Ayreon interview (07/2004)
|With:||Arjen Anthony Lucassen - the man behind the name Ayreon|
Recorded on Tuesday, 6th July 2004 at 20:00 CET
Arjen Anthony Lucassen has released the sixth Ayreon studio album "The Human Equation" at the end of May. Prior to that the single "Day eleven: Love" was released in April. At now the end of July next single "Loser" is coming out.
First I have to congratulate you on your new album. It's been six weeks since the release and this is the first Ayreon album to hit the Netherlands charts. And so in Germany. It is already a big success. How do you feel about it?
Well it isn't the first album to hit the charts. I think, all my albums have hit the charts. Also in Germany. But this is definitely the highest entry. I think with "Into the Electric Castle" I got in at about, like, number 60 or 50. So, this is definitely the highest entry because I reached place 7 in CD Top 100 in Holland. And in Germany I reached number 50 which is also the highest I've ever gotten. So, yeah! I never expected this because it's a very difficult album. I think it's the album you have to hear a couple of times before you like it. So I was really surprised that it sold so well. Because when the album was just out a lot of people told me like "Whoa! I have to get used to it, you know. I'm not sure yet if I like it." Even friends told me this. And then after a couple of weeks, after they had listened to it three or four times, they all said "Whoa! It's your best album so far!" So, yeah, I'm surprised that it sold so well because it's so difficult music.
This release has been accompanied with a big promotional campaign. So, how much this promotion and success has to do with you signing Ayreon with "Inside Out"?
Well of course, it's the perfect label. In the past when I was with another label I got a lot of complaints from fans that they couldn't find my albums in the shops because the other label didn't have a good distribution all over the world. And also from journalists I was getting a lot of complaints that they didn't get promos and stuff like that. But that's all over now. My album is in all the countries, in all the shops, all the journalists get promos. So, that is being taken care of perfectly. I'm so happy about that. Also the promotion is perfect, you know. First they hired a promotional company. I think I must have done about 150 interviews in last two months. And they also arranged a studio session here, a listening party. And there were six journalists from all over the world and they flew them all to Holland. So, they are doing a great job. And it feels good, you know, to know that everything is being done to get your albums to the people. Very important for me.
But how do you feel about your old label "Transmission Records"?
Well of course they were the ones who believed in Ayreon. And in the beginning in 1994 no one believed in Ayreon. Everyone said "You're crazy, you know. You're doing a rock opera in the '90s. We don't want to have it, you know. Go away! We want to have bands like Nirvana." And Transmission, they had never released an album before, mine was the first one they ever released. But they didn't care, they just heard the album and they just liked it. And they released it. Without them there wouldn't have been any Ayreon.
From the start you have used a lot of guest musicians and artists. Once again you have pulled off a big project with many stars, how hard is it to make such a thing come to life?
Well, it's getting easier. In the beginning it was really really hard because people didn't know Ayreon. In the first place it was very hard to get to them, to contact them. And in the second place when you've contacted them it's very hard to convince them because they have never heard of Ayreon. And they are like "OK. So who are you? Who do you think you are asking me?" But now Ayreon is selling all over the world and it's selling really well. Actually now people are starting to contact me. For instance James LaBrie. Someone played him "Into the Electric Castle" and he really liked my music. So, he contacted me and he said "I love your music and I want to be a part of it." So that's of course is a very luxurious position to be in. But then again to get all these people together or to get them into my studio is a lot of work. Because it needs a lot of emails and you have to arrange for flights and stuff like that. But luckily I have a manager now who did all that for me so I could concentrate on the music.
But can you imagine right now to do Ayreon otherwise, without so many stars?
No, then it wouldn't be Ayreon I think. If I would do an album with just one singer or if I would sing everything myself it would not be an Ayreon album. Because Ayreon albums are like small rock operas or concept albums and there's a whole storyline with a lot of characters and stuff like that. If I would do an album with only one singer I would not call it Ayreon. Because that's what people like, that's why people buy my albums, because there's so many different emotions on my albums and so many different singers and musicians. I would love to do an album now again with just one singer but I would not call it Ayreon.
Big projects like you do, what kind of trouble do you face? For example, Music For Nations forbid the use of Opeth in your booklet. How do you face these kind of troubles?
Luckily this is all business stuff and my manager is taking care of that. That gets on my nerves. That's why I don't want to do it. I think it's silly that the label asks this. It's so silly because we can all help each other, it's just a small business - the metal and the prog world. And I think we both benefit from it. I think there's a lot of Opeth fans who don't know Ayreon and they are like "Whoa! Listen to this!" Or there are a lot of Ayreon fans who don't know Opeth. So it works both ways, you know, it's good for both sides. So, I really don't understand why we were not allowed to put name Opeth on the CD. That was really a shame.
