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Anneke Van Giersbergen interview (10/2018)

With: Anneke Van Giersbergen
Conducted by: RaduP (skype)
Published: 16.10.2018

Soon to celebrate her 25th anniversary as a musician, Anneke Van Giersbergen is soon to release a live album, Symphonized, recorded during two carrer-spanning shows performed in May together with Residentie Orkest The Hague. Since she is such a prolific musician, whose resume besides her solo career includes collaborations with and membership of The Gathering, Ayreon, The Gentle Storm, Vuur and Devin Townsend just to name a few, so we've had plenty to talk about.

Vuur - Cities

Radu: Let's get right into it.

AVG: Okay.

Radu: Your band Vuur - its debut was a concept album about cities, and I've heard that you are working on a new one. Are there any plans to make it a concept album as well?

AVG: Well, I don't think it's going to be. I don't know yet, but I don't think it's going to be a concept album. I'm writing for Vuur, but I'm also writing for a solo acoustic album, so I have to see which one will come first next year, but definitely I will write and record an album in any case next year.

R: Okay, so there's no plans to make it a concept album yet.

AVG: Not yet, no.

R: You mentioned you're working on other stuff as well?

A: Yeah, that's true. I've been working on a lot of lyrics lately, and sometimes I just didn't have the music for it yet, but nowadays I start writing lots of acoustic songs and some soft stuff, so perhaps I'm doing that first, but Vuur, in any case, will be touring anyway next year and doing shows, so I think I'm always working simultaneously on different things.

R: Okay, okay. With Vuur spawning directly from the live band of your project with Arjen, The Gentle Storm, plans for the future seem to be mostly concerned with Vuur. While I'm quite certain you'll work with Arjen again, what does the future hold for The Gentle Storm?

A: Yeah, it's like you said, obviously I have my bands and everything is running, but The Gentle Storm has been so wonderful. The album was… It was great working with Arjen, of course, and we have a name, it exists, so it's a project we can do every now and again in between our own albums, so definitely we have a chance that there's going to be a next album.

Anneke with Arjen (photo by Tim Tronckoe)
R: Speaking of Arjen, your history with him goes back at least 20 years. How did you first start working together?

A: The first time we worked together was Arjen asked me to sing on Ayreon's Into The Electric Castle, and from then on we kept in touch and we worked together every now and again until just recently, and so I'm happy. It's one of the best experiences in my career, is working with Arjen, and now Into The Electric Castle will be performed live next year, so there's going to be a huge live spectacle and I'm happy to be part of that as well. It's cool, yeah.

R: Yeah, Arjen has taken his works live lately, I think.

A: Yes, yes, he did. He overcame his… Because he doesn't want to tour and want to be on stage so much anymore, but then if he does, he's making these huge live shows and everybody loves it, you know, so it's cool that he does that.

R: It's so exclusive I'll probably never see one live myself.

A: Aw man, I do hope so. But it's such a big production, heavy work to get that across the ocean -

R: Obviously, obviously.

A: But anyway he should, man, he should.

R: So you've mentioned that you wanted to name the band Fire at first, but instead chose Vuur, the Dutch name for fire, because "fire" is too overused in band names, but are you aware of the other band with the Vuur name?

A: Yeah, there is one other band, yeah, but they're not super active.

R: Yeah, they broke up about ten years ago.

A: Yeah, exactly, exactly. I saw that online, because nowadays you have to check, you have to Google the names - if you want to start a band and you want to name it, you have to Google all these names. In the old days, it wasn't a problem. With The Gathering, we had "The Gathering" and then there was an Irish folk band called The Gathering, but nobody ever knew, and the audiences were just so apart that it didn't matter. But nowadays, with the internet, everybody knows everything, so you have to check, absolutely.

R: Are you familiar with that band? Have you listened to their music?

A: Yeah, I listened when I Googled "Vuur", I got to know them, I got to see what kind of band it was, so I checked it out, yeah. It's like… uh… how do you call it?

R: Hardcore?

A: It's a different genre; it's…

R: I think the name for it is "emoviolence".

