Ayreon - Arjen Lucassen

Ayreon - Arjen Lucassen

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I simply love it! Just before the release of another epic album by Mr. Arjen Lucassen, I get the chance to speak to him and get a glimpse of what is going on in his brain that leads to the creation of another story/album. Despite being a “recluse” (quoting his saying), it is an absolute delight talking to him and start the process of digging deeper into another AYREON album. Yes, use this conversion while waiting for “The Source” (get it HERE) to blow your mind, in a Sci-Fi way of course. Let the story begin...

Ayreon - Interview

Hello Arjen and welcome back to METAL KAOZ!
Hi Dimitris, how are you?

I’m doing great – I was listening to the new AYREON album; it’s so entertaining, man!
Oh, thank you very much.

Are you doing interviews all day?
No, I just came back from the Germany press tour. So, it was 4 days there and before that it was the European tour in England and France and Italy etc, so today was kind of like a day-off. So, I’m still fresh (laughs).

I hope I’ll keep you entertained on your day-off (laughs).
I’m sure.

First of all, this album, “The Source”, will be released through Mascot Label Group, so why did you decide to change the record label?
Well, it was a coin on its side really. My contract was finished with InsideOut and I just wanted to continue with them because I was perfectly happy there. But then, we did the vinyl release of the GUILT MACHINE album with Mascot and I went to their office and they said “what about AYREON?” and I said “I’ll keep on going with InsideOut and they said “no, you have to come to us” (laughs). And then, they showed me their office which was really great and I met everyone there and it was such nice people, plus it’s half an hour from my house, so it felt really good. And they made a good offer and then I had to think about it for half a year - I swear; it was like “should I do this?” or “should I do that?” and it was 50/50. And then, at some point I thought that maybe this is cool for a new start. I mean, the new album is called “The Source”, so let’s try something new. So, that’s the only reason basically.

I’m asking this because you seem to me very much a creature of habit.
Yes, that’s why it was a big step for me. I’m also a very loyal person. But I knew everyone at Mascot and actually Ed was the first one who was interested in AYREON back in ’94 but then at that time his company was still very small so he thought he could not invest enough money in it so it didn’t happen. But already back then, he helped me to get a deal and stuff like that. We know each other for a very long time.

So basically, you’re going back to the source, right?
Yes, (laughs) that’s right. There is the source again.

I read the press release and there you say that this album was intended to be a STAR ONE or even a solo album.
Yeah, I always try to make a solo album; I love PINK FLOYD so much, so I always try to make an all-calm album, you know, without any double bass or any heavy guitars (laughs) and I can never do it! There is always like “ah, let’s put some guitar here” or “let’s put some heavy drums there” and before you know it, it turns into this monster called AYREON. So yeah, when I start a project, I never know what it’s going to be.

So, you’re saying that this album is the product of your failure of creating a solo album (laughs)?
(laughs) Yeah, that’s it! I’m just constantly failing in everything! And that’s the result.

I can say that I’m happy that you’re keep failing because the albums come out great.
Cool, cool. Well, you know, if you just open yourself up to other possibilities - I couldn’t do that when I started AYREON. I was really this control freak, saying like “I want this and this concept and these singers and I want them to sing exactly what I write for them” but through the years you get more of an open-minded and you give the singers all the freedom to do what they want and the result just gets better.

Now that you mentioned the singers, you didn’t have everyone come to your studio this time, right?
Unfortunately, no.

So, again, being a creature of habit, so how different was that for you?
I didn’t like it; I prefer to have them next to me in my studio because magic always happens when you interact with each other, and there is always you come up with spontaneous ideas – there is chemistry. I mean the only positive thing about it I felt like I don’t have to pay their flights (laughs). But you know, this time, and I’m being arrogant here, I got the best singers in the world. I trusted them 100%, so I wasn’t afraid that I would get crappy stuff back. And I gave them good instructions; I gave them the tracks with guide vocals and I had amazing guide vocals this time, like guys who really raised the bar. One was an American guy called Will Shaw, he is an amazing singer. I discovered him in YouTube; he was in his car singing “Dawn Of Million Souls” of AYREON and he did such a great job! So he recorded many guide vocals for this, so they had excellent instructions.

Awesome! I was laughing while watching the video you did, for “The Day That The World Breaks Down”, with Michael Mills’ part.

It’s truly amazing, man! This guy is such a genius!

