Polite, talkative, pleasant, full of positive energy…Anneke van Giersbergen is what most music journalists would describe as the perfect interviewee.
Her passion for the music she’s involved in is such that getting her to talk about “The Diary”, her latest musical collaboration with legendary musician/songwriter Arjen Lucassen, was one of the easiest tasks ever assigned to me.
It was at the backstage area of north London’s The Relentless Garage that I spoke with the best modern day female Rock singer about her latest musical escapade, her lack of attraction towards Reggae music and her plans for another solo album that is bound to lead towards the heavier side of things.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis
- Hi Anneke. I cannot even begin to describe what a great pleasure it is for me to be able to talk to you again, seeing as I believe that you are a very accommodating interviewee – one that is always willing to share interesting information with our readers. This time, our focus will be on “The Diary” – a product released under the moniker The Gentle Storm which features collaboration between your good self and Arjen Lucassen, of Ayreon fame. Now, in the review I prepared for this album I used many positive adjectives, yet I feel that there are not enough ones in the English language to describe what an amazing album “The Diary” really is. You must be really chuffed by its overall reception, right?
Anneke: Yes, I am actually, and thank you for your compliments! I am thrilled because, as you are well aware, I do a lot of different things and everything I work on seems to be going really well. I am always interested in knowing what people think of my music and how many are following me on these musical trips that I undertake and let them cherry-pick stuff from those of my projects that they like the most.
For some reason, when Arjen and I were working on this album, we both had a very good feeling about it and that was based on nothing, because this was just another collaboration to which I gave my full concentration. As far as this project was concerned, I knew straight on that I would turn out to be a really good album and it is probably this positive approach I had from the word go that helped shape the album.
A lot, of course, has to do with Arjen because you know very well what a great song writer and composer he is…yes, I think that the album’s energy does come across as there are many people that are picking up on it – even people that are not on the Metal scene which is interesting as the ‘storm’ version of the album is quite heavy.
It is not heavy in the vein of Gorgoroth of course (laughs). It is not typical heavy music; it has quite a few melodic soft parts and it has plenty of emotion. A lot of people that follow me around as a result of my Pop-Rock stuff they also like “The Diary” very much because it is a good and honest album that has a film-like quality that these people are attracted to. So yes, we do attract fans from a variety of different genres…sorry; I know that this is a very long answer (laughs).
- I am not at all bothered. The more you say the more info we get from you and that is exactly what I am here for (I laugh).
Anneke: Good (laughs). I am actually thinking out loud here as I am still quite surprised to find that people catch on to the album so much. I am, as you said, chuffed about it.
- Well, you have, of course, worked with Arjen on two Ayreon projects before but this, to me, is the most important of your collaborations in the sense that it is a full on release.Arjen is well known for his ability to get the best out of the musicians whose services he has employed over the years but, to me, “The Diary” is the first album where I feel he has taken full advantage of your pretty diverse vocal capabilities.
Being a massive fan of The Gathering, I can see quite a few similarities in terms of execution and feel between these songs here and those you recorded with the Rutten brothers. The info I was provided by Inside Out seem to suggest that Arjen was the main composer of these beautiful songs but I was really wondering to what extend this is an accurate description, as I detect a lot of your song writing style in them.
Anneke: Your observation is pretty accurate. In general, it was Arjen that composed the music and I worked mainly on the lyrics but, at some point, we interfered with each other’s tasks, if you will. We both came up with the concept so we talked a lot about things, passing ideas back and forth which is also what’s so cool about this project.
Like you say, it’s really the product of a collaborative effort where we pretty much used each other’s strengths. Arjen could compose whatever he liked because he knew exactly what my voice is capable of and the other way round.
Arjen has made such good compositions that I had to make my vocals really melodic in order to give justice to the story line. That is the reason why he did not invest too much in synthesizers on this project – vocals were always the focal point.
You see, because we know each other so well, we knew what we could really get out from each other and I am really happy that this is something that you have managed to spot. This is an album we created by using the best of our abilities.
