The recordings of 'The Source' are behind us, normally you have between the end of the recordings and the release a significant period in which you often fell into a black hole. Where do you stand at this moment?
I still have not seen the expected black hole, I'm just busy with promotion and interviews and such. As soon as things will get to rest the misery might start. Usually I have the black hole between the recordings and the release, but this time we have been very busy with things like the video clip of 'The Day That The World Breaks'. We have put it online and in a very short period we received more than three hundred thousand views with very positive comments. The uncertainty and doubt that normally creep in did not have time to give attention.
Arjen, before we go to your new album, I would like to take a short view in recent history with you. In 2013 you released your last Ayreon album. Since then, notable things happened. Let's start with the 'Theatre Equation'. How do you look back on this particular project?
Pfff, rather twofold if I may be very honest. The band has done an amazing job and the singers who have never had acted did amazing too. They made it a success. But all the things around it were less. It was not well organized and that caused a nasty aftertaste. Also the camera footage was not what I was hoping for. I was all four days behind the stage during the performances so I could see the both the band and the public. The public loved it, I have seen people crying and I have seem very happy people. I also entered the lobby after each performance to talk to the fans, every night there were five hundred people around me who loved what they witnessed. In that respect, it was the best experience. It is also the catalyst for the performances that we are going to do in September.
Your last release is 'The Gentle Storm' where you have given Anneke van Giersbergen much space. How do you look back on the period after the release of The Gentle Storm?
Well, all themes and melodies were written. The main story lines were also written. Anneke had a lot of good suggestions and I am open to that. This made it to a project of the two of us. Afterwards the band went touring I am super enthusiastic about it. I remember when Anneke asked me: 'what do you think about the idea of bringing this music to the stage? Do you mind me forming a band a start touring?' I said: what?? If I would mind? I would love you it to happen! It would be the first time that a project of mine would be live and visit city after city. I thought it was a very good idea.
There is a lot of cooperation on ‘The Gentle Storm’. Have there been on 'The Source' also this kind of long-lasting collaborations?
Every album that I make is a reaction to the previous album and that last one was a very female record. Of course also because of Anneke, more feminine than Anneke seems impossible of course. It was of course also a love story. In response, I wanted something with a lot of balls. Therefore it is probably also something heavier than the previous Ayreon albums. But what also is a reason that the latest Ayreon album was very, very keyboard oriented because there are members of Yes, King Crimson and Genesis on. 'The Source' on the other hand is really from my hand again.
Finally, about ' The Gentle Storm ', this album was a great success. When can we expect part 2?
As I always tell you I never make a plan so no idea.
I know but how likely is it that there is a part 2?
Haha, I always try to make a plan and planning, but I never realize my initial plan because I often change my mind. That is also because it is a creative process. The finished project can be something completely different than the idea from which I started. 'The Source' was initially planned as a solo album. Then it would be a Star One album but while writing it became an Ayreon album. I would really like to make a second album with Anneke but the live band of 'The Gentle Storm' has persisted as 'Vuur' and who knows how successful it might become. It might be that successful that Anneke will not have any time for me left. Therefore, I will not make any plans but I keep all options open and have enough wishes on my list.
The birth of 'Vuur' is of course beautiful, but that also means that 'Stream Of Passion' ceases to exist. Surely this is a band that was founded by you
I am very glad that I have given this chance to Marcela when I started Stream Of Passion. She appeared first on the ‘Human Equation' and later she became the main vocalist of Stream Of Passion. It is always my intention to leave the band on their own feet and they have done it very well. It is a pity that the band stopped but they are actually transformed into a part of 'Vuur’.
The first thing to notice about the new album is the cover, the fresh and bright green is nothing like the colors you have used before and it is this time more of a sci-fi cover
Yes this is something which is very different. With the previous records, the cover was one of the last things that I made. The previous covers are from the hand of a Belgian painter. This time I searched in advance for a cover and arrived at some paintings of a French artist with a cover that touched me in a way that I wanted to use it. In fact the cover has also inspired me in a reasonable number of songs. It made me go back to the 'Forever' story, what if this was someone from the ‘Forever' species and a predecessor to the human race. Thus began the story and the music. That is also the core of the story: history repeats itself. This you will see over and over on the album, the relationship and imbalance that occurs between man and machine.
