Published on May 12th, 2016 | by Lewis Allen0
Anneke van Giersbergen Interview
Sonic Bandwagon had the privilege of witnessing an amazing performance by Anneke van Giersbergen on the first leg of her European solo acoustic tour at Audio in Glasgow. She is one of the best vocalists we have in the worlds of metal and progressive music. We were also lucky enough to catch up with her backstage before the gig to ask her about her musical journey, and to hear some of the most thoughtful and engaging answers we have experienced in an interview for Sonic Bandwagon.
SB: You have just recently finished a tour in South America with The Gentle Storm. Can you share some of the highlights of the tour with us?
Anneke: South America is just so nice to tour in. I guess in general it’s because I like the climate and the food. You see I never go on holiday, so that’s my holiday, to see some sun. But the gigs were great because the people were so warm and welcoming, and they were so loud. It was great to be in those circumstances because the audience really show their feelings, and that’s great. I always love going there. It was only three shows in three countries this time so we were in and out, but yes I had a great time!
SB: What do you personally find most rewarding about the more intimate solo acoustic gigs you play?
Anneke: Well it’s just like you said, they are intimate and you can see everyone who is in the venue, so you can make a personal connection with them. I normally talk a little bit more. I like to tell stories, sometimes about things I did that day. So it’s more personal and I like that very much. It’s just me and the audience, and it’s great.
SB: One of the songs that has featured at some of your solo gigs is ‘My Mother Said’ from your album ‘Drive’. It is a lovely song and has a very personal and poignant feel to it. Is there a story behind the song?
Anneke: Well once when I was younger I got so drunk that I fell asleep on the street, and when I eventually woke up very early in the morning I headed home. My mum was super angry when I got in because, well she was worried for me as I was meant to be back in the evening, and she hadn’t known what had happened. So she was obviously worried. We had this very long conversation. I think I was like 15 or 16, and at the end of the conversation, which was a proper good mother and daughter conversation, she said, “you know what, I feel like I’ve become a friend.”
So I based the whole song really on that remark. Because when you’re young you think “yeah whatever”; and as I grew older, I thought we just do things differently because we do, you’re in a new generation, you’re a bit smarter, a bit more handy, a bit more modern. But when I got a kid I realised there was a lot they were right about. So the song is about that: growing up, dealing with your parents, them dealing with you and so on. Like my dad is still always worried when I get on a plane, which is a lot. He’s like “oh no, my little girl, why are you going now”. So just stuff like that really.
SB: On your solo acoustic gigs you provide some quite wonderful interpretations of some classic songs, e.g. U2, Pink Floyd, Dolly Parton. What draws you to a song and want to play it live?
Anneke: Sometimes I just hear the songs on the radio and think “wow, yeah, I’m gonna play that!” But there are a lot of songs I can’t play as I’m not such a guitar player. There is tons of stuff I’d love to play like the Bee Gees, but it’s so super intricate. It doesn’t sound like that, so ‘Stayin’ Alive’ sounds really simple, but it’s actually very intricate playing wise, and chord wise. So I sometimes hear a song and I am like “yeah, god I want to play that song”, because on my solo acoustic tour I can play anything I want. I can play Dolly Parton and everyone is okay with it, and you can’t do that at a metal show.
It would be fun to try (all laugh).
Anneke: I am going to do it! (Anneke smiles and laughs)…. So I feel like I can get away with a lot and I just do it and it’s always very spontaneous. For this tour I wanted to do some new songs and try to do some new stuff, but it’s all about just doing it, and what just pops into my brain.
SB: Recently someone said to me after listening to your music for the first time…. “she’s got a great voice”. And it’s so true, your voice seems to have a very deep emotional quality to it that invites A connection with the listener. When you sing live, how do you experience the connection with the audience?
Anneke: I completely do feel very much that connection with the audience. I am, and the metal community and the progressive music community are, just blessed with a great audience in general, which is the difference with a mainstream audience. Because I feel like, even though I’m playing a Dolly Parton song next to a Devin Townsend song, the audience still understands me as an artist, and understands what I’m feeling. They understand where I’m coming from and vice versa. I love my crowd and that connection with them is very strong.