One more thing about singers. You once faced a trouble with singer Mouse. Have you faced similar trouble after that, with other singers?
The problem with Mouse was that he was an amateur. He was singing on my album and he had done nothing before. And suddenly he got a manager and the manager told him "Hey, man! This Ayreon sells really well. You have to ask him for more money!" I don't think a professional would do that. They know that an agreement is an agreement and they should never get back at an agreement. Luckily I didn't have problems like that. I had a small problem with Bruce Dickinson. Star One was originally going to be Bruce Dickinson's solo album. And then I made a big mistake. I told my fans about it and my fans put it all over the Internet. Then Bruce Dickinson's manager read about it and he was like "Hey! You're not allowed to this!" And I cancelled the project. So that was a minor problem. But for the rest… You know, you don't have these problems with real professionals. You only have these problems with amateurs.
But how many artists do their parts for, let's say, a thanks and a bottle of whiskey?
(Laughs.) Actually there are a few. Like Barry Hay on the first Ayreon album. He did it for a bottle of whiskey. You live close to Finland. Timo Kotipelto - he's such a great guy. He didn't want to be paid. He said "Hey, man! This is great! I want to be in your album and I like your music and this is like a holiday." And I really had to put the money in his pocket, I had to stuff it in his pocket, you know. Because he didn't want to take it. So, there are still musicians out there who don't even accept money.
And you yourself? You do a lot of guest starring yourself. What do you take for it?
I don't take money.
You just play?
Yeah! I've never taken money for music. I do it because I like it. I would never ask money for it. But that's just personal, you know. That's not something I expect from other musicians. I understand a guy like James LaBrie. Or Bruce Dickinson. Or Fish. They are huge stars and they have to come all the way to Holland and fly to Holland. It's logical that they want money for that. That's 100% logical. But I'm just different. I'm a bit weird maybe.
Well, it works well with your music.
My music is all about emotions. It's very important for me that singers who come over here like my music. That they don't do it for the money. I've had guys who did it purely for the money. For instance Tony Martin of Black Sabbath. The first thing he told me "You better have a big purse!" and I was like "Hey, man! Come on!" (Laughs.) "You better like my music!" That's what's important for me. Also, I don't want to send my files over the Internet. I want them to fly over to my studio. I want them to stand next to me and to work on the songs together. And have a great feeling together. Because that's what it's about for me. It's not about just the result. It's about working together with a musician and getting, like, goose bumps all the time. That's what it's all about to me.
You mentioned emotions. Emotions have always played a big role in your music. Now you not only used them but you also personified them. What gave you the idea?
I think watching the Star One DVD. I was watching that one and I noticed how many different emotions there were on stage. You start out with "Set Your Controls" which is speed metal song and you see people head banging. And then we do "Valley of the Queens" and you see girls crying in the front row. And then we play "Into the Black Hole" which is very mysterious and you see people looking mysteriously, you know. And then we are joking around on stage, the bass player is doing a bass solo and you really have to laugh. So, I noticed how many emotions there were on stage and also in the audience. If you go to Marilyn Manson concert you'll only see one emotion. But with my show there are so many different emotions. I knew that the keyword would be emotions. Basically the album like "Into the Electric Castle" - it's about emotions as well but in a science fiction set. So I thought "This time let's take away the science fiction set. Let's do it solely about emotions." But how can you do an album about emotions? And I thought "Well, maybe if you personified them." But how can you personify emotions? And I thought "Maybe when a man is dreaming, maybe when he's in a coma." So that's how the story got started. And the funny thing is that while I'm writing a story it develops. So when I start I have no idea how it's going to end. I wrote lyrics in like 20 days and the story is also about a man who's in a coma for 20 days. Basically I'm curious what's going to happen the next day myself. I'm really curious how it's going to end.
You just let it drift, right?
Absolutely! It's like reading a book and writing a book at the same time.
In choice of singers and musicians you took to the rule of not involving anyone who has appeared on previous Ayreon albums. You have 10 vocalists not including yourself, 4 keyboard players and fantastic players of classical instruments. What else guided you in the process of choosing?
The singers. Again, the keyword is emotion. Because they had to personify emotions I needed very emotional singers, extremely emotional singers. Also I needed extremely different emotions. I needed very aggressive emotions. I wanted the most extreme, that's how I got Devin Townsend. And also I wanted the other side of the emotional spectrum. I wanted very sweet. That's why on the other side I've got Heather Findlay doing Love. And the rule was quite simple. A voice had to give me goose bumps. I listened to a lot of albums and every time I thought "Whoa! This singer's got something special. It's an emotional voice." I thought that's the one I'm going to approach.
