Interview by Zenae D. Zukowski
Photo Credit: Lori Linstruth
Recently MyGlobalMind had a chance to chat with the genius himself Arjen Lucassen, discussing topics about the upcoming new Ayreon album ‘The Source,’ The Ayreon universe, his love for dogs and his 365-day work schedule. Check out the full interview below:
Zenae – Hi. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me. I have to say It’s a true honor. ‘The Source’ should be classified as a masterpiece, it’s one brilliant album.
Arjen – Whoa!
Zenae – I absolutely love it.
Arjen – Thank you!
Zenae – The first time I heard “The Day that The World Breaks Down” I knew it had something to do with ‘01011001’.
Arjen – Oh Yes!
Zenae – While you were writing ‘The Source,’ did you revisit previous albums to assist with the story’s continuation?
Arjen – I did! Yeah, I had to. I don’t want to make mistakes. The thing is, the fans know the story way better than me. If I make a fuck up somewhere in the story, they will find it. So it was very important for me to revisit all the old albums and to familiarize myself with the story and not to make any mistakes.
Zenae – That’s awesome. I did know that you are a perfectionist, which I am one as well. I admire that about you and noticed it in this album. Between the music, the lyrics, to the song titles itself. I wanted to know if it was intentional, for instance, the track “Everybody Dies.” As chaotic and terrifying the lyrics are, musically I noticed a sense of optimism, especially in the keyboards.
Sci-Fi it has two cool things. On the one side, it’s pure escapism and the other side you can make references to what’s happening on earth, between the lines.
Arjen – I love contrasts. I think I can compare it to like a Stephen King story when the clown comes (Stephen King’s 1986 novel ‘It’), you know? It’s like this guy with a big smile and you are like, ‘Oh my god! This is going to be terrible!” Also, I think it harks back to Monty Python, I don’t know if you saw that movie ‘Life of Brian?’
Zenae – Yes!
Arjen – Ok, well he’s hanging on the cross and slowly dying there and he’s like (sings), “Always look on the bright side of life!” I love that. I love contrasts. I also did it on my solo album. There’s this track, “Dr. Slumber’s Eternity Home” (2012’s ‘Lost in the New Real’) and it’s like (sings again!) “Dr. Slumber’s Eternity Home.” And if you listen to it, it’s a happy song. And you ask, ‘What is this about?’ Well, it’s about a Euthanasia home (laughs). I think, if you bring it like that, in a happy way, it’s even more weird or even more scary. That’s what I was basically trying to bring across there.
Zenae – Exactly. I am listening to this album nonstop and I thought, ‘Yay we are all going to die!’ Then I said, ‘Wait a minute! Why am I happy about this?’
Arjen – Yes. (laughs)
Zenae – I do think ‘The Source’ is the perfect prequel to ‘01011001,’ I loved hearing the binary numbers subliminally throughout the album and the ending reminded me of ‘The Terminator’ movies as well. With that said, how many Science Fiction films did you watch while creating this album?
Arjen – (laughs) I deliberately did not. I didn’t want to be influenced too much. I mean, I saw them all. All Terminators, Aliens, Blade Runner. I’m such a Sci-Fi geek. Ever since I saw Star Trek as a little kid. I turn on the TV just to watch some stupid Dutch show and out comes this guy with the pointy ears and the green women, the red planets. Ever since that moment I’ve been mesmerized by Sci-Fi because Sci-Fi it has two cool things. On the one side, it’s pure escapism and the other side you can make references to what’s happening on earth, between the lines.
Zenae – There was a lot of machine references and I had to ask. I am a little geek too and I love the Terminator movies.
Arjen – Ok cool, ‘I’ll be back.’
Zenae – This is probably a weird question, not sure if anyone asked you this but what feeling did you have when the album was finished? For instance, did you know it was going to be a great album? Or did you have a glass of wine wondering if something should be changed?
Arjen – The thing is, like you, I’m a total perfectionist. Which means, I have my own studio and I don’t have a deadline. Which means that I work until I’m 100% happy with the results. I worked on it for a year, that’s 365 days. No holidays, no weekends, just go for it totally concentrated. So when I’m ready, I’m perfectly happy, 100% happy. Then I send it to the record company thinking, ‘oh this is the best thing i’ve ever done! The world’s going to love this, everyone is going to love it!’ But then, you have to wait three months before it’s released. And that’s a horrible period. Then the album gets really bad. It gets words every week and someone is like, ‘OMG! I should have done this. Oh! How I could have done this, and why couldn’t I change that?’ That’s the way it usually goes. But I have to say this time I am pretty secure of myself.
