Anneke Van Giersbergen, carried by joy, towards the future

Anneke Van Giersbergen is undoubtedly inhabited by a cheerfulness that drives her productivity to run full speed. Drive, her new album, thus reaches for the stars with a disorientating positivism. Especially when it is compared to Everything Is Changing, a much darker album which was released last year. This “sawtooth” pattern defines the singer whom, on her two previous efforts, opposes bipolar impressions. It has also come to notice that the Dutch singer is nowadays comfortably integrated to the rock/metal scene. This unavoidably allowed her to release her productivity and inspiration. After all, when everything seems to naturally move forward, why should she refrain herself and not take advantage of the situation?

In the following interview, the always cheerful and enjoyable singer tells us about this album and its deeper meaning. The opus perfectly represents the current state of mind of the singer who is convinced that the best is yet to come. This, even though Anneke Van Giersbergen has already written some important pages of her own story either with her previous band The Gathering, or through musicians she’s met.

« It’s not that I think everything from the old days is good, not at all. I love technology, I love computers and I love social media. But if we can combine the best of both worlds, I think that’s great. »

Radio Metal: This new album is much more positive than Everything Is Changing, and In Your Room was also very positive. It really looks like, after a light album, you need to go back to something darker or more nostalgic, and vice versa. Is this new album a sort of reaction to the previous one?

Anneke Van Giersbergen: Yes. Usually, exactly like you said, there’s a certain moment in time when you feel a certain way, and you express that on an album. When the album is done, when I hold it in my hands, it’s out of my system. Of course then the tour starts, and you reproduce the songs, which is great. But you laid your egg, it’s out of your system, and usually, I immediately have the ideas for the next album. When Everything Is Changing was done, I thought: “Now, the next album should be like that”. And that’s usually what happens. You know, I’ve toured a lot, I’ve met a lot of people; I’ve seen new cultures, listened to new music, and I just put everything in that album. For this one, Drive, I wanted to move forward, set a goal and enjoy the time spent getting there. And that’s the kind of album I ended up with. Also, in terms of production and song structures, I thought I should have ten songs, three minutes, clear, transparent stuff, heavily produced. Beautiful melodies and heavy production. Everything that I love is in it.

Can we expect something darker for the next album, then?

Probably! (laughs) That’s usually what happens. But maybe I’ll stay in my “moving forward” vibe and make another one of those. But usually, all my albums are different from each other. You never know exactly what will come out.

This album comes only a year after Everything Is Changing and is only 37 minutes long. It looks like it has been written and composed very fast and you wanted to capture a very spontaneous feeling and make an album that was easy to digest. I was listening to the album just this morning, and it was such a nice way to start the day. It almost makes one want to dance!

Nice! I have the same feeling when I listen to it. When I was writing the songs and when we were in the studio, I had the same feeling. It made me happy. The songs all have this foot-on-the-floor beat, and it’s driving. I like driving my car and listening to this kind of stuff. And I wanted to have a short album because I wanted to make things clear. I wanted all the songs to be good. I didn’t want any skippers on it, songs that make you think: “That’s lower quality”. And I wanted to have the ballad in the middle. My favorite albums all have ballads on number 5, so I wanted my ballad on number 5! All the songs are happy, and nothing went wrong with writing and recording. Sometimes you have to do a lot of stuff again, you need to rewrite and remix and re-record. But nothing went wrong, so we were way ahead of deadline, for once! The record company was getting nervous, because everything was finished, and they were like: “Oh, we have time!”

You said about this new album that you wanted it to be recorded with a group of musicians in a studio. Did you want to have a more organic sound?

Yes. The previous album was very much recorded on a computer, with digital effects and instruments. It was done a lot via e-mail and Internet. That’s a great way of working, by the way, because it’s fast, and you can lose stuff and have it sent back. It’s great because you don’t have to spend two months in a studio. For this one, I thought I had the perfect live band. The guys are so good to work with that I wanted to have them on the album as well. So I wrote the songs with other people, and also with our guitar player. Then, when they were almost finished, like in demo form, we went into the studio and put them together, as a band, with the producer. A lot of the spirit, of the melodies and of the solos comes from the band. And this is great, cause it makes for a rich album.