How big was your list at the time of making the album?
Ah, it's always big! It's always like 40-50 singers. There's also a lot of singers I can't possibly get. For instance Peter Gabriel or John Lennon (laughs) or Paul McCartney or David Bowie. Or even David Gilmour or Alice Cooper - guys like that. They are so hard to reach, you know. Of course they don't know my music. It's hard to get these guys.
But there's always a chance.
There's always a chance and I always keep trying. For instance Paul McCartney. I sent an album to him and I got a letter back from his management saying he gets about 50 offers a day. (Laughs.) So it like "OK, that's a shame." And then Ronny James Dio, I actually spoke to him in person and he was very interested, he knew about Ayreon. He gave me his email address and I've been trying to email him back like ten or twenty times. And I've offered him a LOT of money, I can tell you. But I never heard back from him. And David Gilmour. Same thing. I interviewed him for a magazine, in England. And I gave him a CD and I told him I'd love to have him on my album do vocals or guitar or whatever. I never heard back from him again. But I keep trying because I did it with guys like Bruce Dickinson and Fish. So it is possible.
You did not tell about instrumentalists. How do you pick them?
Basically I play all the instruments myself. I play the guitars, the bass and all the keyboards. I can't play drums. I program them with a drum computer. So, that was the biggest problem this time. I thought because of the rule I can't work with Ed. But I couldn't do it. When I was programming the drums I felt that I was programming them for Ed. I think the only other guy who could have done it would have been the guy like Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater. But Ed would have killed me if I wouldn't have asked him. (Laughs.)
I do play keyboards but I can't play keyboard solos. I'm not a great keyboard player AT ALL. I can barely play a couple of chords. What I'm good at is getting good sounds out of keyboards. So I need keyboard players to play solos. And again I just looked at my favorite bands. I love a band called IQ, the British prog band. I love the melodies their synthesizer player Martin Orford plays. So I simply went to one of their gigs and asked him. And he wanted to do it straight away.
Ken Hensley is one of my biggest influences as far as Hammond sound is concerned. I was huge Uriah Heep fan in the '70s. That was a dream come true for me to be able to work with Ken. Of course I had him do a really dirty Hammond solo. And I told him I want this Hammond sound that you had in the '70s, that you had on "Uriah Heep Live" in the song "Gypsy". And he did that which is great. (Laughs.)
Joost van den Broek. Of course he played in Star One. It was the first time I worked with him because I was looking for Dutch keyboard player. And that was one of the best experiences I've had in my life. This guy is hugely talented and also a great guy. And that's so important for me. You know, if someone is an asshole I don't want to work with him - no matter how good he is. But Joost is one of my best friends AND he is very talented. So he was an obvious choice to play on the album.
Oliver Wakeman was actually going to do a duet with his father Rick Wakeman. But unfortunately Rick joined Yes again. OR maybe fortunately. (Laughs.) Whatever way you look at it. Unfortunate for me because Rick told me "Sorry, man. I just don't have the time. Maybe next year." So Oliver did the solo on his own and he did a great job. I've been friends with Oliver a long time and I also played on his album "Hound of the Baskervilles" and of course for him it was a great opportunity to do something back for me. So, that was great.
The classical musicians. In the past I've worked with lots of classical musicians and I didn't like it. It was like these guys come in here and they put the music in front of their nose. And you have to pay them by the hour. They play it and I and I'm going like "Hey! Can you improvise a little bit? Can you do something nice here?" And they say "No, you have to write it down. I can't improvise. Sorry." So that's a bad feeling. They would leave and I would be there like "Hmm? What just happened?" So this time I needed musicians who were into the music and who could improvise and who were not looking on their clocks like "Hey, that's two hours now. That's extra money." Simply people who would sit here all day and work on the songs and say "Noo! I want to do it again. Hey! Let's try it with this instrument." And so I approached the leader of a folk band called Flairck. And I thought this band has been around for 30 years now, they must be able to improvise. I told all these things to this guy and he gave me these three musicians. And I'm very grateful for that because I got three great musicians and also a great people.
As I understand the amazing performance of Astrid van der Veen in your Ambeon project gave you the idea to search for new talents. You picked Marcela Bovio to sing on your current album through the competition you held on your website to encourage young singers to send their material. What kind of material did you get? What surprised you? And will there be more such competitions?
