By Carl Begai
People that remember her as the vocalist for The Gathering wouldn’t think so given the melancholic nature of the band’s music, but her latest solo album Everything Is Changing is a rock oriented journey fused with generous doses of pop music, light-hearted and almost playful in its execution. It was therefore appropriate that this interview took place on a warm and sunny day outside the venue where she was performing that night, ultimately delivering a show reflecting her upbeat state of mind. It was one of several gigs lined up for the remainder of 2012, and while Anneke refers to her schedule as being “murderous” on occasion, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It looks very busy, and we are very busy, but when I was with The Gathering we toured way more than I do now. Usually I don’t tour more than two weeks at a time. It’s a balancing act. Every Sunday that we’re home, we (Anneke and husband / drummer Rob Snijders) look at this kind of mathematical schedule and try to figure out how the hell we’re going to fit everything we have to do into one week (laughs).”
Although she left The Gathering in 2007 there are plenty of people that only clued into Anneke’s work as a solo artist with the release of Everything Is Changing. She has in fact been quite active since her departure, releasing a total of four albums under the Agua de Annique banner before deciding she wasn’t doing herself any favours using a band name. It turns out that while the group dynamic was a comfort zone for Anneke, it was also something of a crutch and often confusing for the fans.
“That’s exactly why I dropped the band name. Nobody got it. And the thing is, it was only a name because for some reason when I left The Gathering, the first thing I did was come up with a band name even though I was going solo. I think it was just because I was used to being in a band. I hand-picked the people who work with me and it’s my band, but I’m a solo artist, so it’s a curious thing. Maybe it was a case of being a little bit shy at the beginning, because to go out under your own name is tough. I also thought that the name Anneke van Giersbergen would be a tough name for people abroad…”
Maybe so, but it also holds a lot of meaning for a lot of people.
“I know, because people already know me from The Gathering, so when we were touring places like South America the promoters told me they had to explain that Agua de Annique was really me as a solo artist. It took me four records to figure out that it would be better if I dropped the band name in the interest of clarity. The band members are all the same, but I didn’t know it was going to be that much of a difference. It was just a band name but now people are much more responsive.”
“It was kind of a step, because when I dropped Agua de Annique I had no idea it would feel the way it does. Now people see me, and I know that if I do well or I don’t do well, it’s all on my shoulders. It was the same way before, but it was the fucking name that brought so many consequences with it (laughs).”
By all accounts the fans have responded well to Anneke putting her name at the top of the marquee. It turns out that many of the diehard fans from her days with The Gathering have stuck around, taking her ventures in Agua de Annique and her “new” solo career with varying degrees of acceptance regardless of which name the music is sold under.
“I realized when I left The Gathering there was a vast time period when people sat back and waited to see what I came up with,” Anneke recalls. “My first solo album sold very well because those people were curious, but then I did some pop-oriented stuff and was kind of all over the place, and that’s when the fans watched to see where I was going (laughs). A lot of people told me straight to my face, ‘Ah, one day you’ll go back to The Gathering; just go back to the way things used to be.’ But, there was a point a little over a year ago where everyone realized, ‘Oh, she’s staying where she is…’ and then they kind of embraced me.”
“I was in The Gathering for so long that I grew up in that band. I learned and did everything there, so to make the switch and go solo is not only tough for me but for the fans in my age group. I can imagine that people have a hard time getting used to something changing so dramatically. On the other hand, it’s just music, so if you listen and like it you come to the shows, if you don’t you stay home. It’s really that simple.”
“I’m doing lots of different things with different people,” she adds. “I’m doing a children’s play (entitled De Beer Die Geen Beer Was in her native Dutch, based on the children‘s book The Bear That Wasn’t written by Frank Tashlin), I’m doing a rock show, and my solo shows featuring just me and a guitar. People accepted that idea much quicker that I thought they would.”
Of course, a large portion of the metal world is currently waiting to find out what Anneke’s new collaboration with Devin Townsend (ex-Strapping Young Lad) has to offer. More on that later, suffice to say that getting the forthcoming Epicloud album done while honouring her other commitments proved to be a taxing adventure (refer to the aforementioned “murderous” schedule).
“I was with Devin for three days in Canada, then I came back to Holland, slept, and in the morning I did two children’s shows to 160 kids each. I hadn’t even gotten over my first jetlag and I had a second one (laughs). The theater show is based on a book so I get to act, which is something I had to learn to do. It’s a show that suitable for kids my son’s age (6 and 7 years old), and it was a new challenge. It took me a year to put it all together, and it’s totally different from what I’m doing here at the venue tonight. Here, all I have to do is go on stage with a microphone and a guitar. The theater show…. Jesus, you have to remember your lines and stand in this or that light, take three steps, say something else…”
“It’s crazy but it’s do-able,” Anneke continues. “My big challenge in life it to say ‘no’ once in a while. Everything is great and I love doing all these things, but my husband gets mad at me sometimes because he’d like to see me take a rest once in a while (laughs). I love life and I’m so proud and happy to be a musician… which is also killing me sometimes. I do have to choose what I do more carefully because I’m not 18 anymore, I have my son, I have a husband, so there’s more to be responsible for. When I started with The Gathering all I did was get on the tour bus and waited to see what would happen next.”
