Riding the Storm Out: An interview with The Gentle Storm’s Anneke Van Giersbergen
It is a very rare occurrence for a music journalist from North America to score a face to face live interview with Anneke Van Giersbergen! This is due in large part to the fact that, although she is a very well known presence in the European rock and metal scene, she rarely visits the North American shores. I was very excited when I learned I’d been granted a one on one interview with Anneke on my recent trip to France. Her current project, The Gentle Storm, was in the midst of a support tour with Dutch metalers, Delain. I caught up with the extremely talented and versatile singer at La Laiterie in Strasbourg before her show that night. We had a great chat regarding The Gentle Strom itself, her upcoming solo plans, her talented band members, and when we might see a North American tour. Here is how it went:
This is Joe Prostredny with Afternoiz and I’m here with Anneke Van Giersbergen of The Gentle Storm! How are you doing today?
Good, thank you very much! We all love this venue. On a tour like this for 2-3 weeks or whatever this is usually a highlight because the venues are nice and they have good food and the audience is great and the sound is good. So we’re very happy!
Good! I’m looking forward to the show. Tonight will actually be the first time I’ve seen you play or sing.
Great, well I’ll do my very best then!
Just for me?
Yeah! Of course! (Laughs)
Well, thank you very much for talking with us today! So, you’ve been touring with The Gentle Storm for several months now. You’ve toured in the early part of the year, then you did the festival season and now you’re back on the road again. How has everything been going? How has the fan response been?
I have to say fantastic. Because the thing is I made the album with Arjen Lucassen so that has to be good because he’s behind it. So I had high hopes for this. I usually don’t have a lot of expectation because I have a certain goal; it has to be really, really good and the best that I can do and then we’ll see what happens. And then we formed this live band for the tour because Arjen doesn’t tour and we talked about it because I wanted to take it on the road so much. And he said yeah by all means because almost never my albums get to be on the road. So then we formed this band and they are killer; they are really seriously super good. And I think apart from this album being really good, if I can say so myself, is that the live show has been superb really… because of the band.
I’ve heard a lot of really great things about the show!
Yeah? Nice! I am super proud of this. I’m working on a solo album now and I’ve asked most of the band to join me for this because I’m not going to let them go (laughs).
You might have to wrestle Delain for Merel [Bechtold].
Yeah, I know and actually I think I lost! (Laughs) I lost her to Delain which is fine because they are awesome and Merel has to do what she has to do. Though she says “If I can I want to play with you”, so that’s really nice. So I have to look for a good killer guitar player [to replace Merel] but still the core of this band is so fantastic. For me this is also a huge step in my life.
And the fans have enjoyed it?
They pick up on it, they pick up on the energy, they pick up on how good it is and also how we love playing together and how we love how it’s going and I think that’s a direct energy you give out and it comes back. People really like to see it and like to watch it; like to watch everything evolve. There’s a lot of people who kind of follow you around for so many years and they see this happen and it’s great.
What have you enjoyed more touring this project, the club shows or the festival season? They’re very different.
They’re so different I like both almost equally. I like the festivals because it’s like fest, fest, fest, bill of play and every day is different because it’s raining and then it’s sunshine then you’re in like a mainstream festival and then a super heavy metal festival and it’s all good. I like the fastness of it. And I like club shows because you can work on your sound and be there all day and do a long set. We have a set of almost two hours when we play alone, a headline show. That I like because you can really build up, we have ballads and we have the whole thing going on and so I like that! And I like doing the supports for Delain because we have a short set so we can do our very best songs. And I just like singing, I love singing, it doesn’t matter.
I think that shows! You’ve stuck with it for a while.
Now you mentioned this a little bit earlier but the album “The Diary” began as a musical project between you and Arjen Lucassen. You’ve worked with him in the past, but never to this extent. How did this happen?
Yeah, true! We always kept kind of in contact after we worked together. He plays on my album and of course I sing on his albums. I emailed him about something completely different and in the bottom of the email it said: “You know what, maybe we should do something together, but then really together, just you and me, not like we did in the past, just like a duo album.” I don’t know why I said that I just thought that might be a good idea.
