Band interview: Ayreon

Courtesy Arjen Lucassen Twitter

We recently got the opportunity to sit down with Arjen Lucassen and discuss your new favorite Ayreon album “The Source”.

D: Thanks for sitting down with us and letting us pick your brain about the new album. We have been listening to it and it’s unbelievable, really so good.
A: No problem, I am glad you like it.

D: So we understand the album is a prequel and a continuation of the Forever storyline. Did you find that getting back to the main storyline led to a more straightforward Ayreon album as opposed to the ultra proggy “Theory of Everything”?

A: Well, I don’t think the storyline had much to do with it because I always start with the music. I let the music inspire me to come up with the story. But yeah, you are absolutely right, it’s definitely a reaction to “The Theory of Everything”. I mean that was a prog album, it had members of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and Emerson Lake and Palmer. It was very keyboard oriented with Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Jordan Ruddess. Also, The Gentle Storm was a very feminine album. It had Anneke on vocals and was a love story which is something very different for me so I wanted a guitar oriented album. I wanted a heavier album this time. Also, the artwork inspired me for the album.

D: That makes sense, I mean “The Source” is one of the heaviest Ayreon albums, it really has some mean riffs on it.

A: It’s maybe like “The Flight of the Migrator” album with Bruce Dickinson, that one is pretty heavy as well but yeah, it’s more riff oriented.

D: You obviously always have an amazing cast of singers but this is arguably your strongest cast of singers to date.

A: Oh, I know.

D: I feel like you can really hear the personalities of the characters in each of the singers voices.

A: That is very important.

D: When you reach out to singers do you already have a character in mind or is it more based on who is available and willing?

A: Totally, you got it right. I first pick the singers, then I confirm them, then I divide them over the album.  I do that with little pieces of paper. I cut out all their names and then I want this singer here and this singer there. This album I wanted to be spread out, I wanted each singer equal. I wanted each one to sing like nine, ten, eleven songs. Once I’ve done that and divided them up on the album then I actually choose the character based on the singer. So for instance, Tobias is a good example, he’s kind of like this cocky person. He’s like a leader, an alpha male, he knows exactly what he wants so he would be perfect as a captain. So okay, I got Tobias and he’ll be The Captain, then I write the lyrics based on the personality of Tobias and that goes for each singer. It’s much easier to work that way cause if you first have a character and then have to find a singer that fits that, you’re limited. Like oh, I wanted to ask this singer but he didn’t fit the character.

D: That really makes sense. For example, when I heard Simone Simons on the album she sounded so comforting and it made sense she would be the counselor character.

A: Yep, that’s it!

D: Even Michael Mills, who I first of all want to address how unreal that guy is, it only makes sense that you would cast the most inhuman voice as a computer.

A: That’s true and it went weird because he wasn’t part of the cast. Basically the cast was chosen, I had ten singers, the aligning of the ten, the second chronicle. Then I had this one part in the track “Run! Apocalypse! Run!”  And I kept going back to a Rainbow song called “Gates of Babylon” and I couldn’t get away from it. So I contacted Mike and said “Well, Mike, can you come up with something here cause I keep going back to a stolen melody.” And he was like “Yeah sure” and he sent back this whole symphony of voices! And I was like “Oh man this is so cool, can you do this all over the album? I’m getting greedy now” and he said “Yeah sure!” So I actually found spots for him all over the album to sing. Then we were talking, “Okay, what kind of character are you gonna be?” Cause he had all these voices. “Are you gonna be like some multi headed dragon or something?” We were really thinking about it and he said “what about kind of like a machine or a robot kind of thing?” and I was like “oh that’s cool! Yeah and you’re in the band Toehider so TH and then we can make TH-1″

D: That is awesome!

A: That’s how it went, I like to work that way. Where everything is open and everything you can change where everything comes naturally. It gets the best results in the end.

D: Yeah, it clearly did. What is it like working with some up-and-coming  developing talent as opposed to some of the legendary people that you’ve worked with?

A: It’s both great. I mean, to work with legendary people is a dream come true. To be able to work with Bruce Dickinson or Devin Townsend or Mikael Akerfeld or on this album with James Labrie, they’re singing my songs which is fantastic, but on the other hand, giving new talent a chance like Mike Mills is equally satisfying. It’s more like oh this guy is so great I want the world to hear them. So both are fantastic.

D: Regarding the concept, one thing I really liked is the juxtaposition between The Frame and The Source. This set up a very good balance on the album, with 
the technologically reliant aspects of The Frame versus the spiritual feel of The Source in regard to the universal oneness, it really told the story very well. Was that an intentionally done balance or does the album just unfold as you create it?
A: I would love to say yes cause I love what you’re saying. I am gonna remember that for my future interviews!

D: Haha, you can have that one.
A: No it’s fantastic, it was not something deliberate but the way you say it now, yeah it’s really true. The first album is very dark and industrial and The Frame shuts down all the life support systems and people have to leave and people die, apocalypse, etcetera. Then the second album of course has much more hope.  There’s this new planet totally free and The Source is this spiritual thing where people can communicate with each other and it will prolong life and will enable them to live underwater.

D: With all the different vocalists you have I’ve read that it’s more difficult to get people to come to your studio and work directly with you. I always love the making of DVDs and seeing you interact with the artists. How many people were able to come and work directly with you on this album?