For someone who relates with the image of 'old hippie' I sense the philosopher Arjen and his outlook on the world every time prominent. How do you see the world in the year 2017?
I feel no part of. I prefer not to watch TV but like to see movies and TV series. So every now and then I do see things on the TV when I am searching the right channel. I cannot understand anything off what seems to be going on in the world. Therefore I do not look at the news items or something like that and therefore have no idea what is on the planet. I know from the past that the world especially knows a lot of misery and therefore I like to escape. I have the luck that I can live in my own world and that my music offers others also a sort of escapism. That is the basis and purpose of what I do.
How did you find the new musicians this time?
I have subscribed to a lot of music magazines which I always read with a piece of paper close by. Everything that I think I even have to check out and listen to I write on this piece of paper. Look here I have the list (Arjen shows a long, long list, WP) with many bands on it. Then on the moments that I have the time I go to YouTube and go check out those bands. Take Zaher off Myrath, that band plays metal with Oriental influences which I like very much. When I heard Myrath I was hooked and when the chance was there I went to see the live as a support act for Symphony X. After the show I instantly went backstage to talk to Zaher and happily he knew my music and really wanted to get involved. Each singer has his own story and it is always a surprise how it comes to a collaboration. I know Nils of Pagans Mind and Mike from Circus Maximus for years but never had a place for them. This time I had.
You are able to make artists do what we seldom hear on their own records, I refer for example to Floor in 'DeathCry Of A Race'. How do you coach them in doing things we seldom hear them do and in which they show hidden talents?
That is a combination of elements. The people who take part are of course all very good musicians with a lot of talent. That makes life easier, they are also all well trained in their profession. They are also always people which I am already very excited about, so that gives a basis that we are already positively with each other. So mostly from the start on we have that positive energy in my studio. Is it strange to say that I have become very well in coaching and guiding people? I know how to get the most out of people. We experience a very positive spiral and a beautiful discovery.
If we take a different approach and watch the story of ‘The Source’. Can I state that you have reached the end of the Ayreon story on the previous album and now have created a 'prequel' to the story?
No definitely not. The Ayreon story is never finished, starting from the first album the 'Ayreon Universe' will develop and there is a lot to tell about. It is per album the question which part you will get to see, it is certainly not a subsequent story per album. What you can read on Wikipedia is incorrect. The story is as I said greatly inspired by the album cover and so with this album cover you will end up automatically in the early years of the Ayreon story. It is as simple as that.
I think storyline is not as simple as you tell me. It is even for Ayreon concepts very dark. Things like the impossible choice whether you are able to leave your loved ones behind. You will live and they remain to die...
My records are purely about human emotions. The story line is indeed involved in a very tough collision with these emotions. There are not enough seats in the spaceship which will leave the planet, so many have to stay behind and face their fate. What are you going to do? It is the nature of my character that I would stay and would die. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I would go. But man must continue to exist and should therefore continue. We must make choices and sometimes very difficult ones and sometimes these choices are inhuman and impossible.
A slightly lighter topic, you have asked your fans to vote on you to be allowed to work with the Metropole Orchestra. What are you up to?
I think that can be amazing! I would really like to have a song like 'Everybody Dies' be performed by the Metropole Orchestra. Without band, just with the Orchestra. That song is great for it. It is really a dream, but I do not know if I will ever have the chance, but a man can have a dream.
You love to dream and sometimes they come true. You have often said that we would never be able to see Ayreon live. Well, it will happen this September.
I still have difficulty to believe that nine thousand tickets are sold in a single day and thus three shows that I had really never ever expected to happen will happen. It takes two years in advance to prepare to try to get all these sixteen singers together to perform live. That seemed so impossible, yet everything seems to succeed. I had not even expected to sell two evening shows. And now three in a single day. This is so special that we will never succeed in trying to do it again.
You have said this before, but let us bet that we will speak to each other in about two years and you will have sold out five nights in the Heineken Music Hall.
Haha, like I said I never plan such things and besides that I think it is horror to be on the stage. But I have to tell you that I enjoy the preparations and the creation of this show. The creative process is great, especially because I can use the support of the technical visual possibilities. But really I get already nauseous at the thought that I will have to get onto stage. Let us just see how it will go. Maybe it turns out to be very fun and a nice experience and will inspire us to try to create a sequel. It is not in my mind at the moment, but I know and have seen how the love and enjoy it. A sequel, it just might happen.