Reactions are so cool. We put “The Day That The World Breaks Down” clip on YouTube and it got like over 300 or 400 thousand views, and all of the comments were positive. Usually on YouTube, the comments are people bitching, ‘Oh fuck you!’ and, ‘I hate that.’ Yeah. I was afraid of that and I went for the comments ready to delete shit, but Everything was positive and everyone was like, ‘Oh what’s happening here?!’ And then I did a promotion tour in Europe, doing interviews and everyone I spoke to was like, ‘Oh it’s fantastic man! It’s great!’ And then the presale started a few weeks ago. It’s the best presale I ever had, it’s the best presale the record company (Mascot) ever had. Even editions we thought we had way too many of sold out. So i must’ve done something right. I am at the point now of not trying to be arrogant actually (laughs).
Zenae – When you put it out on YouTube, I was excited how amazing the song sounded. I am very happy that you didn’t get too many negative comments, there are a lot of internet trolls out there.
Arjen – I know. It’s scary! And it was extra exciting because this track really really represents the album. That’s why I wanted to start with this track and it also has all of the singers in it. And it’s like, ‘ok if people don’t like this song, they are not going to like the album.’ I could then forget about it. And this reaction was a fantastic feeling.
Zenae – For those who cannot attend, what should we expect to see for the live Ayreon Universe shows in Holland? A DVD or live stream recording?
Arjen – Absolutely. We will film the first two shows. We have a great team to do it. There will be about 30 cameras, 25 cameras. We’re taking no chances. We never expected to sell 9000 tickets in one day. We were like, ‘what is happening here?’ But it’s cool because now we can put extra money in the show and the filming of the show. Especially since so many people couldn’t come. So yeah, we definitely made sure of that.
Zenae – I can’t wait for the DVD since I personally can’t head out to Holland for it.
Arjen – I understand.
Zenae – Your work involves an incredible amount of visual storytelling, have you ever thought about turning one of your albums into a film?
Arjen – The thing is, my albums are huge Sci-Fi concepts. As you may know, making a low budget Sci-Fi movie is about 10 million dollars probably. So something like that costs loads of money and of course, I can’t make movies, I can only make music. You are dependent on a film company or producer or director, offering it. I don’t have my hopes up but of course, it would be a dream come true if somebody would make a movie out of it.
Zenae – Yes. Especially listening to ‘The Source’ I saw there were so many elements out there. It would be a great Rock Opera like the next Who’s ‘Tommy’ on the big screen, but Science Fiction.
I love supernatural stuff and Sci-Fi but I’m so sober and really I don’t believe in anything. It’s awful I’m totally a man of science.
Arjen – I know! I would be sitting there in the audience crying my eyes out if that would ever happen.
Zenae – I’m sure it’s difficult due to being involved in other projects, but will we see more of the Gentle Storm?
Arjen – It’s so hard to say. Basically, I do plan ahead but I never stick to the plan. Like this album was going to be a solo album and then I worked on it and it became a bit heavier and then it became a Star One album. And then I thought, ‘no no, it has folky parts, let’s make it an Ayreon.’ So, I really can’t say. I keep changing my mind all of the time. I have so many projects going on right now like Guilt Machine, Star One, Gentle Storm, solo album, etc. etc. I really can’t say but, I would love to that’s for sure. It’s definitely an option, but I can’t guide things like that. They just happen.
Zenae – Do you ever take a day off from work?
Arjen – Nope! Really, I don’t. Like I said, I work 365 days a year and I have no weekends. I wouldn’t know if it’s a weekend right now or a Monday or Sunday. I have no idea. I have no holidays. The only thing is, my evenings are holy. My evenings should be free. In the evening I just want to sit down or lie on the couch and watch a good TV series or movie. So yeah, that’s when I relax.
Zenae – It’s nice to have a little break on the mind.
Arjen – Yeah and I look forward to that all day. Like ‘Ahhh! Tonight I’m going to watch the last episode of The Walking Dead.’ Just looking forward to that.
Zenae – I admire your theories and wanted to ask, do you believe if there’s life or even immortality on other planets?
Arjen – That’s the weird thing! I write about all of these aliens and all of this supernatural stuff. And I love supernatural stuff and Sci-Fi but I’m so sober and really I don’t believe in anything. It’s awful I’m totally a man of science. I think the universe is incredibly big you know that chances of finding life in this universe are incredibly small that I personally don’t think it will ever happen. Which is amazing because people would not expect me to say this.
Zenae – I did not expect this at all! (laughs)
Arjen – No, they think I’m like this. No, it would be fantastic, a dream come true and very cool but I’m afraid it’s not going to happen.
At least, I don’t have an iPhone. I have an 8-year-old Nokia. I don’t even know if it takes pictures.
Zenae – OK. What about the possibility of technology taking over humanity?
