TheMetalList.Com: Tell us about the new Ayreon album: what is it about and what is the main difference, from your point of view, with previous Ayreon albums (if there is one)?
Yes, I think there is a difference. And I think the music might be a bit heavier and I think that the lyrics are a little more cryptic. The Human Equation was a very clear story. It was about this man who had an accident, who fell into a coma and who was confronted by his own emotions that were betrayed by singers. So it was a kind of easy story and this time I wanted to make it a bit more complicated, a bit more challenging. And also I’ve been through a rather dark period of my life and I think that was reflecting music. I think the whole atmosphere is a bit darker than before.
And why did you decide to transform the name of a symbol to binary form thus creating a name for the album?
Because the album is about these creatures called ‘Forever’ who are water beings on planet called Y. These beings have become completely dependent on technology and in the process they’ve lost their emotions. And the only way they converse is in binary code, which you can hear in the song We Are Forever in the first song Age of Shadows. You can hear the singing in binary code. And the working title of the album was actually The Sixth Extinction. It looked good but it was a bit hard to pronounce, a bit of a tongue-breaker. And suddenly I thought wouldn’t it be cool to give the album a binary code. And at first all people said: “Oh, you are crazy, you can’t do it. It’s a way too complicated, stupid and it’s very nerdy.” But I did it anyway. You know I like to be a bit different and a bit more challenging. And I just did it.
Yeah, that is really great, but we are wondering why you are doing that…
And you know the funny thing is that everyone is talking about it. Half people would think it’s stupid, it’s crazy and how are you going to order it in record shops. And other half would say: “No, it’s cool, it’s cool.” And everyone is talking about it!
Yes, you did it everyone is talking about it!
That’s it, that’s the idea.
How can you describe the style in which the new album is made? Maybe it’s the musical style or the concept or design. A couple of words about the style, please.
As I said it’s darker, heavier, more cryptic and maybe even more emotional.
What would you answer if you were blamed for self-repeatance? The same instruments, the same sound, the same music structure…
I would say that I see it as a compliment. If people say it sounds typically like Ayreon, I think that’s kind of cool because it means that through the years I’ve developed my own sound. It’s better than people saying like “Oh, it sounds like Tool “or “It sounds like Porcupine Tree”. They say “It sounds like Ayreon”, which I see as a compliment. And I do think this album has a lot of references to my old songs, musically speaking, and it has the typical Ayreon sound, but still I think it adds enough new stuff to be interesting. But I think for the next album I should come up with something very different. But it’s always a hard choice, because fans want me to do what I do, they want me to do what they like, which is typical Ayreon sound. But for me, of course, it’s more challenging to deviate a little bit from that.
How did you select the artists to sing on this album? How do you usually do it?
Well, every time I hear a good singer, I write the name down like I want to work with him or her. This time I also really listened to the fans’ suggestions. For instance the most suggested singers were Hansi Kürsch, Daniel Gildenlöw, Tom S. Englund from Evergrey. It’s very simple – they have to move me emotionally, I have to hear a voice or a sound or a keyboard solo or a guitar solo, which moves me. And then I write it down, and then when I’m making the album and I have to choose the singers I’ve got this list with about thirty, forty or maybe fifty musicians, and I choose the singers and musicians that I think fit the style of the album best.
Who did you most like working with this time? Maybe you can tell a short interesting or funny story about your collaboration with this artist?
I don’t have personal favours. Really-really, I don’t have personal favours. Because I’ve asked all these people because I’m a fan of them. So, no, it’s very hard for me to choose between these singers, because they are all completely different. I mean how can you compare a singer like Jørn Lande with a singer like Jonas Renske? It’s very hard. I would say that I have no personal favours. And there were enough funny stories, actually. A lot of funny stories. There were a lot of really funny guys around this time. Like Daniel Gildenlöw is very funny, Bob Catley was very funny. And there’s actually a DVD with the album where you can see a lot of the funny shit happening.
Ok, we’ll see. You usually don’t invite the same voices to perform on different albums twice. But there are nice exceptions, for example, Anneke van Giersbergen. Do you have any communication with her off Ayreon albums recording process? Have you ever thought of collaborating with her on her project Agua de Annique?
Well, that would be nice of course. But I don’t think she would ask me for that because she has a fixed band. Well, if she would ask me, would definitely do it, but I don’t think she would ask me for that. Basically, the rule of working with all new musicians that was only for my previous album. For The Human Equation I had the rule, I wanted to work just with new musicians. But this time I didn’t have that rule, which enabled me to work with the great singer like Anneke again.
Everybody is wondering why a Dutch rapper came to your project… Could you tell us about it?
