Arjen Lucassen has returned to author and compose a new start to his Ayreon franchise/project, The Theory of Everything. It is a Wall/Tommy level rock opera for the heavy metal genre, a story for our times. Many people may agree that there are not enough stories being told by composers in the genres of prog or heavy metal/hard rock rock, and this new album redresses that oversight in a grand way.
Mark Johnson interviews Arjen about his exciting new project and the idea behind The Theory of Everything.
Mark- Welcome to the Sea of Tranquility Arjen Lucassen. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule promoting your new album The Theory of Everything to answer some questions for your fans.
Arjen - No problem at all, Mark!
Mark – Would you like to describe The Theory of Everything concept in more detail?
Arjen - It's a story about a scientist who is very close to finding the (physics) Theory of Everything. He discovers that his autistic son is actually a prodigy who could help him solve the equation. But the only way to realize this is by giving his son a drug with dangerous side-effects…
Mark – It is great to be back with the Ayreon project again. Where did the inspiration for the concept of The Theory of Everything originate?
Arjen - I was watching a Stephen Hawking science documentary where they were talking about the Theory of Everything. The title really intrigued me and I felt it would be a perfect title for an Ayreon album… pretty epic and over-the-top .
Mark – Describe the process of securing the talents of prog/rock legends like Steve Hackett, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, John Wetton, Troy Donockley and Jordan Rudess?
Arjen - It's a different story for each musician. I've been trying to get these prog gods for many years now, but now that Ayreon is getting more and more known (my last album 01011001 charted in 17 countries) it's becoming easier for me to approach and convince musicians to guest on Ayreon. Dreams are coming true!
Mark – You are legendary in your ability to find and secure some of the best vocalist in the field of heavy metal. And this new chapter is no exception. Describe the process for choosing your vocalists?
Arjen - Again, it's different for every singer. Some were really easy to arrange like Marco Hietala and Tommy Karevik, others were harder like JB. Mostly I approach them via Facebook, or otherwise via managers, record companies, journalists etc.
Mark – I noticed that you did not choose any contemporary progressive rock vocalist for the project. Was that on purpose?
Arjen - Not really. I approach about 50 people every time, some say yes immediately, some I have to convince, some I can't reach, some say no.
Mark – It was great to hear John Wetton singing again. Were there any other progressive rock legends either musicians or vocalist that you wanted to include on this project? Do you have plans to add some of these legends on future Ayreon chapters? If so, who would be on the list?
Arjen - The list is endless! Right now I've got about 200 singers on my wish list. Mostly the singers I grew up listening to in my formative years, my heroes so to speak.
Mark – Which was your favorite rock opera of all time and why?
Arjen - That would be Jesus Christ Superstar. It was the first I heard and still the best. It is my ultimate goal to get close to that brilliance. After that would be Tommy, War of the Worlds and The Wall.
Mark – Did you have a mentor/teacher who inspired you to greatness?
Arjen - No. I am a true loner. I hate people telling me what to do. I'm a terrible ego-maniac control freak! I guess that's why it took me a long time to get where I am now.
Mark – One of the most brilliant moments in the Fluctuations section of the album is the Father enjoying his fascination with learning and the "music of space". Describe how you feel listening to the "music of space".
Arjen - In the story the 'music of space' is a reference to the String Theory. A lot of the song titles have double entrendres.
Mark – What were some of your favorite instruments or axes used on The Theory of Everything?
Arjen - I love my old analog keyboards such as the Hammond organ and the Minimoog synthesizer. For guitars I mostly used my Fender Stratocaster, because I was aiming for a very clear and clean guitar sound this time. For the 7-string stuff I used an Ibanez RG series.
Mark – I want to step back and ask you how well the last album, you're second solo album is being received? From all I have read it sounds like the critics and fans agree that the album was a perfect addition to your collection of works?
Arjen - To my surprise it did really well! Luckily, because the two albums before that (Guilt Machine and Star One) didn't do very well in comparison. I had so much fun recording the solo album; it really re-charged my battery to start a new Ayreon album.
Mark – Besides having Rutger Hauer star on the disc, what were your highlights as far as song compositions?
Arjen - I'm really proud of the long track "Lost in the New Real". In fact that track was the blueprint for this new Ayreon album.
Mark – Will you be appearing as a guest on Marcela's new Stream of Passion album, or any other albums this or next year?
Arjen - I get asked to play on other people's albums almost every week. Sometimes when I like it and when I have the time… I do it. So yeah, I did a bunch of guest appearances this year. But not Stream of Passion. I figure they want to do it on their own now, and they are doing a fine job without me!
Mark – So where do you go next…Guilt Machine II? And can you give us a preview?
Arjen - I have no idea yet… Always after an Ayreon album I'm completely empty, it takes a lot out of me, emotionally and creatively. So I will just have to wait for inspiration to guide me into the next project, whatever it will be. I never plan ahead… because I keep changing my mind all the time anyway!
Mark-Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for us. We at the Sea of Tranquility wish you success with the launch of The Theory of Everything and all that you do in the future.
Arjen - You're very welcome, Mark, thanks for the support!
Photos courtesy of Arjen Lucassen & the Ayreon websites