DATE OF INTERVIEW:
20th October 2009
METAL DISCOVERY: Hello!
ARJEN LUCASSEN: Hi Nicholas.
(Arjen Lucassen on comparing Guilt Machine to Ayreon)
"I think there are definitely similarities between ‘01’ and Guilt Machine sound wise; it’s just the ingredients are different....these songs breathe a little bit more, there’s more build up. I think the last Ayreon album was just very busy, mostly because there were seventeen singers. It was too much."
Guilt Machine - uncredited promo shot
Photograph suplied by, and used with permission from, Karl Demata at Eleven PR
Interview by Nicholas Dishington
Known best for his work as mastermind behind the science fiction Prog Metal epic Ayreon featuring a myriad of singers from across the Rock spectrum, Arjen Lucassen's recent venture sees him join forces with fellow Ayreon regular Lori Linstruth, Arid's Jasper Steverlinck and former Porcupine Tree drummer Chris Maitland for his new atmospheric project Guilt Machine on Mascot Records. Unlike Ayreon, Guilt Machine not only has the same members throughout but a much more consistent sound, giving it more of a ‘band’ feel than many of his other projects. As Arjen calls me from Holland for this phone interview we discuss everything from the new album and his many other projects to his copious cat collection as well as getting an insight into what the future holds for the Dutch multi-instrumentalist.
AL: Hi, this is Arjen calling from Holland.
MD: Hi, how’re you doing?
AL: I’m doing fine thank you very much.
MD: Cool, hold on a sec I’m just going to my computer… [pause] sorry about that.
AL: You came running?
MD: Yeah, sorry. I was moving the cat because I didn’t want him near the recording machine. He likes pulling on wires so he’d probably unplug it.
AL: [laughs] I love cats, yeah.
MD: You do, don’t you? You’ve got quite a few if I remember?
AL: I had ten cats at one point. [laughs] All wild cats.
MD: All wild cats?
AL: It was all wild cats, yeah. It was two housecats but then the wild cats chased away the housecats and err, yeah, it was wild.
MD: Oh right. My dad trained up a couple of wild cats. He had about 8 or so, not as impressive as you… It’s a slow process isn’t it? Trying to sort of, how can I put it? Domesticate them.
AL: Well the mother cat was pregnant all the time so that’s how it got to be so many [laughs]. We couldn’t catch her and help her so at first she had four kittens and she just put them somewhere in our house. So yeah what do you do? You raise them. We couldn’t catch her so then next year she brought us four more so that’s where you get ten cats! In the beginning we tried to chase them away but they kept coming back and being a big cat lover we were stuck with ten cats at one point.
MD: That’s a lot of cat food!
AL: Well they were bringing us food actually.
MD: Oh yeah, “presents for the family”?
AL: [laughs] You know all about it.
MD: Yeah I do, yeah… So you’ve moved haven’t you? I seem to remember you had one place, your recording studio and you moved somewhere else?
AL: That’s right yeah, I was living with my wife for 13 years and that’s where we had the wildcats and stuff. It was beautiful y’know? It was like a huge estate with a swimming pool and sauna and my own studio, it was lovely. But then unfortunately we got divorced and I had to find a smaller place so that’s where I live right now.
MD: Ah well, I’m sure it’s still home!
AL: Ah yeah, I don’t mind. I’ve got happiness in myself. So no, just happy. Maybe even happier y’know, got a new girlfriend, worked out perfectly. She happens to play guitar a little and she happens to write lyrics and she happens to be the most important member in Guilt Machine [laughs].
MD: Ah yeah, well y’see, I wasn’t sure because I’d never read about it anywhere that you are going out with Lori so I kind of read between the lines.
AL: Well it just sort of built up that way. It wasn’t planned but one thing led to another, that’s how it went.
MD: Well, shall I ask you questions about Guilt Machine then?
AL: Good plan!
MD: How do you feel it’s all gone, the whole process, now?
AL: Very relaxed! Starting this project and not having an idea what it will turn out to be. Not having any expectations from people around you or from the fans. Just going into the studio with a couple of little ideas and oh! What’s this going to turn into? Ah okay, this! Well maybe this, maybe that… of course it’s a reaction to my last Ayreon album which was this huge over the top double album rock opera with a zillion guests and a zillion different musical styles and a big Science Fiction story. Most of it was all the need to do something small with just a few musicians and not such a complicated story. Not so many musical styles.
MD: I see a lot of similarities between a lot of your songs from Guilt Machine and ‘The Sixth Extinction’, the final song from ‘01’. Especially with the machine sounds, did you intend that?
AL: Well when I started with these machine sounds on ‘01’ I loved it so much and I wanted to do it again. Those machine sounds weren’t there in Guilt Machine at the start. Only when we decided for the band name to be Guilt Machine and then we decided to do the fan messages in the songs I thought let’s have some atmospheric sounds in the songs. So let’s record some machines y’know? Some real organic sounds. Yeah, I think there are definitely similarities between ‘01’ and Guilt Machine sound wise; it’s just the ingredients are different. Just one singer, different lyrics and I think also these songs breathe a little bit more, there’s more build up. I think the last Ayreon album was just very busy, mostly because there were seventeen singers. It was too much. Usually people tell me “Woah this singer sounds better on Ayreon than he does on his own album”, but I think for the first time on the last Ayreon album I didn’t succeed in doing that with certain singers just because there wasn’t enough space.
MD: I really liked Jonas, the guy from Katatonia. I really liked his input throughout the whole album.
AL: Jonas is my favourite on that album. Definitely, really quiet voice, he wrote a lot of his own melodies and stuff. I love his band; coincidentally I’m going to listen to their new album this evening. I’ve been looking forward to it. I love his voice, he’s no Jorn Lande. He’s no screamer or shouter but his voice is so special and so intimate. I agree, I think he’s also my favourite singer on that album.