You told him, “ok, just read these binary numbers however you like”?
Yeah. Well, basically he wasn’t part of the creation of the album. I just had 10 singers for it and that was it. But I was stuck with one part in the song “Run Apocalypse Run” and I kept going to “Gate Of Babylon” of RAINBOW, to the “devil is near” part [sings the melody], and I couldn’t get away from it. So, asked Mike to think of something, and then he sent it back to me just with just “la la la”, without words, and this beautiful, QUEEN part with all these voices, and then I got greedy and said “shit, Mike, I want it all over the album”. So, the part in the first song you’re referring to was an instrumental part, just a laid-back, atmospheric part, but then I thought “I’ve got to have something there”, so I just gave him binary zeroes and ones and this is what he did – amazing.

But this number in binary is translated into ‘trust TH-1’?
Yeah, you know, fans already in YouTube figured it out. And TH-1 is the android in the story portrayed by Mike.

Oh, I try to keep up with the postings but I failed; I cannot understand how you learn about all these.
Oh man, I have no life (laughs)! I just stand in front of the computer and reacting to shit and doing interviews. No, really, I don’t play live so I have plenty of time. I have no family and shit, and I like it, I enjoy it.

Speaking of specific songs, I have to ask you about “Everybody Dies”; it’s a so-happy sounding song, yet the lyrics tell a different story… So, did you intentionally create this paradox, let’s say?
Yes. I love that. I think that it all started with MONTY PYTHONS and “Life Of Brian” where he’s nailed to the cross and he’s going like “always look on the bright side of life” [sings the part] that’s so fantastic, always liked that! And I did it on my solo album, there is a song called “Dr. Slumber’s Eternity Home”, a happy song, [sings the chorus] and it’s about euthanasia. I think it makes the message even scarier when you do it in a funny way. It’s like the Joker in Batman with the big smile on his face or like the clown in the Stephen King’s stories, it has that effect.

And then, you have “Deathcry Of A Race”, and there’s suddenly an Eastern excerpt, completely changing the atmosphere, so how did you combine the Sci-Fi aspect of this song with that?
(laughs) Again, it’s a result of failure. I wanted Zaher Zorgati of the band MYRATH on this album because they have these beautiful oriental melodies and I love it, and somehow it didn’t work out; he was very busy and I’m a very impatient guy (laughs), he didn’t answer my emails fast enough, so I used another singer, and then he came back at me and said “shit, man, I would have wanted to sing on the album”, and I said, “well, I’ll find a spot for you”. So, I was just going over the album and thinking where I could have him sing and this track, “Deathcry Of A Race”, it’s kind of an eulogy to a whole race that has died. So, I figured if he’s like the preacher in the story - what he’s saying is basically a eulogy for the dead - so, it totally makes sense in the end, and it’s all, again, a matter of coincidences.

Ok. Listening to you describing all this stuff, I’m wondering: the story evolves as you write the music?

That’s very interesting, because I thought you have the concept or a vague idea of what the album would be and what you want to do.
Not at all; like I said before, if I start writing, I don’t even know for what project the music is going to be. It just depends on a lot of things, like the style of the music and then, the singers I get. And this time it was actually the artwork - at some point I thought “let’s get inspired by artwork - maybe this would be a new way to get inspiration from”. And I saw what’s now the front cover but it was just a lady with the tubes; all stuff that around wasn’t there yet. And it reminded me of a human who was forced to live on the water and then suddenly I thought it would be cool if that’s like Forever - someone of the Forever race because I’ve never showed them in my stories. What if the Forever race was once human? And that was basically that gave me the whole idea to get back to the big AYREON story.

And this is why the artwork was created before the album was done, right?
Yeah, well during, kind of. If you look at his work, it’s so detailed, it’s all these tiny little things and cables and machines and shit, and he worked on this for one and a half years, including all the artwork also in the booklet. So we basically worked at the same time; I was working on the songs and the music and he was working on the artwork.

Although his style reminds a bit of H.R. Giger…
Yeah, he loves Giger. I told him that I like Giger, Roger Dean and Salvador Dali and this had to be like a cross between those three.

(laughs) That’s a tough equation, Arjen!
(laughs) I know, but he did it!

