At Songazine, we like good music and we had to meet the Dutch maestro Arjen Anthony Lucassen for his new epic project, the new Ayreon album called The Source. So we took our spaceship in an Amazing Flight to meet the prog king in his Electric Castle…
Songazine: Maybe our first question is a silly one, but how do you do to make such amazing things and high quality stuff all the time?
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: I’m a perfectionist. And I keep going until it’s perfect, you know? When I was a kid and I listened to the music, everything had to sound good and all the singers had to be good. How do you do it? I’m just a music lover and I try to create the music that I would like to hear myself. Music that I can’t find, like: « I wish someone would do this… Wait a minute! I can do it myself you know? » (laughs)
But I’m not one of those artists who say « I make music just for myself ». I also make music for the listeners. It’s very important for me that I inspire the listeners, that people like my music. That’s why I’m so close with fans on Facebook and everyone can approach me, and I’m very interested to hear what people think. It just inspires me when I get a mail from a fan saying : « You know I was really depressed and I played your music and it did inspired me again ». That’s what I do it for.
Songazine: We have one question for those in Songazine who don’t know Ayreon really well: can you tell us what is Ayreon in 2017?
Arjen: It’s a rock opera. Which means the music is of course the most important but it also has a story. It’s like a movie for your ears. The story adds an extra dimension to the music. My music is pure escapism. You know I think you should not do your washing up and listen to Ayreon, that would just be annoying. You really have to sit down and take the music in. Read the lyrics and follow the story and just become one with the whole world I’m creating. And my music is extremely varied so you have to be open-minded to like it. If it’s « I just like trash metal, » or « I just like prog’ » or « I just like this » then my music is not for you.
Songazine: What did you do differently from the previous albums on this one?
Arjen: A lot! It’s very… (Thinking a bit) If by previously you mean the Ayreon album The Theory of Everything… I think The Theory of Everything is my prog album. It had musicians from the biggest prog bands ever. Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Emerson Lake and Palmer… I think The Source is more my rock album. It has the best in hard rock or metal, whatever you want to call it. I think this album is also easier. It’s more structured, it has more choirs, it’s a bit more catchy. More guitar-oriented. So that’s the difference with Theory of Everything. If you compare it to my previous album which is The Gentle Storm, it’s very much even more a reaction to it. The Gentle Storm was a very feminine album. Of course it has Anneke van Giersbergen, and it was a love story. Not something I would normally do! (Laughs) I mean I do planets and aliens and stuff! It was a very feminine album and as a reaction I wanted to make a very masculine, very heavier album with more power metal singers… I like to do fresh things and new challenges all the time.
Songazine: It feels that way, fresh a new, and at the same time we have a lot of familiar stuff starting from the singers of course, a lot of family voices. What can you tell us about that?
Arjen: Well as you may know on The Human Equation and The Theory of Everything I only wanted to work with new singers. It was a rule. I had that rule, and again it was a challenge. It was a way to keep things fresh. Fresh for me, but also for the fans. I think of The Source as a new start because it’s a new record company (Mascot records), and it’s call The Source, with is the source of mankind but also the source of Ayreon. This time I wanted no restrictions, no limits, I just wanted the best singers in the world. It sounds arrogant but that’s what I wanted. And I already used so many of the best singers in the world: Floor Jansen, Russell Allen, Tommy Karevik…
Songazine: And best musicians, too.
Arjen: And best musicians too, yes, yes, definitely. So my only rule this time was that I wanted the best and it did not matter if I had worked with them before or not.
Songazine: Did you wanted to do something familiar, do things you liked, or did it just so happened that it was connected to the previous Ayreon albums?
Arjen: I never plan things. It just worked out that way. And because of the artwork I connected it to old Ayreon stories. I love it in movies when there are references to other parts of the story. I always loved that and I wanted to put all this little references. I wanted to explain why the ‘Forever’ race lost their emotions. It was very cool to think that the ‘Forever’ race was once human. There’s a great character on the story, the prophet, by Nils K. Rue of Pagan’s Mind, who sees visions of the future and that was a way to make references to The Electric Castle or to The Universal Migrator and I just love it when there’s – when everything is connected somehow.
Songazine: There is a strong industrial sound on some songs, and darker themes, do you think that they reflect our actual society?
Arjen: It is about another planet, planet Alpha, but of course there are references to what’s happening on Earth. It’s all based on science, and scientists expect that in 2050 we reach the technical singularity, which means that computers will be more intelligent than people. What’s gonna happen then? I don’t think a scenario like on planet Alpha will happen. At least I hope not. I don’t think people are that stupid, you know. But basically the story on planet Alpha tells about the ‘main frame’, who is just called the ‘Frame, and the President, Russell Allen, has instructed this computer to solve the ecological problems they have. Of course it refers to what we now have, like global warming and stuff. And the ‘main frame’ checks it out and decides to eliminate the virus, which is of course mankind. So it doesn’t destroy humans and shoot them with lasers guns because that’s not my thing. It just shuts off all life systems, just to save the planet. So that’s the base of the story. My stories are always about human emotions. It’s never about good and evil and an evil lord who shoot all the… This is not… It’s never… (He thinks.) It’s always about human emotions. But I am merely observing, I’m not judging or I’m not teaching people. It’s more observing.
