B: Bryn Schurman here from The Eleventh Hour, and I have a very special guest. On the phone with me, is Arjen Lucassen, direct from the Electric Castle.
A: Hi, Bryn.
B: How’s it going out there?
A: Fine, thank you very much. Pretty busy doing promotion for the album, so all is going well.
B: The new album was just released, in the States at least, on January 29th, which goes by the name of “01011001”, which is a bit of a mouthful unless you speak binary encoded ASCII.
A: You can call it “Zero One”, it’s its first name.
B: I wasn’t sure if you call it “59”[hexidecimal], “89”[binary], or “Y” or what?
A: It’s Y, yeah. It’s ASCII code for the letter Y.
B: Seventeen guest singers? This is probably the most ambitious Ayreon album I’ve seen at least. A lot of top choices, at least some from my personal wish list. You’ve got a lot of legends on there: Bob Catley, Jørn [Lande], and of course Daniel [Gildenlöw] from Pain of Salvation.
A: Absolutely, yes.
B: Who was the biggest surprise for you?
A: The biggest surprise as in singing, you mean?
B: Or maybe the biggest surprise as far as… maybe someone you didn’t expect them to be available or to make it down there.
A: Well, it’s always hard to get singers, you know. Singers are a breed on their own. You know, they’re always hard to convince, but the biggest surprise… It’s hard to say, because all these guys have been on my lists for years. I’ve always wanted to work with Jørn for instance, one of the best singers in the world. And working with Bob Catley as you said, this guy’s a legend. That’s cool. And all these new talents like Daniel of Pain of Salvation and of course, Jonas Renkse from Katatonia. You know, this band is one of my favorite bands. Actually, their latest album was my favorite album of the year, so yeah, that’s great to work with guys like that.
B: As for some new talent, you’ve got Liselotte from Dial…
A: Right, yeah, Liselotte. It’s always cool to give new talent a chance. In the past, for instance, I had Sharon, who’s the singer of Within Temptation. I know she was on my album before she was well-known. Yet it’s very cool to give new talent a chance, you know.
B: Do you still have some singers on your list for the next project that you’re planning?
A: Oh yes, yeah. I always make this list and it’s about thirty, forty singers. You know, of course the biggest dream come true is to work with singers that I grew up listening to. Those huge bands like Floyd, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and [Deep] Purple. To work with guys like that is my biggest dream. Luckily, new talent is surfacing every year, so the list is endless.
B: On the song “We Are Forever”, there is a bit that Anneke sings that has sort of a binary secret message.
A: That’s right, yes.
B: Are there other parts of the album that use that kind of scheme?
A: No, the binary thing is basically only in We Are Forever, but there are a lot of little clues here and there. Of course, I’m not going to tell you (laughs). It’s nice when people find out for themselves.
Basically, this album connects all my previous albums. It’s sort of like a sequel to all the previous albums, but it also connects them.
B: It kind of reminds me of Stephen King’s Dark Tower, like how everything kind of gravitates towards it.
A: Which book was that, sorry?
B: The Dark Tower series by Stephen King.
A: Okay, I haven’t seen it. Is it like a TV series or a book?
B: It’s a series of novels, I think about nine of them in the series[correction: 7], and little characters and stuff from each of them keep popping in from old works from time to time.
A: Oh cool. I like that. Yeah, that’s the idea.
The funny thing is as I was working on these albums in the past, when I started work on Ayreon, like the first three albums I did, I had no idea that they would be connected. And suddenly while I was working on this last album, they’re all connected in some way. I’m always asking myself: were they always connected, or did I just make it up or has always been like that?
B: Speaking of the previous album connections, The Futureman from Into the Electric Castle mentions “cities underseas”.
A: Right, yes.
B: Now does that have to do with Planet Y like on Beneath the Waves, or is it something of the late two thousands?
A: 2084 is the end of the world, and yes Planet Y is a water planet. Yeah, there’s a lot of references to all the other albums.
B: Is the Futureman from Y, or Earth just late 21st…
A: The Futureman is from Earth. A lot of people say that the Futureman could be the man in the Dream Sequencer, but I don’t think so. When I wrote Electric Castle, I don’t think there was a connection to the Dream Sequencer. There is a connection though, between Forever and the Dream Sequencer, as we hear at the end of the Human Equation.
B: One of the new album’s themes seems to be the reliance on technology.
A: Yes, that’s right. It’s about this water planet, where these beings are becoming completely dependent on technology and the machines are even keeping them alive. They’re sort of like a reference to our world now, where I see a lot of people becoming very dependent on technology.
Me included, by the way. I’m the biggest victim of technology. I wake up in the morning, run to my computer and do my emails. Then I go to my studio, where everything is computers. No more mixing desk. Nothing, it’s all in the computer. I get in the car, the car is a computer, you know. I’ve got my GPS system showing me the way, and I’m helpless without it.
