By Carl Begai
Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen is one of those artists that lives by the mantra “Sleep Is The Enemy.” When she’s not writing and recording new solo material, you can be assured Anneke is somewhere out in the world performing or working on a new project, which speaks volumes of her passion for her art. Case in point; this interview took place in the small Dutch town of Reuver a couple hours before she played an intimate one-off acoustic show at The Rock Station. Anneke didn’t have to do what was effectively an out-of-the-way the show for the exposure, and she certainly didn’t have to deliver anything special in terms of a set, but in the end the fans were treated to a show featuring both original songs and some (very) unexpected covers. Definitely something special for those lucky enough to be in attendance. For Anneke, another day at the office of her choosing.
“Somebody posted a message on my Facebook page recently saying ‘I’m going to see four projects from Anneke in six weeks..,’ Anneke begins, the two of us sitting in a small pizza parlour down the street from The Rock Station. “I only realized then how much I’m doing, because I’m doing a lot of it all at the same time. Sometimes I say ‘Oh, I can do this, I can work on that, I can join this band…’ and then everything comes together in the same two months. I have The Gathering show, The Sirens, this show tonight, so the amount of songs I have to learn is amazing.”
The Gathering show, which took place on November 9th in Nijmegen, was an epic event featuring present and past members uniting on stage for the band’s 25th anniversary. For the diehard fans Anneke’s performance was the high point of a reportedly brilliant show, and she admits it was a very special experience being with her former bandmates again, right from the first rehearsal.
“I wasn’t in contact with the guys in The Gathering for a long time, for years, but then Hans (Rutten / drums) and I got in touch. There came a certain point where I felt everything was okay but I didn’t have the guts to pick up the phone, but I eventually thought it was beginning to become really silly. I dropped Frank (Boiejen / keyboards) and René (Rutten / guitars) an email and they told me everything was fine between us, which made me super happy. The first time we saw each other again we went out for sushi and the second time we were already talking about doing the anniversary show. It happened all at once.”
“And the rehearsals were super weird (laughs). I did one rehearsal with them and we did songs like ‘Saturnine’ and ‘Strange Machines’, which I’ve been doing in my solo shows for the past eight years, but when we did the songs together the guys were playing them and moving the way they did 10 years ago. It felt like we’d played together only last week. We locked in immediately; it was crazy.”
While plans for The Gathering reunion show were taking shape Anneke was simultaneously working on The Sirens, a touring project also featuring singers Liv Kristine (Leaves’ Eyes) and Kari Rueslåtten (The 3rd And The Mortal). It’s a collaboration that began when Anneke approached Kari in early 2013 with the proposal of doing a duet for the Drive album. The song never saw the light of day, but an off-the-cuff discussioon with Liv that same year about touring together resulted in trio coming together as The Sirens. They completed the first leg of the tour in October, with a second set of shows on the go at the time of this writing.
“It’s gone really well,” Anneke says of The Sirens in general. “The concept is truly cool if I do say so myself (laughs), but live it really comes together. I think that more people would catch on to it if they saw the show. We have such a smooth show even though we’re playing songs from seven bands in total; The Gathering, Theatre Of Tragedy, The Third And The Mortal, our solo stuff, and the two songs we recorded together. I didn’t realize that either until a fan pointed it out (laughs). Vocally, if you like this kind of stuff it’s a treat because we sing lots of stuff together; sometimes the three of us and a lot of duets, and solo. It’s a real unity on stage.”
It was a no-brainer that the trio would record something together in preparation for the tour. Not doing so would have been a tragic waste of talent.
“One song (‘Sisters Of The Earth’) came predominantly from Liv and the ballad (‘Embracing The Seasons’) comes from me. Because we’re living in three different countries it would be time consuming to go back and forth via email with music and lyrics and build the songs that way from the beginning, but we did collaborate as much as we could. We didn’t exactly know how we were going to sound together on the songs, so it was a bit of guesswork saying ‘Okay, you sing this part and I’ll sing that part.’ It all came together really easily vocal-wise, though.”
Anneke can also be heard on the Devin Townsend Project’s new double album,Z² , released in November. She reprises her role from Epicloud (2012) and Addicted (2009) before that, but her performance isn’t restricted to the Sky Blue portion of the album (Part 1), which most people had expected. Townsend also welcomed Anneke into the world of Ziltoid The Omniscient for Dark Matters (Part 2), which comes as a complete surprise considering she wasn’t involved in the first record.