Well, that’s a funny story. Actually he added himself as a friend on MySpace. And I looked at his MySpace. And I was surprised like: “What the fuck is rapper doing here? Why did he add himself as a friend?” So I listened to his music and wondered what he was going to see in my music. And then I looked at his favourite albums and bands. And his favourite bands were: Ayreon, Dream Theatre and Pain of Salvation. And I was surprised. Then I listened to one of his other songs on MySpace and that was beautiful, that was a bit like James LaBrie. So I got in contact with him when he said: ”Please let me do one scream on your album. I’ll be in seven heaven. Please.” Actually he’s a great singer. And I really love it when people are open-minded, when people are not like “I want just this” or “I want just that”. Just think back about Aerosmith doing Walk This Way with Run-DMC. That was cool.
Are you going to release some singles for the new album as you did for The Human Equation?
Probably, yes. I haven’t thought about it before because I don’t really think there are singles in the album. But the record company contacted me and said they’d like to do a single. So I’m going to choose a single and choose a couple of nice bonus tracks. I did some acoustic shows the last weeks, we could use some stuff from that or maybe some other surprises. So I think there’ll be a single again.
One of the singles for The Human Equation era contained a Beatles cover as a B-Side. Please tell us a little about it: why, how where and when it was recorded? How the thought to make such a classic cover came to you?
When I’m Sixty-Four.
Actually that was a recording I still have somewhere. I think it’s twenty years old. There was a Dutch magazine called Music Maker. And everyone could send in a Beatles cover. And one would win a prize. So we recorded this song and I think we never send it to them. It’s just a song I recorded twenty years ago. And I found it back and it seemed cool. And the nice thing about it is that it has a lot of Beatles quotes, you can hear all these little melodies in this song. It’s like twenty different Beatles songs in one song.
Are you a Beatles fan?
I am a huge Beatles fan. Beatles and Pink Floyd are my two all-time favourite bands.
Would you like to make some more covers on probably forthcoming Ayreon singles? Which one would it be probably interesting for you to make?
Actually I did a whole album with covers. It’s called Strange Hobby. I think I recorded this album after I recorded Actual Fantasy. And it has two Beatles songs – Norwegian Wood and For No One. It’s very hard to get this album, it’s sold out and I think they only made a thousand. So it’s something like a collector’s item. So I’ve recorded two Beatles songs. As for the future single, I’ve no idea, I’ll have to think about it. It’s a bit scary to touch Beatles songs because the originals are great.
Have you seen Across the Universe movie?
No, I’ve read about it.
There are a lot of good Beatles covers in it.
You’ve mentioned Anneke, when she was playing in Greece I came to stage with her and we played Across the Universe acoustic. If you search YouTube you can find it. It was with Agua de Annique and we did two songs Valley of the Queens and Across the Universe.
Some technical questions. Sometime ago, when InsideOut re-released the entire Ayreon back catalogue, the Actual Fantasy album was released with a bonus DVD, which contained the entire Actual Fantasy album in multichannel format. Who was actually the author of the idea to remix it in 5.1? Are you completely satisfied with the result?
I’m extremely satisfied with the result. I absolutely love it. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell well. People didn’t catch up with it. Which I think is a shame, because we had so much fun doing it over 5.1, over freaking with sound, going from the front to the back. I’m extremely satisfied with it.
Do you think that some music really gains benefit from 5.1 mixing? What about Ayreon music? Do you listen to any music in this (multichannel format)?
This is for my music. Because there are so many different voices, so many different instruments… Suddenly you can hear all the instruments. If you have three voices, you can put one left in the back, right in the back one and one to the centre speaker. There’s so much you can do. For my music it’s perfect. But unfortunately the interest in 5.1 isn’t that big. And doing a 5.1 production is very expensive and time consuming. It takes a couple of weeks to do that. And of course you can only do it with people buying it. So far there’s not much interest in 5.1, unfortunately, because I’d love to use it for every album.
Is there any chance that we’ll hear some other albums in 5.1? For example the last two ones, which are very clear in the sound and good in choirs and so on.
I would love to but the record company would have to invest to that. And they’ll only invest if they know that there’s a demand for it. Actually for The Human Equation we did one song in 5.1 – Day Eleven, it’s on a DVD. And on this album we did Beneath the Waves in 5.1.
Do you listen to any music in multichannel format?
Can you remember which of multichannel records you liked most or was the last one you bought?
The last I’ve bought was Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd. My favourite album of all times. And in 5.1 it was very interesting.
You’ve mentioned you know Porcupine Tree Have you heard them in 5.1?
Not yet, but I look forward to it because I love Porcupine. And I don’t know if their music is really suitable for 5.1 but I’ll definitely check it out.
I’ve got some life questions left. According to the human self-destruction theme that figures in Ayreon albums, what can you tell about the entire world culture (and particularly music) now: the legends which can collect huge crowds are all from the 20th century, mainly from 70s and 80s – Metallica, Depeche Mode, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin – and the new time doesn’t give us such strong charismatic characters. Why? What is going with on the poetry, painting, sculpture and literature now?