A: That's it, yeah (*laughs*). I couldn't remember what it was, but yeah.

R: I suppose you don't really seem like the person who would be into hardcore music anyways.

A: Right, hardcore. I forgot the genre name. But no, not really, it's not really my genre. There's a lot of energy in it, though, but…

R: Your music has a lot of energy, too, but in a different way.

A: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

R: It's less immediate.

A: Indeed, and it's more melodic, I think. I like melody.

R: You've mentioned that you're writing new stuff. It's been five years since Drive and now you have plans for a new solo album, I suppose?

A: Yeah, but you know what I never did? I play a lot of solo acoustic shows, just by myself with acoustic guitar or with somebody else, but just really soft music - I do this a lot and I go on tour with it, and then everybody asks me, "Oh, this was really nice. Where's the CD with all these songs?" And I never had an acoustic album, you know? So usually I say, "Okay, one song is on this album, one song is on that album…" But I think it might be cool to make - with original songs, new songs - but to make solo, acoustic, quiet album… It's something that I wanted to do for a long time, anyway.

R: Usually when you're writing music, do the lyrics or the melody come first?

A: Usually the melody. Like 90% of the time, I start songs with the melody, with guitar or whatever, but now, just like I told you, lately I've been writing lyrics a lot. I have like seven, eight, already totally done lyrics, finished, and I didn't have the music for it yet. I never did that before, so now it's kind of up to me to go about making music for those lyrics, and it's another way of working. I kind of like it.

R: It's always good to try something new.

A: Yeah, I guess.

R: A bit more of a technical question. Should Agua de Annique be considered as a separate band or just an alias for your earlier work?

A: Yeah, it's an alias, absolutely. It's what I did after The Gathering, starting a solo career. I should have not found a band name. I should have just gone as "Anneke van Giersbergen", made a bunch of albums so that everybody would understand, "Okay, that's Anneke van Giersbergen", so the thing that I did first after leaving the band is go solo, but with a band name. I think it was just… It's not such a good idea. In the end, I dropped the band name and I went along as "Anneke van Giersbergen" and then everybody understood, "Oh, it's her". I should have done that from the start.

R: Another one of your collaboration albums that I really loved is Verloren Verleden by Árstíðir. Can you tell us about how that record came to be and whether it's a one-time thing?

A: Yeah, that's a one-time thing. I wanted to work with… I toured with Árstíðir - they're a band from Iceland - we toured with Pain Of Salvation and Árstíðir together and I fell in love with their music and the guys were such good musicians. A lot of times when you tour together or when you meet a cool artist you say, "Oh, we have to do something", and surely after touring we really have to do something together, but a few years later, I was thinking of calling them and saying, "Let's REALLY do something together". We made this semi-classical album with classical songs but more mellow playing, and it did very well. We did an extended theater tour in Holland and it went very well. It was very nice.

R: It was amazing.

A: Thank you.

R: I was completely struck when I heard it.

A: Oh, wow. Thanks. Nice.

R: Back to The Gentle Storm. The Gentle Storm has a dual identity: one lighter and one heavier. Do you think this is an approach more bands and artists should approach?

A: Why not? I was so surprised that not a lot or nobody has ever done that before, but the same songs in a totally different way, written and produced, or orchestrated, actually, and it gave such a different atmosphere to the same songs, right? To put it on one album… The cool thing was that we put it out and a lot of people said, "I'm a metalhead, so I probably like the heavy album more than I do the soft album", and then they would go, "Oh, the soft album is really good", because there're way more instruments on that. Although it's a softer album, it was more orchestrated, it has more instruments - in a way, it was more intense and the heavy album was more energetic. But also the other way around: people who are not really into metal or prog but really like the soft stuff, they were into the heavy album. It was surprising to a lot of people and I really liked that people were so involved in that, trying out which ones they liked better.

R: It kind of bridged the gap between those two kinds of fans.

A: I think so, yeah. I like to think so.

R: Do you think any songs on Cities would work in a gentle version?

