Interview by Miriam C.
In occasion of the Ayreon special shows that will be played during the 15th, 16th and 17th September 2017 in Tilburg at the 013 Poppodium, the Dutch mastermind himself, during the promotion of his new Ayreon‘s chapter “The Source”, take some time to introduce it and looking back to its long career: if miss Astrid Van Der Veen reads this, Lucassen is still open for a second Ambeon chapter….
Hi Arjen, welcome to Femme Metal Webzine. I’m so happy to host you here today. How are you?
Hi Miriam [laughs], I’m fine. The reactions on the album are great so far, so I’m happy.
Let’s start from the beginning: today, we’re here to speak about Ayreon‘s 10th album “The Source” and officially the press release states that ““The Source” revisits the Forever saga, adding a whole new chapter” but in which way it liaises with your past albums of this saga?
This is actually a prequel so it’s the beginning of the story, I mean, the title “The Source” already discloses it, you know. It’s the source of mankind, it’s the source of Forever where does mankind come from, where does Forever come from and I don’t wanna give away too much already but yeah, it’s the whole beginning of the story, the beginning of everything, really.
You also said that this time you had really the musical freedom to choose which was the fitting moniker. How did you realize that “The Source” couldn’t fit in any of your other projects/monikers?
Like you said, when I started I had really no idea what is gonna be, I’ve just had a little idea and it grows, grows, grows and I got more ideas. It usually starts out as a solo album, you know, just singing songs and this time it gotta be heavy, and I was like: “Oh, I can’t sing heavy music maybe it’s Star One” and so, for a while, I thought it was Star One and then I got all this folky parts, you know, the violin and the flute parts and the celtic parts and I thought: “No, it doesn’t fit in Star One so, hey I guess it’s gonna an Ayreon album”. That’s the cool thing, you know, just open your mind and keep changing and it always works for me: I had to learn that ‘cuz in the past I was like “I wanna do this” and you are just limited, you limit yourself and I don’t wanna limit myself , so that’s how it happened.
I think that it’s something really refreshing. Music wise it sounds like a new beginning for you. What has changed sice “The Theory of Everything” and how much different was your writing approach with “The Source”?
Very different, very different. With “The Theory of Everything” basically I went to the studio with nothing. I just went to the studio and I started recording and started putting all this stuff together and gluing all this stuff together, so that’s a complicated album: I call it my prog album. Also, it had members of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Emerson Lake and Palmer – it was really keyboard oriented – and this album is very much my rock album, it’s more guitar oriented, it has some great guitar players like Guthrie Govan, Paul Gilbert and also I wrote it differently, I had more ideas and I have like 50 ideas before I started so I could be more selective. I could like “Ok, I like these 20 ideas, I don’t like these 30 ideas so I’m gonna erase them and never hear them again”. So, I think that’s why this album is more consistent than the previous album.
“The Source”, on top of everything, represents a brand new start because it’s the first album released via Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings. What’s happened with InsideOut?
Basically nothing, it’s just that the contract was finished and Mascot just offered. They said “Hey, listen you have to come to us because you know, we love Ayreon and we think we can do a great job with you” [laughs] and I was like “No, I’m with InsideOut and ok, the contract was finished but I think I go back with them because I’m happy there” and they said “Yeah, look at our offers and meet this people and they have always great ideas” [laughs] and they were so nice, they are Dutch as well and they live close by. I know that it just felt right and yeah, like you said, it felt like a new start. It took me half a year to decide what to choose between InsideOut and Mascot but eventually I chose Mascot and I’m now really happy with my decision ‘cuz it’s a great work with them and there so many ideas and there is a real corporation, you really feeding with eachother, so that’s very cool.
Probably the fact that they’re local (I mean Dutch), it’s more easier for you…
It make it easier because like the last week I had to go there to sign all the pre-orders which were thousands, of thousands…. it was days of signing and I just took my car, it’s half hour drive you know, it feels good.
Which important role played the amazing artwork by French artist Yann Souetre? I mean you clearly confirm that without this “The Source” was never been existed in a way….
It’s true. Well, often when I see front cover like the front covers from Yes, those beautiful drawings designed by Roger Dean, they inspire my when I see that, I think like “Wooo”, I get all these ideas in my head and I thought “Let’s do the same” ’cause usually I first finish the whole album and I look for an artwork and this time it was like “Ok, let’s like to Google Images and put in ‘sci -fi artwork’ “, I just look at everything and let them inspire me and it did happened, you know? After 3 weeks of looking, I found Yann Souetre and I saw all his images and they were so detailed, all this industrial machines and stuff. I loved it and then I saw this image of the grill [laughs] underwater and I thought: “That’s cool, what if is that a human being try to live underwater? What if the Forever race was human?” and suddenly, I got all these ideas, so it was very important to me this artwork.
