Interview with Arjen A. Lucassen, Ayreon (February 5th 2008)

I have been a big fan of Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s work for quite some time, and had the pleasure to see him live when he toured with his Star One project. So when given the opportunity to learn a bit about his latest effort: ‘01011001’ (Album of the month on I jumped straight into the fire…

Arjen – == Cool!

“01011001” is quite an impressive album, album of the month on our site – well deserved I might add, but how has the response been on the album and what kind of expectations do you have for it?

Arjen – At first I got a lot of reactions of people who had to get used to it. And that made me very nervous! But after a few listens a lot of these people changed their minds and even felt it was their favourite album of mine! I never have any expectations really. I’m a ‘the glass is half-empty’ kind guy, I always prepare for the worst!

What’s the biggest difference between ‘01011001’ and your latest album ‘The Human Equation’, personally I feel it is better sonically and that it has more focus on the instrumentation rather the vocals…

Arjen – You are completely right, I agree. The new album is somewhat darker and heavier as well, and the lyrics are more cryptic.

Some might say, ‘Yet another Ayreon concept album….ARRRGGGHHH’, but why should they pick up this one? Where does it differ from your previous ones?

Arjen – If they hated my previous albums, they will probably hate this one, and if they liked my previous albums they will probably like this one. In other words, it’s not fundamentally different, the typical Ayreon sound is still there.

Another concept album – why not 10 songs with no connection? Is the other project for that type of songs?

Arjen – That’s right, my side projects are for other styles and the non-conceptual stuff. Ayreon will always be a concept project or a rock opera with many guestmusicians and many different styles of music.
Unless I get some new strange (or finally normal) ideas in my head again J

You have once more been working with some prolific musicians on the album. How much have things changed since you started out? How much easier is it to recruit people today?

Arjen – Yes, it’s getting easier for me to find musicians because Ayreon is becoming more known. And nowadays even famous musicians are offering their services to me, pure luxury!

Can you lift the curtains on who is still on your ‘wanted’ list…? I have been advocating for Geoff Tate for many years… but who would be on the next Ayreon album in a perfect world?

Arjen – Oh yes, Geoff Tate would be an excellent choice! So far I’ve not managed to get in touch with him, but I would love to work with him because Queensrÿche has definitely been an influence on me. And I would love to work with musicians of the bands that I grew up listening to, but they are very hard to reach unfortunately. The list is endless…

The last few years have seen you taking a rollercoaster ride on the personal level, how much influence has your separation, relocating and so on had on the song writing?

Arjen – I think it reflects in the music, as I said before it’s somewhat darker. On the other hand, this album saved my life so I hope the positive vibes come across as well.

I end my review with a rather provocative statement that this is the end of the line for the story about the 'Forever' race, a race of aquatic beings living on Planet Y, both musically and sonically. How do you feel about that statement and is there more to be told about this universe?

Arjen – I think you might be right. Exlopring this universe even more might become too complicated and therefore not very interesting. Guess I’m going to have to come up with something new…no idea what though!

Without going too much into details, could you give us a quick introduction to the universe? What is the story told this time around?

Arjen - Through technological advancement, 'Forever', a race of aquatic beings living on Planet Y, has found the secret of longevity. They have advanced to the point that they have become completely dependent on machines and are losing their emotions. A passing comet on a collision course with Planet Earth provides the opportunity to revitalize their race; 'Forever' harness the comet to carry their DNA to a new home on Earth. When the comet and Earth collide, the cataclysmic impact exterminates the dinosaurs (the Fifth Extinction), but from the ashes of destruction, humans arise. At first, the experiment with seeded DNA seems successful: through the humans 'Forever' vicariously relive the emotions they experienced before the age of machines. In order to help mankind overcome their physical ailments and mental limitations, 'Forever' speeds up human evolution. But the result is tragic: people develop a similar technological dependency with their emotions waning just like 'Forever' and moral development not keeping pace with their capacity to invent. 'Forever' must find a way to save mankind from its imminent self-destruction... or should they?

Tell us a bit about the album art work, it has some strong references to earlier albums?

Arjen – Yes, it’s the same artist Jef Bertels who painted Electric Castle, Dream Sequencer and Human Equation. I think he has become ‘my Roger Dean’, the famous artist who did the Yes covers. Jef Bertels has become a part of the Ayreon universe. There are many similarities between his way of working and mine.

The production is your best work so far, but it must have been a new and different experience to work in ‘The Electric Garage’ compared to ‘The Electric Castle’…

Arjen – No, not really. It’s basically the same room and equipment, just the beautiful view is gone L

Let’s speculate – some guy wants to sponsor you to see Ayreon perform live ONCE, which songs do you personally feel are mandatory in an Ayreon set?

Arjen – Pretty much the songs we played with Star One and Stream of Passion. And of course some tracks from 01011001, I think a lot of the tracks of this album would sound great in a live setting.

Ayreon – is there a tale to be told about the name, and where did you get the inspiration for the name?

Arjen - Originally I called the minstrel of the first Ayreon album 'Aries', because he was an orphan and they named him after his star sign. But then, when Ian Parry (an English singer) had to sing 'A-RI-IES', he told me it was pronounced differently (it should be 'A –RIES'). I had to change it because of the syllables for it had to fit the meter of the songs. I wanted the name to sound old fashioned because of the medieval influences on the first album, so I used the old-English sounding 'AY' (Aylesbury, Ayshire). But I also wanted it to sound modern because of the futuristic parts (2084) so I used 'ON' (electron, neutron, cyclotron etc.)

Some give you credit for almost single-handedly to have revived the rock opera genre that must both be a big burden to bear as well as a huge compliment. How do such statements make you feel when confronted with them?

Arjen – Not a burden at all, but a big compliment indeed! I think we need all the help we can get to fight the shallowness of much of the ‘music’ lately. Believe me, there are enough people who still want to dig in a little deeper and go on an adventure in music.

What do you consider to be the biggest accomplishment for you and Ayreon?

Arjen – To interest people of all ages and races in a complicated project that need several listens before fathoming the depths of the whole thing.

Name an album, person or event that has had a huge influence on your life … and why?

Arjen – JC Superstar, the first great rock opera. John Lennon and the Beatles, Dave Gilmour and Pink Floyd and Ritchie Blackmore and his bands, most of all Rainbow.

NASA has just called – you are going up tonight…

Arjen: Cool, I’m up for it!

You will be sent to the ISS space station, but you are only allowed to take one concept album with you! Will it be The Who’s ‘Tommy’, Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ or Queensrÿche’s ‘Operation: Mindcrime’? And which other albums would you like to take with you on your journey into space…?

Arjen – I would take Floyd’s the Wall, because it’s probably the longest! I’d take the early Sabbath, Queen, Jethro Tull and Alice Cooper stuff. And later stuff like Porcupine Tree and a string of weird CDs people have probably never heard of.

I thank you very much for participating in this interview and sharing this information and your thoughts with us - these last lines are entirely for you. Any final words you would like to round off with?

Arjen – Thanks to everyone opening themselves up for my music…you guys must have weird taste!


Interviewed by Kenn Jensen.

Ayreon - 01011001

Album available on InsideOut Music.

For more info on Ayreon - click on the album cover.