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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
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Hello one and all!

We are thrilled to announce an Ask Me Anything with Arjen Lucassen, musical mastermind behind the Ayreon project, Star One, and loads of stand-alone albums. In addition to orchestrating epic sci-fi rock-operas and concept albums, Arjen is a skilled guitarist with decades of knowledge as a composer and performer.

Are you curious about Arjen's technique and equipment? About his history in the world of rock and roll and the many musicians and talented vocalists he's worked with, such as Bruce Dickinson, Hansi Kursch or Floor Jansen? About the details of how he produced realized his decades-spanning rock opera narrative? Now's the time to ask!

If you'd like, you can check out Arjen's youtube page here for a refresher, or to have your mind blown if you are unfamiliar with his music.

This AMA is now live! We will be open and running until Thursday, August 12th. Get your questions ready before then! Looking forward to seeing you all here!

- Dan
 

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Hello Arjen, I'm Cesare from Italy. I have a couple of questions to ask. I have been following your work since the 80s and I think I have practically everything you have done so far. I really enjoyed the space epics, but I am tied to the Vengeance period. Have you ever thought about brushing up on that project?
You have worked with so many fantastic artists, what is it like working with Jorn Lande, definitely my favorite singer? Do you remember a particular moment while working with him?
Congratulations on your fantastic work, which I find brilliant (Into the Electric Castle, Universal Migrator Part 1 & 2 in particular) and thank you for your time.
Cheers!!
 

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Hi Arjen!!
I have a quick question regarding the Ian Parry era of Vengeance.
Are there any live recordings from that period? (I'd love to hear live renditions of "Wings Of An Arrow", "Outta Control" or "Trouble In Town"...)
Take care, good sir.
Cheers from France!!
 

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Hello Mr. Lucassen!

What do you find is the best combo of guitars and amp equipment? I've got some friends who are interested in getting a band up and running and are kind of music snobs, lol.

What methods do you use for the occasional non-instrumental portions of tracks? Do you tend to use stock effects from a sound library that you edit together? In particular, the various mechanical sounds on 01011001 - are those recording non-instrumental sounds that have been collected and edited into rhythmic sections, or are they you and your assembly recording specifically tuned instruments with specific effects added to them?

Finally, what's the most interesting place you've ever recorded in terms of acoustics? Is there anything specific you look for when you're trying to achieve a particular mood for a certain song?

Thanks for coming out!
 

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Big fan!

Who has inspired you the most? Either musically or in your life, if these are not the same people.

When you work with so many talented vocalists, how do you best tailor the music and the vocals? Do you come up with the basic structure and go after people who'd be a good fit, or do you have a list of people you want to work with and fit things to their abilities?

And this has been bugging me - is the Electric Castle the new 'Frame, part of the old 'Frame, or just similar tech? Is the dream sequencer the same ort of machine used by the Forever in EC to draw out people from the past - and I guess, also, are those people real, or simulated like "Me" in Human Equation?
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Hi Arjen,

I've been getting some additional questions from outside sources over on social media, so I figured I'd relay some common recurring ones.

On your website FAQ, you mentioned that you have no formal musical training and that you started when you were 15. What was it that got you into music in the first place?

How did you determine that being a musician was what you wanted to do as your career?

And of course, the ever important guitar question - what's your favorite brand?

- Dan
 

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Hi Arjen!

Really great that you are doing this, thank you for taking the time! Here are my questions:

1) When you started the Aryeon project, did you have the basic storyline basically mapped out already, or did parts of the storyline come with each album?

2) With Ayreon which comes first- the music, or the story? Do you have the story worked out generally before you write the music, or do the songs inform the story and the lyrics?

3) Tell us about your gear collection- how many stringed instruments do you own- that includes, guitars, basses, lap steels, and any other acoustic stringed instruments? What keyboards do you own? What amps do you own?

4) What is your favourite guitar to play from your collection and why?

5) Who influenced your guitar playing growing up?

6) Who are some of your influences on keyboards?

7) Which instrument did you start out on?