A: Only three, it was shit. On previous albums they all came over, maybe there was one or two like Devin or someone but the thing is I wanted the best singers in the world and if you want the best singers in the world, they’re gonna be busy. They’re gonna be touring or working on side projects and when they’re not touring they’re finally gonna be at home. A couple singers actually said “I don’t want to fight with my wife.” Nils was expecting a baby so he was like “I can come but what if the baby comes?” And I said “No, I totally understand.” So each singer had their own reason why they couldn’t come. I don’t like it because when you’re in the studio there’s always chemistry happening.  There’s always magic and you come up with ideas. But I have to say in this case it really turned out well because the parts they had were pretty challenging. I had guide singers who really raised the bar for the singers. Nils was saying “Whoa, those are the best guide vocals I’ve ever heard, I hope I can do better than that!” but of course they can because they have such distinctive voices. The good thing about this was, like Nils did it in his own studio so he had plenty of time. He could spread it out over weeks.  When they come to my studio they have to do it all in one day. So that’s the good thing about it.

D:  You’re often asked if you could choose any singers to work with who would they be but I am curious if there is any younger talent or any bands you’ve been listening to in the modern progressive rock and metal world that you would love to work with?

A: Oh yeah, the list is endless. There’s so many great bands going on right now that I would like to work with. You’ve got Haken of course. There’s plenty of singers but I was just listening to Avenged Sevenfold and I think he is a great singer. Today I was jogging and I listened to Mastodon which is fantastic. Just so many.

D: It seems you lean toward very distinct voices.

A: I like distinctive voices, I do not like generic voices. Especially when you do a rock opera. It’s dialogue singing so singers can’t sound alike. It happens.  I hear a lot of rock operas where you have all these high pitched singers just going “WAHHHH!”
– At this point we had some technical difficulties…

D: Looks like we are relying on The Frame too much.

A: Yeah, it’s TH-1 interfering.

D: Haha, tell Mike to back off. Now that we are near the release date, how are you feeling about the album and did it turn out how you expected?

A: When I work it’s really baby steps.  I work with these tiny little ideas and I have no idea how it’s going to pan out and then slowly it’s forming and forming and forming so I have learned to not really have a masterplan and not to deviate from that. It’s hard to say if it is as I planned but, no I originally planned to do a solo album so it’s completely different really. I have to say that I’m totally happy with it. I have my own studio so I have no deadlines.  I can work until I’m 100% happy with this and only then I send it out to the record company, so I’m definitely 100% happy with it. Talk to me again in a year and I’ll probably have some things to complain about but right now it feels good.

D: Yeah and you’re on a new label now. Does that change any of your feelings about the release?

A: A little bit yeah, it feels like a new start. I had the same feeling with “The Human Equation” when I first worked with Inside Out. I don’t know, there was some kind of magic cause I want to show off to the record company,  I want to sell a lot of albums and they want to show off to me and show what a great job they can do. I had that feeling with Mascot now because these guys are so great and they are working so hard for me and have a lot of ideas. It’s a whole team working for me from the promotions guy, the guy for the shop, etcetera. It feels really good so far and I must say it’s paying off cause the pre sales are the best we’ve ever had, so we are both doing something right.

D: Seems that way, I saw the picture posted of you signing what looks like days worth of preordered albums?

A: I know! We ordered a lot of earbooks which is the big bastard, we thought it would be too many and maybe we could sell them at the Ayreon Universe Live shows, the ones we have left, but within a week this edition was sold out. So something is going really well.

D: That is really good to hear. Speaking of the upcoming live shows, that has got to be pretty exciting. I know you had the one for “The Theater Equation” but now you have the three nights coming up,  correct?

A: Yeah, it’s a best of Ayreon where we will play a minimum of two songs from each album. Of course, we have 16 singers which is a big setup. This is two years of work to set this up. We started a year and a half ago, but you have to because these singers are busy so you have to free their schedules up. It’s gonna be a big thing.  We are working on it all the time.  We are doing rehearsals and we are making visuals for a big LED screen behind the stage. It’s cool to work on it, to think about what people are gonna think of this. I’m gonna have to play a little bit myself and I hate that, that’s the downside of the whole thing.

D: It’s cool because you are adding a new artistic element to the Ayreon universe.

A: That’s true, it’s the first time in 22 years that there will be a genuine real Ayreon live show and we never in our wildest imagination were even hoping for the sales we had. We put it on Facebook and within two hours the first two shows sold out and we added the third one and 9,000 tickets sold in a day. It was truly amazing and of course it’s great cause you can put this money back into the show.

D: It sounds like everything is going great. I am excited to get my preorder in the mail and look at hard copy of the new album, I’ve got the ultra mega edition coming.

A: Oh fantastic!

D: Well, I hope the shows go well and hopefully the album will continue to sell.  Thanks a lot again.

A: My pleasure, it’s a shame about the technical difficulties.

D: We’ve just got to move to The Source and stop relying on The Frame all the time.
A: I know, that’s it! We gotta take some Liquid Eternity.

D: That’s the plan next time. Thanks a lot.

A: Maybe when the DVD of the live shows are released.

D: Sounds good, thanks again. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s