The previous Ayreon’s album was released in 2004. Why did it take you so long to create a new CD?
Because I’ve been doing a different project in between – Stream Of Passion, which is a band created around Marcela Bovio who also sings on “Human Equation” (2004). I did an album with her “Embrace the Strom” and we also did a tour and a live DVD. So I think this took about two and a half years. And after that i worked at the new Ayreon album which also took about one and a half years. And all and all it took about 4 years.
Why did you give up your project Stream Of Passion? Didn’t the result live up to your expectations?
No no, it was perfect. From the very beginning it was never the plan that I would be in the band. The plan was to set about the band around Marcela and I always knew that on a certain point I would go back to doing an Ayreon album. So I could never be in the band. And now they are still going strong and they’ve written new songs and they are busy negotiating with record companies. Basically everything is going according to plan.
For the new CD you managed to gather a lot of great musicians – the list is rather impressive. How difficult was it for you to do it?
Well. It sounds a bit arrogant, but Ayreon is becoming more known all over the world, so it’s becoming a little bit easier to get a singer. A lot of the singers helped forward to me – really luxurious musicians. And a lot of singers know me, so when I talk about Ayreon, they know what I’m talking about. So it’s become a bit easier. But having said that, still it’s hard to convince certain singers you know… I mean it’s actually hard to get them to my studio, it’s a lot of organizing, but luckily my managers are to care of that (laughs) They do this dirty work.
Were there any musicians whom you invited, but who rejected your offer?
Yes, yes sure. Always. Well, no so much rejected, but some of the musicians are very hard to get in touch with, because you have to do it via record companies, via managers and you never know if they actually ever heard the album, or not. And there are some singers who simply said: “No”. It happens you know. Especially if it’s singers or musicians outside prog or metal scene, they never do it, because I think for a lot of people prog and metal are still dirty words, unfortunately.
What criterion did you follow while choosing the candidates?
Very easy – goose dumb (laughs) You know when I hear a singer and I get goosed dumb and I say, “O’k, I wanna work with him”. Or I write down the name And in the end I’ve like 30 or 40 names, then the album is ready and I choose the singers that I think would fit best on the album. And of course I choose many different voices – I don’t want only high voices or low voices. I choose the singers and then finally when I confirm the singer I write lyrics. That’s the last stage.
How difficult was it to work out the vocal parts for every musician? And did you know from the very beginning who will sing this or that part?
No, no, no. I always write the music and I have no idea who will sing. So I write music and when all music is finished I can choose the singer. And to your question if it’s hard – it’s not hard at all. (laughs) I think that’s something good for 30 years. So it’s not hard at all. It’s hard to get all the singers. That’s really hard.
Could you say a few words about the concept of your new double CD? What’s behind it? What shall we expect?
Well. The title “01011001” is a binary code for the letter “Y”. And the letter “Y” stands for the planet Y. Planet Y is the planet of the race called “Forever” which I also used in my third album “Into the Electric Castle”. And we found out that this planet is a water planet which has become completely dependant on machines that they built. And these machines are even keeping them alive and in the process they lost their emotions. They decide to create a new race to experience emotions again by shooting their genes into other space and they create humans and that’s the basis of the story.
But this combination of figures “01011001” stands for 89. Does it have anything to do with this number?
No, it’s a code for the letter “Y”. But 89 also stands for the letter “Y”.
I cannot but ask you about the cover artwork for the new album which is made in a really Ayreon’s style. Did you collaborate with the same artist? And how is this cover connected with the concept of the album?
Yes, definitely, it’s the artist who made the album cover for “Into The Electric Castle”, “The Dream Sequence” and “Human Equation”. And it’s real painting, it’s not photoshop or whatever. I like this real painting and I know that he worked at for months. So all these pictures are hanging here in my house. I can see them right now (laughs) And I think he’s become very important for Ayreon, he’s become a sort of like a part of Ayreon. As for the connection with the album is concerned – what you see on the front cover is water, it’s a water planet and you see all these machines coming out of the water. So it’s a painting of planet Y.
The teaser for the CD is rather impressive. As far as I understand you speculate about humanity’s past, present and try to predict its future as well. What inspired you to touch upon such a theme as humanity?
Well, I see a lot of good things and a lot of bad things of technology. I think that technology is going very fast right now, maybe a bit too fast. I don’t think it’s making things better. It’s making things easier and faster, but I don’t think it’s making things better. I think we have to be careful that we don’t become slaves of technology. Technology is good as long as you use it at your advantage, as long as it doesn’t control YOU. And I already see that’s happening now – even in music: everything’s done on the computer now and it’s very dangerous. The production gets very cold and very perfect. In old days you used a tape recorder and that’s it and you made great albums still! Yeah, we have to be careful I think.
You see the future of humanity as the total destruction. What makes you think so? What
mistakes has humanity done and continues doing?
