“Anneke van Giersbergen’s 23rd career album will be released on February 26, 2021.
Lyrically, and musically, the award-winning Dutch artist lays her soul bare with the most evocative record of her career – captivating song-stories told with acoustic guitars, strings, horns, percussion, and Anneke’s hypnotic vocal harmonies. The 11-track record has all the intimacy of Anneke serenading an audience of one, combined with surprising departures into swampier, foot-stomping grooves. It proves, once again, that the singer and songwriter defies being pigeonholed by any genre.
The new album’s title, ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’, refers to the idea that, when facing personal challenges, we are forced to find answers to life’s biggest questions. But, at this point in her near-three-decade-long music career, this solo album – and, crucially, the heartbreak that inspired it – was not something Anneke van Giersbergen ever anticipated writing.
In 2018, Anneke began working on new material for her metal band, VUUR. Although their debut album, ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’, was met with a mixed reception, fans were warming up to their heavy, progressive sound. Therefore, a rapid follow-up album would surely establish Anneke’s return to fronting a metal band. However, behind the scenes, these were troubled times. Anneke shares,”My belief in VUUR saw me spend all my savings on recording VUUR’s debut album and taking the band on the road. After completing our first touring cycle, I realized that more VUUR would mean yet more, huge financial risks.”
To make matters worse, in 2018, her long-lasting marriage, which had always been wonderful, unexpectedly saw a storm approaching. Anneke adds, “I instantly knew I needed to write music about fixing my life. This creative endeavour would be far too personal for a VUUR album. And it would also require solitude.”
With just her acoustic guitar and basic recording gear, Anneke retreated to a small house near the woods, just outside her hometown of Eindhoven. She let go of the pressures of what VUUR’s future might be, and fell into the meditative process of writing a solo album. In 2019, work continued on the new songs. In 2020, Anneke asked her friend and producer, Gijs Coolen, to help finish the album.
The Japanese art of kintsugi has inspired Anneke to use a repaired heart as the album’s symbol. Kintsugi teaches that bringing together the pieces of a broken object – with the use of a precious metal – adds value and uniqueness to it. And, instead of giving up on their marriage, Anneke and her husband decided to take the time to mend their bond. They now cherish the repaired heartbreak as something profoundly valuable.
In this brand new interview, Anneke shares her thoughts about the new album with Lotsofmuzik interviewer Rodrigo Altaf.
Lotsofmuzik: Hi Anneke, it’s a pleasure to speak with you again! Let me start by asking you abut the beautiful title of the new album, “The Darkest Skies Are the Brightest”. What does it actually mean?
Anneke: It means that we all have to go through the dark to get to the “light place” in our lives. I don’t know who designed the universe, but I think that’s kind of the reason to live: to learn through difficult phases and processes in our lives. The thing is, if we work through the challenges and our issues we come out better human beings, because we learn, become wiser, and our inner peace grows with that. So it’s kind of what I wanted to say with this title.
Lotsofmuzik: I understand the writing and even the lyrical content was a very personal experience to you. Would you say it was more a painful or a healing process for you?
Anneke: It was very much a healing process. I always write about my own life. Some of the stories might be made up or exaggerated, and sometimes we write about other people or other things, but in general, I write about what I’m going through, what I feel, and my emotions. This one, like you said, was very much a personal album, because there was so much stuff going on in my personal life and in my work life, that I had to write about it. Sometimes when you write a song, it says more of what you want to say than in an actual conversation. Sometimes it’s easier to write it than to actually say it. So this time it really helped me to clear my head, to talk about things and to go through this whole process. And in the end I had an album!
Lotsofmuzik: I know you wrote the album in a cabin in the woods, with acoustic guitar and basic recording gear. How much of the initial writing sessions ended up on the album?
Anneke: A lot, actually. I wrote a lot in this little cabin, but I wrote a lot in my home – I have a small studio in my room here. So everything I recorded was done with the idea that we could hang on to it if it was good enough. When the time comes to lay down the tracks, sometimes we think a song should have a different tempo, or we change everything around it, but many songs stayed as they were in the demos.