You mentioned the artwork and now, I’ll mention an fondamental element: the water, surely, is the source of life and “The Source” can be considered as the prequel for the whole Ayreon universe. On a general vision, which important role assume this your new full-lenght in light of your entire discography?
It’s funny when I did the first album I had no idea that it was gonna grow into this Ayreon universe. Like I said before, I never planned, it was not even called Ayreon the first album – it was a solo album by Arjen Anthony Lucassen, the title was “Ayreon” and the subtitle “The Final Experiment” and then I made the second album and it was not connected to the first album and then I made the third album “Into the Electric Castle” and suddenly, it was connected to the first album and I made [alma accident check check] and it was connected again. Before I knew it this whole Ayreon universe was coming into being which was getting very complicated at some point [laughs], you know with “01011001” I was like: “Oh, I don’t get with this guy that who lives on Mars, when was he there?” – at some point I had to ask the fans: “Hey, do you remember what happened here and there?”. So, then I stopped the story and now for this album I go back but the fact that is a prequel, that is all started before is solved, you know, every album I make is important for me. It’s hard to say like the previous album “The Theory of Everything” which was not part of the whole concept, it was just as important to me. Every album I do I spend an year of my life, no weekends, no holidays [laughs], no friends, just at home concetrating working on it.
I always wanted to know how do you manage to choose the right singers? Because everytime their voices fits perfectly with the role that they have to portray…
Well, it’s the other way around actually. I first pick the singers and then I choose the role [laughs]. So, it is easier, you know, it sounds weird but I still think the music and the singers are more important than the story and the character, so I’d rather first make the music let him inspire me for the story and then take the singer and let them inspire me for the lyrics, so, let’s take Tobias Sammet who plays the Captain, it not that I had a Captain in this story and I had to find someone to play that part, it was known that I has Tobias so I’ll make him a Captain ‘cuz it fits him, you know, it fits his personality.
On the other way around, during these years, you have collaborated with a lot of artists and I was wondering to know what did you have learn from these mutual collaborations? If think that back in the day even two musical legends like Fish and Bruce Dickinson have sung on “Into the Electric Castle”. I think that there is a mutual collaboration and sharing experience at the same time….
Yeah, I learnt a lot since then ‘cuz in the beginning I was narrow-minded like I said before. I made a melody, I made a lyric and that’s what I have to do, you know and “Don’t chance my melody [laughs], this is the lyric and this is what I wrote for you” but then you work with Fish and he’s this guy and he gets in the studio, he takes the mike and he just sings whatever he feels like it and he doesn’t give a shit what I wrote for him [laughs]: it was way better of what I wrote for him. Same it goes for Bruce Dickinson, he just went for it, he was just improvizing and changing stuff: that’s when I learnt that maybe I gonna get a better result from a singer if I let him go free and of course, I’m a fan of them, I’m a fan of their style and if the result is better, then, that’s the way to do it.
Even a person like you that doesn’t really enjoy performing live has been tempted by the devil and by this I’m referring about the 3 special shows that will gonna take place in Tilburg, The Netherlands, at the legendary 013. What the fans should expect from these special performances?
Well, we’ll working on it for 2 years and we’ve already working 1 year. It’s a loooot of work, it’s a lot of work [laugh], of course are 16 singers and we a lot of special effects, beautiful lights and we have a big LED screen behind the stage and it would be a huge, huge show. We want to have it perfectly, you have to arrange it perfectly because you can’t rehearse too much with the singers, they’ll come one day before and everything has to be perfect: they have to have a script, the lighting guys have to know what to do because are only 3 shows but it will be the best of Ayreon and we’ll play at least two songs of each album, so it’s not just the last album and yeah, I don’t wanna to give away more, it will spoil the surprise.
Since the involvement of big names (from Tommy Karevik from Kamelot, Hansi Kürsch from Blind Guardian and Floor Jansen from Nightwish and more) how much hard was put together these shows? It’s overwhelming, everything…
It is, you know, but they are all great people. When I asked them they all said “Yes, of course, we will be there!” but you have to be early, you have to be two years in advance because they are really busy with their own bands and they have to schedule, they have to keep it free so that’s why we had to start so early. They are all great people and maybe at the end could that someone can’t do it at the last moment and we have to find a replacement or something but I’m sure that all will work out fine.
