While Ayreon’s ‘Forever/Planet Y’ saga seemed to have reached its conclusion with the album 01011001, it’s clear that Arjen Lucassen’s creative muses had other plans. The new Ayreon album The Source revisits the Forever saga, adding a whole new chapter to Lucassen’s impressive body of work. With its top-flight cast of singers and musicians, compelling songs, overwhelming sound, and intriguing story, The Source offers everything that has gained Lucassen dedicated fans worldwide since he laid the foundations of Ayreon back in the mid 90’s. We talk to Arjen himself about the new album which is released on April 28th as well as working with some of the greatest musicians and singers in the world.
Andrew: So the main focus that we want to obviously touch on is the new album that is coming out, “The Source”. It’s been described as a more rock album but I feel that it kind of has a bit more metal in it, how do you view the new songs?
Arjen: Well every album I do is always a reaction to the album before and the Ayreon album before this was “The Theory Of Everything” which was very much a prog album. Of course it was keyboard oriented and I had my heroes Keith Emerson and Jordan Rudess and of course members of Yes, Genesis, King Crismon, Emerson, Lake & Palmer in there and as a reaction this album is way more guitar oriented and therefore a definitely heavier album. I mean all the ingredients are still there, there’s still prog and folk and electronic music and classical music and stuff like that but generally it’s a heavier album.
Andrew: Before I ask you about the idea and the theme and lyrics and all that because I’ve found it very fascinating what you have touched on here, but the album was a little bit different as far as the process was concerned and the inspiration. You were inspired by some artwork I believe right?
Arjen: Yeah that’s right. Usually the artwork is the very last thing, I come up with the music first. Just little ideas, I start working on them and at that point I have no idea yet what kind of project it will be. And then slowly the project starts developing and then I let the music inspire me, come up with a story and next step is to choose a singer etc and I’ve finally written the lyrics and then I start the artwork. I call painters, Jef Bertels is the guy who did all the paintings for the previous Ayreon albums and I tell him this is the story, this is what I want on the cover. And this time I thought, to keep it fresh for myself, let’s turn it around and let’s start with the artwork. Because when I see album covers like Yes, the Roger Dean stuff or Pink Floyd and the Hypnosis stuff, I like it so much it really inspires me so this time I went to Google images and I Googled sci-fi artists and I came across loads of great atists. But one really stuck out for me, a French guy called Yann Souetre and he had this dark, industrial, very detailed at and I saw this image of a girl under water with all these tube attached and what I saw was what is that human being there forced to live under water and suddenly it’s connected to my whole Ayreon story and that’s where the basic idea for this album started.
Andrew: The album cover sort of reminds me of the first Matrix movie where they show all the humans sitting in all these pods.
Arjen: Yeah I did ask the artist about it and this is just a theme and he sent me like 5 or 6 other images of people under water with tubes and he said the Matrix was not the inspiration for him on this. And this story definitely has nothing to do with the Matrix, it’s a very different story.
Andrew: Yeah let’s get into that, obviously there’s the sci-fi element and it has a very science feel to it where it talks about the future of the earth and things like that. I kind of relate to the fact that we are sort of in a similar situation with the whole global crisis and the political catastrophies and things like that, were you a little inspired by what’s going on at the moment?
Arjen: Yes, the basic feel of the album is dependant on technology. I grew up in the 60’s which was a time before computers and mobile phones so I saw the exponential growth of technology and how incredibly fast it’s going and scientists have suggested that already in 20 or 30 years we will reach a technical singularity which means that computers will be more intelligent people which I basically already think they are [laughs]. Then as an artist I start fantasizing that, ‘OK what’s going to happen if that’s happening’. But basically I want to offer escapism with my albums, I don’t want to point the finger and say technology is bad because I love technology. I embrace technology and I use technology for recording and for sending stuff to singers so now I really embrace it. I would never let it control me and that’s something I see happening around me when I’m jogging here on the country road and kids are coming towards me on their bikes wth their phones in front of them, they don’t even see me. It’s like, ‘Are you here?’. But again I don’t want to judge them, maybe their just as happy as I was when I was them, I have no idea. But I’m just observing basically.
Andrew: Yeah and I was going to ask if you embrace technology and obviously you do, are you connected to social media and all that kind of thing as well?
