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Anneke van Giersbergen Releases “Symphonized”: Reflecting on the Past, Embracing the Future

Anneke van Giersbergen

In May 2018, Anneke van Giersbergen (VUUR, Devin Townsend Project, The Gathering) performed two career-spanning concerts with orchestral arrangements together with Residentie Orkest The Hague.

Fans came from all over the world to see and hear this crossover collaboration, but soon everyone will be able to experience these concerts, as Anneke and the orchestra are set to release a live album. ‘Symphonized’ features 11 tracks and will be released on InsideOut Music on November 16, 2018.

Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen is easily one of the hardest working people in music, and an artist that defies being pigeonholed by genre. She will forever be known as the vocalist for melancholic metallers The Gathering, but since striking out on her own in 2007, she has solidified a solo career, recorded and performed multiple times with Canadian metal genius Devin Townsend, and lent her honey-sweet, yet powerful voice to the likes of Anathema, Icelandic folk group Árstíðir, Within Temptation, Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen, Moonspell, John Wetton and Napalm Death.

Lotsofmuzik collaborator Rodrigo Altaf spoke with Anneke about her new album, how she reflects on 25 years of career, her future plans and much more.

Lotsofmuzik: Hi Anneke, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today, and congratulations on the new release, “Symphonized”!

Anneke van Giersbergen: Thank you!

LOM: The new album was recorded in two different nights earlier this year, and has 11 tracks. I’m assuming you played more than 11 tracks, right? Will there be an expanded version of this album as well?

AvG: We did play more than that, it was 13 tracks in total, but there won’t be a special release of this album. One of the songs that didn’t make it to the album is a number I recently recorded with the Icelandic folk group Árstíðir, and another one doesn’t have vocals – it’s a classical instrumental piece. I think that sometimes making a good setlist for a live show is a little bit different than making a good tracklist for an album, so we decided to skip two songs for the release.

LOM: I see. And one of the songs that caught my attention Is “Two Souls”, which was originally recorded with a band called Lorrainville. What can you tell us about that band, and what did they think of the version on “Symphonized”?

AvG: I made two albums with Lorrainville, and it’s a really cool project. Initially the idea was to get some of the most prominent musicians from Holland and release one album, but it became really successful, so we ended up making another one. It was a really nice collaboration, and I wanted to include a song from one of those albums. The guy who wrote this song came to see one of the shows, and he was really happy about it, he loved to hear his song done in a completely different way!

LOM: One song in particular that turned out completely changed in this release, compared to the original version, is ironically entitled “You Will Never Change”. I thought the original had a Foo Fighters vibe, and the one on “Symphonized” was a complete departure from that. Who did the arrangement for the songs, and how much were you involved in the process?

AvG: You’re right about “You Will Never Change”, it does have a Foo Fighters vibe! And when the Residentie Orkest asked me to participate in this special evening we talked extensively about what to do. Obviously I wanted to work with them, they’re a wonderful orchestra, and they like to make connections with artists from the pop scene, hip hop and jazz. In this case, they wanted to work with me because I’m part of the rock and heavy metal scene. When we discussed what to do, I thought “well, next year I’ll be completing 25 years as a professional musician, so let’s celebrate that and pick songs from this whole period!”

I had many different kinds of songs to draw from – heavier stuff, the grungier tracks like you said, the Lorrainville songs – so arranging for such a wide variety of styles is a tough job. Sometimes they would let me hear bits and pieces of what they were doing with the songs, and would show me these crappy MIDI files, and even with those I could already see where the songs were going, and it got me really enthusiastic about the project. It was mind blowing how beautiful the songs became with these new arrangements. It’s a big job for a symphonic orchestra to play these songs!

LOM: The other thing I noticed from following your career is that many songs in your repertoire almost beg to be played with an orchestra. One of them in particular is “Shores of India”. So it must have been difficult to pick a setlist and leave so many good songs behind, right?

AvG: That’s true, we had almost a thousand songs to pick from! [laughs]. With The Gathering alone, I made eight or nine studio albums! What I did was a long list on Spotify with all my favourite songs from the last 25 years, and I let the main artistic director of the orchestra choose the tracks from that list. I had a couple of songs that I really wanted to play, like ‘Travel” of The Gathering, and “Shores of India” from Gentle Storm. So I told him “you have a fresh pair of ears, so pick the ones that you think will be a good fit for an orchestra”, and luckily he picked those. So we kinda did that together.

LOM: And there’s also a new song on the album called “Zo Lief”, which means “so sweet” in Dutch. Did you write it specifically for this project?

AvG: No, that was a song I wrote eight or nine years ago, and never used it, because it’s a very soft song,  I was always making an album where it wouldn’t fit. I was always doing a rock album, or heavier albums, and singing in English. This song is in Dutch, and it’s very dear to my heart because it’s about being a mother, about my son, and about letting go. Every time I showed the crappy demo I made of this song to someone they would always be touched, because ultimately it talks about life, and everybody can relate to the subject. Every time I came back to that song I thought “it’s such a pity that I can’t use it!”. So this project came along, and I thought of including an original song to make this release a bit more special, and what better way to record this track than with an orchestra.