Yeah, we’re becoming very dependent on technology. Things are getting a lot easier and faster, but I doubt if they’re getting better.
B: I guess it comes back to technology on your end as well for making it possible getting all these artists together. From the documentary, I see a lot of myspace and email involved.
A: Right, definitely. Oh no, I’m not saying that technology is a bad thing, it’s good and bad. There are two sides on technology. And it’s true, getting all these singers is a lot harder without emailing and without myspacing and stuff.
But then, looking back at Electric Castle, that was before computers and before emailing. If you go back even further to the old classic albums like the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper, or like Rainbow Rising, or like Queen II. All that shit was done without computers. It still fantastic, it’s like timeless music. I really don’t think it makes things better.
B: Yeah, if they can make it sound like that without pitch correction and Autotune and all that stuff.
A: Yeah yeah, it’s a bit of a shame, you know. It was a trend that was set in the 80s. All of a sudden, you had all these drum computers, and everything was perfect. You have bands like Def Leppard staying in the studio for four years until everything was perfect. And now when I listen to the 80s, it’s like “oh my God, no!” when you compare it to what happened in the 70s.
So it’s very hard to not become a slave to technology, you know? But if you use technology well, it can definitely serve you.
B: I guess on the flow of the album, there are two songs that kind of stick out to me: “Connect the Dots” and “Web of Lies”. Both appear on the Y disc, but it sort of interjects the present into that story.
A: That’s true, yes. There are four songs on the double album that are set on Earth that are sung by humans, not by the collective called Forever, and I divided them over the two albums. So there’s two songs on the first album, Y, which you mentioned: Connect the Dots and Web of Lies, and there are two songs on the album called Earth, which are E=MC2 and The Truth Is in Here.
Again, they are references to the consequences of technology. In Connect the Dots, the guy is downloading shit from the Internet, and who’s buying fast food, smoking, taking pills. His kid is on the computer upstairs playing games on the computer all day and all night and he doesn’t even tell the kid, “Stop it, go outside and play football!” But this is not a bad man, you know? This is a guy like you and me, who has no idea what he’s doing and he’s not connecting the dots.
Web of lies is basically a track about internet dating. I speak from experience, not my own experience, but a friend of mine who was completely hooked on internet dating. It was like a candy store, you know? one week it was this girl, another week it was that girl, and he slept with them all. I hadn’t seen him in a week and then he was like: “Ahh, I’m in love with this girl.” And I was asking, “How is this girl doing? “Which girl? Oh no, that was two girls ago, I’ve got this new girl now.” He was completely hooked and he didn’t work anymore…
I think this Internet dating… it could work, but I think it’s very superficial.
B: Near the end of that song, Simone mentions O.L. instead of P.X.
A: It’s kind of funny. On the human songs that I’ve just mentioned, all the characters use their own names. Like, I am Mr. L. as you’ve noticed, and Simone is Simone, and P.X. is Phideaux Xavier. The O.L. in the last verse is actually her new boyfriend, who is Oliver, the keyboard player from Kamelot.
B: Ok, that’s cool.
A: Like I said, there’s tons of little jokes over the album.
B: Earlier, you mentioned that Forever is sort of a collective…
B: I wasn’t sure, as you list all the singers as Forever but they have insignias or symbols…
A: Yeah, they are a collective, but not like in Star Trek. Not like the the Borg, which is like “Resistance is futile”, and the only thing they’re thinking is to assimilate people.
This is a collective who’s constantly doubting itself, a collective with a conscience. Basically, they’re not black and white characters. A lot of people asked me, “Is Jørn is the serious one?”, or “Is Anneke is the sweet one?” I don’t believe in black and white characters, not in real life. A person could be thinking one thing one day, and another thing the other day.
B: And the actual symbols, were they picked by the singers or by yourself?
A: They were picked by the singers. I did the same thing on my third album Into the Electric Castle. We had all the stereotypes: the Indian, the Barbarian, and the Highlander, and I actually asked the singers themselves “What role would you like to portray?”, because I write the lyrics on the singers, so I always had to wait until I confirm the singers, and then I start writing the lyrics. This time it was the same and I asked the singers to come up with their own symbol. So it’s more personal, you know?
B: Judging from the DVD, you have a good record of the recording sessions with the different singers, but it looks like you did most of them one-on-one
B: So the parts that are duets, they aren’t singing to each other at any point?
A: No, that would be impossible if you sat there with seventeen singers on the album. I could not have them here at the same time. I need one day, maybe one and a half days with each singer, and if you’re here with ten singers, someone will have to wait like two weeks before it’s his turn. Unfortunately that’s not possible to have people here at the same time, so yeah, all of the vocals were recorded separately.