Arjen – Well, as I’ve said, I’m a man of science. I’m really interested in science. Scientists have suggested that in 20-30 years we will reach the technical singularity which means that computer intelligence will surpass us as human beings. It’s interesting to see what will happen then. Personally, I think a lot of computers are way more intelligent than people. In my stories, of course, it’s always very bleak and dark. And it seems I think technology is bad but I don’t at all. I love technology and I embrace technology. It’s just that I would never have technology take over my life. Or I never want to become too dependent on technology. Which is already happening, if my computer doesn’t work in the morning, I’m panicking like, ‘Oh my god! I got to do this and send this. My computer is not working!’ At least, I don’t have an iPhone. I have an 8-year-old Nokia. I don’t even know if it takes pictures. At least there, I’m not dependent.
Zenae – Wow! I expected to hear you having theories on Aliens, so I had to ask.
Arjen – I know! I’m weird. I’m full of contrasts. I mean you can hear that in my music. It’s all contrasts, it goes from this really heavy part to this lovely folky part. I’m like that in real life as well.
Zenae – And full of surprises too! Which is awesome.
Arjen – Yup!
I thought people would hate it. I was right, I had to shop for a year with it. Thirty record companies turned me down. But I just persisted, and at some point a Japanese record company released it and the rest is history.
Zenae – For fun, I heard you love animals, are you a cat or dog person?
Arjen – I was always a cat person. I’ve always had cats in my life at some point. At one point I had ten cats. I lived in the middle of the forest and these wild cats came and you can’t send them away. You start feeding them, they stay and they have kittens and at some point, I had 10 cats. People were asking me, ‘Do you remember their names?’ I said, ‘Do I remember their names? Each one had five different names!’ Yeah, I always loved cats. And then 6 years ago, I moved to another place. My girlfriend loves dogs, and she said, ‘Let’s get a doggy!’ I said, ‘Sure! Sure.’ And now I’m a dog person. It’s so cute, such a cute little doggy. Such an enrichment of your life. I love animals way more than people.
Zenae – Me too actually.
Arjen – I’m very much recluse and the little doggy, it’s our little daughter. A big part of our lives.
Zenae – They are your children!
Arjen – It’s true. That was the bad thing about cats. You lose them. Like those ten cats, they all disappeared in the forest. Each one that disappeared, I was sick from it. So sick of it. I think that’s one of the reasons why I don’t want cats anymore. Especially when they are outdoor cats and can leave whenever they want, and what will happen to them. And each time one wouldn’t come home for just a night, I wouldn’t be able to sleep. A doggy, you have more control over them. They always want to be close and in the house. I can now see the attraction of dogs.
Zenae – My dog is glued to me, I can definitely understand that.
Arjen – Yeah, well it’s lovely isn’t it?
Zenae – It’s amazing. Coming home from a long day at work and having someone there.
Arjen – Oh yeah, it’s fantastic.
Zenae – Lastly, do you have any advice for starting out creators like you who want to one day write their own Rock Opera?
Arjen – Well in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I was in various bands. And we were always trying to do what we thought people wanted. And I was trying to do what I thought the band members wanted. I did a lot of concessions and compromises with record companies and, ‘Oh! Iron Maiden is popular now, let’s do something like that.’ or, ‘Oh no! Now it’s grunge. Nirvana. Let’s do something like that.’ At some point, in 93, I was 33 and I was sick of it. I thought let’s do what I want if it’s the last thing I do. So I did this Ayreon thing, and it had all of my favorite styles on it; you know. Very eclectic from prog to folk to electronic to classical, and I thought people would hate it. I was right, I had to shop for a year with it. Thirty record companies turned me down. But I just persisted, and at some point a Japanese record company released it and the rest is history. Now it’s very successful. So the lesson from that is, do what’s really in your heart because that’s what you’re best at. And don’t give up too easily, it’s not going to happen overnight. It took me 20 years to get to where I am. It doesn’t matter if you enjoy what you do and really love what you do. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. Yeah, I don’t know if that’s the kind of advice you were looking for.
Zenae – That’s amazing advice.
Arjen – Ok great.
Zenae – It melted my heart just now. I’m fighting for my own dreams and hearing that…
Arjen – It’s true. Just persist and believe in yourself. Actually all of those letters turning me down from the record companies I put them in the re-release of one of the albums released on vinyl. I put some of those letters in there, ‘I’m sorry but we don’t believe in this project and it’s never going to work.’ (Laughs) And I really thought, if bands now read that, it would give them strength to carry on and to believe in themselves and not some kind of guy. You know, everyone has an opinion. If you get the wrong guy who doesn’t like it, you know and maybe there are thousands of others who do like it.
Zenae – That’s very true. People shouldn’t be discouraged and should keep fighting for what they believe in.
Arjen – Yeah!
Zenae – Thank you so much for your time, it was a pleasure talking to you.
Arjen – Cool man, I enjoyed it too.
Zenae – Thank you and I hope you get some rest and watch a good movie.
Arjen – Oh yeah! I have the finale of ‘The Walking Dead’ waiting for me this evening. It will be bloody and gory, exactly what I need right now. It will be fun.
Don’t forget to check out our in depth breakdown of the new Ayreon album “The Source” here.