So, I will do this question but probably you have already replied here and there in some other questions but anyway, be free to tell me: how your approach change from the studio, where you can work individually with each musician because I know some of the musicians are not physically present there due to scheduling or because they live far away from you and how this factor influence the recordings?
Well, actually I prefer always prefer to fly the singers over my studio. That’s what I like most and that’s the way it always been, really. They were always able to fly to my studio but this time I wanted the best singers in the world and of course, the best singers in the world are very busy. You know, they got their own bands, they got their own projects and when they don’t work, they want to be with their family, so, this time it was really hard to them: I had only 3 out of eleven singers who came to my studio this time which is one side it’s a shame, you know, ‘cuz when with me in the studio there’s always chemistry, magic happens when you’re together in the studio and you can improvise, you can feed on eachother: “I like this, oh yeah try this and get the guitar”, so, yeah that’s a kinda of a shame but I have to say that they are the best singers in the world so they did an amazing job, they did it either in their own studio or they rented a studio close by and I have to say that I was not disappointed in any of them and if I would beeen of one of them, I wouldn’t use that, it does happen that people send me a lot of stuff and I’m like: “Sorry, I don’t like it” and that’s shit when that happens but it does happens and of course, I won’t tell you.
I think if you are truthful with eachother, it’s better because in the end you work in the right way but in the other way around it hurts to get a refusal…
I have to, you know, if I don’t like it and then it’s on the album – knowing me, I don’t want that. I want to be 100% proud of each Ayreon album I make.
In retrospect, have you ever thought that with Ayreon you were able to achieve so much in your career?
Not at all, not at all. I mean, my first Ayreon album was called “The Final Experiment” and I really thought that it would be my final experiment [laughs]! I’ve been touring the world for 15 years before that, I’ve been in various rock bands and at some point I wanted to do something that I wanted. In all those bands we tried to do what people wanted, what record companies wanted, what the fans wanted.
I remember Vengeance…
Right, yeah. So, now I wanted to something that I wanted and it was so many styles – rock, prog, metal, classic and folk – and I thought: “Who’s gonna like that?” [laughs]. I really thought that is was my last (and final) experiment: everyone’s surprised because it started to selling and nobody wanted to have it, I’ve been shopping around with it 4 years, after it was finished, I went to 30 record companies and they all said “No”. It was a difficult time but then it was very rewarding when it started selling.
When you did release that everything was working in the right way? You have just confirmed that you had hard time set the wheel in motion….
I think when it started to getting in the charts [laughs]. I didn’t expect to sell any albums and the record company was like “Hey man, we sold a couple of thousand album”, I said “A thousand albums?”. Then the week later, it’s ten thousand and a couple of weeks later “We’re to 25-30.000 albums and we’re entering the charts here in Holland“ and I was like “Wait, what’s happening here?”.
So, many many fans are fond of your Ambeon project, which are the memories that you cherish the most about that only, and unfortunatly, album?
She was the biggest talent that I ever worked with. It was going to be an instrumental album and I heard her, someone sent me a recording of her and she was a 14 years old Dutch girl and I thought: “Shit, I’m not gonna listen to it!” and the guy kept saying to me: “Listen to it!”. After a few weeks , I listened to it and I was like “Whoaaa!” and then I have come her to my studio, she brought the whole family, the mother, the father and the sister. She was only 14 and those people thought: “Who this guy?”. So, she came in my studio, she sang 2 songs and she wrote her own melodies, her own lyrics: it was just goosebumps all over and she was so good. She is such a lovely girl too and it was an amazing experience to work with her and I would love to work with her again but she’s really changed, she went into a difficult period where she had bordeline, she went into an institution – now she has found religion and she’s very happy with what she does now, she recorded her own album with religious lyrics: that’s what she’s doing now, she’s doing something different but I hope one day she’ll tell me: “Hey, let’s do another one” and I’ll say yes!
So, Arjen it’s time for your parting words – I really thank you for your time – please greet freely our readers and your fans. Thanks again!
I really hope that people gonna love this album and if you don’t that’s ok, just let me know. I’m very approachable on Facebook or my email address, it’s everywhere, so let me know what you think and I learn from everything like you said I learn from musician but also learn from the fans. Thanks for the support so far, of course!
Photo credit by Lori Linstruth