MD: Ah, fair enough! A lot of songs on Guilt Machine are quite long as well. How come you chose to do such long songs and so few?
AL: Well I didn’t really choose to do that. As I said it was very relaxed. I just went into the studio with this little idea and just worked on that. Because I was so inspired one idea led to another and to another and to another and after a couple of days I came out of the studio like “Oh… my God. This little song has turned into this huge monster!”, but I didn’t plan like “let’s do an album with long songs now”, it was just because I was inspired. For instance, the shortest song on the album is the least inspired song I think. Probably that’s why it’s the shortest song, it was really the problem song.
MD: How come you put so many songs up? I mean you put 3 songs up on MySpace, that was over half of the album available for free.
AL: Yeah, well, it'll be available online anyway and people can download it either with torrents or Rapidshare so we might as well let people hear it. It's the dedicated fans who will go out and buy the record in the end.
MD: Sometimes, personally, I can see it as a kind of quality control, people will buy the albums that they like.
AL: Yeah, but often people will use any excuse not to buy it and it really is down to the fanbase to go out and support it like with Guilt Machine.
MD: Regarding the sound it seems to all flow together quite well though. It’s got a very… very, I can’t think of the word.
MD: A consistent sound, yeah!
AL: It’s definitely the most consistent album I’ve done. Because Ayreon definitely is not consistent.
MD: It does go up and down quite a bit.
AL: You go through a lot of different styles and a lot of different moods. Obviously it’s going to be a lot more consistent because it’s just one singer. Also there’s none of the really folky stuff or the didgeridoo or flute stuff. Yeah it’s got a more consistent sound I think. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is for the fans to decide.
MD: Have they said whether they liked it or not?
AL: Obviously people who like the whole Science Fiction thing with Ayreon or people who like all the [laughs] over the topness… is that a word?
MD: The flamboyancy?
AL: Right yeah, they might not be impressed by Guilt Machine. At least if they expect that. The good thing is that a lot of the people that thought Ayreon was a bit too flamboyant actually do like this. That’s what we were hoping for.
MD: Did you struggle to treat it as more of a band than a project?
AL: Not really because I’m not sure if it really could be called a band because we haven’t been together working on the songs for weeks. Basically it was still the way I work with Ayreon, which is where I kind of finish songs all on my own, demo them and send everyone their stuff. They did have a lot of input like when Chris Maitland came to Holland. We hadn’t been recording drums, we’d been composing them in the studio. That’s also what made him do it because he was like “Yeah I’ve got these programmed drums from you but that’s not the way I’m gonna play it”. “No no you shouldn’t!” I said “That’s just to show you where the drums are. But if you get here we can work on the songs together” and luckily he had a lot of good ideas. The same went for Jasper, the singer, who got my guide vocals but of course he’s a much better singer than me with a much bigger range. So he could completely do it in his own way and had enough time in the studio to work on it. But having said that I basically do the same with Ayreon. I didn’t in the beginning when I started Ayreon, I wanted every musician to do exactly what I wanted and sing the melody exactly the way I planned it. But then you work with people like Fish or Bruce Dickinson…
MD: I was going to say, Devin Townsend strayed from the path quite a bit when he was on ‘The Human Equation’.
AL: [laughs] That was erhhm… yeah! Usually I don’t like to work that way, I like to have the singers in my studio and work with them together. But in his case, because I’m such a huge fan… I think he’s one of my favourite artists ever.
MD: Ah, so you’re looking forward to his new album then?
AL: Definitely yeah, I already liked ‘Ki’. I think this next one is going to be a little bit heavier. I’m always looking forward to his stuff. When I got his tracks back from Canada at first I was like “Hey this guy’s crazy, he fucked up my songs!” and then I listened a second or a third time and I thought “Oh my God this is genius. This is so much better than I would have done it or we would have done it together” so yeah, in some cases that works out perfectly.
MD: With the lyrics, I know Lori wrote them but did you have any input too since you were going through depression yourself?
AL: No no, she really did the whole thing. I had no impact. All I said to her was I do want a concept, ‘cause that’s what I always do but she didn’t want to do a story. So there’s definitely a concept, the concept of guilt, regret and depression. But no I had no input on the lyrics. I mean she showed them to me every time they were finished. But what I looked at was do they flow well with the melodies I have and do I think that they sound good? Those were the minor changes she made here and there. It’s 99% her work.
MD: Onto the artwork, it not only matches the sound but not only in a sort of green and cream look but the gritty, more organic feel to it. Was it hard finding someone who had a similar sort of vision?
AL: Well at first we thought of Lasse Hoile who does the artwork for Porcupine Tree and we’d been writing with him and he’d been sending us stuff but it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. Then Lori was looking through Flickr; she was checking there for weeks setting aside stuff she liked. Then one day I got an e-mail from a fan from France who said “I love your stuff, I’m a big fan of your music. Maybe you’d like my artwork”, so I went to his website to look at his artwork and was like “oh my god this is it! This is what we’re looking for!” so I ran through to Lori and said “I got this mail from this guy and y’know it’s perfect. It’s really what we want” and she said “But that’s amazing, I just put aside his photos” and were like “this is not possible”. We went shopping and thought that this was too much of a coincidence. Then we found out that the artist can see that you put his photographs aside. He saw the name Lori and thought that could be Lori Linstruth and maybe they’re looking for artwork so let’s send a mail to Arjen. So it wasn’t as big of a coincidence as we thought, nevertheless he’s a big Ayreon fan and we’re a big fan of what he does and that’s a great way to work of course.