Interview: Ayreon

On April 28th, Ayreon will release their new album, called The Source. DutchMetalManiac’s Glenn van der Heijden just reviewed it here. He also interviewed the mastermind of Ayreon, Arjen Lucassen. You can read the interview below.

Congratulations on the new album!

Thank you!

What are your thoughts on it so far?

Well, usually this is my insecure phase, because the moment I finish an album, I think it’s the best in the world. Like I can’t wait to share this with anyone. Then, I have to wait like three months or something till release and in that period the album gets really bad, I get very insecure until the release, but this time I am pretty sure. We put one track online on YouTube, The Day That The World Breaks Down, and the reactions are really amazing. Usually, people are always bitching on YouTube that they hate it, but there were 300.000 views and everyone was positive. Besides that, presales are the best I ever had, some versions already sold out, it’s album of the month in some magazines, front covers, so I feel pretty good about it.

It must be crazy. It’s a wonderful album. Can you tell us a bit about the process of making The Source?

Well, I worked a bit different than usual. Basically, every album I do I work in a different way. Just to keep it fresh. For example, The Theory of Everything, I didn’t have any ideas when I entered the studio, I recorded everything that came up, that became a very tense and different album. This album I worked a little bit differently, I already had 50 ideas before entering the studio, so I could be more selective. Also, this time I started with the artwork. Normally I do that at the end, but this time I thought maybe the artwork could inspire me for a story. So, I went to Google Images and I looked at many artists and I found a French guy, called Yann Souetre, his art really inspired me.

It’s absolutely beautiful. How do you pick the right people for the right job?

When I start, I have no idea what project it’s going to be, what musicians I’m going to ask, it all starts slowly. First I write the music and the story, after that I make a list of musicians I think will fit to this album. So, I have a very long wish list. Then I´ll contact the musicians I think fit best to the music and the concept. They don’t always do it, sometimes they are too busy, but I pick the people who I think fits best to the style.

It’s not really an easy job I would think.

Well, the contacting is easy, but to convince them, that’s hard. To arrange things, to get them fly over to my studio, to record things in their own studio, that’s the downside of Ayreon to arrange those things and to bother the musicians.

Talking about the concept of the album, it seems to me that there’s a message into it, about technology. How do you see that?

Well, basically I never try to put messages in music, because I think, as a musician, I want to offer escapism, I hate to push my personal opinion on people, I always try not to do that. But, of course, I can’t help it if there are personal opinions shining through the lyrics. I come from a time before computers, so I’ve seen the world change drastically the last 20/30 years. I am definitely not saying this as a good or a bad thing, it’s just that there are really fast changes and, basically, my albums are often about the dependence of technology. I think technology is a really good thing, but I would never become dependent of technology.

Would be horrible if something goes wrong then right?

That’s it, you’re hopeless. In my stories, it always goes horribly wrong. On this album, it starts on Planet Alpha, where computers shut down all the life support systems. So, it’s not a good thing.

Speaking about that, the song Everybody Dies, it’s very happy-ish but everybody dies, how did you come up with that idea?

I love contradictions, it’s like Stephen King stories, when the clown comes up. It’s a clown, but you simply know things will go wrong. Also like Monty Python’s Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, that poor guy is nailed to the cross and they’re singing Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life. I like those contradictions, I think it’s even heavier this way.

Yeah, it happens through the whole album, it’s fun this way right?

Yeah, I did it on my solo album, there’s a song called Dr. Slumbers Eternity Home, it’s really happy but it’s about a euthanasia clinic where you go, just to die. That makes it interesting.

How do you view metal in the music industry, for a lot of people metal is an area that they are not comfortable with. You are doing this for quite some time, how do you view the music industry now as supposed to way back when and how do you view metal in there?

I think metal has always been there and will always be there. It’s such an incredible loyal audience. I’ve been playing metal ever since I was 17, which was in 1977. I started my first band, I played in Bodine and Vengeance and we always had an audience. Now, with Ayreon, I am entering charts all over the world, in Holland even twice number one. It’s a small group, but it’s a very loyal group, I love it. I think the metal is very healthy at the moment, I can’t complain. My new album, The Source, has the best presales I ever had. It’s a loyal audience, we still want to get the real thing. We won’t listen a little bit in the background and something else the next day.

