I spoke to Dutch singer Anneke van Giersbergen shortly before she played the Garage in London with The Gentle Storm, her new project with Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen.
The Gentle Storm is your latest project with Arjen Lucassen. You’ve worked together before haven’t you?
A few times. The Ayreon album “Into the electric castle” was my first time working with him. As you know he’s great, he makes great music and is a fantastic guy to work with, so we kept in touch over the years and sang on each others albums, or played in his case, and now we said why don’t we do a full album together. This is the first really dual album we’ve made.
The album itself has a concept with a story running through it, but you’ve also done something which I think is a first, which is to do two versions of the album. Whose idea was that?
It was Arjen’s idea from the first moment. He was writing songs – I wasn’t involved yet, he had finished two or three songs. He had the inspiration but didn’t know where to go with the songs – he had made some really basic demos with string sounds and then he asked his fans where the songs should go. A lot of people said they wanted a heavy album, and a lot said they wanted folky stuff, and he thought let’s do both, rather than a heavy album with folk influences or the other way round, let’s do both. At that point I emailed him about something else, and at the bottom of my email I said something like “Maybe we should do something together again”. He replied and said he was writing some songs and his idea was to make two albums, so I said I was in, let’s do it. Then we came up with the whole concept – the storyline and everything and took it from there.
It’s interesting – I can’t decide which version I like best – sometimes I prefer the Storm version but at other times I prefer the Gentle version.
That’s so cool. It’s so great because everyone has their own experience of it. It’s not just an album, you can experience it like you said, depending on your mood, and there’s also a certain amount of people who have said they’re a metalhead or like heavier music by nature but they prefer the gentle version because it’s so rich in sounds, and it’s so intensive that they really like it, and also there’s the other way round, because the Heavy version isn’t super-dooper heavy, it’s more cinematic and elaborate – a bit heavier but you don’t get overwhelmed by the heaviness. A lot of people are surprised by themselves on which they like.
Playing it live on tour, presumably you don’t play two versions of each song, so is it going to be all Storm versions or a mix?
Mainly Storm. Me personally when I thought about taking this on the road, I wanted to make it more of a heavy show because I’ve been doing my solo shows which have been rocky but not in a metal kind of way so I wanted to do that, but I always do acoustic bits in the middle, so now I do an acoustic bit in the middle with maybe only Gentle versions of the ballads off the album. Then we do some Ayreon classics as well, we do some Gathering songs, some Ayreon, some Devin Townsend, just to make it a whole.
After the tour ends you have some festivals in the summer. Is that going to be the same set or changed around?
Kind of. We can change around a bit but we’ve got a really good set now, really solid so we’ll stick with that. We’ve got gigs all year round and into 2016 as well. That’s surprising to me – it’s doing really well. I do a lot of different things and it’s always working out well, but the Gentle Storm is really taking off so that’s cool. We have lots of gigs and the album is doing well so I’ll keep doing it, it’s great.
You’re supporting Delain in Europe on their tour. No support was announced for the UK dates. Will The Gentle Storm be supporting in the UK too?
Yes. We are doing these dates at the moment on our own, so it’s a logistics thing, we want to pull a crowd now and then again in October
I did think that was probably the case – promoters don’t want to harm ticket sales by announcing early which makes sense.
These shows are crowded so I’m truly happy, and I know people will want to see Delain as well, so I hope we can pull a good crowd in then. On our own we both do ok.
Your last solo show in the UK was at the Borderline which was packed.
That was amazing. I’ve been away for a while because The Gathering played a lot in the UK then didn’t play much. Also thanks to Devin Townsend because I’ve played with him a few times and people rediscover me or discover me. I love it here – I love the crowds, they’re really intense in how they enjoy music, so truly happy to be back.
It doesn’t seem like it but it was five months ago that you played with The Gathering at their 25th anniversary shows
Wow, is it five months already? Really? Time flies.
It must have been an interesting time for you – you haven’t played with them for quite a long time and then you did two shows in one day.
Eight years. It was super fun. Of course we had to concentrate for the whole day but it went so well. It was a long time since we played together and some of the guys I didn’t see in that time, so when we saw each other we immediately started talking about the event. Then we started rehearsing and I was playing with the guys, playing “Travel” and “Strange machines” and all those Gathering classics and I thought it felt like yesterday because I was with them so long for such an intense period in my young adult life. It was crazy.