« I like this vibe, this up-tempo rock thing that we’re doing right now […] But I also plan to make a more alternative, moody, Dutch-language kind of album. »

Do you think that nowadays, music albums tend to lack this natural sound?

I’m not sure if they lack it. But there are so many possibilities to record an album. Everybody can record nowadays: if you have an attic, a guitar and recording equipment, you can make an album. There are lots of homemade albums, which are very organic, and you have all the big productions, which are more about digital stuff. And it does cost a bit of money to go in a studio with a band, and it takes time. You have to pay for hotels and food, so it’s more expensive to record with a band in a studio. But it’s still happening. There was a time when everything was digital, and now we’re going back to more organic ways of doing things. 20-year-old kids are listening to things like The Beatles, Bob Dylan or Neil Young again. We’re going back into that, and I think it’s really nice, because it’s all about lyrics and melodies again. I think it’s a good thing. I think the classics will always come back.

A bit like people going back to vinyl instead of CDs?

Yeah, there’s a growing market for that. It’s not huge, but you can see people getting into that stuff again. It’s not that I think everything from the old days is good, not at all. I love technology, I love computers and I love social media. But if we can combine the best of both worlds, I think that’s great.

The album is called Drive. Does this album talk about what drives you in your life and in your career, like the song “Shooting For The Stars” suggests?

It does. I strongly believe in shooting for the stars, in defining goals and trying to reach them with everything you can, everything you have. With positivity, and with drive, and with strength, and with whatever you do best in your life. I think it’s extremely important. The album is uppy and light, but it has serious topics and very personal feelings on it. I like that combination: when you listen more closely, there are lots of layers there.

The album also features a song called “Treat Me Like A Lady”. Is it harder for a woman to be recognized in the world of music?

I think so, yes. Still nowadays, women anywhere – in politics, in whatever scene or lifestyle, and in metal music – have to be a bit stronger than men. The world started out thinking men are superior, so sometimes we have to teach them a bit of respect! But having said that, I think I, as a woman in the metal world, am very, very respected. People are very respectful to me, and they were in the beginning, when it was still a bit strange to see a lady in this scene. They really embraced me as one of their own. I never had too much trouble being a girl in the metal world. But sometimes, you know, guys can be asses! (laughs)

« I never had too much trouble being a girl in the metal world. But sometimes, you know, guys can be asses! (laughs) »

Is the song “My Mother Said” actually dedicated to your mother?

Yes. It’s an actual conversation that I had with my mom, maybe twenty years ago. At one point I also had that conversation with my dad. Now I’m a mother myself, and I understand what my mother was talking about. So only now is the time to put it into a song. I remember it was a very specific conversation, that changed me as a person, and in terms of my relationship with my mom. It’s a very personal song.

“Mental Jungle” has oriental influences. What’s the story behind this song? Where do these influences come from?

The guy who sings on this song is a Turkish singer called Hayko Cepkin. I used to work with him in Turkey, and also in Holland. He’s a friend of mine, and he’s a fantastic singer. I always wanted to have him on an album. I was writing this song with Punto, our guitar player, and this oriental thing came up. I immediately thought it was a song for Hayko. I love his traditional Turkish vocal style, and in his country, he’s huge, he’s a rock star. He makes rock music with metal influences in a traditional Turkish vibe, with lyrics in Turkish. I love that stuff, so I wanted him to do something like that on this song. It turned out fantastic. It’s one of my favorite songs because of him. It’s a very different song on the album, and it was very difficult to place it. You shouldn’t start with that song, obviously. It should be in the middle, or at the end. I think I put it right. It’s like a little surprise!

The album ends with a song called “The Best Is Yet To Come”. That’s a strong statement. Do you think, contrary to some The Gathering fans who regret the fact that you quit the band, that the peak of your artistic career is yet to come?