A: Yeah, absolutely. I think if a song is written basically on a guitar or on a melodic instrument and it's well-structured and it's a good song, you can make reggae version, you can make classical version, you can make singer-songwriter version. Sometimes we do an acoustic show and we do a few acoustic Vuur songs, so me and our guitar player, he plays this very well on acoustic guitar, songs of Vuur, so yeah, it's possible.

R: You previously mentioned you had the idea of writing music about places you've toured in before Vuur was formed. If you were to redo the concept with a different sound, how would it sound like?

A: Ha, good question. I might go… maybe it would be cool to do something opposite of what this is. And again, you can do so much with an acoustic guitar and maybe a few strings, like soft brass instruments, yeah, absolutely.

R: So just going to the gentle sound again.

A: Yeah, yeah. However, Vuur is Vuur. Everything I do heavy - prog or metal, whatever - I'm doing with Vuur, so if I were doing a concept album about cities in a soft way, I wouldn't call it Vuur. I wouldn't do it with Vuur.

R: Okay. I have only recently found out that Vuur originally included Marcela Bovio as well. What prompted her departure?

A: She was in The Gentle Storm, right, and that was the live band for the project, and it was a huge band. We had keyboards and Marcela, so it was a big band, and I thought The Gentle Storm band is actually Vuur, became Vuur, and she started out working with us towards the Vuur, building up Vuur, but in the process of recording the album, we really got into different ideas about creative aspects of the album and creative aspects of the singing on the album, and then, I think, more and more with her grew that she couldn't really… she wasn't feeling at home in the band, with this music, and she also works a lot on her solo stuff, so she released an album on her own, she's releasing a second solo album at the moment and she's working now with MaYan, this huge band of Mark of Epica, in which you can definitely see she's feeling at home there, so I think she made a good decision and she's doing her own thing now, which is going great.

R: Did she participate in the songwriting of the album?

A: No, I think also that's what she wanted, but I did my own songwriting for this album because I had a clear vision of what I was wanting to do, so there was no room for that, really, and I think that she wasn't happy with that, either.

R: Okay. Cities and The Diary are certainly the heaviest albums you've made since the early Gathering days, but certainly not the heaviest music you've been involved in. If I'm not mistaken, that honor goes to the Napalm Death song that you've guested in in 2006. How did that come to be?

A: (*laughs*) Yes. Yeah, that's a cool track. Even now, with you, people nowadays really comment still on it, because it was only one or two tracks on the album, but for them and that subgenre of the whole metal thing, never female vocals are used, right? People were surprised, but when they asked me - I used to listen to their music when I was younger and they asked me to participate in this song and I said, "Sure, man". I didn't think about, "Oh, but there's never any female vocals on this kind of music", or "But I've never done that before", where it's really heavy, but they made such a cool part to sing, and I thought it was very nice. Then after that people seriously, a lot of people commented on it, and they liked it, you know, so yeah, it's cool. I still get comments on it, which is fantastic.

R: It's really great when you get to break boundaries for genres.

A: Yeah, and without knowing it. I was just in it for, "Whoa, yeah, sure, this band is awesome. I'll do it!" And then I didn't realize what it was doing.

Photo by Jana Blomqvist
R: Speaking of guesting, you've performed with a lot of artists, but most of which are metal or some mellow folk rock-type stuff, like Árstíðir and Daniel Cavanagh. What other genres would you be interested in approaching, whether as a project you're involved in or as a guest?

A: You know, I'm not sure, because I think my favorite genres are… Now I'm doing the semi-classical stuff, also with Árstíðir, but also now with the orchestra, I really enjoy that. I'm not sure if I have any kind of specific wishes like, "Oh, I want to do soul or reggae" or something like that. Not really, not really. Maybe something like a little bit towards country music, soft country music. Something like that would be cool; I think it fits my voice. But I don't have any plans in that direction, anyway.

R: I was thinking maybe something like an electronic music album, or…

A: Mm-hm… Yeah, yeah, sometimes I work with dance DJs, so I'm kind of in there sometimes as well. I do really like it. It's a whole different way of working and writing.

R: So you've already worked with DJs?

A: Yeah, a couple, yeah.

R: Okay, I haven't really heard of that. You'll have to hit me up with what you did.