I think I got about 150 CDs. And it was very different. There were a lot of people who sang my songs, there were a lot of people who sent recordings of their own song, there were also people who didn't have the possibility to record and just put a cassette in cassette player and just record and they sing a song. And I didn't mind what I got, whether it was professional or amateuristic. I mean, if I hear one or two sentences I know if someone can sing or if someone has a great voice. But I have to tell you that listening to 150 CDs and answering them all and of course you have to answer something positive. Even if it's completely shit. (Laughs.) You have to go like "Hmm. I really like the way you sang that word." or whatever. (Laughs again.) I have to say that that was hard work. So I won't do that again, definitely not. I mean, that took too much time from me. Having said that I discovered this beautiful pearl, this beautiful brilliance called Marcela. So it was worth all the work. But to do it again… ahh… pfft… I don't know. (Laughs.) It's a lot of work.
Devin Townsend wrote his part of the lyrics himself. Was it only lyrics or the music too?
Of course I wrote the music. And I also told him approximately what I wanted him to write about and I also told him approximately what kind of melody I wanted. But I have to say that he completely did his own thing. Only it's cool he did the melody I wanted him to. But… For instance in "Loser" the only thing I told him was "At the end I want a sort of a nursery rhyme. It just has to be four lines and I want you to be angry at your father. And I want you to scream. I want you to scream as loud as you can." So that was it, you know. And in the song "Pain" that's all Devin, all Devin's parts, he made his own melodies, he made his own lyrics there. This guy is somewhere between insanity and brilliance. But his definitely more brilliant than insane. He's great!
But how do you feel about giving such freedom to artists?
Well, I would not give everyone this freedom, I think. Not because I don't trust them - well maybe some of them - but because I simply like writing lyrics too much. And you can't have every singer write his own lyrics that would be weird. But I do want to give singers as much freedom as possible because then you get the best results. If you tell someone like Devin "I want you to sing low" or "I want you to sing this melody" then that would be stupid. You would have to tell him "Do whatever you want. Go for it!" And I tell same things to all the other singers when they're here. Basically I send them tape with my guide vocals so they know what the melody is. But I always clearly say that they should make it their own. Because they are different singers than I am. Funnily enough, this time a lot of singers stuck to the guide vocals. That was funny.
Have any singer ever failed you, your expectations?
Yeah. Basically when I worked via snail mail, via mail or via Internet when I couldn't record a singer and he had to send stuff to me I have been disappointer like three, four, maybe five times. But when the singer comes over to my studio and you work on it together you always get good results. Even if I'm a bit disappointed with the singer, I find ways to use him differently or maybe put a harmony on his voice or maybe double his voice or put an effect on it or whatever. So always when people have come here in the studio I have figured it out. But I've had a couple of cases when people sent me their vocals and I just couldn't use it. And that's horrible you know. You have to call someone up and you have say "Sorry, man, it's not good enough. I'm going to look for another singer."
Let's talk about artwork a bit. The amazing cover of "The Human Equation" was done by Jef Bertels who also did the covers for "Into the Electric Castle" and "The Dream Sequencer" albums. His art has become part of your image. On the other hand Mattias Norén did the artwork for Star One and now you had him do the inserts for the album. How and why did you decide to use them both?
"The Human Equation" front cover
Because Jef is a painter. Jef doesn't even have a computer. So he could never do the outlay of a booklet, he could never do lyrics and pages and stuff like that. All Jef can do is paint a painting. He works on a painting for like a month, I think. And it's all oil on canvas. So Jef could never do a booklet. On the other hand Mattias is not a painter. Mattias is a computer graphics guy, he does everything on the computer. It's not like he has a brush and a painting and he's painting. He does it all on the computer. For the front of a booklet I definitely want a real painting, from real paint. Again it's an emotional album. I don't think the front cover should be done with the computer. The insides - should be very clear - should be done on the computer. And Mattias has a great eye for that because he did a great job on Star One as well. By the way Star One front cover was not Mattias, it was also a real painting, it was a real painting by an American guy called Vincent DiFate.
The story and the concept of the album. Would you paint the main character?
