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Interviews : “People seem to love it” – An interview with Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon)

By on March 21, 2017

 Ayreon – Arjen Anthony Lucassen

There is often a period of several months in between the physical completion of an album and its ultimate release. It can be an awkward phase for artists, as they sit doing press and generally twiddling their thumbs waiting the record to be heard, and for the legendary Arjen Anthony Lucassen, creator of the awesome and long-running Ayreon project, sometimes it can be quite excruciating and somewhat of a downward spiral.

“Usually this is my insecure phase,” he admits, “the album is finished, you have to send it to the record company and then wait three months before it’s released. The album gets worse and worse! Once you’ve finished with it, it’s the best you’ve ever done, and then as it goes on it’s like ‘oh my God, how could I ever release this?’” He laughs.

However, on this occasion, in the lead up to the release of Ayreon’s ninth opus The Source, Lucassen is finding this not to be the case, thanks at least in part to a sneak peak of the album he gave the fans. “This time, I’m still very proud of it,” he states definitively, “we put the first clip on Youtube some months ago, The Day the World Breaks Down, and the reactions have been so incredibly positive that this time I think I can avoid my black hole periods, because it gave me a lot of confidence.

“People seem to love it, and there’s been over 300,000 views, and usually people bitch and whine on Youtube, but this time all the comments are cool and positive.”

As with virtually every single one of his previous records, The Source sounds like it was heaps of fun to make. Lucassen confirms this, stating that the pure freedom he and his record company give to create is a major factor.

“Absolutely,” he concurs, “on every album there’s no holds barred, there’s no limits. I can do whatever I want, I can throw each style of music that I like into it and people accept it. I’m a bit surprised at that, that they do. And I get to work with my favourite singers of all time in the world. Not just singers, but also musicians. So yes, there’s nothing to complain about here.”

He is actually a little surprised that people have taken to the Ayreon project at all, let alone that it has lasted well over 20 years. “I started the whole Ayreon story back in ’94,” he recalls, “with the first album The Final Experiment, which I thought would be my final experiment, because I was never expecting people to like it.”

The album sees a return to the sprawling, multi-album concept and storyline that had covered most of the previous Ayreon back-catalogue, but had taken a break for one record. “Through the years I did an Ayreon album every two or three years, and some kind of overarching storyline developed, and they all started to be connected.

“I never planned it that way. I do plan, but I never stick to the plan. This just developed itself, and at some point, on the album 01011001, nifty title, sorry about that, I ended the whole story. Because it was getting very complicated, not just for the fans but also for me. I ended up having to ask my fans ‘what happened on this planet with this guy?’. So I stopped the story and did a different album before this one, The Theory of Everything, which was a different concept, not really sci-fi. But for this one I just decided to go back to the sci-fi story, basically inspired by the artwork, the front cover.

“This one is actually a sequel to the main story.”

The Source also carries on the fabulous Ayreon tradition of treating we, the lucky listeners, to a star-studded lineup of luminaries from the heavy and progressive music scenes, from musicians such as famed guitar shredder Paul Gilbert and Marillion keyboardist Mark Kelly, through to illustrious vocalists like James LaBrie from Dream Theater, Floor Jansen from Nightwish, Simone Simons from Epica, Aussie Mike Mills from Melbourne band Toehider and many, many more. Lucassen tells us that, although Ayreon is his baby, it’s still a collaborative effort when he has such skilled technicians at his disposal.

“I love input, I always welcome and encourage input,” he reveals, “I ask these singers, because I’m a fan of them of their writing or their voice or their singing. So what they get from me, if they don’t come to my studio that is, I send them the tracks, the demos, with guide vocals. I say to them ‘these are only guide vocals, please only listen to it once or twice so you know approximately what to do. But please make it your own, change lyrics if you want, change melodies if you want, make it better.”

However, apparently wasn’t always this way. “I had to learn that, because the first Ayreon album I did, I was like ‘this is my melody, this is my lyric, you have to follow it’. But then you work with people like Bruce Dickinson, Devin Townsend or James LaBrie, and it’s like ‘oh my God, this is way better than what I came up with.”

When asked if he feels he has another 20 years left in him, especially as far as Ayreon is concerned, he starts counting his age, as to how old he will be in 20 years’ time. “Hmmm…let me think, 57, 67, 77. If the Stones can do it!” He laughs.

“Of course, that would be lovely, I have no idea where the music industry is going. And every album I do I think ‘that’s it, I’m empty now, the well is dry’, but then ideas always keep coming up, so I’m not really bothered about that any more. And I see a lot of older musicians who are still making great music, so I hope so.”

Click here to pre-order your copy of “The Source” from JB Hi-Fi. Click here to secure your special edition pre-orders from Mascot Label Group.

The new album, “The Source” out April 28th, 2017.

To find out more, head to the official Ayreon Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ArjenLucassenOfficial

About

Rod Whitfield is a Melbourne-based writer and retired musician who has been writing about music since 1995. He has worked for Team Rock, Beat Magazine, themusic.com.au, Heavy Mag, Mixdown, The Metal Forge, Metal Obsession and many others. He has written and published his memoirs of his life and times in the music biz, and also writes books, screenplays, short stories, blogs and more.