I think it was!
Yeah! In hindsight I was extremely happy with that! And then he said actually at this point I have two songs demoed because I’m kind of working on something and I don’t know where it’s going yet, maybe we should pick it up from here, and we did. We came up with the whole story and we came up with the whole thing and so we went from there and built it up and it became this vast double album piece and yeah, it’s great!
So the album actually has an overall concept. It’s a love story, it’s very historical, and it’s very dramatic. For people that haven’t heard it can you give a little synopsis?
Yes, the short version…
Well, you have sound check in a few minutes, so we don’t have time for the long version!
Yeah, I know! (laughs). The short version… It’s about two people, Arjen wanted to make a story that was set in the Dutch 17th century because that was when a lot of stuff was happening. Everything was new and there was a lot of good things going on, new things. So Holland was blossoming in that period and there were ships, the VOC ships that went all over the world and got spices and clothing or fabrics or whatever and so we got a lot of influence from our past. And I said “Yeah, but it’s got to be a love story”, because I’m a girl you know (laughs). And so Arjen, he said alright, but there should be a lot of drama. So we came up with the story about two people, one is in Amsterdam, the lady, and her lover is at sea making a journey of two and a half years and they write letters to each other. So the ten songs are the ten letters that they write to each other. And that’s about it, so a lot of stuff happens in the story, he gets into a storm, she gets a baby, there’s lots of things going on. Like life itself but then like magnified and apart from each other so you have the longing, the missing, the loving, the drama, the whole thing. It was great to write lyrics for this because I never made a concept album before in my life, not like this, so for me it was a first time, so I could do anything. It’s great!
So you mainly wrote the lyrics and Arjen mainly wrote the music? Is that how it broke down?
Yeah. And then we interfered with each other’s doings, of course. But that’s mainly what happened. And I was really inspired by it, by working like that. Arjen, he is very focused and he knows exactly what he wants because he has this intuition about it and then he makes these ten songs and then from the get-go there’s nothing that’s gonna be changed about it. So it’s like, this song he gets into the storm, like write a lyric, and this song he comes home or whatever. And for me that’s really good to work like that because you know what you have to do. There’s no wondering for many, many days how should we go about it. No, it’s just like we do this. I’m really inspired by that.
Again for those that aren’t familiar with the album, it’s very unique in that it’s a double album, but the same songs are on both albums. One, “The Gentle” album is acoustic/folk style and “The Storm” album, is more of a rock/metal version. It’s a quite interesting and quite wonderful interpretation of the music. I’ve only seen one other artist do something similar, but it wasn’t even close to that different. Was this planned from the start, or…?
Yeah. It was also all Arjen’s doing. He wrote online to his fans saying I’m having these songs; I think that’s before I got into the picture, that’s very early on. He said I’m writing songs but I have no idea where to go with them. Should they be heavy? Should they be folk? Should they be whatever? And then kind of 50/50 said ‘I want a heavy album’ and then the other people said ‘I want a folk album.’ And then he said ok I’ll do both. But instead of writing a heavy album with folk influences or the other way around, he says I’m making two albums. So he came to me with this idea and I said yeah, let’s do this. Because like you said I don’t know anybody that did this like this, there are some similar things…
Yeah, but not this different!
Yeah! And the beauty is, true metal heads say ok I will like the Storm version and they listen to the other version and it’s so intensive, the softer version, because that, for instance, has way more instruments than the heavy version. The heavy version is a band plus and the gentle version has fourteen instruments like violins but also flutes and the whole thing. So a lot of metal heads actually say they like the gentle version more because it’s more rich and so captivating.
I think a lot of metal fans don’t realize how much into the music they really are so you throw more music in and it really appeals to them.
You’ve had a very successful solo career. Before that, you were in the metal band “The Gathering”. Although you’ve seemed to always be pegged as a metal artist, your solo career hasn’t been as ‘metal’ as “The Gathering” was. Is “The Storm” the heaviest thing you’ve done since leaving “The Gathering”?
