Ayrean

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Ayreon

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“Well the thing is, I’m a total recluse,” surprised Arjen Lucassen, mastermind behind Ayrean’s upcoming release The Source. “I’m a weird guy. I don’t watch TV, I don’t read books, I don’t watch the news. I have no idea what’s going on in the world. Really, I have no idea who is president, or minister, or king in our country. I don’t give a shit (laughs). The moment I see something on TV it drives me crazy. It’s like ‘I don’t get this, why is it happening’? So I’m horrible. I escape it. I know I can’t do anything about it and it’s not my task as a musician. My task as a musician is to entertain people so that’s just what I’m trying to do.”

To understand The Source, it is important to know a bit of history about Ayrean, and Lucassen sums it up best.

“Ayrean is a rock opera with guest singers from all over the world,” he explained. “I use guest musicians and guest soloists and it is basically a big science fiction story. There are references through each album – they are all connected somehow. It all started back in 1994 when I made the first album called The Final Experiment and the main character in that story was called Ayrean. It was just a solo album but to everyone’s surprise, including my own, that album became a huge success so then I took Ayrean as the project name.”

For The Source Lucassen has again assembled an impressive array of musicians, with James Labrie (Dream Theatre), Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Simone Simons (Epica) and Floor Jansen (Nightwish) amongst the guest vocalists and Paul Gilbert ( lead guitar, Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (lead guitar, The Aristocrats) and Mark Kelly (synthesizer, Marillion) heading up the musicians. It is an impressive array of talent, but one which was selected more based on the ability to contribute to the storyline than merely just for pulling power.

“I wanted no limits with this album,” Lucassen confirmed. “I wanted the best singers in the world so I decided it doesn’t matter if I have worked with them or not in the past I am just going to ask all of the people that I think fit the album.”

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Of course gathering a cast of musicians such as this isn’t an easy process and Lucassen laughs when I ask him why people of this caliber commit to the project.

“I offer them loads of money!” he deadpanned. “No, no, seriously, when I have a feeling about someone I don’t mind paying them. They are big names and they know because of that I will get extra attention and sales. If it was only about the money… it’s very important to me that the singer likes what I do and they feel really comfortable with the parts that I write. I also give them a lot of freedom. I send them their parts and say please make them your own, change anything you want. Change lyrics, change melodies, as long as it makes the part better.”
In saying that, Lucassen admits that the parts are not written with a particular musician in mind, rather the parts are written for the musicians that accept.

“It is all coincidence or contingency or whatever you want to call it,” he stressed. “I start with the music and let it inspire me to come up with a story and then I look for the singers who I think fit the story and the music. It’s usually about twenty singers. I contact them and they can’t all make it. They have their own bands or they are on tour so usually about half say yes. Once I’ve confirmed them I start dividing them over the album with a little piece of paper. I cut their names out and try to divide them equally over the album. On this album every singer sings about nine songs. Once I divide them then I start writing the lyrics and also the story develops itself. At that point I still don’t have the story and weirdly enough the characters are based on the singers so if at the last minute a singer cancels I’m totally fucked (laughs)!”

With The Source not officially released until April 28, Lucassen admits that this period of waiting can be stressful.

 

…continued below…

 

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“Usually this is my insecure period,” he laughed. “When I finish the album I think this is the best thing I’ve ever done and then you have to wait for about three months for the release and by that time the album seems really shitty (laughs). But this time I put the song ‘The Day the World Breaks Down’ and the video clip – which is thirteen minutes long – on YouTube and the response has been overwhelming – over 300,000 views in a short time! Normally people are always bitching on YouTube but this time all of the reactions were positive. People were guessing what the story was about and talking about all the songs and the instrumentalists on the album so so far, so good. I’m pretty confident this time.”

Continuing down the story arc from previous albums, The Source again has its roots in science and therefore explores a back-story and alternative universe theory that is a commonly held belief.

“The Source refers to the science of mankind,” Lucassen explained. “All of my stories are based on science. Science has suggested that life on Earth may come from the stars; it may come from another planet. DNA from another planet may have reached the Earth from a meteorite or comet and I speculate on that fact so if this is true mankind must have lived before. My story starts on Planet Alpha where people are becoming very dependent on technology. It’s basically a repeating pattern. This happens on Alpha; it’s happening on Earth now and it’s happening on another story arc of Ayrean on Planet Y and the Forever Race. I hope that’s not too confusing (laughs).”

“Overall the theme is a dependence on technology which I see happening here on Earth. I come from a time with no computers. In my youth there wasn’t even a colour TV or mobile phones and through the years I have seen the exponential growth of technology and how fast it is developing. It’s so fast that scientists have suggested we will reach the technical singularity in no less than thirty years which means that computers will be more intelligent than humans. I’m not trying to point the finger – I don’t want to teach people things – I just want to offer escapism but between the lines there are always references to what is happening here on Earth.”

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Again coming in at just under ninety minutes, which is a feature of Ayrean’s music, The Source is an album that takes more than just a casual listen, but Lucassen is adamant the longer running times are more a reflection of the material rather than a conscious thought.

“I don’t plan on the longer running times,” he offered unapologetically. “I start work and then all of a sudden there’s ninety minutes of music (laughs) so it’s just the way it comes out. It may just as likely be a shorter album. It just slowly develops itself. You have this one tiny idea that inspires other ideas and before you know it you’re on a roll and you just keep going, but that doesn’t mean I am not selective. I’m a very selective person. I’m a total perfectionist so I usually throw away sixty to seventy percent of all the ideas I have and I keep the ones I think are strong.”

In a world that is increasingly becoming more disposable in its tastes, the fact that Ayrean’s music is so well received defies the trend, with even Lucassen admitting to being baffled as to how or why his music remains popular.
“I’m amazed by that!” he exclaimed. “I put the first song on YouTube as I said before and everyone told me I was crazy. People have twenty seconds of attention on YouTube and that’s it and this is a big song with eleven singers and it’s got all the artwork with it and my commentary on the bottom. I think I even mention the fact ‘if you’re still with me….’ (laughs) but people watch the whole thing, not just once, but multiple times! I just don’t want to be part of that new culture where music is just a throwaway thing. I refuse that. All my life I wanted to escape with music and escape in these stories and I’m so grateful that so many fans feel that too. Maybe they don’t have so much choice anymore and it doesn’t happen so often. I will keep doing it until people spit me out or my whole generation is not here anymore (laughs).”

Writen by Kris Peters

 

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