Meeting an artist whose work over the years has had a profound effect on you on a purely emotional level is like a double-edged sword: a good experience can further enhance your appreciation of them, whereas the opposite can cause irreparable damage.
Anneke Van Giersbergen turned out to be what can only be described as the ultimate interviewee: accommodating, polite and sporting that radiant trademark smile of hers, the Dutch singer/songwriter provided not only a very in-depth analysis of her latest studio album “Drive”, but also shared her deepest thoughts and feelings about all those concepts and ideals which make life truly worth living.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
- Anneke, I am truly excited to be able to finally talk to you in person as I have been a fan of your work since the days of “Mandylion” (note: her first album as a singer of The Gathering). I have to say that, though I am a massive fan of The Gathering and really wish that you were still fronting that band, I both appreciate and respect your decision to follow your own musical path.
I like the fact that you are a daring artist, always willing to indulge in new styles and form of music knowing full well that most other artists, if they were in your shoes, would have thought twice before attempting anything similar in fear of upsetting their loyal fans.
You, on the other hand, have done all sorts of interesting things in the recent past: from contributing to albums of bands like Napalm Death, to performing more Pop-orientated material like that which is featured on your latest album “Drive”. Well done for that!
Anneke: Thank you – I appreciate it.
- I was listening to “Drive” once again on my way here to do this interview with you and I couldn’t help once again noticing what a natural sounding, heartfelt album it really is. What would you say was the motivation behind its creation and why is it released under your name rather than the Agua de Annique moniker of your other past solo releases?
Anneke: Well, choosing that band name (note: Agua de Annique) was a very silly thing and it was really throwing people off because…well, when I left The Gathering, the first thing I did when going solo was coming up with that band name, which is silly, and that is why I dropped it after a while.
The change that took place was only relevant to the choice of name – everything else is the same. But you know what: I just love music and I love singing and I like the pond that I use to go fishing to be a broad one. I love Metal music, I love Rock and alternative stuff but I also listen to singer/songwriter stuff, classical as well as Pop music. I have an eight year old child who listens a lot to contemporary Pop music like Katy Perry.
- So you find yourself being directly influenced by such sounds?
Anneke: I cannot really say. I mean, I hear a lot of different things and I also appreciate a lot of different things. I just like…I just like music! There are only a few genres that I feel nothing towards, stuff like Reggae. I don’t like Reggae music but I appreciate it. Every year I make a new album which is a chunk of my life.
During any given period of my life I experience and feel certain things which I then put down in my music and that’s what it is. I never think about…I do think about what the fans want from me but I can’t help doing what I feel that I have to do.
Sometimes people have to get used to certain themes and sounds that I indulge in but, on the other hand, people like the fact that I am honest about my music and that’s what they appreciate about me. Sometimes they might just skip an album and come back for the next one.
There are albums that some people love and other cannot listen to at all. So, they might end up listening to Slayer for a year and then come back for the next album and see what’s up with that (laughs). This album (note: “Drive”) is very high energy alternative Rock/heavy Pop stuff and it is heavily produced but with strong Pop elements and that is all the stuff that I love.
It has a good spirit and positive energy to it and people tend to like that especially more than trying to establish what kind of genre it belongs to. Also, it might sound a bit Pop-y but for the Pop world this is such an alternative album.
Material from this album is not being played on the radio because in Holland the radio does not play anything that has guitars in it. People sometimes accuse me of going for the easy thing and for aiming towards radio airplay not realising how things work. I mean, there album is being played on the radio but not in high rotation but that is fine because I play the stuff that I like which is really important to me.
Sometimes my music falls in between categories like it’s not Metal – it’s not Pop. I signed with Inside Out which is a Prog Rock/Metal orientated label and they love my material while you have other people saying “what are you doing on this label”? Well, “Drive” is heartfelt, honest and these are attributes that also characterise Progressive Rock. So, you could say that I either fall in between categories or that I stick my paws everywhere I can which is fine with me (laughs). I love it – I just love music!