8) What is your favourite keyboard to play (organ, synth, etc) and why?

9) What is your dream guitar and keyboard? Is it something your already own, or is it perhaps one of the instruments of one of the great musicians you admire?

10) As a guitar player, when you do guitar solos, I think you strike a very tasteful balance between melodic playing, and "shred". Aside from years of experience, how do you achieve this balance and not "over play"? What are some tips you can give to players who struggle with over playing and want to play more melodically and curb their habit to "shred" all the time?

Thanks again for taking the time to do this, and for all your wonderful music over the years!
 

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Hello Arjen, I'm Cesare from Italy.

== Ciao Cesare!

I have a couple of questions to ask.

== Sure.

I have been following your work since the 80s and I think I have practically everything you have done so far. I really enjoyed the space epics, but I am tied to the Vengeance period. Have you ever thought about brushing up on that project?

== I'm afraid I don't have very good memories of the whole Vengeance era, and I'm not in contact with the surviving members anymore. And I rarely look back, always forward. Sorry! The upcoming Star One album definitely has some Vengeance moments though :)

You have worked with so many fantastic artists, what is it like working with Jorn Lande, definitely my favorite singer? Do you remember a particular moment while working with him?

== One of the best singers I ever worked with, what a voice and range! And such a sweet guy too. Very emotional singer. Only good memories!

Congratulations on your fantastic work, which I find brilliant (Into the Electric Castle, Universal Migrator Part 1 & 2 in particular) and thank you for your time.

== Thanks for the big compliment, and you're welcome!
 

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Hi Arjen!!

== Hi Philouze

I have a quick question regarding the Ian Parry era of Vengeance.

== Cool, Ian rules! Coincidentally I just spoke to him yesterday.

Are there any live recordings from that period? (I'd love to hear live renditions of "Wings Of An Arrow", "Outta Control" or "Trouble In Town"...)

== Unfortunately not, sorry... We struggled to get a record deal with the 'new' Vengeance. Times had changed so much in the early 90's with grunge coming up. Wings of an Arrow is my favorite track too!
 

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Hello Mr. Lucassen!

== Hi Tyriax

What do you find is the best combo of guitars and amp equipment? I've got some friends who are interested in getting a band up and running and are kind of music snobs, lol.

== I still use all the old analog stuff, real amps (Bogner, Marshall, EVH) and real speakers (important!) and mics. For rhythm guitars I've been using my Ibanez RG 7-string now for a long time. And a Fender Stratocaster for the solos.

What methods do you use for the occasional non-instrumental portions of tracks? Do you tend to use stock effects from a sound library that you edit together? In particular, the various mechanical sounds on 01011001 - are those recording non-instrumental sounds that have been collected and edited into rhythmic sections, or are they you and your assembly recording specifically tuned instruments with specific effects added to them?

== I mostly try to make them myself! I hate to use effects that other have made :) But if I use existing effects I usually make the unrecognisable, like in Age of Machines. I often use guitar amps and distortion for that.

Finally, what's the most interesting place you've ever recorded in terms of acoustics? Is there anything specific you look for when you're trying to achieve a particular mood for a certain song?

== For drums I definitely need a big room. I don't like to use digital reverb. I still love the John Bonham sounds which was recorded in an old manor. I always look for a studio with a big room, not too dry.
 

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Big fan!

== Hi big fan! :)

Who has inspired you the most? Either musically or in your life, if these are not the same people.

== The holy trinity: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Beatles. And everything Blackmore.

When you work with so many talented vocalists, how do you best tailor the music and the vocals? Do you come up with the basic structure and go after people who'd be a good fit, or do you have a list of people you want to work with and fit things to their abilities?

== I have a huge wish list of singers, about 200! When the music is finished, I go over this list and pick the singers who I think fit the music and the story/concept.

And this has been bugging me - is the Electric Castle the new 'Frame, part of the old 'Frame, or just similar tech?

== There are many Electric Castles, all part of the Frame.