Watching the show it was amazing the diversity of the music that The Gathering has produced over the years.
They didn’t sit still. I don’t think The Gathering ever wrote a bad song in their lvies, everything was with the most care of details. That’s why there was nothing outside the Gathering, like projects. It was always full-on Gathering – productions, making music and doing the live shows, and I don’t know another band that works with so much detail and so much care on a show or song or anything. I think that’s a dying breed. I myself am more a swifty than the guys, so when I went solo I said “I have a four piece band, I have these songs, we’re going to play this, and do this this this. I was much faster in everything, but that also means there is less richness in sound, so The Gathering are and I mean this in the most positive way, like a dinosaur, one of a kind. I saw that again when we played together, I saw how they work and how perfect everything has to be.
Later in the year you’re taking part in another Ayreon collaboration, The Theater equation along with Marcela Bovio.
She does a lot of things, she works very hard. They have day jobs as well, it’s very hard. I asked her to sing in The Gentle Storm because she is one of the best singers in the genre that I know. She is very versatile – she can do the operatic thing but can also belt it out, and do the soft things and her voice is very very pleasant to listen to. You have Floor Jansen, she is very versatile too but the other girls are very good in one particular thing. Marcela is way out there in all the things she does and she’s developing always, always getting better. I think it’s a super luxury that she is singing my backups because she’s a front woman herself, and that’s the thing with all the band members, they all are front-people, they are all projecting. It’s the first time I’ve sung in a show where people are not only looking at me, there’s so much happening on stage that people have a lot to look at. It’s wonderful.
Are there any plans for another solo album?
Yes. I have two ideas lined up. In 2016 I’m going into theaters in Holland with the Icelandic band Árstíðir. We played with Pain of Salvation and toured together and I like them so much I asked them to join me in a classical production, making classical music. I sing arias and we make them into – well we’re in the process of making them into modern arrangements, and we’ll take that to the theaters in Holland in March. There’s going to be an album too, and then I’m doing another solo album. I want it to be more intense than the ones before because I have my rock thing. I did that and I’m happy with that, now it’s out of my system. I like the music of The Gentle Storm so much because it’s deep and I can sing everything I want, high, low, loud, soft, intense, and I’d like to take that atmosphere with me for the solo album. I’m going to look for partners to write with me because when I write a song that doesn’t come out, but I would like to sing it.
Tonight I’m going to be on television, because it was taped earlier, doing one of the classical pieces, so from tonight on, this will start coming to the surface. I’m focussed on The Gentle storm and the shows, but behind the scenes you have to work on something new.
Some musicians, like yourself never really stop working – you’re always looking at what you’re doing now as well as what comes next.
Sometimes people ask me where I want to be in five years time, and I really have no idea. I concentrate on here and now, but here and now means up to two years from now. I never think about where I want to be in five years time because I’m already doing exactly what I want, playing with fantastic people, doing the music I love, talking to people who are intersted, and that’s all I need, and if thigns aren’t going how I want then I shall do something about it, but I never think, well in five years I want to play the Royal Albert Hall or somthing, because you don’t know what happens and I just like playing music.
You’re lucky to have a job you love – you can’t really ask for much more than that.
Exactly. I’m 100% happy.
It’s a pity you didn’t join Devin on his show at the Royal Albert Hall a couple of weeks ago, but I think you sang with him at his previous big London show at the Roundhouse.
Yes that was fantastic.
I do love that venue – it’s old and is something unique. There are some lovely venues around – the old Bibelot in Dordrecht was an old church for example.
It’s a good atmosphere and the first time you walk in, you just think “This is good”. There are lots of new venues in Holland that are basically concrete boxes. They have good sound and everything but it has to start living, to have thousands of people through it to get the vibe. It’s like Paradiso in Amsterdam, it’s famous and it’s cosy and very beautiful.
I love Theater Carre in Amsterdam – it’s a bit like a smaller version of the Royal Albert Hall.
That’s true, it’s round, and very old – it used to be a circus. I’ve played there once and that was a bit of a special moment. To play in Carre is very nice for an artist. I don’t play theaters a lot, and Carre is the highest you can get in the Theater world in Holland so to play there as a rock musician is really special.