Let’s go back to the story; you have this concept of artificial intelligence surpassing the human intellect, something that is strangely what is going on nowadays. So, everyone is saying that once this happens, terrible things will follow, but still, everyone is trying to get there. How strange is this?
I know. Well, you cannot stop technology. There is a song on the album, called “The Human Compulsion” which means that humans just have to strive to get technology. It’s just in our genes and you cannot stop it and I don’t think you should stop it.

Yes, but at the same time, if that means destroying your own or giving up your humanity in a way.
In my story, it ends bad, you know. But in real life, I don’t think people will be so stupid as to let this happen. I have to say, they’re pretty stupid every time I turn on the TV (laughs), but that stupid, I don’t think so.

It’s a matter of looking at the glass half-full than half-empty then.
Absolutely. I don’t think technology is either good or bad. As I always tell you, there is no good and bad in my stories. It’s just the way people use technology. I don’t have an iPhone; I have this stupid little phone and I don’t let technology control my life. If I look around me, I’ve been traveling a lot now (which is weird for this recluse) for the promotion tour, and you’re on trains and planes, and you see like how many people are totally been taken over by that little phone. And for me was like “wow, what’s happening here?”, it’s weird. But I don’t wanna judge because maybe they’re perfectly happy doing that, I have no idea. I still don’t know what to think about it.

Of course, if anyone is happy with what he’s doing, then it’s fine by me too. But it’s strange because using such a device that is supposed to make you stay connected, you end up being disconnected (from the real world, I mean).
That’s it, because there is always something more important happening somewhere else, so you’re not living in the moment. And that’s a bit worrying.

Anyway, we are digressing here… So, let’s get back to it; I need to know how did they manage to put you onstage because you have this awesome show that we cannot go in September, in The Netherlands. So, how did they do that?
(laughs) Well, ‘they’ is practically me, because it was my own idea. I think the catalyst was the theater play two years ago of “The Theater Equation”. I wasn’t involved in that - it was arranged by someone else - but of course I was there helping everyone and everything and I was onstage looking to the audience and I saw the people’s reactions. You know, I’m a recluse and all I see is emails and Facebook messages but then I saw expressions on people’s faces and emotions and crying and smiling and it was great to see that my music could have that effect on people. And that’s when I thought “ok, let’s do an AYREON Rock show here in Holland and see what happens”.

So, by “let’s see what happens” you mean there is a chance to do it elsewhere too?
I mean, let’s see if people are interested because I had no idea. It’s a big venue - it’s for 3000 people - and we thought maybe we can fill it once, maybe twice. And then what did happen was that within two hours two shows were sold out (that’s 6000 tickets) and then we added a third one the same day and within the same day 3000 tickets were gone. So I’ve never expected that. If I would have known this, I would have arranged more like a whole week maybe but I didn’t plan it that way. Of course, doing something big like this, it takes two years of planning.

Isn’t it a shame that you are going to do this only three times? Considering the amount of work and the interest level for this.
The thing is, the whole world is coming to this. The venue sent me like a little map of the world to show me where people are coming from and it’s from all over the place, so whether we do it in Amsterdam or in London or in Paris, it wouldn’t matter, you know. I think that the same people would come.

Oh, I missed my chance!
Sorry, man! But I’m not saying this is definitely the last or the only time. Again, let’s see what happens and how it goes. Of course, playing live is not my thing so I have no idea how and if I’m gonna survive this (laughs).

Are you getting nightmares for this already?
Yes, real nightmares like being onstage and totally not knowing the songs or have no strings on my guitar or I can’t find the venue and I’m lost on the street - all that stuff, it’s terrible. I wake up all wet, it’s terrible. But I’ve got to live with it.

Are there any plans to film any of these shows?
Yeah, of course because there are so many people who can’t see it. We’ll film the first two shows with like 30 cameras and a great film crew, so that will all be arranged.

That’s awesome! Well, Arjen, it was a pleasure talking to you once again. I have already pre-ordered “The Source” on the gold vinyl – this time I was fast enough to get it before it sells out.
Fantastic. It’s our biggest pre-sale ever and also Mascot’s biggest pre-sale ever, so I think I’m gonna be signing for days, if not a week or something (laughs).

I’m not gonna ask you what’s your next step because I know that you’re not planning ahead.
Yes, and I have plenty of work for these live shows and once we do this, I’ll have to do the DVD and the editing so this will fill my next year I think.

Thank you sir, and hope to see you around?
(laughs) You’re very welcome, Dimitris.