Well, let’s me first say that it’s not my personal view. This is part of the story. It’s like Steven Spielberg created a film “The Extra-Terrestrial”, but I doubt that he believes in Extra-Terrestrial. (laughs) So it’s not my personal view as well. I don’t think mankind will parish that soon. I do think we are headed to the sixth extinction. The fifth extinction was the extinction of the dinosaurs. I do think we are headed to the sixth extinction which is the extinction of the mankind. But it will go slowly. And I don’t know if we can call it mistakes, I think it’s a natural way of things and I don’t we should change anything. I don’t think we should stop technology, because we have the capability to broaden horizons and I don’t think we should do that. But I don’t think it will end well.
In the song “Unnatural Selection” you say “We've lost our souls to a world of machines”. As far as I understood you disapprove of the high technologies. But do you think we should be afraid of them?
Just like I said we should take care that they were for us and not the other way around. It’s like today I tried to add a song to my MySpace page and it took me like 8 hours to do it, 8 hours of work! And I was like, “Oh, my God, I wasted this complete day!” (laughs) I was just battling with technology, with computer that broke down because of the viruses. And all these mobile phones that don’t work… And I’ve also seen the world before computers and before mobile phones. And we were doing great and we had the great time. And for instance buying an album was a very exiting event you know. For weeks and even for months you have been waiting for a new album and finally it comes out. You go the shop, you buy it, play it a thousand times. And nowadays it’s like, “Oh, new album is online. Let’s do it.” You push the bottom on the computer and you get it for free and that’s it. The whole excitement is gone. I think that of course it’s cheaper and of course it’s easier, but I think they miss out a lot of fun. Often when the things are harder, they are much nicer.
As far as all high technologies are concerned. What do you think of illegal music downloadings? Does it affect Ayreon’s production?
Well, luckily my fans are extremely loyal. They will download the album maybe, because they can’t wait to hear it, but in the end they will buy the album. They will buy because they will like to have the real package at home – it’s a great package, it looks great, it has beautiful artwork and a DVD with a lot of nice material. So for me it’s not that bad, but for other bands, for starting bands it’s very difficult to deal with all these things. People often say and blame record companies, “Oh, they are stupid!” But my only income (cause I don’t play live) is from CDs I sell. So the moment when the people stop buying my CDs, but download them, then I wouldn’t make music anymore. It will be the end for me. As long as people discover new music and then buy it, it’s no problem.
In the same song you quoted different politicians, e.g. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Bush, Roosevelt, Churchill. Do you agree with them in their statements?
No. I don’t. The last one is Winston Churchill talking about war. (“Our task is not only to win the battle, but to win the war” – ed.) And I personally think that war is very stupid. (laughs) Fighting for your country or fighting for other things – I don’t agree with this at all.
And what made you then put all these statements in the lyrics of your album?
Because people should make up their own mind. I don’t want to tell people what I think of it. I want people to make up their own mind. And I don’t want to tell them only all the good things, but I want to tell them the bad things as well. I agree that there is incredible overpopulation, we are using all the earth resources. And it’s all not good, you know. I don’t want to give the people only the light side, I wanna give them both sides. So let them make up their own mind.
Now metal operas became very popular and many musicians have followed the lead. For instance have you heard Avantasia (Tobias Sammet’s project)? What do you think of it?
Yes, sure I’ve heard it. It’s very good, but I think it’s very different from what I’m doing. I don’t even think it’s a rock opera. It’s more like a couple of good songs with a concept maybe, but it’s not really a rock opera I think. And I think Tobias would agree. I’m a very good friend with him, we e-mail a lot together and we might even do something together in the future. But I think his music is very different from mine. My music is rooted in 60-s and 70-s, and his music is rooted in 80-s and our music is oriented for different audiences as well. But I still think we have the same or similar fans. I think we can help each other. It will be great if people listen to Avantasia and say, “Hey! I like rock-operas! I want more!” (laughs) Look at what happened in Seattle in the 90-s. They had Nirvana and the whole world was looking at Seattle. And the same is now. A couple of good operas around and people will say, “Hey! I like rock-operas. I want more rock operas”. But I think it’s a good development especially in these days of quick downloadings from MySpace. I’m glad that there are projects like this which become more popular.
You just mentioned that the roots of your music goe back to 70-s. Do you think that your music can serve a kind of bridge between the young people of today and the forgotten musical heroes of those years? Can the new Ayreon album encourage a young person to listen to Jethro Tull for example?
I think yes and no. When you listen to Jethro Tull or other bands now, they sound outdated. The sound is not that quality sound that we have now. Which could be a barrier for people of today who are used to having a great sound, great hi-fi sound. That’s why I like doing this, I like being influenced by the 70-s, but making it sound like now. And I can understand if young people now will listen to Deep Purple or Black Sabbath from the 70-s and think that it sounds outdated. But still the music of Jethro Tull is fantastic, if you hear “Thick As A Brick”, it’s just excellent musicianship.
During your life you’ve made lots of cover versions in different projects. Which of them do you consider to be the most successful and which – not so good as you expected?
I think I really like my version of David Bowie's “Space Oddity”. It’s like weird! For the band After Forever I made a cover version of “Who Wants To Live Forever” of Queen. I think it turned out great, but not as good as the original, I think it was too close to the original. I think there was no reason to cover that song.
What has become of the Star One project? Did you give it up?
