Interview with Anneke van Giersbergen, November 2013
A LIFE IN MUSIC
Anneke van Giersbergen is probably best known for the 13 years she spent singing with The Gathering, a band which spearheaded the Progressive Doom scene of her native Holland. She has also sung and guested with countless bands and musicians, including Moonspell, Anathema, Napalm Death, Novembers Doom, John Wetton (Asia/King Crimson), Goeffrey Downes (Asia/Yes)…..the list goes on and on.
A few weeks ago Anneke released “Drive”, her 5th solo studio album, and soon after that I grabbed an opportunity to have a brief chat with her in the heart of England’s capital.
I believe this is not the first time you’re performing in London – for instance you recently sang with Devin Townsend a few minutes’ walk from where we are now. That gig has just been released by Devin as a live DVD...
Anneke: Yes, that’s right. “The Retinal Circus”.
What do you remember of that?
Anneke: It was awesome. The most spectacular thing I’ve ever done. It was like a circus with music and theatre all together and it was great. It also had Steve Vai who introduced the songs, which was fantastic. Devin played my all-time-favourite Devin Townsend songs and I got to sing on them, so I’m super proud of that.
That wasn’t the first time you had worked with Devin. You seem to share a solid musical understanding...
Anneke: Yes. Most of the time he needs female vocals for his music so he asks me. And I’m thrilled to do that. So yes, I’ve known him for a long time now and I love working with him.
Let’s speak about the current focus of your musical activities – the brand new solo album “Drive”. For a start, could you describe the album for someone who hasn’t yet heard it?
Anneke: It’s an Alternative Rock album and it’s very uptempo and very positive and at times even very euphoric. That’s what it is….there’s one ballad in the middle and the rest is, you know, all uptempo Rock. And I love it. It’s good energy. I had an idea in my head before entering a recording studio but you never know how things will turn out. However it turned out fantastic. I’m over the moon with it.
Your previous solo album, “Everything Is Changing” (2012), was probably even more uptempo...
Anneke: You think so?
Well, that’s the impression I had, yes.
Anneke: Well it could be... it depends on how you look at it.
Back to “Drive”…the lyrics seem to be quite personal. Aren’t you ever uncomfortable at having to air your private thoughts and feelings?
Anneke: If I would be I would never have done it. And that’s music – music is a personal thing…for me anyway. I just talk about what I feel and what I go through and that’s why it’s also honest music. It’s an honest album. I’m just speaking my mind and my heart. And there’s no other way for me.
With the reputation and connections you enjoy you could probably have enticed any musician you wanted for your new album. And yet the musicians in “Drive” are all local, including, of course, your husband. How come?
Anneke: My band is the best band in the world. We really searched hard to find these musicians because they are very skilled on their instruments and they’re also fantastic people. You know, when you’re in a band 90% of the time you’re not making music but socializing together…in an airplane, in a venue or rehearsing…so you have to go along well with your band mates.
How well the band members get along affects the interpretation of the music...
Anneke: Absoluely, yes. They have the best of all worlds – they are wonderful people and they have humour and they are also very good instrumentalists. So I definitely wanted to have them on my album because it makes the album richer because all their characters are on it.
On the subject of gigs... I read somewhere online that you had also been busking in London some time ago...
Anneke: Yes, that’s right, I was street busking with my guitar for an afternoon because I wanted to make a little video of me in London and I thought it might be cool just to go on the streets and play.
But I’ve done it when I was very young too. I played in the streets of my home town, just to get some money for the weekend. You, know, when you’re young, still at school, short of money...
Music always seems to have been part of your life...
Anneke: Always. For as long as I can remember. One of my very first performances was on the street.
Last February, you performed at the ‘Progressive Nations At Sea’ cruise. Such seaborne festivals seem to be a growing trend encompassing both eclectic genres and niche music cruises. What struck you most about that Progressive Rock cruise?
Anneke: Well, actually that festival has yet to take place – it’s happening next February. But yes, I’ve noticed it too. It’s a new thing in Metal. In Holland, Dutch folk singers have been doing it for about 20 years. They have been doing it on cruises in a part of Holland…but it’s actually an island where the sun shines in a particular way...I can’t remember its name right now.
Are you speaking about the ‘Northern Lights’?
Anneke: Yes, I think that’s the English phrase for what we Dutch call it. Anyway, people pay for going for a cruise for about a week where they also meet the bands. And I’ve been noticing this from Television too and now there’s something going on with Metal cruises, Progressive Rock cruises...
So you don’t only perform but you also interact more with the fans and I like it. Not only that, but you’re in a confined space for days so as an artiste you also get to meet other artistes. Lots of my friends are going to be there in February…Anathema, Darkane, Pain Of Salvation…all those guys. And I love that environment – it’s really nice to be there and to hang out with all those fellow musicians and maybe even do something together musically.