But it’s very important for me to actually get the singers to my studio, not just send stuff over the Internet. I really need that interaction and that magic that’s always going on when the singer is standing next to me. It’s a very spontaneous thing. This guy has never worked with me before, and of course he knows I’m a fan of his voice, so he wants to do his best. If something doesn’t work out, it’s like “hey, let’s try it this way! Let’s try that way”. So yeah, it’s very important to me.
Actually the only two singers, who didn’t come to my studio, who did send stuff over the Internet, were Ty Tabor of Kings X and Phideaux Xavier. Mainly because they both did half-songs, and it would be a little bit too much to fly someone over from the States for one hour for recording.
B: In a couple of places, each singer only has two or three lines throughout a verse. Do you have them record the whole verse and then pare it down, or is it arranged which line goes to who beforehand?
A: Yes, I always come up with the music first, then I let the music inspire the story, then I choose the singers (in this case, seventeen singers), then I divide the singers over the albums. I want to divide it equally, not that one singer is singing five songs and then he’s not singing on the rest of the stuff. So then I divide the singers to each one gets his own little part, so that’s pretty much set in stone.
If one of the singers, at the last moment, were to say “Sorry, I can’t do it,” that’s a big problem for me, because I wrote these parts especially for that singer. So that’s the only real complicated thing of doing something of this scope.
B: The logistics are just mind boggling
A: Yeah, I know, that’s complicated. But then, I think when it would be the other way around, when I would have certain roles and I would have to look for singers who fit these roles. I think that would be way more difficult. Take for instance, Electric Castle: I had Fish, so I wrote a Highlander in my story. It was not like: “I have a Highlander in my story, now I need someone from Scotland,” because that would really limit me. So, I like working the other way around better.
B: Now, you kind of answered me already in an e-mail a few weeks ago, but about Jonas: you got him to do some growls after a couple of beers?
A: (laughs) Yeah, absolutely! I had this part that was simply screaming for growls. They just had to be there, like on The Human Equation where Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth did some growls. I had already asked him in an e-mail: “Jonas, do you like that part? Don’t you think there should be growls?” and he never answered me. So then he came here to sing his parts, and I was like: “so what about this little part I sent you, you know, for the growls?”
He said, “yeah, I don’t know. I haven’t growled in twelve years.”
And I said, “Yeah, but it would be so cool! Let’s just try it and see what happens.”
He said, “Yeah, I think I need a beer.” (laughs) And then after like three or four beers, he said, “Ok, let’s do it,” and we went to the studio and it was fantastic. I don’t know why he was hesitant to do it, because he did a great job.
B: Did you have a contingency plan?
A: Basically, yeah… not immediately, but in the end I always work it out. For instance, because it wasn’t one hundred percent sure that Daniel Gildenlöw would be on the album, so I had all the other singers sing his part as well. I sometimes do that. But for the growls, it would’ve been just the opera voice, I think. Now it’s growls and an opera voice: Floor [Jansen], it would’ve been just the opera voice. But, this worked perfectly
B: You’ve done some work with Ian Parry in the past. Do you have sort of a friendly competition going on with his rock opera outfit The Consortium Project?
A: Competition? Oh, not at all.
B: You’re not trying to one-up each other?
A: No, not all. Of course, he was on my.. no wait, I think he was on two of my albums. I’ve actually played on most of his Consortium Project albums. So no, there’s no competition at all. He’s a good friend.
It’s funny, a lot of people ask me about that with Avantasia, because it’s coming out of the same time as my album. Avantasia from Tobias Sammet. And it has two of the same singers. It has Jørn Lande and Bob Catley on it, so you’ve got people always talking about it.
In the press you’ve got all these articles like Clash of the Titans, and they compare our albums to each other, but I think it’s really quite different. My stuff is rooted – I was born in 1960, so I grew up in the 60s and 70s, so I saw all these great bands rise like the bands I mentioned before: the Beatles, Zeppelin, Purple, and Floyd, and obviously my roots are in there.
I think a project like Avantasia is very different than mine. About competition, I think it’s a good thing. If one rock opera is successful, then people want more, you know? Look what happened to Seattle when Nirvana had hit it big. You had Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden. All of a sudden, all these bands from Seattle were interesting. I think it’s a good thing now that rock opera, the whole genre is getting bigger now.
My last album actually entered the charts in five countries, which is fantastic. I’ve entered the charts here in Holland at number two, which is like amazing, you know? I’ve entered the charts in Germany at number 18, which is fantastic, and only today have I heard that I’ve entered the indie Billboard charts at number sixty-something.
B: That’s great!
A: In Sweden and France, I’ve entered the charts. Yeah, it’s amazing. I really don’t understand, but it does.