It’s all becoming digital. New bands have very little chance to grow. If you listen to the first Zeppelin album it wasn’t perfect yet, if you listen to the first Beatles album it can’t be compared to what they did on for instance Sgt. Pepper. And if you listen to the first Floyd album, it was kind of challenge, it’s in no comparison to The Dark Side of the Moon. But back in those days bands had a chance to grow and to learn. And nowadays bands don’t have it anymore because now when you’re in a new band and you release an album it’s on the Internet and people download it and they don’t even take a trouble to go to the shop and buy it. We, musicians, of course, have to survive from income from CDs, that’s the only income we have because playing live is expensive as well. Unless you are a huge band like The Stones, where you take like a hundred euros for a ticket. But when you are a new band you even have to pay to play. So it’s becoming very hard for new bands, it’s becoming easier to make promotion for themselves with MySpace and stuff. But people, especially the young generation, will just download it. They don’t know the joy of buying actual CDs. So I think that’s something to do with it.
But don’t you think that the culture in general is degrading now? We don’t have any huge names…
No, I think it’s because of that, because of MySpace generation. You are big one day – and you are gone the next day. And you have to do very simple easy music if you want to stand a chance. That’s why I’m crazy doing this kind of music. My kind of music has to grow on you, you have to listen to the album tree times before you even like it. And new bands do not have that chance. I mean they are here one day, like The Darkness. Everyone likes them and they are huge and the next day they can go home. That’s the end of the band. They don’t have a chance to grow enough. I think that there’s just as much talent as in the 70s or in the 80s but they don’t have a chance to grow. Because of the downloading I think weird things will happen to music. Music will become a hobby again. You probably have a real job and besides your real job you’re making music, because you can’t live for the music anymore with downloading going on. I think that has a lot to do with it. And older bands don’t have this problem, they can play live and everyone knows them and they charge enormous amounts of money for the shows. As to my music, they have accomplished my CDs in their collections, and if I release a new CD they want to have a complete collection. But if a new band CD comes out, they don’t have any CDs at them, so they will just download it.
You’re one of those musicians who record successful albums, you have a contract with a good label, collaborate with famous musicians. You also did touring well with Star One and Stream of Passion project. Are you satisfied with your musical career? What project would you like to dedicate yourself to in future? Do you feel you want to realize yourself in some directions in which you still haven’t?
Of course, if I look at my career it’s like a dream come true. The way I did it is I took one step at a time. When I started playing the guitar all I wanted to do is to play in a band. I didn’t have dreams of becoming famous I just had a dream of playing in a band. Ok, then I played in a band and my dream was to play live. Ok, then I played live, then my next dream was to make a CD. Ok, I did a CD. And the next dream is to make a real tour. So I always took it one step at a time, which means I only did Ayreon when I was thirty-five. And even then I took it one step at a time. I just wanted to do an album that I liked and had no commercial ideas. I really didn’t expect people to like it and didn’t expect it to be successful. And I think that’s the reason why it was successful – I did it purely from the heart and it worked. So my future plans? To keep going like that. Not to plan, not to think “This will be good or this will be good”. No, just let the inspiration come to me and guide me into the next project, whatever it will be.
Which concert would you certainly visit, if the one and the only one will hypothetically be given in some place far away from Holland?
Well, if we talk about the dead that would of course be The Beatles that would be to see John Lennon. Or Pink Floyd getting together, they are all still alive. All they have to do is to catch up Roger and Dave. That would be extremely cool.
The last question is about the country where I am from. It’s very interesting to know what you know about Russia. Have you been to Russia? What’s your point of view on us and what is going on in our country? And maybe you know some Russian music. Which do you like most?
Unfortunately, I don’t know that much Russian music, which is a shame. I heard some stuff. I have a few good friends in Russia that I email a lot with and sometimes they send me stuff, which I really like. Of course there’s this James Bond on the Russians – they are cold-hearted people. But I know better because as I told you I email with a lot of people from Russia. And I feel that we’re very close, we have the same kind of humour and the same interests in music. And unfortunately, I’ve never been to Russia and I will definitely like to go to Russia. It’s a shame I don’t play live, or I would have definitely already played there. Maybe as a tourist or maybe touring and promoting I hope to go to Russia. Well, I hope some Russian company will invite me to do some promotion. I’d be there. Definitely.
And the last question. Do you have any hobbies? Tell us something about one.
My hobby is mainly watching DVDs. I love that, I love watching science fiction TV series or movies. That’s my hobby.
Thank you very much. All the Russian fans send their warmest regards. And I very glad I had a chance to have this conversation with you. Thank you.
You are welcome.
Special thanks to Aleksey Kuzovlev (Irond) for organizing this interview.