A: For instance, now there's an album out of Henry Saiz - he's a Spanish DJ, a dance DJ - and he made this album with tracks from all over the world and he does this European track. I'm on it. There's a lot of vocals on it and everything. It's really cool. Henry Saiz, check it out. It's really good.

R: Okay, I'll try to find it.

A: Yeah, do it.

R: That already answers the next question, so I'm going to skip it. You've been a musician for quite a while, but who are some of the artists that inspired you and made you say, "Yes, I want to make music"?

A: There's a few in the course of my young life. I always, since I can remember, I was into music, into dance, into art, any form of art, but music and singing was my big love from my young days. In the '80s, I grew up with Prince, Diana Ross, Madonna, those guys, but also Michael Jackson - true musicians like Prince and Michael Jackson who really inspired me. Then I got to know a little more heavy music like Queen, Faith No More, and then I discovered metal, and metal inspired me so much 'cause it's like heavy, dark music, with a lot of times really wonderful vocals, like Faith No More. Bruce Dickinson is a wonderful vocalist. Freddie Mercury, wonderful, one of the best vocalists ever. It's towards proggy, towards heavy rock, and metal music, I felt very much at home. I discovered metal when I was like 14, 15, and so I never turned my back on it, since I love it.

R: Your music has always reminded me of a blend of Dead Can Dance, Portishead, and Cocteau Twins. As far as I know, you've covered a Dead Can Dance song, but how familiar are you with the other two?

A: I should cover something of them. I think that's a great idea. It's also what The Gathering boys were very much into. When I joined the band, I got to know these bands because of the guys of The Gathering. They were heavily into this kind of music.

R: So how familiar are you with Portishead and Cocteau Twins?

A: Well, I do, I do know their albums. Especially when I was in the early days with The Gathering I got to know this music and I listened to it a lot, yeah.

R: Glad to hear it. How did your metalhead fans respond to your nonmetal stuff?

A: Actually, you know what, very good, because in general metalheads and - of course, metal has so many subgenres, there's so much different in this whole scene, so much variety - and in general metal people are very much open-minded, and prog lovers, prog metal lovers, they are open-minded. When I do my solo acoustic stuff, I play songs of The Gathering and heavy bands, but I do it on the acoustic guitar. People really enjoy it. Now also with this album and the shows with the orchestra, it's classically arranged like for a classical orchestra and symphonic orchestra, and people just eat it up, man, because they love the melodies, they love the songs, they're way into what it means in the lyrics, and I think that's what makes those guys and this audience - they're open-minded, and it's wonderful. I can do what I want, I can express myself creatively in a number of different ways, and people will always give it a chance, at least, so that's cool.

R: I'm glad to hear it. I was expecting there would be a bit of resistance to it. When I go to comments sections - I think Liv Kristine did some pop stuff as well, and their comments were like, "Where is my metal lady?"

A: (*laughs*) Yeah, exactly. But I have to say, I think Liv Kristine is also in one of the subgenres of metal where people are very much focused on this kind of female-fronted, certain kind of metal, and I think I'm also in metal, but kind of in prog, a little bit, and especially prog lovers are very open-minded, so I think I'm also lucky with the kind of metal fans that listen to my music.

R: You got the good ones.

A: Yeah! Absolutely.

R: Even though you did more nonmetal stuff than metal, you're still regarded as a metal musician. On, Ulver's first tag is "black metal", even though they haven't made a metal album in 20 years, and the same goes for The Gathering having their first tag as "gothic metal". Why do you think that is?

A: I'm not sure. I think people just want to tag a band. Obviously you start somewhere, but… Bands like Anathema or Gojira or Opeth, they're all bands that came from dark, doomy stuff and more and more progressed to more melodic or prog or whatever, and a lot of fans, they kind of grow with the band, but they still call it, whatever, "doom metal" or… because they're just used to it, because that's how they got to know the band. However, the band itself, the artist, they always want to progress, do something new just to grow creatively.

R: A few years ago, you performed with The Gathering again for their 25th anniversary. How was the experience and how is your relationship with the band members nowadays?