LOM: That was one of my favourites in this release. And I also must ask you about the song “Freedom-Rio”, from VUUR, which also has a new arrangement on “Symphonized”. I am from Rio, so I’m curious as to why you chose that city in particular.

AvG: Rio is one of my favourite places in the world. The nature is beautiful, people are beautiful, your culture, your music, your art…everything is so wonderful! When we visited the city we were there for short periods of time and we enjoyed it a lot. But when you live there, of course you’re faced with a different reality. It’s difficult to make a living because you have economical problems, political problems, and I know from people who live there how harsh the environment is.

LOM: Of course, and that’s why I left! I’ve been living in Toronto, Canada, for almost two years now.
AvG: Wow, that’s a massive change!

LOM: Of course! Temperature-wise, culture-wise…but here we are! [laughs]

AvG: I totally understand because we can make a romantic idea about Rio, but for you who lived there, and for a lot of people we spoke with at our shows there, what we noticed is that people try to make the best of it, they’re always very positive. People there are very vibrant. I live in Holland, where there are always issues to be addressed, but people here complain a lot, considering how much we have. We are blessed to be in a country like Holland – if we go to Belgium and France, we can definitely see the change and how more difficult things are. So, I tried to write about the vibrant nature of the city, and how you embrace your difficulties, and I thought that spirit should be celebrated in a song.

LOM: Thank you for that! [laughs]. Coming back to ‘Symphonized”, how long did it take you to prepare for these shows and how much did you rehearse with the orchestra?

AvG: Surprisingly enough, we did only two rehearsals! [laughs]. Most of the work goes into arranging the songs. The orchestra has sheet music, and they rehearse on their own. I also rehearsed on my own at home with the MIDI files. When we were both ready, we came together and rehearsed for two days, did an extended soundcheck before the shows and went for it! But still, it was a lengthy process, because it took a whole year from meeting for the first time until the actual shows. And yet, there was a lot of room for spontaneity, I think we had a good balance and did not over-rehearse to make every detail right.  I think the audience also captured that, because many times during the shows I looked at the orchestra and at the conductor, and I felt like we had this great connection, and instead of driving perfection, there was always an uncertainty about what we would do next, and we shared a few smiles on stage. And it’s intimidating sometimes to work with such a big orchestra, but on the other hand, if you relax and get used to it, it’s good fun!

LOM: And you’re involved with so many bands at the same time – Gentle Storm, VUUR, your solo work, the albums with Devin Townsend – how do you decide where to focus your time and energy?

AvG: I try to plan ahead, because when you make an album, you need time to write, record and release it properly. Usually I go with my gut feeling. In the case of VUUR, we took two years to form a band, to write and record the album and to tour to promote it. I also write many solo acoustic things like “Zo Lief” which we just discussed.  Sometimes my mind really goes into this mode. In the last couple of months I’ve been writing a huge amount of lyrics. Sometimes I want to focus on VUUR but my mind goes into a different direction and all that comes to me are soft acoustic songs. In general, what I try to do is alternate between making an album with a band on the heavier side, and then switch to a solo acoustic record and tour with that for a while. And then I have the urge to write the heavier stuff again. But what usually ends up happening is that both sides interweave with each other. Next year, for example, I will be touring more with VUUR, but I’ll probably make a solo acoustic album at the same time.

LOM: You must receive a ton of requests to record songs in different albums. The last one I recall was “Amongst Stars”, which you did with Amorphis on their album “Queen of Time” – I love that track, by the way. Is there any collaboration you wish to do which hasn’t happened yet?

AvG:  First of all, I also love the Amorphis track, and I love the band, so I’m really happy to have done it! I feel really blessed to have worked with Devin [Townsend] and Arjen [Lucassen], and one collaboration I wish to do, if the stars align, is with Michael Akerfeldt. It would be either with Opeth or with Michael himself – I talked to him a couple of times, and threw it out there that I would literally KILL to collaborate with him [laughs]. But I know he doesn’t collaborate too much with other artists, so I guess I should just keep praying [laughs].

LOM: I better start praying NOW! [laughs]

AvG: Thank you, I hope it happens one day!

LOM: One thing I noticed is that you seem to cherish your time on the road a lot. I just saw pictures of you at ProgPower USA for example, and you seem to enjoy this lifestyle. How do you balance that with your family life?