You worked with many artist over the years. Are there people you still want to work with in the future, like a wish list or something?

I have a wish list and it’s like 100 singers or something. Obviously, it’s great to work with your heroes, I am talking about the people I grew up listening to, like Robert Plant, Ian Gillan, Geddy Lee, David Gilmour, Ritchie Blackmore, Brian May. To be able to work with those people, who were like gods to me when I was younger, that’s fantastic. I keep trying of course, but it’s really hard. Like this time, I was really close to get Brian May on the album, but then he got sick. But it worked in the past, for example when I got Bruce Dickinson on the album, you just must be lucky, that there’s a way in somehow.

Do these big classic rockers have a big influence on your music? I feel like they do.

Absolutely, I am not hiding it. I don’t understand all these musicians who say that they are not influenced, I am totally influenced. On this album, the Rainbow, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd influences. It’s just the way it is, between your 10th and your 20st birthday, that’s the music that shapes your world. Having said that, I would hate to get stuck in the past, so I stay updated very much. I listen to new music every day when I go jogging.

Was there a moment while creating this album that you were stuck?

Well, I am always stuck in between albums, that’s terrible. When I finished an album, I am empty, nothing comes out, I call it my black hole period, it always happens. I put everything I have in it and then suddenly it’s over. There should be something new, but nothing new is coming up. Once I start an album with one or two songs, then the inspiration starts flowing. I think that’s why I end up with double albums all the time. I don’t plan it that way, I just write and record it.

I don’t think the fans would really matter. Ayreon Universe is coming up in September. In the past, you had some difficulties with going on stage, you would rather not do that, what’s the reason that you’re doing it now?

I still don’t want to do it. I hate it, I am just not good at it, I have terrible stage fright. I see myself as a composer, a producer, that’s what I do well. As a performer, I am not really special or something. I think the catalyst was The Theater Equation, which was a theatre play of my album The Human Equation. It was such a big success and I wasn’t expecting that. During the shows, I was looking into the audience and I only saw happy people, there were so many emotions going on. So, at that point I thought, if only once, I should do it, Ayreon live.

Can you tell us a little bit or is it all secret?

A little bit is fine, not too much of course, then I would spoil surprises. It has 16 singers, which is amazing, 10 of the best musicians, there’s going to be a big LED-screen behind the stage with beautiful visuals, special effects. It’s going to be a lot of work to arrange it, we are already working on it for 1,5 years now and luckily, we sold out three shows, which allows us to put some more money in it and make it perfect.

I can’t wait! You worked with Anneke van Giersbergen for The Gentle Storm, she took the band on tour, how did that go?

Well, I didn’t plan that whole project. Somehow, I got a message from Anneke saying like ‘Should we do something together?’ and I was sure and already working on music, so I asked what she would think of it. Then we worked with The Gentle Storm on the album, the concept and at some point, Anneke asked me if I would be okay if they would play it live. I thought it was great. Usually my projects don’t perform live, so it was great that someone would play the album live and promote the album.

Anneke is more than capable of doing that.

Yeah, she is just a great performer, one of the best singers in the world. The band was amazing, I remember one of the first shows, I was in the audience and with the soundcheck I had tears in my eyes.

Do you want to say anything else?

That’s always a hard question. I would say, just buy the album. Well, I think this album is pretty much a reaction to my previous album, The Theory of Everything. It was very much a prog album, very complicated. This album is more like a metal album, bit more streamlined and catchy. It’s a little bit of an easier album. I would say check it out.

About you saying it’s a bit easier album, do you think it will reach more people?

I think so, nowadays people don’t give music a chance anymore. There is so much music. If you make a different album, like The Theory of Everything you may not get the chance, because you really have to listen to it a couple of times. This album is more catchy, the message is clear. I think this can reach more people, because it’s a bit more structured.

Thank you very much for this interview and good luck in September with Ayreon Universe!

Ayreon Official Website
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