A: The experience was really nice, because it was very special that we did the two shows and people from all over the world came to see us, because they knew this was a one-time thing. It was really wonderful to play together and it felt the same as all those years ago, so it was really nice. Other than that, we are in contact, but not so much. We do go our own way and that's fine.

R: But there's no hard feelings or anything like that?

A: No, no.

R: Okay, I'm glad to hear it. In that case, I can ask if you know whether they have any plans to reunite. I know they're on hiatus right now and they've been for quite a while.

A: Yeah, I think they're writing new stuff, and obviously they have this wonderful new singer, Silje - she's great, great person and a great singer - and that's why we also wanted to do this reunion show, for it to be one time only, because if you do a tour or you do another song on an album or whatever, then in no time people think you're back in The Gathering and I really adore my solo career, so I don't want to confuse people with that. The Gathering is The Gathering and they have a new singer. I think they're making new stuff, and René has his own band. It's called Habitants; it's really good. So we're all going our different ways.

R: Glad to hear it. You've been playing The Gathering songs live, but you've also celebrated the music you've made, as well as the genre itself, during the The Sirens tour. How was that experience?

A: Yeah, The Sirens… I thought it was a very nice project, it was a one-time only live project. We had a huge set list of all of our old bands and all of our solo new bands, and we sang all this stuff together. It was really fun. It just surprises me that it didn't become bigger than it did, because I thought it was a genius idea to put three of the first female metal singers in one group, you know, but it did well. We did some tours and it was great fun, but it was one time only, yeah.

R: Do any of your son's friends or schoolmates know who you are? Does he get to enjoy saying, "Yeah, my mom is a rock star?"

A: (*laughs*) Yeah, he knows very well what we are doing. When he was younger, when he was very young, he thought it was really normal that your parents come on the TV and everything, and so when you get a little bit older you see that every parents have different profession, and not everybody goes out on tour or is on the television. For him, it's so normal, but sometimes he goes to school and the parents of his classmates, they realize that they know me, and then he thinks it's kind of cool. But other than that, he thinks we make a little bit old-fashioned music, because he's 13 and he has his own music preference and everything -

R: His own tastes.

A: But as a family we do work together. Finn, he's always going to gigs with us when he's on holiday or on the weekends. When he was younger, he could go on tour with us, so we would be always together. For him, it's a very natural environment.

R: What is some of the music that your son likes that you just don't get?

A: Nothing, really. I have to say, nowadays he's really into musical, but also film scores, film music, but also musical music. Anything with a lot of voices and a lot of melody and a lot going on he really likes, so he watches these movies like Les Misérables and The Greatest Showman and then he listens to all those songs on Spotify, he listens to that stuff, and I do really like it. It's very well-composed and fantastically sang music, so I'm happy he has such good tastes.

R: I'm glad to hear it. Me and my father, we like the same music as well. He's the one who got me into rock music.

A: Really? That's wonderful.

R: Yeah, it is.

A: Awesome.

Photo by Emilie Garcin
R: You're one of the most famous female metal singers in metal, but I could count on my fingers the famous female singers in metal. Meanwhile, the metal world is flooded by dudes, so much so that "female-fronted" kind of became a genre label in itself. Why do you think that is?

A: I think that progressive rock and metal music will always be male-dominant and I think it's supposed to be like that. There's a lot of testosterone. Again, there's a lot of subgenres, so there's alternative metal that has a little bit more melody, there's black metal, there's no melody (or less), and somewhere in the spectrum, female voices are perfect for the genre, and there are more and more females - not only singers, but also crew members, live technicians, but also instrumentalists or journalists or photographers… Lot of women in metal. However, I'm not sure why, but I think, in the end, it will always stay male-dominant, and I like it like that. I think metal needs masculine energy and I like metal at its best, when it has a balance of rawness, heaviness, darkness, but also light and beauty, like, for instance, the music of Devin Townsend is all those elements and sometimes uses the female voice to express a certain element of his music, and I think that's just perfect in metal.

R: Do you feel like you've been treated differently in the music industry because of your gender?