Songazine: about that, we wanted to ask: as an artist, how do you feel about today, about these times?
Arjen: Well it’s a double-edge sword, technology, how fast it’s going. It’s rising exponentially. And in 2050, wow, it will go so fast and I know that because I come from a time before computer. I come from black and white television (laughs). The computer was some big weird thing with wheels turning somewhere in America or something. And I didn’t have like personal computer or mobile phone. So I see how fast it’s going now and I see how dependent people are becoming, and how they don’t live in the real world anymore, which is a thing that I developed on my solo album Lost in the new real, like, what’s happening now? Are we still part of this world? Of course everything is getting easier and faster, but is it also getting better? It’s not a statement, more like a question. And it may be different for everyone. But last week I was jogging on a country road witch I do every other day and it was school out so all this pupils where hiking there, and really half of them had like the phone in front of them and they didn’t even see me, you know. And I’m like « yeah but you are living now and there is stuff around you happening », but there is always something more interesting happening somewhere else on your phone … Again I’m not saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t know if people are happier now than when I was a kid. I don’t know. Again it’s just observing so I don’t have an opinion about good or bad.
Songazine: About the upcoming album The Source, it seems you have a lot of fans that are crazier than ever waiting for it!
Arjen: It’s fantastic. It’s exactly what I want. I don’t want to be a mainstream artist you know who is on TV all the time and who’s reaching a lot of people. I want to reach that selected loyal fans, who’ll always be loyal to you. That’s what I want. And that’s even growing now, it’s getting bigger cause « The Day That The World Breaks Down » got like a hundred thousand views within a small time which means that the fan base is growing and the pre-sells of the new album are the best ever. So yeah it’s good times. Good times. (laughs)
Songazine: We also noticed that your upcoming shows were all sold out in less than a day?
Arjen : Yeah. Incredible.
Songazine: Can you tell us more about the live shows?
Arjen: Yeah sure! We wanna play… Or we gonna play, or I gonna play at least two songs of each albums. I wanna do that, yeah! Again I’m not the artist who says « I play what I want to play ». I want to play what people want to hear. And also I want to play the songs that go down well live. So it’s not my favorite songs, it is just the songs that I think will be good live, either because they’re very small, very fragile, or they’re really big. But the stuff in between I’d rather not do. So… (He thinks) And yeah it’s gonna be 16 singers, Mike Mills is going to be be ‘The One’ on this and he is going to be the narrator and he’s fabulous, maybe you saw on The Theater Equation how well he did. He had to fill some very important shoes. And there will be a big LED screen behind the stage. We are talking about light effects now. Because it has sold out three times 9000 tickets it means we can put more money and effort into the show so… Yeah we have already been working on it for a year now. We are now rehearsing with the guitar. Very soon we are gonna sit with the bass player and then with the lighting guy and we are gonna make visuals for the screens. So yeah, my next months are pretty full (laughs).
Songazine: We read that you were going to be a guest in the show, so you will not play the entire show?
Arjen: Nee nee nee nee. Because I wanna be the director there, you know. The other guitar players are way better than me. In The Theater Equation I was just coming out at the end and that was this funny thing. But now I have to do a bit more. I have a terrible stress, I am already extremely nervous now. But I’ve got to do it. No way back, now (laughs).
Songazine: We just want to ask you a question about Guilt Machine. Because we think that if we had to be on a desert island with a single album it would be Guilt Machine. We think it’s such a perfection.
Arjen : Yes, but is perfection what you really want? (laughs)
Songazine: It may be some of your most intimate work. We have to ask: is there a chance to hear a project like that again?
Arjen: Of course there is a chance. Of course. But as I explained before, I don’t plan things. It changes all the time. But yeah I’m really proud of that album too, and although it didn’t sell very well, the fans who do like it, really like it. So I would love to do another one but there are no definite plans .There is so many projects, solo projects and Star One of course, and now Gentle Storm is added to that, but it’s definitely an option. It’s not a no.
Songazine: It seems Lori (Linstruth) was a big influence on that particular album and also in the last two Ayreon ones?
Arjen: Well influence, she wrote all the lyrics and played all the solos, it’s more than an influence!
Songazine: And on the last two Ayreon albums she worked with you on the lyrics?
Arjen: Especially The Theory of Everything, we wrote the lyrics 50/50. I wrote the lyrics, she changed them. (Laughs). Well, she is a native speaker, and she is an English teacher. But in this last album she held back a little bit. It’s more of me on this last album. Maybe also because it’s science fiction and it’s like this all ‘Forever’ story and she’s not really familiar with that. But yeah of course she’s the one person I go to with all my new stuff and she’s relentlessly honest (laughs). You know if she doesn’t like it she would just tell me. And it’s devastating for me, but she has an objective opinion.
You can find more about Arjen Anthony Lucassen and his Ayreon project on his website, http://www.arjenlucassen.com/
Songazine recommends you check his latest video clips,