EXCLUSIVE STAR ONE TRACK PREMIERE + INTERVIEW WITH ARJEN LUCASSEN!
Ayreon mastermind Arjen Anthony Lucassen is always keeping busy, and 2010 is no exception: Next week InsideOut will release Victims of the Modern Age, the second album from his Star One project. Featuring vocals by Russell Allen (Symphony X), Damian Wilson (Headspace, Threshold), Floor Jansen (ReVamp, ex-After Forever), and Dan Swanö (ex-Bloodbath, Nightingale, Edge of Sanity) and lyrics based on a series of classic, post-apocalyptic sci-fi films and television series — including A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, and Firefly — Victims of the Modern Age is a must-have for fans of edgy-yet-melodic metal. MetalSucks is proud to debut the track “24 Hours,” which you can stream below. Once you hear how awesome it is, pre-order Victims of the Modern Age here.
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And after the jump, read my exclusive chat with Lucassen about the differences between Star One and all his other various projects, how he goes about collaborating with these legendary singers, Star One’s lyrical content, and what he has in store for fans after Star One…
I guess the first and most obvious question is: It’s been eight years since the last Star One album. Why now?
Well, because every album I do is a reaction to the album before that. The album before this was the Guilt Machine album, which was a very atmospheric album. It had long, quiet intros and long songs. It was kind of like a difficult album. It had very deep lyrics and stuff. It didn’t sell as well as my other projects unfortunately. A lot of people always told me that they had to get used to it. After hearing that like fifty times, it becomes a bit annoying. It’s another way of saying that you don’t like it or anything. I really felt like doing something more in your face, more straight forward, shorter songs, catchier songs, heavier and more guitar-based music. Automatically, that pointed me into the direction of Star One.
That actually leads perfectly to my second question which is: You’re obviously a very talented, multi-instrumentalist and the driving/creative force behind most of your different projects. Do you feel like giving them different names that helps make those distinctions between the different styles of music? A friend of mine said to me the other day, “Why doesn’t he call it all ‘Ayreon’?”
Well there’s a very clear answer to it. Basically Ayreon is the mother ship. Ayreon has all the different styles in it. It has the metal, it has prog, it has folk, acoustic stuff and electronic stuff, classical stuff, it has everything in it. Every once in awhile, I’ll feel like not doing so many styles. Ayreon has no limits, but that has become a limit itself. When I do Ayreon, people expect all these styles. Every now and then, I just like to focus on one of those styles. Star One is obviously focused on the metal side of Ayreon. The Guilt Machine album that I did is more focused on the atmospheric side of Ayreon. The Stream of Passion project that I did is more focused on the gothic side, the female vocal side of Ayreon. The Ambeon project was more the electronic side of Ayreon. I just wanted to limit myself to one style as much as I can [with Star One].
Fair enough. I know that this album — and I think the first Star One album, also — has lyrics that are very heavily rooted in existing science fiction. How do you go about matching the song with the project? Did you write, for example, “Earth That Was” with Firefly in mind, or after you wrote it, did you think, “Gee, this would make a good Firefly song?”
No. It’s the other way around actually. First I record the music. Then I listen to the music and I’m like, “Okay, what kind of movies do I see with this music?” Obviously the first Star One album was very space related, with space sounds. I based all the songs on movies that were entirely set in space. This time, the music is a lot darker and a lot heavier. So I was listening to it and got images of post-apocalyptic and dystopian movies. For instance, when I listened to the last song, “It All Ends Here,” I really had a vision of Blade Runner. It could just be about that movie. Then I had this really weird song that I felt had this A Clockwork Orange vibe going on there. It kind of had these little springy sounds in it. Most of the movies this time are based on earth, but the only movie that is not based on earth — and of course is actually a T.V. series, not movie — is Firefly.
That song [“Earth That Was”], I really felt the Firefly thing – the fire and the darkness. It’s one of my favorite T.V. series of all time. It’s such a shame that they cancelled it mid-season.
Did you see Serenity, the movie that they made after the series got cancelled?
I saw Serenity, and I didn’t like it half as much as I liked the T.V. series. I really liked the humor in the T.V. series. Firefly had such great humor and great stories. It’s such a shame that it got cancelled.
So you were saying that you concentrated on more post-apocalyptic science fiction this time… Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but do you see that the darkness of this album as being motivated by our current time,s or is it just a coincidence? In other words: Do you fear that we’re heading towards that post-apocalyptic state?
Not really, no. It’s not as deep as that. It mostly had to do with… I wanted this album to be very guitar-based. So I spent weeks and weeks working on my guitar sound. I had this really, really heavy dark guitar sound. That’s what gave me the whole dark vibe. I’m a very optimistic person. You might think from my lyrics and my stories that I’m this fatalist or whatever, but that’s definitely not the case.
Right on. You got all these great collaborators on this album — Dan Swanö, Russell Allen, Damian Wilson and Floor Jansen. How do you go about matching the collaborator with a song? At what stage in the process do you bring them in?