“I’m surprised too (laughs). I was at Devin’s studio for three days and I randomly sang everything he wanted me to sing. It wasn’t clear to me which somg was going where, but when I heard the whole thing…. I’m all over the place. He contacted me about doing the album and said ‘I might have one or two things for you…’ and I told him sure, whatever he wanted. He told me I could just do it from home and send the tracks to him via email because it wasn’t that much. A week later he said ‘I might have a bit more for you.’ And then he said maybe I should come to Vancouver after all (laughs). It ended up being three days, singing 12 hours a day stacking our voices up. Of course I was happy with that.”
“I was in the car the other day and I played the whole Z² album from front to back for the first time, and I’m so proud of my work with Devin. Not just the Z² album, but all of my work with him.”
It’s worth noting that it was Anneke’s cover of ‘Hyperdrive’, taken from the first Ziltoid album in 2007, that ultimately led to Townsend asking her to sing on the Addicted album. The rest is history, and it’s safe to say that, for many Devin fans, Anneke has become an expected part of future Devin Townsend Project productions even though they’re showing up to hear him first and foremost.
“I don’t know if he likes that,” Anneke says of her presumably expected involvement. “I actually think Devin doesn’t have enough of an ego. He’s one of the best vocalists I’ve ever heard. ”
And if all this isn’t enough to drive home the point that music is her life, she’s taken on yet another challenge. Dubbed The Gentle Storm, she’s working with Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen on a double album featuring songs done up in both metal and folk/acoustic versions, which will be followed by at tour as a full band and some intimate acoustic gigs featuring the dynamic duo.
“This is also from half a year ago, so I’ll try to make a long story short. Arjen stands when he works in his studio, and Rob (Snijders / drums, husband) is a big fan of The Police drummer Stewart Copeland, who also stands at his desk when he works in the studio. Rob sent Arjen a picture of that just for fun, but this put us in contact with him again and I mentioned that I would love to make an album with Arjen. Rob told him that, and Arjen had been considering what his next project was going to be, so it was like ‘Let’s do it!’
“It went really fast from that point. Within a few days he had the first song, which will be the first song on the album (The Diary). Arjen asked me to put some vocals down on it just to see where we were going with this, and I think he wrote something like 10 songs in five minutes after that (laughs). Seriously though, within a few weeks he was completely done with his composing. From there we came up with this huge concept of having this double album with the metal and the folk parts. The folk stuff is turning out to be surprsingly good, but both parts are equally important.”
“Arjen is great to work with because he’s so focused and so dedicated,” Anneke adds. “It’s wonderful to work with somebody who’s not distracted by anything and doesn’t have an ego. And he works really fast, which is great for such a massive thing. Some people will worry for two days about the proper snare drum sound, and Arjen just gets things done. I love that about Devin as well; they both work fast and know exactly what they want. I sing what they want, although I have more input with Arjen.”
By no means does Anneke have to take The Gentle Storm on the road, as Arjen’s projects sell well without the material being performed live. It came down to the very simple matter of wanting to do so…. even if it means dragging the admittedly reclusive Arjen out of the studio for more than a few shows.
“I love playing live,” says Anneke. “It’s the best thing for me. I love writing, I love the studio, but at the very top of the list is playing live. I love being with a group of people, and the thing about being a solo artist is I can choose the band members I want, I’m in charge of the terms of when and what and where, and that’s a good feeling.”
There’s no easy way to sum up Anneke’s career; this interview was just a drop in the bucket. Perhaps it’s best not to try considering she plans to continue making music and touring the world for many years to come. There’s no harm in looking back, however…
“This month it will be 20 years since I hit the stage with The Gathering for the first time. I’m fricking old,” Anneke laughs. “Maybe a career is just a train of decisions and choices, like ‘Is doing an interview with Carl Begai a good idea?’ (laughs). And of course sometimes you fall on your face. The Gathering is where I started the important part of my career and my life, and I’m so proud of that. I made the choice to leave that nest and do things on my own, and I’ve never felt that it was the wrong thing to do.”
Check out Anneke’s work via the following official Facebook pages:
Anneke van Giersbergen: The Rock Station – ‘Jolene’
The Gathering: 25th Anniversary show in Nijmegen, Holland – ‘On Most Surfaces’
The Sirens – ‘Sisters Of The Earth’
Devin Townsend Project: Z² – ‘Fallout’