The main character is a ruthless businessman who has crashed into a tree in broad daylight. The reason why he did this is not clear, not even in the end it's clear. It could have been a suicide attempt, it could have been that he was very sad and had tears in his eyes. Could also have been that he was really angry and he saw this tree and he saw his father. Basically it's unsolved in the story. I don't think that the main character is a bad person. It's just that he had a horrible childhood. His father was very aggressive and his father made him very competitive. Me character really wanted to be an artist but his father told him "No! You have to make money. And you have to prove yourself, like me. And you have to be a businessman." So this guy wanted to prove himself for his father. So he became very ruthless as well. He even became so ruthless that he forgot his own mother and he wasn't even there when his mother died which was a real trauma for him. He also neglected his own wife. He just had no time for his own wife. And he even betrayed his best friend because at one point there was an opening in his firm for the director position. And he betrayed his friend by revealing some secrets. In a come this guy is being confronted by his emotions and finally this is the first time in his life that he is confronting his own emotions. It's the first time he listens to himself. And he hears himself say "You did it wrong. You've neglected a lot of people. You've even betrayed people. You have to be honest to yourself in order to be honest to other people." So, that's basically all, the description of the main character.
Older albums dealt with the doomsday. So this image of cold-hearted money-making businessman - can it be a worry for the humanity?
Definitely, I think so. I see it with a lot of people around me. I see with a lot of friends, you know. I see it with a lot of musicians. I've been working with so many talented musicians in the past, guys that were much more talented than me. But then they got a job. And they got used to getting money each week and they got used to luxury, to a nice car, to a nice house. So they gave up music. Because when you are used to luxury you can't give it up for something uncertain as music. For instance guys who were really music lovers and they started a record company. And in the beginning they are very idealistic. They think like "Ah man, I want to give bands a chance. I want to give good music a chance." But then after a while they see money and they see like "At this time it's this kind of music that's popular. So I'm going to invest a lot of money in this kind of music. - Yeah, but the band doesn't play this kind of music. - Well I don't care, they have to play this kind of music because that's what's popular. So they have to wear a black makeup and have to have cathedrals in their clips." And it's such a shame that people lose their love for music. They lose their love and they are just interested in making a lot of money. Because what are you going to do with this money? (Laughs.) … Yeah! It's never enough! It doesn't matter how much money you make. I mean I'm making a lot of money now with Ayreon. But it's never enough. I told you in the beginning that I got to place 7 in the Top 100. And it's like "Shit! Why isn't it place 1?" It's never enough. And then they tell you "Hey, you sold 80 000 albums." And you're thinking "Hey, why not 100 000?" It's never enough, so you have to be happy, you have to enjoy what you're doing. That's so important. And you have to live consciously. Whatever you do. Maybe you work in a factory. But it even that you can enjoy. Or you can enjoy coming back home, enjoying life or listening to music. But I see so many people who live unconsciously around me and it's such a shame. So I think that's a big problem. Not for me because I would never fall into this trap. I've only started making money for only last couple of years and I'm 44 now. So I haven't had money for a lot of years. But I didn't care because I had my music. That's more important for me - the love for music. If I would be afraid I would not be afraid of not having money I would be afraid of not enjoying music anymore. And that's a very realistic fear because enjoying music becomes harder and harder. In the '70s I was crazy about so many bands that I loved, like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull. And now it's getting harder. I have to listen to like 100 or 200 albums each month and there are like one or two that I like. So it gets harder all the time. I'm really afraid that one day there will be no more music that I like. And the moment that happens I think my music is going to be bad. There's not going to be new inspiration. Well, that's scary.
Recently I was watching Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life" and couldn't help remembering your album. Did writing such story make you think about the meaning of life? And I don't mean the movie.
(Laughs.) The funny thing is that the meaning of my life is clear. I live from day to day, I live from hour to hour. And for me the meaning of life is enjoying every moment of life. I set myself little goals. I don't have big goals, like "I want to reach this and I want to reach this." My goal now for instance. I bought an album yesterday and this evening I'm going to listen to this album. So all day I've been looking forward to this album and it's standing there on my desk and I know that I'm going to listen to it this evening. Yeah! I'm really looking forward to that. Just little things like that. Like tomorrow. I bought a really nice Italian food, really nice pasta from the really expensive shop. Tomorrow I'll be looking forward all day to eating that. (Laughs.) Very simple. That's my meaning of life. I don't think there is a bigger meaning of life, I don't think there's something to be looking for. I think this is it and make the most of it. It's not like the meaning of life is 42. (Laughs.) Or it isn't the fish in the aquarium either like Monty Python. (Laughs again.)
In the last minute of your album you tie it firmly to previous ones. Would you place this album chronologically in the big story you have made up in your works.
The funny thing is, of course, that when I started doing this it was like "I want to do something different. I want to shock the world and do something absolutely different." So up till the end it was. And then suddenly I got to the end and I thought am I going to do like typical Hollywood ending. You know "… and everyone lived happily ever after." I thought "No!" Am I going to do a bad ending? No, that'd be strange, he would die or he would remain in a coma. That would be boring. So I suddenly thought of this idea "What if this story is a part of the Ayreon universe after all?" Of course it's hard to speak of chronological when you are time traveling. What's first, the future or the past? If you start in the future and you go back to the past, what's first? So that's always a hard question. It's like "Back to the Future". But I think suddenly because of the last 20 seconds this album has become part of other albums and I think that's a nice twist.