Lotsofmuzik: What I found interesting about the album is that it sounds stripped down, with mostly acoustic guitar, but also sophisticated, with horns, strings, accordion, and the usual vocal harmonies. But this is quite difference from your last album “Symphonized” and from the first VUUR album, right?Anneke: That’s true! From progressive metal and an orchestra to this album, it’s quite different. But in everything I do, there’s obviously my voice, my emotions and my song structures, maybe. So I hope there’s always a recognizable element in what I do. It’s also very cool to see that a lot of people who follow me and listen to my music are not so shocked every time I do something new [laughs], because they kinda know that they’re going to be surprised. They like to be surprised and they say “ok, let’s dive into what you’ve done now”. That’s a good feeling, because I can be totally free from a creative standpoint, as long as I take this very seriously, so that the music is personable and honest.
Lotsofmuzik: Now that you mentioned it, you did the Symphonized album, VUUR, and many acoustic shows with Amorphis, so your music does seem to work in every context!
Anneke: Yeah! In whatever I do, there’s always a certain element of melancholy and darkness and gloom, that metal and prog fans really love. And I come from the same background as well. The new album, even though it’s acoustic, it’s still very intense, and has its dark moments. I think metalheads and prog fans are usually very open minded, and they dive right into what I do, which is great!
Lotsofmusik: Tell me about the first song on the album, “Agape”. Was it the first song you wrote? I’m asking because it does set the tone of the album, and it’s almost like you’re telling the listener “this is what this album is all about”.
Anneke: That is true – there are certain songs that capture the whole idea of the album, and this Agape is one of them. This is a song with different elements in: melancholy and darkness, but also a little bit of hope in it as well. When we finish the album, we kinda look at the list of songs and start thinking about how the sequencing of the songs should be. It has to flow like a story, and like you said, the first song captures the mood of the album.
Lotsofmuzik: Tell me about “Hurricane”, with the tribal beat and the haunting vocals. What came first when you wrote that song? The beat, the lyrics, the harmonies…
Anneke: Everything kind of came up at the same time. For certain songs, I try to already make a groove while playing the guitar. For me, playing the guitar is all about melody, and for other guitar players it’s more about a rhythmic pattern and then the melody. In the case of “Hurricane”, I felt this groove and started playing it, and everything came at the same time. When I finished the song and we were recording it, we thought “we need some percussion, we need to build the song on its groove”. It was a cool process, and I don’t work usually like that, but that was like where the song was leading me towards.
Lotsofmuzik: There’s a beautiful scene in the video that you made for that song where you pull out the curtains and it’s all dark, but then it ends on a happy note, so it’s kind of a bittersweet feeling, right?
Anneke: Yeah, that’s true. I always try to convey that even in a dark song, and in a dark process or place in your life, there has to be hope and there has to be light. That’s what this video represents, and I wanted it to end in a positive way, you know? I think that shows!
Lotsofmuzik: My promise is the other video you made, with that restaurant scene. Tell me about that one!
Anneke: That was really fun to make because we had all these people! On the song I’m telling this story, and you kind of see everybody in different stages of their lives, you know, and relationships and things are going on and you can see lives happening. The whole scene is very light, right? So there’s a lot of lights and there’s a very bright video for a melancholic song. There’s dark elements in there and gloomy elements. But again it is about working towards something that is better than it was. So I’m talking about wanting to fight for something I believe in, “I will go through fire if I believe in something”. And so that’s kind of a positive although very intense process, you know?
Lotsofmuzik: And I know, like you said, the lyrics are usually very personal and this time is not different. There’s a song called “The Soul Knows” where you’re really open about how you feel. Do you sometimes get concerned that you’re revealing too much of your personal life through your lyrics?
Anneke: Not so much, because I realized that the things I am talking about are very universal. I mean, I don’t have a life where there’s huge drama or a huge story. I just go through what everybody goes through in terms of relationships and love and family and work, and the difficulties that go along with that. When I was finishing the album and the recording, we went into this whole pandemic situation. The world was upside down and everybody was talking about that and there was the black lives matter thing happening, so a lot of stuff in society was going on. And I was actually wondering, should I talk about my album? Should I talk about why I wrote this album? Because it seems that this is not important. And my life is futile, compared to what’s going on. The world is on fire, right? But I found out again that what I’m talking about, everybody knows. Everybody feels what I’m feeling sometimes. And so it actually is an effort to come together and to open up a conversation about love, about freedom, about happiness, about inner peace, which are very, very important themes in a world that is upside down at the moment.
Lotsofmuzik: It’s kind of funny that you had this concern, but you wrote this album one year ago, but it’s even more current now than it was when you wrote it, right?