Is the dream sequencer the same ort of machine used by the Forever in EC to draw out people from the past - and I guess, also, are those people real, or simulated like "Me" in Human Equation?

== The people are real, but in a simulated environment. Hope that explains it!
 

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Hi Arjen,

== Hi Dan

I've been getting some additional questions from outside sources over on social media, so I figured I'd relay some common recurring ones.

== Sure!

On your website FAQ, you mentioned that you have no formal musical training and that you started when you were 15. What was it that got you into music in the first place?

== At first in the early 70's I loved the whole glam rock period with Alice Cooper, David Bowie and T Rex. And when I heard Blackmore with Deep Purple, I decided I wanted to play the guitar myself.

How did you determine that being a musician was what you wanted to do as your career?

== It wasn't a choice really... I had no other option!

And of course, the ever important guitar question - what's your favorite brand?

== It used to always be Gibson and Fender, but I ended up playing Ibanez the most!
 

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Hi Arjen!

== Hi!

Really great that you are doing this, thank you for taking the time! Here are my questions:

== My pleasure.

1) When you started the Aryeon project, did you have the basic storyline basically mapped out already, or did parts of the storyline come with each album?

== There definitely was no masterplan! I didn't even dare to hope that I would make another Ayreon album after the first one, I really didn't expect people to like it :)

2) With Ayreon which comes first- the music, or the story? Do you have the story worked out generally before you write the music, or do the songs inform the story and the lyrics?

== It always starts with the music. Then I let the music inspire me to come up with a story/concept.

3) Tell us about your gear collection- how many stringed instruments do you own- that includes, guitars, basses, lap steels, and any other acoustic stringed instruments?

== Countless, really! About 10 guitars, 3 basses, a mandolin, dulcimer, banjo etc. They're spread out all over the house and studio, otherwise I would count them for you :)

What keyboards do you own?

== Minimoog, Prophet 5, Solina, Hammond/Leslie, Korg ms20, Roland MKS80, Juno 60 and a lot of digital stuff as well.

What amps do you own?

== Bogner, EVH, several Marshalls, Rectifier, Trace Elliot, Sansamp.

4) What is your favourite guitar to play from your collection and why?

== Each guitar has its own purpose, so that's hard to say.

5) Who influenced your guitar playing growing up?

== Ritchie Blackmore, David Gilmour, Steve Vai, Eddie van Halen.

6) Who are some of your influences on keyboards?

== Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman, So no surprises there :)

7) Which instrument did you start out on?

== Acoustic guitar.

8) What is your favourite keyboard to play (organ, synth, etc) and why?

== All my analog keyboards. They always cut through the mix.

9) What is your dream guitar and keyboard? Is it something your already own, or is it perhaps one of the instruments of one of the great musicians you admire?

== I think I pretty much have everything I want! I'd love to have a Modular Moog, but I'm afraid it will be way too complicated for me to figure it all out :)

10) As a guitar player, when you do guitar solos, I think you strike a very tasteful balance between melodic playing, and "shred".

== Thanks! Well, I can't shred at all. I gave that up when I first heard Yngwie :)

Aside from years of experience, how do you achieve this balance and not "over play"?

== I simply don't have the technique to overplay, haha! So I (have to) stay within my limits and make the best of it.

What are some tips you can give to players who struggle with over playing and want to play more melodically and curb their habit to "shred" all the time?

== Listen to David Gilmour! And try to play just one note and make it 'sing'. Tell a story with your solos.

Thanks again for taking the time to do this, and for all your wonderful music over the years!

== You're welcome, thanks for the compliment and your interest in my music!
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Hi Arjen,

A few more queries from the wider web!

What determines whether or not you perform the vocals on a given track? Are there any thematic or narrative reasons you pick certain roles to play yourself, or is it just a matter of the best fit with the music?

Do you know if an album in the Ayreon project is part of the main story before you begin to write it, or does that reveal itself to you as you progress, even if how it fits isn't always clear at first? And, related to that - you've had a few side projects in the past with stylistic and tonal differences; do you determine which project an album fits into as it goes, or do you only realize this as you discover the music?

