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Stream Of Passion

Arjen Lucassen did it again. It simply does not matter wetter it is called Bodine, Vengeance, Ayreon or Star One, I never caught him releasing something bad, and that really is something to be proud of. With his new band Stream Of Passion he adds another pearl to his already well filled treasure chest, by means of the album 'Embrace The Storm'. A month ago he and singer Marcello Bovio did a few interview sessions in Amsterdam, so after the warm welcome (including some cool beers) by the press lady from Sony I picked a nice seat in the sun and talked for over an hour with these two very talented artists.

By: Horst | Archive under prog / sympho metal

Arjen, you have been very busy the last couple of years. Last year the latest Ayreon album was released, and besides that you worked on several Ayreon re-releases. How did all these albums do?
Arjen: Well, 'The Human Equation' has turned out to be my best selling album so far, and the fact that Inside Out released this record has got a lot do with that. The other Ayreon albums came out through Transmission, but unfortunately they don't have such great distribution possibilities like Inside Out has. Now the fact that 'The Human Equation' is my best selling album does not necessarily mean it is my best record, because my back-catalogue is selling like crazy, it is really scary. Especially the 'Universal Migrator' set, and that is kind of weird, because nothing really changed about those albums.

This month again a new release with your signature will see the light of day. Not a project like Star One or Ayreon, but a real band for a change, entitled Stream Of Passion. Who came with the initial idea to raise this band?
Marcela: Arjen came up with the idea of course. He invited me for this after I did my parts for the 'Human Equation' album. We got along great in the studio, I could put in a lot of my own ideas, and a few months after the album was released he wrote me an e-mail in which he asked me if I was interested in participating on a new project, and I accepted.

Most bands I know consist of people who live close to each other, or at least in the same country. The band members from Stream Of Passion however live in different parts of the world. Is this a workable situation?
Marcela: I know, it sounds kind of crazy, but we constantly share a lot of ideas through the Internet, it is like a ping-pong game you know. Arjen sends his acoustic sketches to me, I send some melodies back, and it goes the same with all the band members. The interaction goes very well, although it is kind of weird doing this through the Internet instead of face to face, but it works quite well.

Talking about the band members, let's introduce them to the readers, shall we?

Johan Van Stratum (The Netherlands) – Bass
Marcela: He's great! He's a cool guy who plays some really mean bass lines. He is very into things like nu-metal and stuff like that, and so has a completely different style of playing than other bass players Arjen worked with in the past.

Davy Mickers (The Netherlands) – Drums
Arjen: Recruiting him is a funny story actually. I ran a kind of competition on the Ayreon site. People could send in their cover version of the Ayreon tune 'Love' (from the 'Human Equation' record) and win something. Now I received a lot of cover versions, and I must say that all of them were really corny. I mean, disco version, reggae versions, Dutch versions, there was even a guy who send in a drunk version hahaha. Now one version caught my attention because there was a great drummer on it, and I kept that in the back of my mind. When I was busy putting Stream Of Passion together I remembered this guy and send him an e-mail, asking him if he was interested in doing an audition for the band. He gladly accepted, for he was a big Ayreon fan so working with me was like a dream com true.

Lori Linstruth (USA) – Guitar
Arjen: Her name sounds Swedish, and she actually lives there, but in fact she is American.

Marcela: Arjen became interested in her after seeing a video on her website, so when this project came to be he invited her over to his studio to see if some sort of co-operation was possible. She did some solo's on the acoustic re-recordings of 'The Final Experiment', and that sounded thus great I invited her to join Stream Of Passion.

Alejandro Milan (Mexico) – Piano & Keyboards
Marcela: He is just as Mexican as I am, and actually he is my boyfriend. When I went to Holland for the recording sessions of 'The Human Equation' he came with me. Arjen already had heard some of the stuff he did for my own band, some acoustic piano stuff from his hand, and he liked his style very much, so he invited him as well.

Marcela, you are the singer as well as the violin player, and you worked with Arjen before on 'The Human Equation'. Did you guys always had the intention of working together again?
Marcela: Not really, but I think Arjen always kept the possibility in the back of his head.

So Arjen, when you were looking for a singer for this project, you automatically thought of Marcela?
Arjen: No, not really, because I was not looking for a singer, it was the other way around. When she was in my studio I heard her sing, and I knew I wanted to do some more work with her, so forming a band with her on vocals was quite logical.

