We were thrilled to interview Anneke van Giersbergen, a lady with a voice like a bell and a personality that matches the smile that seems to permanently inhabit her face. Known from The Gathering and collaborations with Anathema and Devin Townsend among others, she went solo in 2007. Chatting with us just before her show in 013, and a few days before she set off to the USA to be on the Progressive Nation at Sea cruise. We spoke with her of the cruise, audiences, how metal never lets you go and of being a mother and a performing artist.
You’ve been invited to go along with prog nation at sea, a cruise, with pretty much the biggest talents in the Prog genre. How excited are you?
Totally excited, there are some really big names, and also some huge heroes of mine, who I’ve been listening to since I was little. For instance Adrian Belew and I’ve followed him since I know him, he worked with Zappa and King Crimson and I listen to all that stuff. I think he’s one of the best singers in the genre and of course best guitar players. So yeah, I’m just looking forward to watch all the shows. And I get to play myself, And it’s on a cruise and it’s good weather. So all these cool facts make me not sure what to expect. I have no idea how this is going to go, or how much fun it will be. It’s a whole different thing so I’m looking very much forward to it.
I know you’ve worked with Devin Townsend who is on the billing and you’ve worked with anathema in the past, who are also going. Are there going to be any collaboration on the boat?
Well, officially I’m playing with Devin Townsend and I’m playing my own solo set two times. If Anathema ask me do anything of course I will, and I think Danny is going sing a few songs with me in my solo set. Cause it’s you know, old friends. It should be a logical thing to do. It’s going to be good.
Pretty much abroad, Europe and us, you’ve got pretty high esteem, while here in the Netherlands we’re pretty much just peeking a round the corner with some thing you’ve done. Do you notice the difference?
There’s a difference in all territories I’d say. And it comes with waves. With The Gathering in certain places they were bigger than I am now and in certain places they were smaller than I am now. And also I notice differences in the audience, like in Europe I have a much younger crowd, new kids discovering the alternative genre and myself. And in the Netherlands when I’m on the television like at de Wereld draait door, there are people who discover me there. People who never listened to metal or rock before but they do like this. They’re people who listen to mainstream music but they do like alternative rock, so they like this. So you have the old gathering fans, the new fans and the very new fans, who I call office ladies, the spunky office ladies with the red hair and who have kids.
With The Gathering you were catering to an alternative metal crowd, while with your new things it’s not really metal anymore. Is The Gathering still looming over you or has it grown into its own thing with a separate existence?
It has grown into its own thing, but my past is always with me, because it’s part of me. I actually like that very much. I like people who listened to The Gathering in the old days and they come check me out now as well and they like the new stuff as well. I really really like that, because everyone is always in transition anyway all the time, in terms of what they listen to and what they feel like. So I am always evolving but the audience is as well. And I love The Gathering music and I love to play the songs. And sometimes I still make dark music and sometimes I make a pop album. And that’s the cool thing about being solo, I can make whatever. Whatever comes to me I can actually make happen, and that’s nice.
We’re more metal than rock oriented at Ghost Cult Magazine and there are probably plenty other metal oriented magazines that keep an eye on you from when you were in The Gathering. Metalheads don’t really let you go ever do they?
No. I made one album, In Your Room, that was quite a dry pop album, although if I listen back to it, it’s quite alternative and has quite a few dark moments. But lots people said this was quite light to their taste, yet they still come out and see my show and they still buy the album, because actually they are just curious about everything. And what greater audience can you wish for than that they are curious? And then they have their favorite album. Some people really like the pop album, or the ballad album or a bit darker. And now this one, drive, is very up tempo pop-rock. But it’s very heavy in production. I noticed people in prog think this album is so much fun. It is well played it is good quality, it has good vocals, they all love that. But it’s all three minutes songs, so it’s not necessarily what they always listen to with the Pink Floyd stuff and the long songs. But they say it gives them high spirits and energy, so they take along the three minute songs as it gives them energy. And I have no idea when I write songs and record, which group of people will like it and who will not like it. For some reason the prog world has embraced this album. It’s great!
Was it Drive or the one before that was nominated for the award in the Netherlands?
No it was the one before, Everything is Changing, and I got quite far. I actually got into the top three. Of all the albums of hugely famous artists in Holland, so I was totally surprised by it.
That’s great! You also did the title track for a Dutch movie, was that on the last album or before it?
It was actually a separate track, a cover of john legend – please baby don’t fall in love with me it is called. The director actually wanted me to sing particularly that song so I recorded it for him. It was great, to be in a movie right? Like you have the last scene and then the song starts, it’s fantastic.
So would you like to do more things like that?
I would love to! Because it’s tailor made music, this is the movie, this is how it’s supposed to be and supposed to sound and you kind of tailor make your version of in this case a cover, for this movie. And I kind of like to think like that. “OK how can we get this effect, what instruments do we need, how should I sing it? Should I sing it loud and intense or softly.” It all has to do with this particular last scene of the movie. Musicians never work like that when they make an album, it’s kind of the other way around. We just do what we feel like. Unless you make a concept album.
Apart from a musician you’re also a mother, and a touring musician as well. We’ve seen with a number of other big female fronted bands and solo artists as well that this becomes a problem. You however seem to be combining the two rather well, how do you do this?
I often wonder. I think actually every working mother has the same challenge. Because you have to divide family time and work time. As we own our own business, we can work 24 hours a day. There is always work. So we have to make a conscious choice every day. Now I’ll stop working, or start working. Now I’ll take care of the kids. On Sunday we usually make this mathematical schedule of the rest of the week, and each week we say “how the hell are we going to do this?”. But we make it work every week, and I love the two worlds. I love being at home, but when I’m home a long time I get anxious. Then I play a lot I love to be outside and play a lot and I love to be on the move. And after a tour I go home and I love the balance between the two world. Because I know people who only tour, and don’t have a family or kids. And they get a little estranged and detached from the world. They don’t have many real friends anymore. There are bands who can totally do that, but a lot of people I see sort of become stranger, and being a mother it really grounds me. Because you have to be up at 7 and you have to make dinner. So you can’t be a diva or anything. It’s two worlds that are great together. It’s a challenge physically, because I never sleep.
Especially when you’re on tour for a longer time, because your husband, Rob, is in you band as well, how do you do this, do you take your son with you?
Sometimes, when we tour in nightliner buses in Europe. We have a buss with a bed, you you have your little habitat outside the venue. Then we take Fin, our son, with us. He gets homework from school, so he studies every day. Usually tours are not very long, maybe three weeks or so, and he comes with us. So I have Rob and Fin my son, and then I don’t really have to go home, because I have home with me. And then I’m totally happy playing and being with them it’s all I need. But there are a lot of times I’m away on my own or when I’m on the road with rob but with out fin. We have good people who take care of him then, but we always try to combine it. He is quite used to it as well.
The only thing I can ask for is any last things you’d like to share?
I am writing new stuff, and I have no idea where it’s going. I’m always inspired right after I finish an album. I always think okay, now I’m going to go here, or there and I’m writing stuff. We’ll be touring in Europe and South America, maybe North America until the end of the year. Not everything is set in stone yet but we’re working on some tours that will be playing around the year. That’s the round we make, writing and touring.
Words and live photos by Susanne A. Maathuis