Ayreon has returned in 2013 after 5-year break with a new story called “The Theory of Everything”, a concept album comprised of four lengthy suites divided into short tracks. The creator of the Ayreon experience, Arjen Anthony Lucassen has once again gathered impressive line-up of musicians involved on the project.
Besides great vocalists such Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil fame, Marco Hietala (Nightwish), John Wetton (Asia, King Crimson), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder), “The Theory of Everything” also includes names that defined progressive rock genre back in its golden years. They are Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Steve Hackett.
We talked with Arjen about working on the new record, its concept and album casting, among other things.
How did you approach the creating process for “The Theory of Everything” knowing that 2008′s “01011001” was criticised by the media as a “typical Ayreon sound, with nothing new being offered”?
That is a big misunderstanding, I have to clear that up. 01011001 was recieved extremely well by the fans and the press and entered the charts in 14 countries! One negative journalist (out of a couple of hundred positive ones) wrote that review and somehow it ended up on Wikipedia.. very annoying, haha! Anyway, myself I always want to do something new and fresh and so every album I make is a contrast to the one before that. So this time I wanted to make a more transparent album with less singers and more instrumental parts in longer tracks, and start a new non-scifi story.
After all the dust settled with “01011001” you said that the next Ayreon album would have to be something different. Was it kind of a burden during the work on “The Theory of Everything”, or quite opposite – did you use it as some sort of a guide?
I love challenges, I even need them! I would really hate to do the same thing over and over again. That’s why I do all these side-projects that are so different from each other.
“The Theory of Everything” is a double album comprised of four songs that are actually suites made of short tracks. Would you give us “the artist’s look” on each of these four phases named Singularity, Symmetry, Entanglement and Unification?
There is no real difference between them musically, at least not deliberately. I wrote and recorded the whole album chronologically and this is what came out. So basically it’s one long story, but it’s divided into 4 phases (which are sub-divided into 42 parts at the very last moment, just to make it easier to skip to certain parts). Haha, complicated, hey? Just see it as one long track I’d say. So don’t shuffle it!
Conceptually, the new album is similar to “The Human Equation”, as it feels more… well, human. In my opinion, the album definitely works as something that you can relate to, unlike some other albums that are fictitiuos. Am I on a right path here?
I think that basically most of my stories are about human (or alien) relations and emotions, even 01011001. It’s just disguised as a big scifi story! But yeah you’re right, lyrically this album is closest to Human Equation.
It seems almost impossible to track down the full casts for each of the Ayreon albums [laughs]. Have you ever considered to start a career as a movie director?
I know nothing about that! It’s a completely different world I guess. I wouldn’t mind at all if someone would make an Ayreon movie though
Joking aside, how did the casting process for the new Ayreon album go? Did you have a full line-up prior the recording or you did it on the go?
I start with a list of about 200 singers. And then when the music is finished and I have the story in my head, I choose which singers fit the story and the music and who’s available.
You mentioned earlier that your dream is to work with David Gilmour, Robert Plant, Ian Gillan, etc. Do you think that such collaboration would cause a part of world gets wiped out by the alien invasion? [laughs]
Could very well be, haha!
Seriously though, have you tried reaching these guys out? I know that you talked with Gilmour before, what about Plant? Who else is on your list?
Of course, I try them every time. As I wrote earlier, it’s a list of 200 singers so too many too mention. It’s really hard to get through to these big names though. But sometimes it works out!
Though the advancement of technology made it easy for musicians to work on distance, you still tend to gather all of them in your studio. How does it reflect on the final product?
The result is often SO much better when I have the singers in my studio and we can spontaneously work on it together. There is always a lot of chemistry going on, and I’m sure you can hear that.
I guess it would be too much to expect another Ayreon album in a row, but is there a chance for something like that? What comes next?
No, indeed I will never make two Ayreon albums in a row. I need to do some simpler projects to re-charge the battery. And I never plan ahead, so I have no idea what will be next. It has to come spontaneously.
After everything you achieved in your career, can you say that you feel complete as a musician?
Oh yes, I’m extremely satisfied! But at the same time I’m always insecure. I guess that’s what makes me a perfectionist.
What are you looking forward to in 2014?
I hope the inspiration for a new album will come soon and I can start being creative again!