Absolutely. The thing that I’ve done myself, I’ve worked with Moonspell, Within Temptation, Devin Townsend… so, I’ve always been in the metal scene. But my solo albums were kind of diverted from that just because I could do whatever I wanted. As a solo artist you can do whatever and I did! So I went all over the place and now with “The Gentle Storm” I really felt, and that’s why I asked this from Arjen, I really felt that I wanted to make heavy music again. But if I write songs, I can’t make these riffs or whatever… so I need people to write with me if I want to do a metal album or a heavy album or “prog”. And I’m so heavily inspired by this and it’s working out so well and I really love it so much that my solo album that I’m writing now is gonna be heavy as well… like heavy, proggy. It’s still very early on, and I’m writing with very interesting people from the scene. I’m going to continue the heavy path and I also have the whole thing with me, my solo acoustic with the guitar. So I do a lot of shows with that just on my own doing the acoustic stuff. So I have a heavy train going on and an acoustic soft thing going on which is more clear than whatever I did in the past. For some reason I have eight years of doing everything I love and now it’s more crystalized.
But that’s what artistry is, you do what you want when you feel it because you don’t do it on a recipe. It’s whatever comes to you at the time.
That’s so true. And I love it so much and I love every bit of it. Sometimes the people that like my music they miss the plot a little bit, they lose the plot a little bit, but then again they are also interested in what I’m doing next. So yeah, it’s a good thing.
So you have a couple solo things coming out right, in the next year? Can you tell us about them?
Yeah. I’m making an album that’s being mixed now with an Icelandic band called Árstíðir and I am recording classical sings and famous folk songs like “Danny Boy” in five languages. I wanted to make a classical album very much and I asked Sven to help me out because they can arrange these songs into beautiful soft music. So it’s not going to be bombastic heavy but the songs we all know them (a certain way) but they are going to be beautifully arranged and produced, like soft music. And that’s going to be out in January. And then in March I’m doing twenty theater shows with them in Holland only.
It seems to be a Dutch thing and doesn’t seem to go beyond the Dutch borders, the whole theater tour. Other bands that have done that they just do it in Holland.
Yeah, that’s true. We have a good theater scene. I’m working my way in also like this. It’s really nice to do and I’m working on my solo album which will be out I think at the end of 2016. And in between we do “The Gentle Storm” shows and we do some festivals and a lot of things.
What’s to become of “The Gentle Storm”? It’s obviously been very successful but is this a one album and done project or is there another “Storm” coming our way?
I think at one point there will be more …because we gave it a name, we gave it a band name like “The Gentle Storm”… so it’s a “thing”, and I think it worked out really well. Arjen felt a need to do a solo album and he’s writing for that and I’m doing a solo album so maybe after that if we feel the urge to do a sequel or a follow up.
If your creative side moves you to do a sequel.
You have a lot of fans in North America, but you don’t come there very much. I know you’re coming to ProgPower, but are we gonna see you any more in the future?
I’m always working on coming back because I’m always getting so many complaints from North America because I know I have a crowd there but it’s a logistical thing really and we’re always looking for a good agent to help us out and good promoters. Sometimes promoters are a bit scared because it’s expensive to get a band from Europe and I’m not the biggest, but I’m also not the smallest so if they give us a chance I know we can fill up a venue. But visa’s are extremely expensive, you know all this, and so when we come over we always lose money which is fine because I love it, but we can’t do that every year.
But you’ll gain new fans who’ll buy your albums….
That’s why I’m always looking into it, and we are always working on it. We’re also looking into going there as a support for bigger bands and to just to build up a little bit more and me going solo and going acoustic it’s less expensive. So we’re always looking to find a way. But we are seriously talking about a good package now for 2017. And we’re going to do ProgPower. It’s amazing how a year flies by. Maybe 2016, but they are talking about it, and that’s all I know, but we are coming back! That’s for sure, and with this band as well.
Well, I’m really looking forward to the show tonight! I’d like to thank you for talking with us today! Is there anything else you’d like to say to your fans before we leave you?
Thank you! To the North Americans, we will be back! I love playing and I’ll always do my best to get everywhere. It’s as simple as that! Thank you!
Dank je wel! I’ll see you on stage!