This is a consolidation of a few questions that seem to go together - are the "Forever" in Electric Castle and the Human Equation the same being, and are they simply members of the alien race, or are they meant to represent a kind of hive-mind for all of the different Forever we hear on the Source and 01011001?

And finally, this dovetails with one of Mr. Shalnark's questions upthread. You mentioned that every guitar has its purpose. Can you give us some examples of a few guitars you use regularly, and what purpose each of them would serve?
 

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Arjen,
It is a pleasure to meet you. I have an incredible respect for your work, it really takes some unbelievable talent to do what you do. :)

I am a drummer and percussionist, as well as the host of several podcasts and live radio shows, and I would love to keep in touch about helping to promote your work. What's the best method to connect, if any? :)

Wishing you all the best, and I look forward to future projects! You are an inspiration to musicians everywhere.
 

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Hi Arjen,

A few more queries from the wider web!

== Go for it :)

What determines whether or not you perform the vocals on a given track?

== I always sing all the guide vocals myself. Often an octave lower, because I'm a very limited singer.

Are there any thematic or narrative reasons you pick certain roles to play yourself, or is it just a matter of the best fit with the music?

== I always reserve a place for myself as a singer... but then... I almost always find someone who can do a better job than me, haha! So yeah, often I sing vocals when there is no other option :) For instance, on the Electric Castle album it didn't work out with 5 other singers (for various reasons), so in the end I sang it myself.

Do you know if an album in the Ayreon project is part of the main story before you begin to write it, or does that reveal itself to you as you progress, even if how it fits isn't always clear at first?

== I always plan, but... I never stick to the plan! I keep changing my mind all the time. Which is something I had to learn, because it makes the product so much better than religiously sticking to the original idea.

And, related to that - you've had a few side projects in the past with stylistic and tonal differences; do you determine which project an album fits into as it goes, or do you only realize this as you discover the music?

== I let the music come to me naturally, so I don't limit myself. So only after a few months a pattern starts forming. Once I've determined that it will not become an Ayreon album, I start limiting myself. Like for instance, no acoustic instruments on Star One.

This is a consolidation of a few questions that seem to go together - are the "Forever" in Electric Castle and the Human Equation the same being, and are they simply members of the alien race, or are they meant to represent a kind of hive-mind for all of the different Forever we hear on the Source and 01011001?

== The Forever race is a collective, much like the Borg. After an evil evolution of millions of years they all became as one, under the reign of the 'Frame.

And finally, this dovetails with one of Mr. Shalnark's questions upthread. You mentioned that every guitar has its purpose. Can you give us some examples of a few guitars you use regularly, and what purpose each of them would serve?

== For acoustic guitar I always use my Martin for the deep tones and the Ovation for the high tones. Rhythm guitar is now always the Ibanez 7-strings RG series, and for solos the Fender Stratocaster. With a Shift 2001 tremolo system.
 

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Arjen,
It is a pleasure to meet you. I have an incredible respect for your work, it really takes some unbelievable talent to do what you do. :)

== Thanks, I'm honored! I think in my case it's more persistence than talent :)

I am a drummer and percussionist, as well as the host of several podcasts and live radio shows, and I would love to keep in touch about helping to promote your work. What's the best method to connect, if any? :)

== Much appreciated! Best to contact the label for that, they handle my promotion. For Ayreon it's Mascot Label Group and for Star One it's Inside Out Music Germany.And you can mail me at [email protected]

Wishing you all the best, and I look forward to future projects! You are an inspiration to musicians everywhere.

== Glad I've been able to inspire you! Please keep up the good work :)
 

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Hi Arjen, after the Universe and the Electric Castle experiences in Tilburg (attended all shows) I am really thrilled for the cast. For example, will Damian be part of it again? Thanks for all your fantastic recordings...
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Ok folks - thank you all for your questions! We have now reached the end of the AMA.

I'd like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Arjen for coming by and participating in answering all of your questions!

Take care and be well everybody!

- Dan
 
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