BraveWords Interview: AYREON – A Kind Of Prog Metal Magic

By Carl Begai

Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen has returned to form with his progressive metal opera project’s ninth album, The Source. In 1995 he introduced his “more is more” mindset with The Final Experiment, setting the tone for each future production stamped with the Ayreon name, garnering a loyal cult following and high expectations from those fans. It was the third album, Into The Electric Castle released in 1998, that laid a solid foundation for Lucassen’s multi-vocalist epics, and The Human Equation in 2004 that put him on the metaldom map as a creative force to be reckoned with, or respected at the very least. There have been a few missteps along the way depending on who you talk to – 01011001 from 2008 and The Theory Of Everything from 2013 are not the easiest albums to get into – but the fans are responding well to The Source. In fact, the constant comparisons to The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle suggest that Lucassen may have struck musical gold once again.

“I know what you mean,” Lucassen agrees. “I had that feeling a twice before because everything came together so easily. The cast came together, the music came together, the story was easy, which are things I had with The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle. Sometimes that happens and I just try to steer things in the direction they need to go.”

The ease with which the material The Source came together could have and probably should have been a bit frightening for Lucassen. How many musicians have boasted about new music coming together effortlessly only to be carved by the press once it goes out to the public?

“I’m insecure as hell about that,” he admits. “I start with 50 ideas and I hate most of them, really (laughs), because I figure they’re not good enough. The ones that I do like, I’ll play them to Lori (Linstruth / girlfriend, ex-Stream Of Passion guitarist) and she’ll be like “Well, yeah, okay…” So, I’m completely insecure until the very last moment, which is what makes me a perfectionist. That’s what makes me work so much harder, especially when I hear other stuff like the new Opeth or the new Devin Townsend. That’s when I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, my stuff doesn’t even get close to that…’ (laughs). The reactions to The Source have been so good that the insecurity is gone, and usually it’s always there.”

Lucassen has always let the music dictate whether he’ll release it under the Ayreon name. Over the years he’s opted not to do so because it didn’t suit his vision of what Ayreon is all about, leading to projects like The Gentle Storm, Star One, Guilt Machine, Stream Of Passion, Ambeon, and a solo album. He reveals that the music for The Source was never earmarked specifically as Ayreon-worthy.

“Not from the very beginning. Basically, I always want to do a solo album because that’s the easiest; I don’t have to invite singers, I don’t have to send stuff, I can do everything on my own. But, at some point the music started to get too heavy for that and I can’t sing heavy music. Then I was thinking it might be a Star One album, but there was one song with this folk part with violin and flute, and folk doesn’t fit in Star One. As always, I kept changing my mind, but it’s good to be open for that. In the past I was more like ‘I want this and I will do this…’ but now I just leave things open and let it come naturally.”

The singers invited to participate on this particular Ayreon album weren’t clear cut choices at the beginning of the production. According to Lucassen, he let the music decide for him.

“I start with the music and I let the music inspire me to come up with the story, and then it’s a case of deciding which singers fit the concept. I always have a huge wishlist of singers, and in this case it was like ‘I hear James LaBrie (Dream Theater) on this song…’ and ‘This chorus has to be Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian).’ I decided not to have a limits or rules on this album and asked whoever came to mind. I wanted the best singers in the world and it was pretty easy to get them, I have to say. They were all really excited to do something for this album. Maybe one or two didn’t work out in the end but it was pretty easy overall this time getting the singers together.”

“Unfortunately, this time not too many people came to my studio to record. I prefer to fly them over to Holland and have them in my studio because there’s always chemistry, there’s always magic going on, but as I said, I wanted the best singers in the world on this album and they’re all very busy with their own band and projects, and when they have a week off they want to be with family. This time a lot of them couldn’t come but I have to say it worked out really great. I had a couple of really good guide singers (for the demo material) who really raised the bar, and it gave the people I asked to participate more time to work on their parts. Not everything had to be done in one or two days in my studio, so luckily things worked out.”

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