You as a listener, I am sure you have a cabinet full of different CDs and you choose to different stuff according to what your mood is, right? It’s all good when a fan does it but when artists do such things they get frowned upon sometimes, but I don’t care – its fine. I mean, there are enough people out there closely following and supporting what I do and that is good…I am getting totally off topic here, right (laughs)?
- No, you are answering my question and adding things that I was planning on asking you anyway. The fact that you mentioned falling in between categories and having your fingers in many different musical pies can be either a blessing or a curse depending on how you choose to handle things. Looking at your current status, for instance: you are signed to a Prog orientated label, future plans include participation in Progressive Nation at Sea, sharing the same stage with bands like Transatlantic and Pain Of Salvation, and your last tour saw you opening for Daniel Gildenlöw with a beautiful acoustic set here in London. How do you follow that? By a high energy Rock/Pop album like “Drive”! Now, that is what I call variety!
Anneke: That is true and, for some reason, the same people that, when first listening to “Drive” go: “What??…”, they continue listening to it anyway and, in the end, they get to appreciate it.
All this album needs is for people to give it a chance and really listen to it and, if they do, what they will find out is that it contains good, proper, honest music! I have worked closely with all these bands that you mentioned before, bands like Ayreon, Pain Of Salvation, Danny from Anathema as well as Devin Townsend – all these guys are signed to this label and that is why I feel right at home there.
You know, with me everything goes in waves. I actually think that everything in life goes in waves. Before this album I was a bit more moody but, at some point, things changed and I felt more up-tempo so I decided to record no-nonsense, three minute songs that will have a strong drive in them and featuring only one ballad right in the middle of it.
The minute I finish recording an album I will say to myself: “Ok, so in the next album I should do this and this”. The idea of how “Drive” should sound came right after I finished “Everything Is Changing” and now that “Drive” is released I already know what I want my next album to be like.
I already have many ideas for super ballads and stuff that is a bit more layered. I had a really nice ballad for this album but it did not fit its up tempo mood. So, I already have some stuff ready and I also continue writing more. What I can say is that my next album will probably be a little bit less high energy as I feel the need for something else. In the days of The Gathering we did that thing as well – we never recorded the same album twice.
- And that is one of the many reasons why we loved and supported this band!
Anneke: Me too! You mentioned to me prior to starting this interview how much you like the “How To Measure A Planet?” concept and I love the fact that you love this album so much because, as you know, this was a double album – a thing that was totally strange back in those days. “How To Measure A Planet?” was so totally different to our previous work; we were very inspired and plenty of weird stuff was recorded for that album which many people did not understand straight away.
It was only half a year or so later that we started receiving e-mails and letters from people saying stuff like: “Ok, now I get it”. Change is something that people have to get used to. Like, when I left The Gathering, people had to get used to that very fact and that takes time. Only now and like the last two or three years I noticed that people realise that I am here for good. Right after I left The Gathering there were quite a few people who said: “Ok, she is not going to last!
She will make an album and then she will go back to them or she will disappear” – and lots of people do as starting again is a hard thing to have to do. You have to work hard and earn people’s trust all over again – especially people who have known you for so long as a member of a certain band. I had to work really hard in order to earn that trust back and, only now I have people saying: “Ok, so she made six albums alone so maybe she will stick around after all!” (laughs). Now I feel that people are more open and trusting towards me. I mean, I always have my loyal audience but I do try to grow and win people over. I love conquering new territories.
- That is what separates real artists from mere entertainers in my books. I always considered you to be an artist as you have never been afraid to follow your heart regardless of consequences. Talking about heart:one of the flag bearers of “Drive” is a beautiful ballad of a clear auto-biographical nature called “My Mother Said”. Now, part of the lyrics go: “The guys upstairs, they just don’t care”. Who are these guys and what do you mean by that? Is it not a reference to the divine as you would have used singular instead of plural, right?