A: Hm… I really do believe that metal in general is a scene which is really, really respectful towards one another, towards its bands, towards the audience, towards each other, and also to the females. When I just started with The Gathering, there was not a lot of females, almost none. You had Doro, you had bands like Girlschool and Holy Moses and that thing, but there was just… I think you could count it on one hand. There was not a lot of people, almost nobody was being an asshole about it. They were just surprised, like, "Oh, so now I hear female voice in metal, okay", so maybe they were a bit skeptic, but never have I ever noticed abuse of male power in the upper class of the business side of the music, so in general I think we have this scene where people are just really, really respectful, and not every music scene is the same. There's music scenes - like in the dance and DJ world, amongst the fans there's a lot of drugs and that thing involved. People in metal, they just drink a beer and listen to music, man. It's the best scene ever. It's great.

R: Glad to hear it as well. To some less serious topics: you've been quite busy with your projects, but what do you like to do in your free time?

A: I love being outside. I love walking, riding my bike, being in nature-

R: Moving.

A: I do this not enough. I really miss it when I work inside the house or whatever. I love being outside, and I love movies. I love going to movies, I love Netflix evenings on the couch with my family, and I love listening to music. I love singing, so whenever I'm on the bicycle or in the shower or whatever, I sing anyway. I think that's the most important thing. And I love going out to dinner, sushi, you know…

R: If you had to go to Master Chef to cook a meal, what would you cook?

A: I'm not sure… Maybe something Mexican? I love Mexican food.

R: What other arts besides music are you interested in? You mentioned movies.

A: I think movies is the next thing, and then the visual arts, like painting and drawing. More than the 3-D art I like paintings. My son, he is doing a graphic school, so he is drawing a lot of 2-D and 3-D stuff, and now I kind of learn about this type of art a little bit more than I do, so that's cool to get into that.

R: Do you have a favorite painter?

A: In Holland, we have the classics, right, we have Van Gogh and Vermeer and those beauties from the past.

R: The Golden Age.

A: From the Golden Age, yeah. I think this style I really, really like, I really love.

R: If you could collaborate with any living director to create a music video for you, who would it be?

A: (*laughs*) Maybe… oh, it would be super cool to have the Coen Brothers do a clip. There will probably be some humor in it and some great camera work, so that would be cool.

R: The Coen Brothers?

A: Yeah.

R: What's your favorite Coen Brothers movie?

A: I like O Brother, Where Art Thou? One of the movies with George Clooney and all those awesome guys. I really like that one.

R: Okay. That's mostly about it for today. Thank you for your time and I'm glad I got to wait instead of quitting. Do you have any last words for your fans?

A: You've asked all the right questions, but I'm super excited about the live album. It's coming out 16 November and also on all the platforms, so I just hope everybody checks it out and celebrates 25 years with me. That's all I want.

The said live album

R: And if you could recommend us an album to listen to, what would it be?

A: The latest Gojira, man. It's genius.

R: Okay. Thank you for your time again, and see you soon.

A: Awesome. Thank you very much.

Posted on 16.10.2018 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.


Comments: 6   [ 1 ignored ]   Visited by: 318 users
16.10.2018 - 12:11
Cynic Metalhead
Nasha Vich Paisa
The album was…

He overcame his…

Did you miss something after that?
16.10.2018 - 12:57
Written by Cynic Metalhead on 16.10.2018 at 12:11

The album was...

He overcame his...

Did you miss something after that?

The interview was a conversation on skype. I didn't miss anything, she just stopped midsentence to rephrase.
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?
18.10.2018 - 20:25

I love The Gentle Storm so much, probably my favorite work from her. I do hope they do another one some day. Great interview!
26.10.2018 - 04:28

Such a sweet soul. Wonderful interview!
18.11.2018 - 15:10
Marco Darkdoom

Love U Anneke
26.02.2019 - 21:15

I was at SxSW in Austin back when Home came out (whenever that was) and The Gathering was playing a label showcase for The End. It was on a tiny patio behind a bar with Giant Squid, The Unexpect and Green Carnation. I was milling around doing some industry schmoozing when a door opened and Anneke walked outside. I literally swooned.

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