in a position to let us know what your next album will be?
No idea, really! As I said, I wait for my inspiration to guide me into a next project... but I am hoping it will be an Ayreon. It's about time and I know many fans are waiting for it. If I do that I'd want it to be slightly different though. Maybe not so much musically, but definitely lyrically.
Well that's all my questions Arjen. Thanks again for taking the time to answer them. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
You're welcome Steven, excellent questions! All I really want to say to the fans is that with Lost In The New Real, they shouldn't expect a huge bombastic metal-opera with load of guest singers. But if you have an open mind, which I know lots of my fans have, I'm sure you could enjoy this eclectic and adventurous album, so... have fun!
(Click here to read our reviews of Lost In The New Real)