Anneke: The ‘guys upstairs’ are the politicians. You know, my father is a working class hero and he hates all people involved in politics. The ‘guys upstairs’ are people who wear a suit and tie who control people’s lives or are the big bosses of companies like the ones that he used to work for.
Every time I sign a contract with a big record label he’s always like: “I don’t know; they will steal all your money”. He’s like that – he’s very protective of me and he doesn’t trust anybody who’s wearing a tie (laughs). He’s a carpenter and loves to work with his hands. He can build old-school looking, beautiful stuff and everything we had in our house was by him. He doesn’t trust easily “those guys upstairs” and I understand why that is but I know better.
I am an intelligent person; I can make decisions based upon research and calculation. Whenever you sign a record deal you will of course lose money but these people will make you money as well, providing that they do their job properly. And it is my job to make them do their job properly.
I try to explain to my dad how this whole business works but he still comes up with: “Oh no, honey, they will steal everything from you” (laughs). I mean, we all know that things like this can happen, and of course they do, as was the case with The Gathering but it is exactly because such a thing happened to The Gathering that I learned…but he doesn’t trust that – he’s always ready to fight the big bad guys.
- As a father he’s naturally protective over you. My father in law is the same. If he hears my wife cough over the phone he’s capable of taking the first plane available to come here and make sure that she’s alright.
Anneke: (laughs) Yeah? But it is good: it would be horrible if they didn’t care at all, right? I always smile a little bit when he says such things and sometimes I avoid giving him every little detail because he will simply go out of his mind (laughs)!
- Since the time you left The Gathering, two very important things happened. First and foremost, you became a mother and, secondly, the music industry, as we know it, changed the way it functions and the way it is willing to fund and support artists. The former has undoubtedly changed your outlook on life and what constitutes a priority these days, but that must also have affected the way you approach your art and how you express yourself as a result, right? How would you distinguish Anneke anno 2013 from the Anneke who recorded albums like “Mandylion”?
Anneke: Well, a lot of the innocence is gone…well, actually it is not gone. When I look back at those days, the “Mandylion” days, and I see footage of myself on YouTube… I actually never look back on those days. I always think: “Ok, that’s that – we have to move on!” We always have to look towards the future.
Every now and then you will see some stuff with me in it and the first thing I would think of would be: “My God, such innocent eyes!” I was twenty years old and I did not know anything so it is cool to realise that I’ve learned things along the way.
Having said that, I did like those innocent years so maybe nowadays innocence is simply overpowered by wisdom – wisdom achieved by the birth of my child as well as from what has happened through my involvement with The Gathering and my solo stuff.
Every day I become a little bit of a new person and sometimes even within the period of a week you may have so many life lessons from your kids. You learn so much from kids and they are so pure and so wise – you simply have to listen to them. They are not spoiled or rotten yet with things and people from outside planting thoughts into their heads and emotions inside them.
When you listen to those kids, kids like my boy who is eight years old and who has the most wonderful take on life, you can learn some really important things. I mean, some things are really important in life, whereas others are not important at all and, like you said, it is all about priorities.
Like, when I’m away from Finn (note: Anneke’s son) my time has to be spent really well, otherwise I would have wasted precious time and also be away from my kid. When I am with my kid, my time should be well spent because he takes whatever I give him and makes it part of his life which, of course, is a big responsibility.
That, more than anything else, is what I have learned – to spend my time wisely. I never waste a moment! Even when it comes to resting, something you do need to do… I cannot just sit and watch telly or something similar as I believe that there is always something more important that needs to be done. We can always use our time to do something really useful, right? Sometimes, of course, it is useful to do nothing but it is hard. I should rest more often (laughs).
- You already mentioned that your aim is to present something different with every new album. That need has also found an expression in the way you look: the way you present yourself visually to your fans. Is this a conscious thing; part of a strategy of sorts – part of a process of freshening things up?
Anneke: I think so but it is also a girl thing (laughs). Every now and then… (laughs). You know, guys wake up in the morning and they look like they do while we need and hour to do ‘this’ and ‘that’ because otherwise we look not that nice, you know?