It reminds me how I felt way way back when I was young, hearing a metal song from bands like Slayer and Metallica for the first time. I felt like I was home, and I get that on the stage, I feel understood! That feeling I’ve felt through my entire adult and young life. I feel 100% understood by the people who come to my shows, or who I’m making music with, or my bandmates or my colleagues. It’s why in particular I feel this is a very beautiful scene to be in, maybe we are all a little bit outsiders, and misunderstood by everyone else. But I feel like that goes away with what we do with our lives through music and the arts, and that makes a thick connection I feel. Much more than at a summer festival which I love, but I love more intimate places and shows like this. Everyone being close together and chilling and making music, it’s what life should be.
SB: We understand that this solo tour comes before you take a break from performing so you can focus on your next solo album in 2017. We are intrigued to know what you are planning musically for that album?
Anneke: It’s going to be heavy and I’m writing with some really interesting partners. I’m writing with people from Amorphis, and somebody from Anathema, who isn’t Danny (Anneke smiles mischievously). So yeah we have a few surprises coming up! It’s going to sound heavy, proggy and beautifully melodic! I’m also doing this with The Gentle Storm band, so the live band are going into the studio and are doing the live shows as well. I’m not letting this band go, so I’m making a new album, but I’m making it with them, and they are so so crazy good.
It’s why I’m taking this time off, not just to rest but to really concentrate on this, because I’m always doing like four or five projects at the same time, and I love it, But it’s also making me extremely tired, and I also feel like I can make much better stuff when I really focus on it. So I love this, the very intimate, soft and classical stuff, and I love the heavy stuff, so everything in between will have to go away, and I’ll focus on just the heavy album and the acoustic touring stuff. I also make a little money with the acoustic money stuff as well so that I can save up for my time off, and for my time in the studio with the band, so yeah that’s my plan.
SB: What will you be listening to music wise as you travel Europe on this tour?
Anneke: I love the new Amorphis album, and the latest Mastodon album. So I listen to the heavy stuff because for driving alone it’s good stuff. But now tI’m driving with my sound man, my husband and my kid, who are coming here tomorrow. We have a little car with the four people, the merch and guitar in the back, so I can’t play Mastodon all the time. But I do like other stuff, like in Holland they have this radio station that only plays 80’s music and I’m an 80’s kid, so I really enjoy listening to that. So like songs from Talk Talk and stuff like that. The classic 80’s. I feel like a bit of an old fart but I do love that. So that and the heavy stuff and also some singer songwriter stuff.
SB: It was so refreshing to read recently about Bruce Springsteen speaking out against intolerance and prejudice, and in particular legislation that discriminates against transgender people. Does that resonate for you in terms of how music can really bring people together in a positive non-judgemental way?
Anneke: I love people like that who make a statement, who have such a big voice. Bruce Springsteen is one of the best and biggest mainstream artists there is around, and they take responsibilities for these kind of things, and I think that’s fantastic. I think artists like that, people like Bono and you name them, guys like that are our politicians. They should be our politicians because they know better, they have been around all over the world, so they know what’s going on, they talk to everybody and find out what’s happening. When you go outside people always tell you what’s going on in their country, like taxi drivers always say “Oh you’re from Holland…you know what, our country is in trouble”, and they tell you about it. So I think obviously there are some good politicians, but the big ones on top are not very honest with us, and I think we should listen more to our artists.
SB: You wrote very touchingly on your Facebook page about the sad loss of Prince and what he meant to you as a fan. What really stood out for you about his music?
Anneke: I think maybe the craftsmanship of his songs, he made fantastic songs, and then he’s a fantastic singer, he has such a good voice, and is one hell of a guitar player. So for me he’s like everything in one, like songwriter, producer, performer, singer, guitar player, musician…he was everything! I also loved his music. When I was young I grew up with Prince, along with Michael Jackson…they are icons! But Prince for me is way up there.
I was on the boat last night coming here. We didn’t have any wifi or 4G, so I bought 10 euros worth of wifi and you had to go to the front of the ship, it was the only place to get it. You have to login with your browser, so I login and the first thing I see is ‘Prince dead at 57’. I was in shock, I wasn’t expecting it, and I felt like a bomb was dropped on me. I mean he was so young and I heard he collapsed in an elevator in his home, it’s so non-romantic. But obviously I love him and will miss him as an artist but I personally didn’t know him, so I shouldn’t be sad in that perspective, but we should be sad that we lost a musical angel. I hear he was still playing and gigging, though unfortunately I didn’t see him on his last tour.
SB: Thank you for such a great interview, we really enjoyed it.
Anneke: Thank you.
Interview by Lewis Allen & Gareth Allen
Photograph by Lewis Allen