What is the role of the alien called Forever in that album?
You know, on my message board there are lot of people guessing the ending. And everyone has different views about it. I don't want to say too much about it, I want to keep people guessing. But definitely you hear the voice of Forever saying "I remember. My emotions, I remember." I think you can find it out, you know. "Into the Electric Castle" is an album about the alien Forever who is looking for the human emotions. And definitely you've got this machine, the Dream Sequencer where you can play like computer programs that are very realistic. Well, there are a couple of ways to explain it.
What's your favorite song from the album?
It changes. I think "Loser" is one of the craziest songs on the album. And we just did a video clip for "Loser" which is crazy too. And I think most people like that song, most journalists, most fans, most friends. So I think that must be one of my favorite songs from the album.
But why initially "Day eleven: Love" was released as a single? Why not "Day sixteen: Loser"?
Because I never expected people to like "Loser"! This song is so crazy. It's got a didgeridoo, it's got this nu-metal part, it's got Mike Baker singing like Alice Cooper, it's got this weird Hammond solo, it's got this screaming guy at the end. I thought people are going to hate that song. And I thought there's no chorus in it. If you want to have a single, if you want to have your song played on the radio at least you have to have like a catchy chorus people can sing along to. And "Loser" doesn't have it. So that's why initially I thought of "Day eleven" because it has this (sings) "Do it right, do it right, we ain't got…", you know. It's got this really sing-along chorus so I thought that maybe that song is the easiest to get on the radio. But then I got so many reactions on "Loser", so many people who like "Loser". So I thought maybe you don't really need a chorus, maybe the guitar melody (sings the guitar melody) - maybe that's the chorus, that's the catchy thing about the song. I still can't believe that people are going to play this on the radio. I can't believe they are first going to play Britney Spears and then they are going to play "Loser". (Laughs.) I can't believe it! But I also wanted to do a clip for that song. This song felt so crazy I really felt like doing a clip for it. And also I had a couple of bonus tracks lying around. So I thought "Well, let's release it as a single with some bonus tracks and do a nice video clip."
Talking about "Loser". Do you think it will perform better than "Love"?
That's a hard question because "Love" did sell a lot of copies. But it didn't sell copies because of the song "Love" itself. I think it sold a lot of copies because it had a lot of bonus tracks. I don't think it reached the other audience. The reason for me to do a single is to reach more people. To get it on the radio, to get it played on the radio. But I don't think I got a lot of new fans because it wasn't played that much on the radio. I think it was bought by really loyal fans. I did this prerelease party here and I sold 300 singles. I signed a lot of singles and people could buy them via website. I sold a lot of singles there again. Or people who want to have everything released by Ayreon. Of course it had two bonus tracks and people like to have that as well. I think that's what sold the single. Also "Day eleven" was released before the album was out. So a lot of people already wanted to hear it. That helped as well. I have no idea if "Loser" is going to sell better. Maybe people are like "Oh we've already got it on the album." But the version we did on the single is different from the album version.
The single has a very funny cover. You in the picture holding hands on your temples and then a label "Loser". How did you end up with it?
(Laughs.) Well, I don't think it was my idea. I think it was funny because the guys at the record company did it. And they sent it to me and it was my face and "Loser" on top of it. And I thought "Hmm… Am I going to be happy with that?" and then I thought "Ah, what the hell!" (Laughs.) Yeah, maybe it's funny. I'm not sure if people are going to see it like that. It was just a photo I did a couple of months ago for the promotion, you know. It wasn't meant for this single. But I suppose it's funny.
The video clip of "Love" was kind of an introduction or presentation to the album. Describe the new video.
"… filmed the band going for it"
It's got everything in it. It's got a naked didgeridoo player in it. (Laughs.) With body paint. He was completely body painted, he was completely naked from head to toe. It's got like a whole country and western scene. We're sitting outside, we're running through a field being chased by cows. We're sitting outside a shed all dressed in cowboy and country clothes playing mandolin and flutes. Also we rented this big place, we put 10 000 Euros of lights up there and we just filmed the band going for it. It was very dark, it was very hot and we played the song for REAL. The drums were really bashing, it was really loud. That's also the reason why I had all the musicians replay the parts that I did. Because obviously on the album I played the bass and I played the keyboards. But I wanted the bass player who was in the clip also to play on the single, so he replayed his parts. And the same with the keyboard player. And it's also got a storyline of a little boy who is standing at the grave of his mother. I just told you about the day that his mother died, in a song "Trauma". So there are a couple of flashbacks with a little boy who's writing word "never" on the screen. It's a combination of a lot of stuff. It's a very fast video clip, it's edited very fast because it's a fast song. There's a lot happening in it. And obviously the clip for "Day eleven" was a cheap clip, it cost maybe 5 000 or 10 0000 Euros and that was it. Like you said it's more like an introduction. It was all done with a very cheap camera. But this new clip is done with a professional camera. So that's the big difference.