Well, I’m a little bit in two minds about it. The album we did and the tour we did and the live DVD we did were magic. It was fantastic, brilliant, perfect. And I’m afraid that if I do the same project with the same people again, I won’t be able to recapture the magic we had back then. And this feeling would be gone. So I have two choices – either I do it with the same singers and I might not capture the magic or I do it with new singers, but then I don’t know who will be able to do it better than they (laughs) But of course I’d like to do Star One, but I don’t know how yet.
In the year 2006 you seemed to return to your project Vengeance. Is it true? (At least the band promoted its new album as the return of Arjen Lucassen.)
Oh ho, I never returned to that. That was my band from 1984 to 1992 and I had great fans, but that was in 80-s. I would never go back to that. They did asked me to play the solo on their latest album, which I did. That was our work, I played solo and that’s it (laughs) But I would never go back to Vengeance. That’s in the past. But they are absolutely right that they are playing again now. And it’s great for a lot of people to relive the 80-s. But I like to look at the future.
You have a lot of different projects and bands, you take part in different projects. How do you manage to find time for all these occupations?
Well, like I just said if you play solo on somebody’s album, like Vengeance – it really takes an hour you know. The same time I waste to go shopping (laughs) It’s not a lot of work, you know. It’s just a little guest appearance. It’s very easy and very fast. That’s how I do it. But my projects are really slow. I need like a year to make a great project. So I would never be very much involved in someone else project. I wouldn’t do it, if I have to put a lot of time in it.
What inspires you to write music and lyrics?
I watch a lot of science fiction stuff, I watch a lot of science fiction movies. I think this influences me as afr as the lyrics are concerned. And I listen to a lot of new music every night. This way I discover a lot of new bands. And I download them.
Download you said? (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah! But I buy it if I like it!
The new Ayreon CD will be released in three versions. Beside the original edition there will be a limited edition with DVD. What will this DVD include?
Oh, it’s a very cool DVD. There are a lot of extras and making-of like we had on “Human Equation”. Of course there will all the guest musicians there – meetings at the airport, then there will be 6 bonus tracks, then there is a movie to the song “Beneath The Waves” – about 7 minutes, there is a teaser trailer, the drum session – the sort of recording of the drums and a lot of funny moments with guest musicians. That’s really cool.
Do you believe in different kinds of prediction of apocalypse?
No, I believe in the prediction of the sixth extinction. And I believe that we are headed for it. But now people say the world will go down in the year in the year 2010, 20, 30 and so on. But if it’s based on scientific data, then I think I can believe it.
Arjen Lucassen is a pragmatic or a romantic?
I’m a little of both. My ex-wife would say I’m not romantic, because that’s why she divorced me (laughs) But I think I am you know. I am. In the evening I turn on the channels and listen to the music with a glass of wine. (thinks) Yeah, I think I have a little bit of both in me. I can be very realistic like I just said – if it’s proven by science, I believe it. But I like my imagination go wild and think of science fiction both. So I’m a bit weird I guess.
I think that “River Of Time” is a 100% hit. When you were writing this song did you know from the very beginning that it will turn out such a hit?
You said “River Of Time”?
Yeah! I think it’s a hit!
(laughs) Cool! I’d love to! I’m not sure if it’s a hit, but no – you never know that. And the opinions are very various. Everyone likes another song. Someone likes “Waking Dreams, someone “Web Of Lies”, it’s all very personal. But I do think it has a kind of a catchy melody, yeah.
I think that you are quite a busy person, but still when you have some free minutes what do you prefer to do?
I don’t have free time (laughs)
Oh, no! No rest at all?
Sometimes I do rest, but I’m very very busy all the time. When I’m not in my studio, I answer e-mails, fans e-mails, or I’m reading music magazines or whatever. And I’m always busy with music. But like I said I do watch DVDs, I like watching DVDs. Yeah, I think that’s it.
And don’t you get tired of neverending music?
As soon as I get tired of that, I’ll have to stop doing Ayreon. And I’m very afraid of that. And I wonder whether I’ll get tired of music. But luckily there are no signs that I’m getting tired of music. Because sometimes I have moments when I feel that I should really make music, I can’t stop doing it.
And finally. Could you say a few words to your Russian fans, fans of Ayreon, Star One, Stream Of Passion and so on…
I can say “spasibo” for the many great mails I get, and I really get many mails from Russia. And I think that Russian people seem to be very close to Dutch people – the same humour and all the stuff. And I wanna say it’s a pity that I don’t play live. I would love to go to Russia. Maybe one day I hope to go there, too within a promotion tour or maybe as a tourist.
Is it possible that Ayreon one day will perform on stage?
No plans, no plans. It will be so hard to gather all these people together, you know. So far I have no plans to do it.
Hopefully one day you’ll come up with some idea and we’ll see Ayreon on stage. It will be wonderful. We are all waiting for it.
Who knows, who knows. But like I said it’s so complicated and it will take months and months of preparations. Maybe one day, who knows…
Interveiw by Ksenia "Wolfin" Khorina
Questions also composed by Blindman
19 ôåâ 2008
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