AvG: I absolutely love travelling, playing life and being in front of an audience – to me that’s one of the best things in the world. But I also enjoy family time too, you know? I try to combine the two as much as I can. So when I’m touring in Holland and play a show in the weekend, a lot of times I take my son Finn with me and my husband Robert as well. When Finn was a bit younger it was easier for him to come with us, we had these big sleeper buses in Europe for example. We could go for two or three weeks at a time and my family could come with us. In that case I wasn’t even homesick, I could tour for the rest of my life if I could combine these two sides of my life. But it’s also nice sometimes when I go out on tour with VUUR without my family and come back with all kinds of different stories, and when I get home they have other stories to tell as well. So it’s a constant search for balance.

LOM: I actually have a question about Finn. Has he realized what you do, your importance to the fans, and what your career represents?

AvG: [laughs] He has, and he thinks it’s quite cool. He’s thirteen years old now, and has been going to shows with us since forever! So he’s seen the fans, the production, the backstage, the bands. He’s good friends with the guys from VUUR, so he enjoys it. Sometimes when I’m on TV and the next day he goes to school, he hears kids saying they saw me and it’s a bit awkward. Also because from his perspective, what I do is a bit old-fashioned. If his mother was someone like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift it would have been just a little bit cooler for him [laughs]. But he realizes what I do for a living is my passion, and he understands it and sees that it makes me happy, so that’s cool.

LOM: And what were your main influences when you started, and when and how did you discover metal?

AvG: I’ve been into music since forever. Since I was little, I was always singing and dancing. I picked up ghitar when I was 13. Then when I was 14 or 15 I discovered through my friends I discovered Metallica, Slayer, Faith No More…and I was also into Queen a lot. I would look at Iron Maiden and Faith No More and see these fantastic singers with heavy music which I loved. From that moment on, I found my way in music!

LOM: Going back to Symphonized, the album seems like a good retrospective of your career. Do you often stop and reflect on how much you have accomplished so far?

AvG: Not enough, I think [laughs]. I almost never look back, because I’m always in the here and now, I’m always with my head in today and in the future. However, when something like this comes along – a 25 year celebration – you look back at the music and you also look at the pictures of that time too, because you have to draw from that repertoire.  So you’re always forced to go back in time. I’m always happy with the music I made in the past, so in that sense, that makes me happy. Sometimes you look back and reflect on a decision or two that were wrong at the time, either in business or with the fans. So much has happened in those years! But in general, I can say I’m happy, and I’m looking forward to the next 25 years!

LOM: Are you tired of questions about what it’s like to be a woman and play metal? I asked the same question to Doro a while back, and it seems to be a subject that we interviewers refer to a lot, right?

AvG: Well, Doro must get that all the time! [laughs]. I don’t mind, really, it’s something we cannot deny. It used to be a very special thing to be a female and being in metal, and nowadays it’s a bit more normal, but we’re still in a male dominant scene. Which I like, by the way. I like the balance being as it is. I think that metal should be male dominant, it’s an energy that fits the male energy. If there’s too many females, I think that balance is lost. I’m happy to be where I am and to be one of the first in this area. We also have some awesome newer female-fronted bands like Within Temptation and Epica for example, and I’m happy to be one of them.

LOM:  I think I see where you’re coming from, if you see it like you provide a break from such a male predominant scene, but if it gets “too much of a break”, it loses character a little bit, right?

AvG: I think so, yeah! And it has nothing to do with being feminist or sexist, or anything like that. I like females bringing a little bit of color to the dark world, or a bit of light to the darkness, but it needs to be melancholic, it needs to be heavy and aggressive for the most part, you know?

LOM: Definitely. So what’s next for you in your career? I noticed you have a few solo dates early next year, but what’s the next step after that?

AvG: I’m doing a theater tour also to celebrate the 25 years – this will be a solo acoustic show. And I think I’ll write and record a solo acoustic album, because I have so many songs already written! I will tour with VUUR some more and do a few more shows with another orchestra. The cool thing is that when you work with an orchestra, other orchestras say “hey, that’s cool, come play with us!” [laughs]. So I have a few jobs here and there and some other creative endeavours, so I’ll fill my year up with that.

LOM: Thank you so much for your time Anneke, it was a pleasure talking to you!

AvG: Same here. Take care!

ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN – “Symphonized” Will be released under InsideOut Music November 16th, 2018

“Symphonized” (58:36)
1. Feel Alive (03:34)
2. Amity (originally released by Lorrainville) (06:48)
3. Your Glorious Light Will Shine – Helsinki (originally released by VUUR) (05:22)
4. Two Souls (originally released by The Gathering) (03:01)
5. When I Am laid In Earth (aria by Henry Purcell) (03:47)
6. Travel (originally released by The Gathering) (10:46)
7. Zo Lief (unreleased song in Dutch) (04:05)
8. You Will Never Change (04:18)
9. Freedom – Rio (originally released by VUUR) (06:13)
10. Forgotten (originally released by The Gathering)
11. Shores Of India (originally released by The Gentle Storm) (07:20)

Anneke Van Giesbergen online:

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