Always! I know how people feel. Things change. A lot of things change when you leave a band like that, which you have been a part of for thirteen years. Things change a lot, and sometimes people don’t like change too much. But I think if you look forward, the best is always yet to come. If you don’t have that goal, then what’s the point? I also make a point of enjoying what we are doing here, right now. And it’s also very important to live and be conscious about the road to the goal, to enjoy it and to learn from it. But until the day you die, you should think the best is yet to come. I want to think that, every year, I improved in everything: being a mother, singer, performer or songwriter, being a good friend. It keeps you going, right?

At the end of that song, we can hear you breathe, just once. What’s the meaning of that? Are you crying, or exhausted?

I’m exhausted from singing! The producer left it there when we were demoing. We felt it fit the mood of the song, because it’s like: “Woooooow!” I sang at the top of my abilities, high and loud with my chest voice. When I was done, I knew it was a good take, and I was relieved. And I was also laughing a little bit. It was just a good atmosphere. It’s funny you should hear it! Nobody has asked me about it!

I think it’s very noticeable, actually. It’s like: “Phew, I’m done!”

Yes, it’s done! And the whole album is done! It was a good thing to leave it.

« I think if you look forward, the best is always yet to come. If you don’t have that goal, then what’s the point? »

You’ve played a few acoustic shows back in January, on a tour with Pain Of Salvation. How did you come up with this idea?

It was Daniel Gildenlöw’s idea. He wanted me and a band called Arstidir to join him and his band on the road. He had a very specific idea to recreate a living room on the stage, and he wanted us all to play and sing together. Of course they were the headlining act, but that way we would all kind of influence each other’s set. He wanted it to be a musical evening, as opposed to three bands playing in a row. The concept was very much a success. It was such a lovely tour because of that, it was really nice. The guys from Pain Of Salvation have been around for so long, and we knew each other, but we’d never really toured together. That was an awesome experience.

Despite a very intensive solo career, you took part in Devin Townsend’s very special show in London in May. What was this experience like?

That was fantastic! I’ve never experienced such a crazy show in my life! Everything was full-on: the music, the atmosphere… There were dancers and people spitting fire, and so much more. Everything was linked together by the voice of Steve Vai, and it was just a spectacular show. I was proud to be a part of it. But the crazy thing is, usually, when you make a huge show like this, like a circus or a theater, people practice for a year. They put it together, and they rehearse. We did everything in two days! It was just amazing. And now there’s the DVD coming out. You know Devin, everything he does is crazy – but good crazy! I’m just proud to be on this thing.

Since you seem to be a little hyperactive artistically, can you tell us what you’re planning to work on next?

I already have ideas for the next album, but of course, everything can change within a half year. I like this vibe, this up-tempo rock thing that we’re doing right now, so maybe I’ll make one of those albums again. But I also plan to make a more alternative, moody, Dutch-language kind of album. But if I do that, I’ll probably translate it and make an English version as well. There are Dutch artists I’d really like to work with, and I love singing in my own language. So maybe I’ll explore that a little bit. After a year of rock, I’ll probably want to be a bit moody again, but I’m not sure.

It’s very strange, because you never hear Dutch bands sing in Dutch. A lot of German bands sing in German, and many Norwegian bands sing in Norwegian, but it’s not the same for Dutch bands. Why do you think that is?

I think it comes from history. Dutch people have always travelled, because we’re a seafaring people. So there are so many influences. I think it’s a cultural thing and a historical thing. But also, I think we’re not very patriotic. We have a few fantastic Dutch-language bands, so that’s really cool, but it’s not such a big scene, like here in France, where everything is in French. There’s a huge difference indeed. But I also like to sing in my regional language – I come from the south. It becomes more personal to sing in Dutch and in my regional language. So I’m going to exploit that a little bit.

Interview conducted face to face on August, 29th 2013 by Saff’.
Questions: Metal’O Phil.
Transcription: Saff’.
Introduction: Alastor

Anneke Van Giersbergen’s official website: www.annekevangiersbergen.com

Album Drive, out since Septembre, 23rd 2013 via InsideOut Music.

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