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Most of the Stream Of Passion band members are into things like prog, jazz or postrock, except for bass player Johan van Stratum, who comes straight from the nu-metal corner. But isn't Stream Of Passion not something completely different?
Arjen: Yes it is, and meeting him was actually some sort of coincidence. At a certain point in time I asked Joost (keyboard player with After Forever) if he knew a cool bass player. I was looking for a really modern guy who could put in a lot of modern influences, because I wanted to use as much different influences as possible with this band. Alejandro for example brings in the jazz influences, I myself of course have the prog influences, our drummer loves Dream Theater and stuff like that, and Lori is very fond of guys like Michael Schenker and other 80s guitar heroes. Now Joost knew this bass player who was very much into Korn and stuff, but he also knew I had seen a DVD of drummer Davy. What I did not know however was that in that same DVD also that bass player was present. He asked me if I liked his style, and when I said yes he told me that it was Johan, the guy he was telling me about. Too much of a coincidence really… Anyway, I gave Johan a call, and send him some music to listen to, and though it was not really his kind of music, he definitely loved it and definitely wanted to be part of the band.

On the SoP website there are extended biographies of each band member, but the one thing that are missing the home countries. Non important?
Arden: I think my webmaster just forget to mention it hahaha. Is it really not there? Oh well, I am sure it was not deliberate.

Now working together form a big distance is one thing, but on tour, when you are crammed together for several weeks in a tourbus, that is something completely different. How do you think that will work out than?
Arjen: That is going to be the big surprise hahaha. Of course I have gained some experience during the years, and I have not only picked this bunch because of their musical skills, but also because of their personalities. After Marcela and Alejandro staid here some time during the 'Human Equation' sessions I knew they were cool guys. I also had some serious talks with Davy and Johan to see what they are all about and what kind of ideas they had. Lori is certainly no problem, because I have been e-mailing with her for years now, and I think that if you e-mailed with each other with such a long time, you will know each other pretty well.

About getting to know each other, Marcela, what was your first impression of the big man?
Marcela: Well, I thought he was like going to be that great, serious, strict, kinda harsh guy, but he turned out to be very nice. I never thought to have such freedom while recording with him, so for me it was great to work with him. He is very much open for other people's ideas, and that is very cool.

Which brings us to the creative process. If I am not very mistaken Arjen writes the music and you are in charge of the lyrics, right? But how do you actually write songs together when you are physically separated by thousands of miles?
Marcela: Arjen records the chords on acoustic guitar and sends them to me. After I have received them I start working on the vocal melodies and send them back. He in his turn picks it up, does some work on them, and so it kind of goes, with us sending back an forth ideas and rough versions until we are both happy.

That sounds a lot like a two-man effort only. Do the other band members also have some influences on the whole thing?
Arjen: A lot actually. I send them the 'rough' versions, and they can add their own influenced and preferences to it, even if I had something completely else in mind. Now I basically always work like that since the second Ayreon album. On 'The Final Experiment' is was like the very strict person Marcela was talking about earlier, and back them I was the only one who could decide how my songs would be played. Later on though you start working with professionals like Thijs van Leer, Fish, Bruce Dickinson and guys like that, and you notice that they don't stick with your melodies. Now you don't stop them from doing that (would you tell Bruce Dickinson to shut up?), because you also notice that they can come up with much better stuff than you yourself have written. That as the point I decided to give the musicians I work with the free hand. Of course I still have the last word in musical matters, make no mistake about that. If I don't think that his or her idea is better than my own, it is not going to happen.

And who do you tell such to a musician? Do you bring it gently, or as bold as brass?
Arjen: If it really sucks I tell them straight to their face.

Marcela: He really does you know. Sometimes I come up with ideas that he does not like at all, and when such happens he tells me that I can do much better. No some musicians would get a bit offended when they are told so, but since Arjen is of course a very experienced guy, I do not feel patronized or anything. I just see it as a good co-operation, he is not like some father-figure telling his children what to do.

Arjen: On the other hand it also happened that she corrected me on some things. At first that is kind of hard to swallow from a 'youngster', but later on you just have to accept that she can be right.

Marcela's voice reminded me somewhat to Anneke Giersbergen (The Gathering), so in general SoP sound like a cross between The Gathering and the softer side of Ayreon. How do you see this?
Arjen: I consider that to be a compliment.

Marcela: Well thank you! I think Anneke is a great singer. I have seen The Gathering live a couple of times when my band opened up for them in Mexico. I have some Gathering records in my collection, and I am mostly attracted to the way in which the have been evolving and re-inventing themselves through the years. They could easily have continued playing the same style that brought them so much popularity in the metal scene, the formula that worked, but the did not and I think that is real accomplishment.

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In both Ayreon and Star One there is room for lots of heavy shit, but in my humble opinion SoP kind lacks those heavy parts. Was this an obvious choice, or did it just grow that way?
Arjen: You know, it is very funny you say that. I know you are a metal guy, but before you we were talking to someone from Oor magazine, who is not a metal dude. What do you think he was telling us? He thinks it is a metal album! And that is just the way it goes… Anyway, I don not think this album lacks heavy parts, but you will notice that when we play live.

Still I would like to know why this album is not as 'heavy' as your other work…
Arjen: I did not really aim for this effect. I just head Marcela's voice and wanted to do something with it, and we had no idea whatsoever what it would turn out to be. It could have been anything, even an acoustic album. Only when we started bringing in the other band members it became heavier, and I still think that there are a couple of pretty heavy parts present on a few songs. And another thing, Marcela of course is not a metal singer, so it would be pretty weird to let her scream next to some heavy riffing. Dark and shady, like you hear on 'Embrace The Storm', that is more her thing.