With regards to her age, Anneke’s voice has held out supremely well with the passage of time, which isn’t always the case amongst singers. If anything her voice is stronger than it was when she made her debut with The Gathering in 1995.
“I think that may be the case,” she agrees, “but maybe more with character than physically. I have to be careful about my condition because my instrument is in my body, so it’s a big challenge for me to get enough sleep and eat properly to take care of my voice. When I’m on stage, sometimes I start out being tired, but the energy that I get from the crowd gets me going. I suppose it’s like fooling my body in a way (laughs). But, if I sleep and eat well I’m 10 times better.”
As mentioned, Anneke recently completed recording her parts for Canadian vocalist / guitarist / producer Devin Townsend’s new album, Epicloud. It’s the second time the pair have worked together, with Devin having conscripted Anneke in 2009 for his Addicted record after seeing a YouTube clip of her performing the Ziltoid The Omniscient track ‘Hyperdrive’ live in concert. It’s one of those artistic relationships that, according to both parties, has it’s own untouchable corner.
“I love Devin Townsend like my brother.” Anneke say without missing a beat. “He means so much to me musically and as a person. In his music he has the perfect symbiotic relationship between heavy and melody and true emotions and feelings. It’s just so pure and so heavy. When I was singing for the Epicloud album I told him I could hear West Side Story in the music. It’s so fairytale-like but so damn heavy. I love it.”
“I almost cried when I sang in his studio,” she says of Epicloud. which is due for release later this year. “There was one song that I did and he listened back to it quickly, and I was really quiet while he did that. It almost made me angry because it was so good but he didn’t say anything (laughs). He realized that and said ‘Oh, um, you know how I am with compliments…’ and I was like, ‘Devin, this has nothing to do with compliments. This song is out of this world!’ It’s just… fucking hell, Epicloud a classic and it’s not even out yet. It made me angry because godammit it was good, and Devin was just ‘Oh, well, um, cool…’ (laughs). I know Devin’s music but I haven’t heard anything like Epicloud in my life. I’m so proud to be involved.”
This isn’t just heat of the moment lip service. During the Epicloud recording sessions back in April, Anneke took time out and posted a brief update on the proceedings via Facebook saying Devin “made me do 20 hours of the loudest and most gorgeous vocals I’ve ever done.” Not a statement to be taken lightly from a critically acclaimed singer.
“Yeah, because I never say that,” she laughs. “I’ve never said that in my life. It’s funny you noticed that because I thought about it when I was writing that post, and it’s Devin making me sing the stuff. I’m doing what he wants me to do, so if he says ‘Stand on your head naked in a corner and sing’ I’ll do it because that’s what he means to me.”
Devin has a reputation of being a taskmaster of veteran drill sergeant proportions in the studio. Soilwork frontman Björn “Speed” Strid went on record with BW&BK in 2002 following the vocal recording sessions for the band’s Natural Born Chaos album, saying that Devin pushed him well beyond his known limits and “almost killed me” in doing so. Anneke understands Björn’s experience, albeit at a less musically volatile level.
“He did it on Addicted and even more on Epicloud. I know my own voice pretty well, but Devin made me do things I didn’t really know I could do. He asked me to sing in various ways and I didn’t really know how, but I tried because he asked me to and, fucking hell, I can do it (laughs). I can reach this high, I can reach this low, be this loud or this soft. Devin gets out every aspect of my voice.”
In an interview with Devin back in June 2011, he discussed his plans for Epicloud and laughingly explained that “hopefully I’m going to write all the heavy and hard singing parts for Anneke.” In actual fact he sings with her on the album as they did on Addicted and for the select tour dates that followed.
“Devin’s voice is just amazing,” says Anneke. “When we were in the Epicloud sessions he asked me about doing a quiet vocal and showed me what he wanted, and I said we should do it together. So, we were at the mic together, and having him singing next to me without the surrounding sound of a live show… he scared the hell out of me. I think I have a strong voice, but he was so loud that I couldn’t hear what I was doing (laughs). Devin said ‘Okay, I’ll stand on the other side of the room…’ and he still scared the hell out of me. He’s my hero.”
As such, Anneke readily admits that working with Devin has definitely influenced her own music.
“He’s influenced me quite directly, actually. For some reason, what Devin is doing in big I’m doing in my own little world. I’m very inspired by people and especially by Devin in being able to mix heaviness with pop elements and beautiful and bright things, and there’s also a dark side to it. I think that’s the way we are as people, and because we have so many sides why not put all that in one song or one album or one show? That was my idea for Everything Is Changing, and I’m very proud of it. But Epicloud, the magnitude of it is out of this world.”
– lead-off live Anneke van Giersbergen photo by Caroline Traitler. Used with kind permission.
– live band photo by Carl Begai. Used because it’s mine all mine.
– Devin Townsend photo by Erich Saide. Used because the record label said it was okay.
For all things Anneke check out her official website here.