Both of the singles feature covers of other artists - your influences, like Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, now Alice Cooper. I want to ask you not about your influences but whom have you influenced?
The great thing is that I get a lot of emails nowadays from musicians that say "Ah man, you've been a great inspiration for me." And that's the biggest compliment you can give me. Because when I was inspired by old bands you just mentioned I never dared to hope that one day I would inspire other people. I also think that by doing rock operas. When I did it it hadn't been done like 15 or 20 years. Well you can call "Operation: Mindcrime" a concept album but it wasn't a rock opera with many different singers like I'm doing. And I think the last time it happened was at the end of the '60s with "Jesus Christ - Superstar" and "Tommy" and bands like that. "War of the Worlds" - I remember that. But then it hadn't been done for a long time. I think I was the first, correct me if I'm wrong, who did it again after a long while and who also did in the metal and the prog style. I noticed that after me there are a lot of other musicians doing it as well now. So I think some of them were a bit influenced by me. Maybe not musically but basically in doing a concept like I did.
Can you name any band?
Well I know that the guy who did "Genius" - Daniele Liverani. I'm emailing with him and he said that I've been an inspiration for him. There are also bands like Within Temptation who are very big now. The first interview they ever did they didn't mention bands like Iron Maiden or Metallica as an influence but they mentioned Ayreon. Which was a great compliment for me. I'm reading a lot of this stuff in magazines nowadays. That's how I found for instance Dan Swanö because I read in an interview that I inspired him. There must be more, you know… Let me think… I think After Forever, Floor has been very much inspired, and also Sander, by my music. A lot of Dutch bands. It's a hard question, it's a good question but a hard one. Can't think of any others at the moment.
In the '80s you toured a lot with Vengeance. From the beginning Star One was meant to make touring possible for you again. All of the original artists didn't make it on tour but you still held good shows as I've heard. How did you like them yourself?
I loved it. I have to say that in the first place I did it for the fans because they were like "You have to tour now! You can't tour with Ayreon, we understand that, because you have like 10 or 11 singers. But you can tour with Star One because there are only four singers." I enjoyed those shows very very much. Most of all I enjoyed finally seeing all the fans. Because I've been selling albums for ten years with Ayreon now. I read a lot of emails but I never meet these people, I never see them. They are just like a number. As I said before the number is never enough. When someone says you sold 80 000 albums you are like "Ah, great." But imagine 80 000 people standing in front of you! That's like "Whoa!!"
That's a big crowd!
Yeah! Of course I didn't get such a crowd. (Laughs.) But to see those people in front of you, singing my lyrics - that brought tears to my eyes. After each show we went into the audience and I spoke with the fans. That was really really great. But then having said that I have to tell that we only did seven or eight shows, that after these eight shows it was just enough for me. I had the feeling that that was it, you know. It was nice. The biggest problem I had with touring was that there was some kind of a routine creeping in after ten or twenty shows. You'd be doing the same songs night after night, you'd be doing the same jokes. And I didn't want that anymore. This was like seven shows. Till the end it was spontaneous. And luckily we filmed the last show because it was also the best one. But it was still spontaneous, we still had a lot of fun. But I'm sure that if it would have been longer there would have been a lot of tensions within the band. Because don't forget we were on tour with 25 people and they didn't know each other. You know the way it goes with the bands. In the beginning everyone loves everyone. Then after a couple of weeks everyone hates everyone because you start finding out each others problems, each others shortcomings. And then if it's good after a couple of months you respect each others shortcomings. Or you don't and you hate each other and you never see each other again. (Laughs.) But that's over for me, I want to be creative, I want to write songs. That's what I prefer to do.
Will there be any other Star One albums?
I never plan ahead. I just start working on a project and at a certain point I think "OK. This project is going to be something like that." I already have got a couple of ideas for a next project and it doesn't feel like Star One. And it doesn't feel like Ayreon either. So the next one is not going to be a Star One or an Ayreon album. What's going to happen after that I've got no idea. It would depend on my inspiration.
