Anneke Van Giersbergen - Interview

In a few days the new album "The Darkest Skies are the Brightest" by Anneke van Giersbergen will be released. Musically, it may not be the most fitting album for MetalBite, but nevertheless, Anneke has a past rooted in heavy metal, so it is quite justified to mention her here. That being said, there are many people around me who love her for her time in The Gathering and also her other albums. And let's be honest, who wouldn't accept the offer to have a conversation with her via Skype? Anyway, I took the opportunity and had a fantastic interview with her about her solo career, her past, Corona and Dutch delicacies.


Hello Anneke, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview. How are you doing?

I'm doing fine, thanks!

With "The Darkest Skies are the Brightest" you are releasing your 23rd studio album. Is there a certain routine creeping in, or is it still something new and special every time?

For me, it's always a new experience because every time you have different circumstances with a different inspiration that puts you up writing these songs and also with different people, in the studio or as a producer. So, every album for me is a unique experience.

Your new album doesn't really have much to do with metal anymore. Is that a conscious difference or did you choose the instrumentalization because it rather fits the lyrics?

I was actually getting ready to write a new metal album for my metal band Vuur. But when I started writing, there were a lot of things going on in my life which inspired me. When I began to write it, stuff that was soft and acoustic and emotional was coming out, songs and lyrics and I had to change because I couldn't lie in writing a metal album and whereas my feelings were totally different. I really had to listen to what my inspiration is otherwise. It wouldn't be true, it wouldn't be honest and initially I thought I could put a metal riff underneath and it would be a metal album according to my plans, but that would be a lie, so I had to change the plans.

You wrote very personal lyrics for the album, especially in 'My Promise', and I guess 'Love You Like I Love You' which are about your marital problems that have finally been resolved. Is the album a kind of self-therapy? Reading the given information, one might think you wrote the album primarily for yourself and your family.

Yes, indeed. One or two years ago things started to go south a little bit in my marriage but also in my band Vuur that I created and there were a lot of things that were going on at the same time. Me and my husband had a bit of problems but in our individual lives, we had also a lot going on. At one point it was just so much that writing songs in my case was therapeutic. I felt the urge to write about that and all these things going on in my life. I usually write about things going on in my life. Sometimes it's sad, sometimes it's happy but in this case it was very specific. It definitely helped me, also to focus on the things at hand and to work on the difficulties by making this music.

I read that you went into some kind of lonely shack and wrote your songs there?

(Laughs) Yeah, at the point where I was deciding like I have to write this album – it is going to be a solo album, it is going to be an acoustic and solo album, I said I don't want somebody helping me with the music. Just me and the guitar, so the best thing is to go away. Every once in a while I go away for a week in a little house near the woods. And there was nothing. There were woods and a farm and there were chickens (laughs) and that was it. So, you were all alone. I took my computer and my guitars with me and I started writing. This helped me very much to focus and to not be distracted by a lot of other things. No sleep, no food, just write, write, write and record the demos. Normally I wouldn't do this because I don't like scary houses near the woods. I don't like being all alone, so my inspiration normally comes from travelling and from other people, other cultures and touring, and now it was just me which was weird but it was really good for me and to be honest I think I will do it again. Not when I'm in trouble but just when I go out and write on my own just to focus. I really liked this experience.

Hey, that sounds like a nice place for my next vacation in the Netherlands! The video for this was recorded in your favorite pub in Eindhoven. How do you come up with such an idea? The ambience is pretty cool!

Yeah, isn't it? It's an old factory from Philips and it's just a few blocks away from our home. So, we went eating there all the time when it wasn't the lockdown. Now the restaurant was free, and it wasn't a problem to record the video there now. That was super cool, all the old machineries there and it's very huge, it's super high and all these windows – it was very nice to record the song there. This song is a little bit of a dark song but there are also sparks of hope in the song, especially in the chorus. I wanted to have a light, big open place to record the video in.

That sounds great! We have such locations here in Dortmund, too but mostly they are used as cultural locations and not as restaurants.