- Oh come on – that is very hard to believe, especially when it comes to the two of you (note: my wife was also attending the interview).
Anneke: Yes! Well, she (note: looking towards my wife) is a natural beauty – I can see that. You don’t need much. I need to do things like a hair cut but I like change. For instance, with a high energy album like “Drive” at hand, you don’t want to look moody wearing black clothes. I thought: “Ok, I need the red hair, the white face and the blue background” which I went for. So yes, I do combine ideas like that and I was always happy to go for different hair colours.
- You know, when I saw the picture that you used for the cover of “Drive”, the first thing that came to my mind was that it would be influenced by 1920s/1930s style of music which is obviously not the case.
Anneke: Really? That’s what other people said to me too! It was definitely not a conscious thing but that is a reaction I also got from other people.
- Is it indicative of what the next album is going to sound like (I laugh)?
Anneke: No, no (laughs). No! I like this time period but I wouldn’t make this kind of music (laughs). You know, it was Danny Cavanagh who told me exactly the same thing (note: great minds obviously think alike!!) but it was a totally unconscious thing. Wow!
- No one knows what is happening inside any one of us on a subconscious level.
Anneke: And nobody knows what time will bring, right?
- How very true! With regards people’s reaction towards “Drive”: what is the feedback that you’ve been getting from the label? Are you happy with it?
Anneke: Yes. I obviously know that with songs like the ones in “Drive”, which aim more towards the Pop side of things, people will need time to get used to them and find their charm. A lot of people have liked its energy and we have had some fantastic reviews, even better than the ones we got for “Everything Is Changing” (2012).
Maybe it is because it is such a clear album as everybody knows what is going on after listening to it a couple of times. Then, of course, there are layers of music that you get to discover in time. If you listen carefully you will discover more stuff – stuff that some people get while others don’t get. Now we have to make sure that we build on that by bringing the music closer to people through our live performances and that is our new task. So yeah, I am over the moon with the response we’ve had so far. It’s great.
- What I like about it, and many people seem to share my thoughts on this one, is that though it is far removed from what the more Rock/Metal orientated of your fans are used to, it has a warmth and sincerity that urges people to embrace it. Again, I truly appreciate and love the fact that you follow your heart when it comes to writing music and I will forever be supportive of that, regardless of the end result.
Anneke: It is a difficult world and I understand if people are sceptical towards certain decisions that I make but, on the other hand, even if I knew what it is that most people would like to hear from me I would not try to make it.
- I guess that would be a forced thing and things like that hold no real value, right?
Anneke: That is true! I always tell people from my label and everybody who has an idea of what I should be doing that: “I have no idea what people want and, even if I do, I would not make it if it does not come from my heart as it would not be honest and people are not stupid”. In the end, people are not stupid and they will drop anything that is not good or honest enough.
So, I always try little things here and there but I always find that I should come back to doing what feels right to me. Maybe that will mean that there will never be a huge audience out there for me but people like you who say to me: “I have been following your career for a long time” will always be there for me.
I met this morning on the ferry a couple who saw me a few days ago but, by coincidence, were on the same ferry to England with me and they told me that they gave birth to their daughter, who is now eight or nine years old, while playing “Travel” (note: from The Gathering album “How To Measure A Planet?”).
They were playing that song while the woman was giving birth to her girl under water! They played our music while giving birth to their child and that is, to me, the best thing in the world! I don’t need to play for 7,000 people to get satisfaction: all I need is 150 people but who are really into my music and it’s not me – it’s the music! It is the power of music that matters and I am simply very lucky to be able to make it, you know?
- I was going to ask you whether it is anything specific that you still wish to achieve as an artist but what you just described is the ultimate goal in life. That’s a perfect ending to an interview if there is one. Anneke, thank you very much for your time. I want to wish you, from the bottom of my heart, much happiness and success with what you do! Good luck with further promoting “Drive”.
Anneke: Thank you, that’s so nice. I will see you later at the show.
Gig review (October 2013)
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