The record will be released in the Benelux through Sony/BMG, but the rest of the world will be served by Inside Out. Interesting construction…
Arjen: At first Sony was interested in releasing the album world-wide, but then it seemed to be rather difficult to get every single Sony chapter in the world willing to release it. While Sony was working on that I got rather impatient (that's just the guy I am), because when I have an album done I want to get it out to the public as soon as possible. In the end I just did not want to wait for Sony anymore, so I took it to Inside Out and they gladly wanted to release it. But when I had worked out a deal with Inside Out suddenly Sony came back to me and told me that we wanted to release it… Well, in the end we worked out this construction that Sony would do the Benelux and Inside Out the rest of the planet. This is in fact the best of both worlds. We get extra attention in the Benelux, like a video clip that actually goes in rotation on the music channels, and Inside Out simply has got the power to do that.

The album is scheduled for release October 24th, but the promos were send out almost two months ago. I guess 'Embrace The Storm' is all over the Internet by now?
Arjen: I am really angry that it is already out there, but what can you do? I mean, at the last moment Sony came in, so we had to postpone the release date for a month (Sony needed extra time to prepare everything). Now a lot of distributors did not know that and thought the album was still set for release the original chosen date, so they send a lot of promos already to the music press. Two months in advance of a release is of course way to early.

Do you think this will effect your sales?
Arjen: The funny thing is, if it is a good album it does not matter, you even might sell more. If it on the other hand is a bad album, it definitely will effect your sales negatively. For example, the day after 'The Human Equation' promos were send out it was already to be found all over the Internet, and I was so pissed off about that, for I really thought this was the end of my career as a recording artist. In the end though it became my best selling album to date. So obviously a lot of people heard it on the Internet and went out to get the real thing.

If I am correct the album will be released in two different versions. One as a stand-alone CD, and the other with a bonus DVD. What exactly will be on that DVD?
Marcela: On the DVD there is a 'making of', in which we explain how the album was put together. Also on it is the video clip for 'Passion' (including a 'making of'), some footage from Davy doing a drumtake, and demo versions from songs.

The band will go on tour in the beginning of 2006, and will play several dates in The Netherlands, England, Belgium, Germany, Spain, France and Italy. Now it is commonly known you hate touring, why go on tour than?
Arjen: The album, the band, the band members, we all really want to do it, the people have the time to do it. The music is easy to do live, at least it is easier than doing Ayreon live. Also there is not much hassle when it comes to organizing it all, re-arranging the songs. I just feels good with this band. It are all young guys who really want to go on tour and really looking forward to it, and that gives me the energy to do it. By the way, you must see this tour as a warm-up event. We only do club gigs, just to see how it works together, see how it works with the audience. This is of course a new band, but a lot of people will show up because of me and the fact that half of the material we'll be playing come from Ayreon. Actually those will be the more heavier Ayreon songs, because on the Stream Of passion albums there is a lot of ballad-like stuff, and when I do a live show I prefer to play heavier stuff. You might compare it to the shows we did with Star One, though the songs have to fit Marcela's voice of course. I mean, 'Dawn Of A Million Souls' is a very cool live song, but not for Marcela.

Marcela: I am also very excited. I have never toured in Europe before, so I do not really know what to expect, though I am really looking forward to be on stage with the band. I mean, when we were recording the video there already was this certain vibe, like we were already a real band.

How do you see the future of Stream Of Passion?
Arjen: I am not sure yet. It depends on a lot of different things, like the tour, the mood within the band, sales of the album, perhaps even the success of a single maybe. On the other hand, if the album does not so well, but if the tour is a success, and we as well as the audience have a great time, then maybe it is worth to give the band a second chance. If the record company lets us…

And what about Ayreon and Star One, have you already got some plans concerning your other children?
There is definitely coming a follow-up for the Star One studio album, and in fact that is the thing I would like to do next. I really need a break from Ayreon, which therefore is on ice right now, so doing another Star One album is quite logical. On the other hand, if Stream Of Passion goes really fast there might be need of a second record pretty soon, which means that Star One goes on hold again. You see, doing a Star One album takes a year of my life, and when Stream Of passion is hot, we can not afford to wait so long for the release of another album. If I decide to do a Star One album, I know for sure in which musical direction I will take it, but right now I have not go a clue about who I will ask for the vocal parts.

Though the future looks bright for Stream Of Passion right now, there is always a possibility this project will flop. Now Arjen always can fall back on his other bands/projects, but what will Marcela do when such happens?
Marcela: Well, I guess I will continue doing what I am doing right now, like working with my own band Elfonía and my day job you know, no harm done. I mean, no matter what the eventual outcome will be, it will only get better for me…

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