Interview with Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon, Star One)

Arjen Lucassen

While multi-instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen may best be known for Ayreon, it is merely one of his many projects. Aiming for a heavier, guitar focused aesthetic, Star One released its first album, Space Metal, eight years ago. The follow-up, Victims of the Modern Age, has already received massive acclaim. DOA’s Jordan Blum recently spoke to the man behind it all about, well, it all.

What made you decide to do another Star One album?

As always it was a reaction to the previous album, in this case the relatively atmospheric Guilt Machine album. I felt like making a metal album again based on guitar riffs, and that automatically leads me to my metal project Star One.

What’s the concept for this one? Is it related to the first one?

Yes, like on the first album all the lyrics are based on sci-fi movies. Only this time they are based on the more darker dystopian and post-apocalyptic movies like The Matrix and Blade Runner, while on Space Metal all the lyrics were based on movies set in space.

Are you using the same musicians as last time?

Yes, they are simple the best in what they do and they can’t be replaced!

What is your songwriting process? Lyrics, melody, music?

Always the music first, and then I let the music inspire me to come up with lyrics, a story or in the case of Star One: the movies. Most of the Star One songs are based on guitar riffs, contrary to Ayreon where the songs are based on melodies or chord sequences.

Because most of your projects involve you writing the album and bringing in guests to perform it, I wonder how Star One differs from your other projects? Is it your most guitar driven one?

I call Ayreon my mother ship, it contains all the styles of music that I like; prog, metal, folk, electronic, psychedelic, classic rock etc. After each Ayreon album I feel like focusing on one of these styles. Star One is obviously based on the metal side of Ayreon.

What’s your favorite Ayreon album?

Into the Electric Castle, Human Equation and the Dream Sequencer.

What’s the basic storyline for Ayreon and how do they all connect?

Humans are basically an experiment of an aquatic race called Forever who have lost their emotions. They peopled the Earth with their DNA in order to create a new race that will rekindle their lost emotions.

Is it true that Actual Fantasy does not have a story to it (like the rest do)?

Yes, although some of the songs like “Back on Planet Earth” are part of the whole concept after all.

Why was Universal Migrator broken into two parts? Was that intentional?

I felt like doing a heavy album and an atmospheric album. In Ayreon there always has to be a balance, so I released them simultaneously. I thought that the fans who prefer the metal side of Ayreon would enjoy that, and vice versa. But in the end people bought them both, so it would have been better to release it as a double album, or maybe even to mix the songs.

The Human Equation seems to be the most theatrical and narrative based, as well as perhaps the most musically diverse (it feels like it crosses more genres). Where did the idea for that come from?

I don’t think Human Equation really is an exception, album like Electric Castle feature a lot of different styles as well. I’ve got a wide taste in music myself, and I never expected other people to enjoy the wide range of styles!

O1011001 seems like it is the final chapter in the story? Is that true?

Yes, that it true. I felt that the story became a bit too complicated and I didn’t want to alienate people from my work. The final conclusion to the story can be found on the Timeline album with the track “The Memory Remains”.

Are you planning to do another Guilt Machine album?

I never really plan ahead very far. Often I don’t even know what my next project will be, I always let my inspiration guide me into the next project. That way I don’t limit myself. I would love to do another Guilt Machine album one fine day though, I’m very proud of that album.

How do you go about picking your musicians and singers for an album?

I listen to a lot of music, I always want to stay updated about what’s happening. If a singer gives me goose bumps, I write down his/her name. When I start the next album I have a list of about 50 singers and I invite the ones who fit the project/story/music.

Who are some musicians and singers you haven’t worked with yet that you’d like to? Or if you’ve worked with them already but wanted to work with them again?

The list is endless! Basically all those great singers whom I grew up listening to, like Robert Plant, Alice Cooper, Geddy Lee, David Gilmour, etc. And yes, there are definitely a lot of musicians I want to work with again. I’ve worked with over 200 musicians now, so there would be too many too mention!

Any plans to bring Star One on tour in the US?

No definite plans to tour at all, but it is an option because all the musicians would love to do it. But it would be very difficult, time-consuming and expensive to get these 10 musicians from all over the world who all have their own bands and projects together for rehearsals and a tour.

What’s next for you? Have you begun writing the next Ayreon album, for example?

I’m sure that one fine day I’ll have the inspiration to do another Ayreon! But I really have to be ready for it, I want it to sound fresh and to have a new story. That time hasn’t come yet..Next up is the solo album that I’ve been promising myself for the last 10 years now. I’m really looking forward to that one, it’s a new challenge…can I do it all on my own?

I know you play many instruments but which would you say is your primary one?

My primary one would be the guitar, because that’s what I use to compose. And it was also my first instrument.

Where do you get the ideas for your concepts? You seem to live Sci-fi tales of conflict and conquest.

I get a lot of inspiration from science itself. I love turn science fact into science fiction.

What music are you listening to now?

Different music every day. Sometimes to 70’s music with a fan’s ears, and to new music with a musician’s ears.

Who influenced you growing up and even now?

The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Ritchie Blackmore, Alice Cooper…again…the list is endless!

Ha I love all those guys too. Well Arjen, this has been a great conversation and a great opportunity for me. I love your work and it was an honor speaking with you. I can’t wait to hear what you do next.

Thanks Jordan. It was fun.

Check out my retrospective on The Human Equation here.