You’ve already worked with Danny Cavanagh and the guys of Anathema before…
Anneke: Danny and I have known each other for so long. We do lots of shows together. He’s a good friend.
It doesn’t surprise me that you two get along well, musically speaking, because one can easily draw comparisons between the music of Anathema, your own music and what you’ve done in the past.
Anneke: Yes. And with The Gathering, absolutely. I love their (Anathema’s) music, it’s so wonderful. Their last 2 albums have been fantastic.
I definitely agree. Since you’ve mentioned The Gathering, I hope you don’t mind me asking a few questions on that period of your life…
Anneke: No, of course not.
How had your ex-band-mates reacted to your departure from The Gathering 6 years ago?
Anneke: They didn’t like it. I realise that when a vocalist leaves the band there’s a lot of change and they didn’t necessarily want such a big change. So of course they had to adjust big time and that’s what they didn’t like, which is fair and logical. So when you go your separate ways it takes some time to reconnect.
Do you occasionally check what The Gathering have been up to since your departure?
Anneke: Yes, I do. And I love the new singer (Silje Wergeland). She’s wonderful – a wonderful person and a wonderful singer. So yes, absolutely, I often check the internet to find out what they’re doing.
The Gathering’s music could be quite experimental at times. How important is it for you to change and experiment in different musical paths and ideas?
Anneke: I like that. That’s why I like working with other people, with Danny and all those guys, as I told you earlier. I learn so much from working with other people, I think I become a better singer, a better musician, when I work with different people.
Back to the subject of your solo material…..your second solo album, “Pure Air” (2009), consisted mainly of cover versions. Why had you decided to do that?
Anneke: It was just a good idea at the time. So it became a sort of balled album – being mostly acoustic. Already by then I had worked with so many people. So I thought, why not capture those guys in one album, re-arrange the songs with Sharon (den Adel – Within Temptation vocalist) and Arjen (Arjen Anthony Lucassen – Ayreon mastermind) and others. It was kind of an in-between album (between “Air” and “In Your Room”). I love that album and it’s still doing very well actually – I sell it at shows and people talk about it. It’s kind of a special thing and I really like it because it’s not an album you’d spend years working on. You just do it in between albums and it becomes something really special.
Another album you’ve done was “Everything Is Changing”, which we mentioned briefly earlier on. That album indeed brought about a number of positive changes to your career: a new record deal, your participation in the Prog cruise, national music awards and so on. But what was the biggest satisfaction that that particular album gave you?
Anneke: Well there were 2 albums in between “Pure Air” and “Everything Is Changing”. There’s a live album [“Live In Europe” – 2010] and there’s “In Your Room” . Then came “Everything Is Changing” and that was a big change because I worked with a producer called Daniel Cardoso – he’s actually drumming in Anathema now. He was a mutual friend of mine and Anathema’s – in fact I met him at an Anathema concert. And he produced and we wrote songs for this album and there’s a very particular atmosphere on that album because we worked very intensively on it. It has a bit more doomy and gloomy atmosphere, there is also some uptempo stuff, there are also some ballads…so I kind of wanted to do a lot of things in one album. And I did and after that, for this album “Drive”, I thought: ‘OK, so now I’m going to take one chunk of that and make something deeper out of that. I wanted to make a big-sounding album.
What does music mean to you in general?
Anneke: That’s a good question. I would say ‘a lot’, because it’s a way of expressing my feelings and thoughts. You can do it in a diary but you also do it by writing music. So I love making music, I love singing, I love being on stage but [I love] also when I rehearse by myself with the guitar. Music is important to me.
Do you consider yourself to be a Metalhead?
Anneke: I think so. I love all kinds of music and I love Metal music. I love Rock music, I love Alternative music, I love Classical music, Pop music…I’m into all of those things. I’ve gained a lot of ground in the Metal world and I’m extremely proud of that so I hope I’ll stay in this scene for a long time.
The title of your latest album is, in my view, very interesting. Anneke, how do you keep finding the drive to make more music after so many years in the music business?
Anneke: It’s a good question because that’s what “Drive” is all about. It’s about driving a car but it’s also the drive to go ahead.
Anneke: Yes, exactly. It’s a good term for it. But you know what? I always have ideas. When I finish doing an album, the day after I finish I already have ideas for the new one. I have too many ideas.
I think really it’s all about having ideas and then finding the right people to create the music. And about having lots of fun and satisfaction doing that.
Anneke, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you.
Anneke: Thank you very much.
© 2013 (Chris Galea)
Interviewed by Chris Galea