If it's not Ayreon or Star One does it mean that you can bring back Ambeon, maybe?
Could very well be. Having said that… I can't contact Astrid. I think Astrid is going through a very difficult period in her life, she's left her house, she's left school. I can't reach her. If I would really try I would be able to reach her but I don't think she wants to be reached. That's a shame because she's a big talent.
Your solo albums like "Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy" and "Strange Hobby". First one is a bit, well let's say, raw - a search for musical niche. The second one contains the covers of the bands that have influenced you. You like singing yet you tend to avoid it. Why?
Because I can't believe that people like my voice. (Laughs.) If I work with great singers like Bruce Dickinson and Russell Allen, who am I to sing on my albums if there are talents like that walking around the world. So each time I never plan myself on an album. Simply because I'm the producer, the writer of the album, so I also want to sing on the album. You know I don't want to bore people with my voice. But the funny thing is that a lot of people like it. I get so many emails nowadays from people saying "On the DVD you're saying you can't sing but we love your voice and you should sing on your albums." That's a surprise for me because I really can't sing. If you would hear me sing live it'd be horrible. Out of tune. But in the studio I can manage. I double my voice and I use a couple of effects here and there and it sounds OK. But I'd love to do another solo album. It's on my mind as well.
I'll just say you're being modest about your singing.
Well… Modest, it's not modesty. I know my limitations, I guess that's it. But then on the other hand someone like Roger Waters, he can't sing either but still it sounds great, still if you put right emotion in it. Maybe it doesn't matter if you're not a great technical singer.
To sum up the interview. Music is your job and Ayreon is a magnificent result of your work. Now, what is the Lucassen equation to success?
It's definitely following your emotions. Not doing confessions to anyone. Because I did that in the past so many times with the bands I was in. You just said it before that the first solo album is raw, it's looking for directions. It wasn't something I wanted to do. It was like "Let's try something like this, maybe people like that. Let's try a very poppy song, maybe people like that." And then when I did Ayreon I thought "Damn everyone! I don't give a shit about anyone or anything. I want to do an album that I like. Probably it's going to be the last album I ever do because the world is going to hate it." Because who in his right mind likes poppy stuff like The Beatles, metal stuff like Black Sabbath and stuff like Pink Floyd. Who's going to like all these different styles? And to my amazement it worked. I only did that when I was 35 and of course you think "Shit! Why didn't I do this when I was 20? Why didn't I straight away do music I like?" But I think you have to go through that period and you have to learn. I like the way everything went. But basically I think you get the best results if you just do what you like because that's what you are best at.
So that could be your message to fans and starting out musicians?
I think so, yes. And definitely don't try to imitate other bands. You can try to imitate other bands but if you're too good at it then that's wrong. I mean if you like Queen, and you are so good at imitating Queen you would just be like a Queen Part 2 and nobody will be interested. But if you try to imitate Queen and it comes out completely differently, like Muse or something. That's good! (Laughs.) Or if you have very different influences. If you like black metal and you like folk and you combine it. That's good! So, no limits! That's a good thing. Don't think "Ah… People won't like this" or "You can't do this! That's not possible!" It's like Radiohead releasing a single with long instrumental middle part or whatever. Or Kate Bush doing this really weird song where there's no chorus or whatever. Or me releasing "Loser". (Laughs.) Who knows! DJs are going to say "Whoa! This is different. We're going to play it." And then I'm like "Shit! Here I am with my "Day eleven" and I think it's a catchy chorus. And what do they do? They play a song that has no chorus at all!" I don't think there are any rules. So you shouldn't follow any rules.
Any last words for fans out there?
Basically I hope that fans are going to be really open-minded when they hear my music because, as I said, it's not an easy album. You're going from one emotion to another. But if you're really adventurous and if you really want to escape this world for an hour or so then I think my album is the right one for you. It's very important. I just hope the album is going to get a chance. I hope people don't say like "Oh, this is different. I like only metal." or "I like only prog." That's a shame. I mean, open you mind, there's so many different music to explore. And maybe my music is a nice introduction to different kinds of music. And also to different singers. Maybe you discover Devin Townsend and you think "Let's check out this guy's material." and you discover other bands with my music. That's a great thing too.
Pictures taken from the official website www.ayreon.com
Thanks to Susanne of Inside Out for arranging the interview. Special thanks to Arjen for delivering this pleasant conversation, one of the longest he has probably had. I hope you don't mind Arjen. Very special thanks to Jeff for making a dream come true - a dream I never realized I had.
Posted on 11.07.2004 by
I shoot people.
Sometimes, I also write about it.
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