Anneke: You know, perhaps that’s the case! Because it is about my life and about certain subjects, but the whole thing about love and about freedom and about inner peace, is more current than ever. Through all the negativity that’s going on, we have to try to stick together and focus on the beautiful and the positive things in life.
Lotsofmuzik: One thing I’m curious about is how the Japanese art of kintsugi influenced you in the making of the album.
Anneke: Actually this this art form or philosophy occurred to me like a year ago, somebody showed it to me. I didn’t know about it before. And I was thinking, this is exactly what’s going on. If you have difficulties – and the album title says something like that – if you have difficulties but you fix the situation and you go through it and you learn why, things are better than the way they were. So if you have a beautiful vase and it breaks, but you put it back together, it’s actually more beautiful because now it has character, and that’s something it didn’t have before. And it’s the same as people with scars. We all love people with scars, right? People become more beautiful and more interesting when they have scars. And now most people have scars on their souls, which you can’t see!
But yeah, some people have scars on the outside and we always wonder, “okay, so what have you been through”? So that makes people interesting. And I love this philosophy of the Japanese where they fix the vase with golden glue. So the cracks are actually becoming more beautiful than the vase itself!
Lotsofmuzik: Awesome, I will look for it because I didn’t know about this. And one of the things I saw on your website is that there are some ceramic tiles that you’re selling now with lyrics from the album which is a really cool idea!
Anneke: Yeah. I don’t know if that’s a thing elsewhere, but in Holland it’s a thing to have some wise words on a little tile and hang it on the wall. Usually there’s some cheesy stuff on there, and then it hangs on the wall at your grandmother’s house, you know? [laughs]. But I wanted to make some something modern and something with a few bits and pieces out of my lyrics, which are, I think very nice. And yeah, people really liked them. A lot of people already ordered one!
Lotsofmuzik: In a market as competitive as the music business is right now, it’s time to be creative with the merch, right?Anneke: It’s one of the reasons why we did it. Also, we were working out with a new merchant company and they have also lots of good ideas. And like you said, it’s absolutely vital for us to physically sell the album and sell merch to survive financially. And hopefully it will kind of help us towards the time that we can physically go out and play again.
Lotsofmuzik: You mentioned VUUR briefly, what is the plan for the band right now?
Anneke: At the moment there’s no plans, because I’m focusing on this album. Obviously I have to wait to go out on tour, but if I can, I want to tour with this album extensively. That’s going to be just me and the guitar basically – an acoustic tour. But whenever I feel the urge to write heavy music, prog or metal or anything like that, I will do that under the name VUUR. So that still exists, you know, it’s my baby, I have this album and it’s there, but it’s on the back burner because I’m now focused on, on this acoustic thing. But it’s, it’s absolutely there whenever I want to record something heavier or something like that.
Lotsofmuzik: Okay. And I know have a few shows already booked to promote the album, some already even sold out in May. What is the plan after that? Where can you tour right now?
Anneke: At the moment, nowhere! Because we can’t travel and in Holland and in lots of places, there’s still a lockdown. We moved some stuff from last year to May and June this year, but I think they’re all going to be moved again. We’ll see, maybe some small things in summer, maybe some small things after summer, but I am looking towards 2022 in order for us to really, really, you know, me and every other musician in the world to go on tour and play again. So by that time, a lot of people will have a lot of tickets for a lot of old shows! [laughs] So hopefully it will be THE TIME to go to concerts again, and I will tour extensively in 2022. If we’re allowed to of course – that’s the plan at least.
Lotsofmuzik: Okay. The last time I saw you live was on the tour opening for Amorphis and Delain, which seems like an eternity ago now! And I was going to interview you here in Toronto right before the show in the backstage, but I had my daughter with me and she was sick, so I decided to do the interview over the phone!
Anneke: I love that tour so much, it was really nice! And I do remember that interview, it was very nice of you to do it on the phone, because not many people think that way!
Lotsofmuzik: I hope to see you on the road very soon, preferably with a show here in Toronto!
Anneke: Me too! Thank you for getting into the album and to take the time to listen to it! I really miss going out and about, so I hope we can come back soon!
Lotsofmuzik: Fingers crossed! Thank you for yet another great interview!
Anneke: Thank you so much!
- My Promise
- I Saw A Car
- The Soul Knows
- The End
- Keep It Simple
- Lo And Behold
- Losing You
- Love You Like I Love You
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