- You have used professional assistance in order to create a historically accurate concept for “The Storm” – a concept that described the era of Dutch exploration and the antics of the V.O.C. (Dutch East India Company) in Southeast Asia during the 17th century. Listening to a song like “The Moment”, though, makes me feel that what we have here is more than an attempt on your part to introduce emotion to a specific concept. This story feels quite personal somehow.
Anneke: Well, the thing about the story is that is indeed set in the 17th century, which was indeed a long time ago, but it deals with pretty basic, personal issues. When we watch movies about the 17th century these days, we treat that as a booming fascinating period without realising that there is not much separating people who leaved through these times with ourselves.
We all experience feelings of love, sadness, lust – all emotions which characterise the story in “The Diary”. The protagonists in the story write letters to each other and these letters could take up to six months to reach their final destination.
During these six months the sailor could have been dead, and our heroine would have no way of knowing that something like this had happened through lack of immediate communication. So feeling of loving and longing are more intensified because of these communication issues – that’s the key to the story.
The way people approach and live their lives has changed a little between then and now – communication has changed massively. I read a lot of books and similarly-natured sailing letters in preparation for this album as many such documents have been saved over the years, especially in countries like England.
Movies present us this era as something quite grandiose but these sailing letters are all about family life, about people sending little packages containing simple things to those they loved. Reading these letters made me feel so connected to these people that lived so long ago…it was just so real!
These people would do the exact same things that we do in our daily lives, only now we communicate with things like WhatsApp and in seconds a message from here arrives in Japan or in America! Feelings were primarily the same, only intensified, that’s why it feels so personal – I could totally get into it! It made me feel all these times that I missed Felix (note: Anneke’s son) when I am touring extensively.
- You know what; I had a feeling that this would be a reason but I wanted to hear it from you. There have to be times where you are sitting inside a tour bus in the middle of nowhere thinking to yourself “what is my little boy doing now”.
Anneke: Totally, especially when I am ill. When everything is going right you’re kind of living in ‘the clouds’ so to speak. The other day, I was on tour feeling ill and weak and I was almost crying when communicating with him on Skype (laughs).
- I trust that this story will appeal to every working mom around the world.
Anneke: I am sure it does (laughs).
- Apparently, the situation you found yourself going through is what apparently characterises men over here and is described as man-flu (I laugh).
Anneke: Really? Then I am more like a guy when it comes to that (laughs).
- …and the similarities end there (I laugh).
Anneke: It is funny to realise what a similar feeling it is. The only difference is that, in case of a major disaster, I can get on a plane and be home in no time whereas these people couldn’t. It was knowledge of that fact and reading these books and sailing letters that made me feel so connected with these people and that reflects in my overall performance.
- Well, as we all know, the album contains two different versions, the “gentle” (soft) and the “storm” (hard) one and I will be very honest with you in saying that, the once I listened and digested the “gentle” version of the album, I could not see appoint in having the “storm” version there at all – a very strange thing indeed as I grew up listening to Metal and electric guitars are heavenly sounds as far as I’m concerned.You see, I truly felt that it was the folkier elements of the music that best complemented the themes and emotions that your voice conveys. Admittedly, this all changed the moment I gave the “storm” versions a few careful and more devoted spins as, I know realise, this version adds a totally different set of emotions to the story.
When the idea of working on this project first occurred, did the two of you already know that you would end up working on these two different version or was this a decision taken along the way so to speak?
Anneke: Actually we built up these two versions simultaneously which is a very interesting process indeed. Now, I totally hear what you’re saying here.
There is a surprisingly large amount of people who say something similar to what you have just told me, things like “I’m a Metalhead so I am happy to listen to the storm version because it is actually much richer in terms of texture and that makes it more intense than the storm version”. These two versions offer two completely different angles in terms of appreciating the story as the lyrics, feelings and emotions are basically the same.
You see, sadness is sadness, right, but one can express sadness in different ways. Sadness can find expression in an inward way or in a more extrovert way like the need to shout “oh, I’m sad” (laughs).
When Arjen was making demos for these songs I was not yet part of the picture. He created two or three very basic songs and he thought “I’ve got the inspiration but I don’t know what to do with it” so he asked his audience for advice and a lot of people asked for a Folk-style album. It was as a result of him not being able to choose between a Folk and Rock version that he decided to do both.
- What a nice problem to have, right (I laugh)?
