BraveWords Interview: AYREON – Everything’s Electric

By Carl Begai

Twenty-two years ago, a struggling Dutch musician by the name of Arjen Anthony Lucassen released what would be his breakthrough album. Buoyed by the attention he received for his first two records – The Final Experiment (1995) and Actual Fantasy (1996) – Lucassen adopted a “go big or go home” strategy and concocted a progressive metal opera featuring the talents of musicians he admired dubbed Into The Electric Castle. It was the beginning of what has become an internationally successful and lucrative career, allowing Lucassen to pursue his musical fantasies and ideas as they formulate in his hyperactive brain. With each album that followed Into The Electric Castle – six more at press time, not including his numerous side projects – the calls for Ayreon to perform live grew louder, and in 2016 fans were treated to a stage performance of The Human Equation album from 2004, The Theater Equation. Lucassen’s participation in the production was minimal compared to Ayreon Universe in 2017, the first ever official live Ayreon shows featuring Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Jonas Renske (Katatonia), Anneke van Giersbergen, Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Damian Wilson (ex-Threshold) and Tommy Karevik (Kamelot) to name a few. Two years later, Lucassen decided to gather his cast of original characters and returned to where it all began with four shows celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Into The Electric Castle. The end result is another jewel in Lucassen’s crown, Electric Castle Live And Other Tales.

BraveWords: Over the years you’ve maintained that Ayreon is not something you could see being performed live because of the scope of the production required and all the moving parts. Between Ayreon Universe and Electric Castle Live – and Star One for that matter – I call bullshit (laughs).

Arjen: “I know (laughs). And the reactions to Electric Castle Live have been unanimously positive. It sounds arrogant, but this time I was pretty sure of it. When we were editing the video and I saw all the material, and I was mixing it, I thought ‘Oh my God, we did it.’ We had plenty of camera angles to choose from, every shot was cool, the sound was good…. I think this was the first Ayreon release ever where I believed in it 100%. You’ve known me for years, and I’m always insecure when it comes to releasing a new album: ‘Are they going to like it? I wish I had done this…’ This time there we no ‘if only’s’. For the previous live stuff there were so many of those, but this time everything aligned perfectly. If there has been any negative response it has been towards the encores, which might be a bit too much for some people. And some people don’t like the narration, but that’s just a personal thing so I don’t give a shit about that because John de Lancie was great.”

Photo by Robert Zant

BraveWords: Were you completely hands-on for the actual performances of Electric Castle Live? Essentially playing stage director?

Arjen: “Oh yeah, for sure; it’s me and Joost (van den Broek / keyboards). Like what you just said; I always said Ayreon couldn’t be done live, and the only reason that I think it can be done live now is because of one person, and that’s Joost. Without him I would one-hundred percent not be doing this. I never knew a person existed who could put this all together. I have all the ideas, I make all the decisions because this is my plan, but to make Ayreon a reality on the live stage is so incredibly complicated and he does it.”

BraveWords: Getting Star Trek’s John de Lancie to do the live narration… where do you get the idea “Sure, I’ll just get Q to do it for me…?” That’s a ballsy move.

Arjen: “(Laughs) I was going to ask the narrator for Into The Electric Castle, Peter Daltrey, but he’s a grandpa now and wants to be with his family so I didn’t bother. So when I was thinking about the narrator of Electric Castle, who is an omnipotent being toying with mankind… let me think (laughs). That’s Q, totally, and I started to wonder if I had based that character on Q when I made the album. I approached John de Lancie through an old email address, and I got an answer from him saying he would run it by his manager, who said no, they weren’t going to do some hard rock / metal opera. But, John’s wife – who was also on Star Trek – is a musician so they checked Ayreon out together and they loved it. John said to his manager, ‘Hey, this is my rock opera. I’m 70. How many more chances will I have to do this?”

“The next thing was Skyping with John, and that was scary. I grew up on The Next Generation; every week I was waiting for it and Q was my hero. And there I was Skyping with one of my idols. It was very scary, but he’s such a nice guy that after a few minutes I was okay. He was so interested and wanted to know everything, and he wanted to write all his own narration. And he did. He worked on it for half a year and it was just incredible. It was a very emotional thing for me to meet John and to work with him.”

Read the complete interview here:

Top photo by Matthias Kirsch