B: It looks like we have the ten-year anniversary of Into the Electric Castle coming up. Any chance of a 5.1 [surround] mix for the re-release?
A: I would love to. I would love to, and I’ve already told them. Because it is a 5.1 mix for my second album, Actual Fantasy, and it was great fun. It’s a lot of work, I have to say. It’s like three weeks of work to do that, but I have so much fun doing it and listening to it. My music is so well-suited for 5.1, because you’ve got all these singers and all these layers in the music, and all these instruments… Yeah, I would love to do a 5.1 mix of electric Castle.
But of course the label has to believe in it, and I’m not sure what the market is for 5.1. Up to now, I always put it on my albums as an extra, but if you sell an album all in 5.1, I have no idea if it’s a good market.
B: I was listening to the surround mix of Beneath the Waves on the DVD with teh video and I got to thinking there is a lot of potential.
A: Yeah, it works so well for my music. I think I’m going to do it anyway, whether they want it or not. The thing is, you have to remix the whole thing, which is a lot of work, because it wasn’t done in the computer. As I said before, it’s an album before the whole computer thing. It was done on tapes so you’re going to have to remix the whole thing. I really wanna do it, because for me, I think it’s my most complete album. I wouldn’t change a thing besides doing the 5.1
Well, I just wanted to mention some good news that I got also a couple of days ago. Finally, they will do a vinyl version of my last album, and that’s fantastic. It will be a triple LP with beautiful artwork and a poster and colored vinyl, so I think that’s somewhat of a dream come true. Which is funny, you know, because I remember back in the 80s. Of course we made LPs and then suddenly our album came out on CD. We were so proud, and now it’s like the opposite: I’m proud that the album’s coming out on vinyl. It’s kind of funny.
B: Other than Ayreon, do you have any other projects slated?
A: Basically, one I’ve done an Ayreon I’m completely empty. All the inspiration is gone. I’ve put all my ideas and all my energy into that Ayreon album. So when it’s over and I’ve done promotion, there’s nothing new, and I can only work on one thing at the same time. So I usually call that my “black hole period”. I hope that the inspiration will come very soon, and the inspiration will guide me into the next project, because I never plan. When I plan it, never works out anyway, so I’ll just wait for my inspiration and see what happens.
I have no idea what the next project will be. I know it will not be an Ayreon album, but what it will be? I don’t know.
B: I was wondering if Star One was sort of a one-off or if there is any future for that.
A: Well, I’m kind of in two minds about the Star One thing, because the album we did and the live DVD and the shows, it was so magic. I had these people together like Russell Allen and Damion Wilson and Floor Jansen, and it worked brilliantly. The whole tour was magic. I’m kind of scared that if I would do it again, I could not recapture the magic we had on the first album and tour.
An option of course, would be to do it with different musicians, and try to get some new magic in there. But then, if you’ve worked with great singers like Russell and Damion and Floor, who are you going to work with next? I still haven’t figured that out, but I would love to do another one.
B: Any message you’d like to send back to medieval times about the current situation?
A: (laughs) Yeah, beware of downloading. If they would’ve told me that when I started doing all this music, that one day people are going to just get your music for free, and there’s nothing you can do about it… yeah, that’s scary. But maybe it’s better not to tell, as you can do anything about it, you know?
B: It’s like you put a spotlight on it:
“Hey, you can get get it free this way. [bit torrent]”
“Really? I didn’t know that”
A: (laughs). But you know, I’m just as guilty myself. You know, I download like hell. Otherwise I would go to the record shops and listen to the music there, and now we do it this way. I download it, and if I like it, I will definitely buy it.
Luckily, the Ayreon fans are very loyal. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m entering charts all over the world now. I just have loyal fans who still want to have the real thing. They want to have the good sound quality. They want to have the nice artwork. You know, the booklet and the extra DVD that goes with it. I’m not in danger so much, but for starting bands, it’s horrible. With Ayreon. They they’ve got the first two or three Ayreon albums and they want their collection complete. But with new bands, they’re having a hard time.
B: Any message for people who are listening in and hearing you for the first time?
A: The first reaction’s always, when I release an album, is like: it’s a lot of information, a lot of singers, big story, it’s on two albums…
So my music is kind of hard to get into, but I really hope that in these days of downloading, iTunes, and Myspace, that people still want to give music a chance that’s a bit more challenging. I think it really pays off, you know?
You buy an album and you play it like ten times and it gets better all the time, I think it’s much more rewarding than buying an album that you like on the first listen, and you play it twice and you’re sick of it. Yeah, I think that there’s still a lot of people that would like an extra dimension to their music, and I hope I can deliver.
B: The fourth dimension?
A: The fourth dimension, yes. (laughs)