We are always quite jealous of the German clubs because you have a lot of clubs in old factories. Old buildings that you don't tear down but of which you make use of. Where you make these awesome clubs for us to play in. Nowadays more and more of the places are coming in Holland where these old and beautiful buildings turn into something new. So, Dortmund has a few of those places and we really love them.

Besides the problems already mentioned, what were other sources of inspiration for the album? 'I Saw a Car' is a pretty enigmatic title for me.

(Laughs) Yeah, I know it's a little bit of an odd one out, isn't it? There are a few songs that are a little bit off topic. 'I Saw a Car' for instance is a song I wrote in a pandemic situation. It's about that we have to survive together, and we have to work together in order to make it. And this song I wrote later in the status of the recordings and I was in the studio and had a hotel room near to the studio to work for a few days in a row. On one evening I thought, I'll just write a new song. I had this little guitar, the guitalele, with me. It's like an ukulele and it just flew out of me and then I thought that this is a weird song. But it makes me happy and when our producer Gijs (Coolen; Michael) heard it in the morning he said "Hey, that makes me happy, too, so let's record it and see what happens!"

The arrangement and the rhymes somehow remind me of a children's song. Would you agree?

Yes, exactly! And that makes it fun because I know a lot of kids like this song! It was really fun to record this song because we did a lot like body percussion and claps and so on. I think this song is a kind of life song.

Would you say that the album is an easy listening album, or should one be in a certain mood to listen to it? Personally, I think that the album grows from run to run and tries to give the listener hope and positive mood despite many melancholic moments.

I think a song like 'I Saw a Car' is just easy and catchy but there are songs that have multiple layers and it could take some time to get into them and especially like you said that you have to be in the mood for some songs. For sure.

What does the album title "The Darkest Skies are the Brightest" mean? My interpretation is that you only clearly recognize the really important things in life when you have reached a low point?

Absolutely. The thing is, we all have our challenges in life, and I supposed to try to avoid the challenges, to stay away from them. If you face your challenges and you're trying to head on and get through them you'll come out as a wiser person and maybe you've learned something, and you'll find a little bit more of this inner peace or happiness we are looking for. But we need this little bit of darkness to get to that point, to that point of healing and happiness in a certain way. You're very right about that. I didn't invent it but it's every time and anything that goes on in my life, I kind of think yep, we have to go through it in order to grow as a human being.

Are there any particularly important, stand-out songs on the album for you, or is each one something special for you?

I think so because I wrote more than 20 songs for that album, usually I write more than 20 songs for my albums and I really picked the best ones and the most important ones and the ones that express the best how I feel at that moment in time. But like we discussed, some songs are lighter songs like 'Keep it Simple' or 'I Saw a Car' but they are equally important because we need a little bit of balance between heaviness and lightness. The album needs a little bit of a light and hopeful touch so I would say they're all equally important.

Do you have plans to go on tour with the album as soon as the situation allows it again?

I do have plans because you have to have plans and we don't know if anything is going to happen. But really serious and proper touring plans will be for 2022. Until that time, I hope we can do some small things, in the summer outside or after the summer but no huge tours yet. But I am working on something really special as a streaming event around the release date of the album, a little bit later. I'm really planning something nice for that. I think streaming events and live playing will eventually go hand in hand. And maybe we're gonna continue making use of that. So, I will find out how it works with that streaming stuff and making something really special for it.

Haha, so you could ask the guys from Asphyx how it worked. They did a streaming release party for their new album a few weeks ago and after what I heard it must have been pretty cool!

Oh, really? So, I have to check it out!!

Maybe you cannot hear it anymore, but I have to ask though….do you often think back to the time when you were with The Gathering?

(Laughs) I know you were scared to ask me about that…no, it's no problem! No, I think about the guys and The Gathering and our music and it every day because every day you're online you see something about The Gathering and people who liked it. Sometimes people say, "go back to The Gathering" and sometimes people just say "oh, I like this song". Every day I'm confronted with those days and to be honest I'm extremely proud and happy with that period because I learned a lot and we did everything together and we made some beautiful music. On the other hand, I'm extremely happy with my solo career which is already about 13 years now. With this career I can creatively do what I feel so that gives me a lot of freedom and so I'm happy with that. I'm the one who is looking forward but if people ask me to look back, I'm not sad about that either.