Arjen: In the beginning I didn’t of course, in the beginning I’m always against all technology [laughs]. I was a vinyl lover and then we got CD’s, ‘Ah I don’t want CD’s! I want vinyl’. I was the last one to buy a CD player and even now I still have a 10 year old Nokia phone! I don’t even know if it can take photos, I think it’s the only thing it can do and I will be the last one to get an iPhone if ever I will get one [laughs]. But in my studio I want the best of the best and a lot of stuff is done digitally, in the beginning of the internet I saw CD sales going down and that was awful thinking, ‘Oh my god what is happening?’. I still remember doing a live show, it was a pre-listening party for my album “The Human Equation” and 500 people came and they all knew the lyrics and they all knew the songs and I was like, ‘What’s happening here?’ They all downloaded it already and back then it was awful, it leaked 2 months before the release and the whole anticipation was gone and that was awful and I think it’s a little bit better now. Of course it has two sides in being able to connect to the fans on Facebook and putting little clips there on Youtube and stuff like that. That’s great to be able to spread your music around, luckily I still have really loyal fans who want to have the physical thing. By now they know I spoil them with a great package and great artwork and stuff like that so I think we’re at a time where we have reached a balance although the streaming thing is scary bcause believe it or not we artists get 0.000290 cents per stream which means you have to be streamed like million times a day to get minimum wage which is scary!
Andrew: Yeah I heard that. I was reading an article just recently that said for the first time in Australia that streaming has now taken over downloads and CD sales so it’s an interesting time to be in the music industry at the moment.
Arjen: Yeah I know. It is a bit scary and what I’m afraid of is that people will [think] it’s not that special anymore, music is becoming just background noise. In the good old days [laughs] I used to wash all the cars in the neighborhood to be able to get my 15 Euros or whatever how much it was to buy an album and I got the album on vinyl you had to listen to the whole thing, you couldn’t skip it and it was a whole experience. You got the cover in your hands, it was so magic. But again I don’t want to judge, maybe people still enjoy music just as much when they stream it but I just remember how much I loved that as a kid.
Andrew: Yeah I think it’s a generation thing. I grew up in the 80’s when cassette tapes and CD’s were just coming in and I still enjoy the physical product more than the downloads so some of us still believe in the physical side of things with music so I definitely know what you are talking about. Before I let you go I have to ask about the massive guest list you have on this album, what is like to work with such great artists like that?
Arjen: If you were to tell me this as a kid like, ‘One day you are going to make an album with Bruce Dicknson, he is going to come to your studio and sing on your songs’, I would be like, ‘Yeah sure man! Oh have Keither Emerson play solos for you, ‘Yeah yeah pull the other one’. It’s the best thing there is, to have the best singers in the world. It sounds arrogant but they are, I mean people like Russell Allen and Tommy Karevik and Floor Jansen and of course your own, Michael Mills who as you know is Australian and is so amazing. To be able to work with the best musicians and singers in the world makes my work very easy [laughs]. Sometimes people say, ‘Oh you’re such a genius working with so many singers’, and it’s like, ‘Genius? It’s the opposite!’ It makes my life easy, really because you know when you write the songs that you know the best singers in the world are going to sing them and all these distinctive voices. So I’m definitely not complaining!
Andrew: Do you know at what point in the song writing process do you know who you want to sing on that particular song?
Arjen: Not really no, when I write songs I have no idea about that yet. When I finish all the songs and I’ve ghot a basic story, that’s the point where I look at what I have and am like, ‘OK which singer is going to fit this album and which singer is going to fit the concept’. Then I approach these singers and of course I don’t know if they are available, whether a lot of them are just too busy or there could be a reason they couldn’t do it. So in the end this time I got 10 or 11 singers who could do it and then it comes to the point to divide them over the album so I can divide them equally over the album so that’s how it works. But yeah there are certain spots where I’m like, ‘I hear this voice’, or ‘I gotta have that singer’. It does happen but usually it’s a proces of first having the singers to divide them over the album and then writing lyrics based often on the character of the singer themselves.
Andrew: OK and I’m sure you tick off a lot of names from the bucketlist but is there anyone in particular that you haven’t worked with before that you would love to in the future?
Arjen: Well obviously that would be my childhood heroes, the people that I grew up listening to. The albums that I just told you about after washing a few cars in the street, those people. But they are getting old and they might die so I had better be fast [laughs]. But I’m talking about big names like Robert Plant and David Gilmour and those guys but they are hard to reach and they don’t know my music but sometimes it works so I’m not going to give up. And also plenty of new singers of course popping up all the time, an endless supply!
Andrew: Well congratulations on the new album and I wish you luck on the future. Thanks for your time today, much appreciated!
Arjen: OK man bye bye!