Anneke: I know (laughs). Now, with the benefit of hindsight, Arjen said to me “I am not going to do this thing ever again” (laughs). It’s such a bundle of work! Instead of making a heavy album with Folk influences, which has been done many times before, he opted for this unique approach.
Then, when I became part of the picture, I e-mailed him about something random and on the bottom of my e-mail I said “you know, we should do something together again” to which he replied “I am currently working on some songs” and explained the idea of the two different versions of the same album to which I said “Ok, let’s do it”. So, these ideas of Arjen’s were the very core of “The Diary”. From that point onwards we simultaneously built up these two versions, as the both work on the same tempos and melodies.
- True, however there are a few subtle differences in the way you approach your vocals between the two versions – something that one can identify after a few careful spins.
Anneke: You’re right. We were recording two songs a day and by that I mean two times two, of course. So we took things easy in order to achieve maximum effect. We would start with the softer version, as it is especially nice for the voice to get into, and we initially thought that we could definitely copy-paste some parts as the lyrics, tempos and melodies are basically employed in both versions.
We did copy-past a few choruses and background vocal themes but then it all came down to performance, like we said – being sad in two different ways or being in love in two different ways. So, in the end, I recorded every little thing I did over again, the background vocals, the harmonies – I did everything twice as the approach to each version is so different. It was not only a question of singing louder or softer but the way the story was supposed to be told.
- Quite an unfair question, I know, but is there a version that you personally prefer?
Anneke: Ah, you know, at this particular point in my life I like more the “storm” version because…I love both, they are equally dear to me as they feel like my children, but when I said to Arjen “I want to take this project on the road, I never doubted for a second that what I wanted to do live was the “storm” version. In my personal career I did some solo stuff but, since The Gathering and collaborations with Devin Townsend, I have never done anything remotely heavy.
This time I thought “I can go and make a heavier show” and that is why tonight’s performance is billed Anneke van Giersbergen presents The Perfect Storm. We will do songs from this album, we will do The Gathering stuff, we will do Devin stuff, a few Ayreon classics and we will have a short acoustic section right in the middle. I always do that because I love the short pure stuff and I also love the more cinematic big stuff (laughs).
- It must feel great after all these years to be able to get involved in so many different musical projects. Surely, your musical CV has to be one of the most diverse around and that is a result of the unique ability you possess where you can sing pretty much any style of music you set your mind into. Is there a style of music that you feel would definitely not suit you as a singer?
Anneke: Maybe reggae (laughs).
- Something tells me that you would excel to that as well if you chose to.
Anneke: It’s just that I really don’t like reggae, not that I cannot sing it (laughs).
- Ok, I guess you know best. The touring cycle for the promotion of “The Diary” is relatively short. After the culmination of this tour, what are your plans? The press release provided by Inside Out clearly suggested that if the album received positive reaction you may contemplate releasing another one under the same moniker. Is that indeed a possibility?
Anneke: Totally! We are already thinking about the sequel (laughs). I have to say that the process of creating an album such as “The Diary” is pretty intense and I believe that Arjen needs his “black hole” and needs to do something else in between and that also applies to me as I am already working on something.
I am doing a classical theatre production for Holland and March 2016 I will record an album with classical arias. I don’t know how this is going to turn out and if I am going to tour that project extensively but I am going to be touring the whole year with The Gentle Storm and that will cross over a bit into 2016.
I will probably make another solo album and the feeling I’ve got at the moment is strong. I did the Pop Rock stuff and it’s now out of my system; now, I want to make a more intense album. It is maybe after this solo album is release that we can start working on a sequel to “The Diary”.
This approach is working out great; we love it and we love making music together Arjen and I and I certainly love playing such material live, so why not? I think that it’s very logical for us to make another such album together – I don’t know if that is going to be a double album, though as Arjen is pretty fried at the moment (laughs). Having said that, in a year’s time he might have renewed energy so we’ll see.
- Anneke, I want to wish you the best of luck with all your pretty interesting projects – I promise to keep a close eye to everything you do. Enjoy tonight’s show; I am really looking forward to it.
Anneke: Thank you. I hope you like it.
Album review (The Gentle Storm)
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