Are there any plans to continue any of your old projects? I thought The Gentle Storm was pretty cool.

Me and Arjen, when we have contact, we always talk about The Gentle Storm. And the release of this album is something, we're both super proud of. But it was a huge chunk of work. We wrote and recorded it in over a year and we always say that we have to make part two, but the stars have to align. Arjen releases Arjen projects and I'm doing this so there is no time, but we would love to make part two if we can get together at one point. And as far as Vuur goes, it's my project and I've started it actually because I wanted to have a moniker like a band name to do anything, heavy, prog or rock. What I want to do is to release it under the name Vuur. That can be anything with anybody, I can write songs with people from the scene and I can release it under that name. So, it's still there and it's just on the back burner while I focus on this album and later if we can go on tour, I will go on tour extensively on my own with the guitar.

Will you have a guest appearance on a new album of a metal band again soon?

Maybe, haha? It's always something cooking. I'm always asked, and I have so many wonderful friends in the scene who make fantastic music and sometimes when they ask me when they release new stuff I say yes to anything they want. But, yeah, there is something cooking….

In Eindhoven, the city where you live, there were quite violent protests against the Corona policy of the Dutch government a short time ago. Did you notice anything about it?

Yes, it was very strange because people have a big mouth in Holland but in general we are very laid-back people. But the riots lasted I think for three days all over Holland but in Eindhoven it was really bad, and I live near the city center between the Sixt center, the police and the hospital and we were hearing all time back and forth the sirens. The people broke a lot of things and stores, it was horrible, but I think the people who were doing that weren't people we would say terrorists to, but they were just bored kids. Bored with the whole pandemic, which we all are, and we're all fed up with it, but it was just kids who went online and said "we gonna do this, we gonna do this…". So, it lasted three days but it was not that bad as it can get in other countries but that's why it was so shocking for us. We asked ourselves "Really? Here?".

You're absolutely right. I hope all will become normal again soon. It's really unbelievable what the pandemic makes with some people.

Yes, and I think that's the problem with the whole Corona thing. The whole country is in a lockdown and of course we don't want people to get ill. The physical side is that we don't want people to die or to get ill but the problem now after one year is that we get such a huge social problem with people getting depressed, people getting angry and start hating or are confused. So, it's a social problem that is now growing and it's maybe becoming much bigger than the initial problem.

What do you miss especially in the present time? I would like to visit your country again, to eat Poffertjes and drink a coffee at "JoJo Poffertjes" in Winterswijk… (Poffertjes are some kind of small pan cakes, a tasty Dutch food; Michael)

(Laughs) It's the same for me, man!! That's one of the things. A lot of people say it's the small things like getting a coffee, going across the border, hugging a friend, that's what I miss. Apart from playing live, making my living but little things like going outside. But why Winterswijk?

Well, I originally come from close to the German – Dutch border and so I often travel there for shopping and eating Poffertjes.

(Laughs) So, I love Poffertjes, too! So, we'll see you Holland when the Corona crisis is over!! Fantastic!!

You are quite a positive woman; do you have some words of encouragement for our readers in these times?

To be honest, we have to put the emphasis on love rather than hate, even if we doubt and even if we have nowhere to go and we don't know what to do with the situation. Try to take a breather, try to come out of this together, find people online who are positive-minded, doing yoga, do whatever you need to get to that light point instead of going down into the darkness, cause that's easy. It's easy to get depressed and I'm sad a lot when I look at the news and what this does to everybody but I'm also happy with the little things I do have. We can buy Poffertjes in the store and heat them up at home, haha!

Hey, we can do this, too but it's not as good as when you buy them fresh on the market!! Unfortunately, time is almost over, I just have one more question. What do you think about Mario Götze? He went from Borussia Dortmund to PSV Eindhoven.

Oh, yes I know but I don't know much about football. What do you think?

Well, he wasn't very good at Borussia Dortmund but now he is scoring a lot for PSV. I don't know why….

I think the secret is Poffertjes!! I'm sure!!

Thank you very much for the interview! Dank je wel!

Ebenfalls vielen Dank!

Entered: 2/23/2021 7:18:42 PM

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