The great thing about these 4 singers is that they compliment each other perfectly. So I can start with the low voice — Dan — and bring in the clear voice — Damian — and then you got like this amazing power voice of Russell coming in, and to top it all off, you got this really high voice of Floor. Basically, I wanted all four of these singers in all the songs. I wanted the chemistry of these four singers together. While I’m writing the songs, of course I know that I have these four secret weapons at my disposal.
So they were they committed before you wrote the record?
No. I never know where a project is headed. I have no idea when I start. I always want to leave it open for whatever may happen. I finished all songs first, then I’m like, “Okay, what am I going to do with them?” Obviously, it’s Star One because it sounds like that. It’s not Ayreon – it’s not varied enough. Then I’m thinking “Okay, it’s Star One. Am I going to do it with the same vocalists?” I was thinking that if I was going to do it with other vocalists, who am I going to do it with? It’s like, “Yeah, Russell.” He’s like a beast in the wild. I was thinking about Damian. He has such a unique voice. I have no one to replace him. That basically goes for all the singers. At a point like that, I decide, “No, no, no. I really want to work with the same people.” So I called to see if they were available. Luckily, all these four singers were big fans of my music already before they knew me. They liked my music, and they bought my music and listened to it. That really helps. That makes it all a lot easier.
With Ayreon, sometimes I work with singers who have no special feeling for my music. But these people who have some commitment to my music.
Was there anyone that you were hoping to get that you weren’t able to for whatever reason?
For this album?
No, no, no. I definitely wanted to work with the same four singers from the first album. They were all available, so that was great.
For Ayreon, there’s always singers that I want but I can’t get. They’re either too busy or they hate my music. [laughs]
Are you in the studio with them when they record, or is this all done now by e-mail and what have you?
Oh no, no. It’s very important to me that they fly over to my studio. I flew in Russell from America. I flew in Damian from England and Dan from Sweden.
There’s a chemistry here in my studio. They’re usually here for two days. I record them for two days. You work together on it, and you feed off on each other and give each other ideas. It’s just magic that’s happening. If something doesn’t work, you grab the guitar and go, “What if you do this? What if you do a harmony to this?” For instance, the ending of the song “Victim of the Modern Age” — which is based on A Clockwork Orange — I wanted Russell to adlib at the end of the song. He couldn’t find anything. He was just repeating words from the verses and it sounded a bit cheesy. I remember the scene in the movie where the main character is raping a woman while he’s singing “Singing in the Rain.” I was like, “What if you do ‘Singing in the Rain’ at the end?” He was like, “Yeah, can we do that?” It was a bit weird. So then you try to do it, and it works out — those are magic moments. It only happens when you’re standing beside me in the studio.
It sounds like you’re pretty collaborative. You’re not too precious with whatever you had before they came in.
I was in the beginning, when I started the whole Ayreon project back in ’94. I was a control freak; I still am. I wrote those lyrics and the melodies, and the singer comes in and he changes it. It’s like, “No, no. This is the melody. Don’t change it.” At some point, you work with amazing singers like Bruce Dickinson, James LaBrie or whomever, and you don’t tell these guys what to do. They just go for it. At that point I realized, “Oops. This is much better than I could have done it.” You realize that it’s much better to let them go for it. That’s the reason I asked them to participate — because of the sound of their voice and their music. They should do their own thing if it gets a better result.
I know with the last album, you did some live stuff even though, you couldn’t get Dan to be there. Do you think you’re going to do any live shows this time out?
That’s right, yeah. Dan didn’t feel like a front man. He was like, “No, no, no. I don’t know.” He was standing there with Russell and Damian and didn’t feel like a front man, so that’s why he didn’t do it. This time, we asked all the singers if, in principle, they would be willing to do it, and they all said “yes” — even Dan. He said, “Yeah, I enjoyed it so much that I have to be able to do it.”
Having said that, the first Star One tour that I did took me a half a year to set it up. It was very difficult, getting these ten people together, because you have five instrumentalists and five singers. There are ten people that you have to get them together at the same place at the same time. With the band, we have to rehearse for a couple of months. With the singers, you have to rehearse for two weeks or something. It’s just very expensive and time consuming to set the whole thing up, to fly them over, put them in hotels and pay for rehearsal and stuff like that. So doing it live again is an option, but but I’m not sure yet.
Of course, right now it’s doing promotion and interviews and stuff like that. What I’ve been planning to do the last ten years, but I just didn’t get around to it, is to do a solo album. My other projects can be seen as solo albums, but I still have the help with a lot of guest musicians and singers. I think it would be a big challenge to do an album without all these guest singers and guest musicians, and do it all on my own and make it interesting. I’m really curious if I can do it. I’m a little bit competitive. It’s like, “Damn it, I want to show people that I can do it all on my own.”cI think now is the time to finally do that solo album. I hope I will succeed this time.
Do you have a vision for how that will be different from your other projects, other than not having guests on it?
It will not be a metal album, because I can’t sing metal at all. [laughs] I don’t want it to be a singer/songwriter album, because that could be a bit boring with just my voice. I would like to come up with something entirely new. Of course, your friend is right: All my projects have my sound. It’s clearly my sound. I think I want to make it as different as I possibly can.