I spoke to Anneke van Giersbergen recently about her new band, Vuur.
ok you have a new band, Vuur, which means Fire in Dutch. With the exception of Jord Otto you played with all the band members on the Gentle Storm tour. Presumably that means you enjoy working with them.
Yes very much. They inspired me to form this new band because I was working with Arjen for the Gentle Storm and quickly put together a band for live shows, and I quickly realised they were so good that if ever I wanted to make my solo heavy album then it had to be with these guys. So, I asked them to participate in my new band and they pretty much all said Yes, great.
It’s not just important how good a musician someone is, but how well you get on together, and you’ve had the luxury of working with them before so you know you get on well together.
Totally. Usually with your bandmates you spend more time off-stage than on-stage, in the rehearsal room, the studio, the airplane.., so if that doesn’t work and also chemistry on stage, then you have nothing, however good they might be. Also finding a new guitar player is a big thing. We needed a solo guitar player, and that’s so difficult to find someone that good, because the music is quite complicated, but also has a stage presence and charisma, and is also a nice guy, just a nice guy to be with, and that’s not easy. He is way up North in Holland. Ok Holland is a small country, but still it’s a super inconvenience, but we love him so much. He fits in and is so good, and we needed that. We were already thinking of finding someone in Germany or France to join the band because we couldn’t find anyone who had all those things until we found him.
When you have someone like Johan van Stratum who is so energetic on stage…
When you have one person like that in the band, I think it pushes the rest of the band to up their game to match them.
True, and to be honest I want to be a better singer and performer because they’re behind me, and not only behind me, they come forwards also. I want people to see them. All of them have a specific character and you are drawn to them as well.
When you played at Dynamo metal fest it was noticeable that it wasn’t you at the front with a backing band behind you, everyone had a turn in the spotlight.
Everyone should shine, and they can all handle it. Ed Warby is a living legend and he’s way in the back and still you totally notice him because he’s that good and he has this powerful presence.
With your solo albums, The Gentle Storm and The Gathering you’d played a wide range of musical styles. With Vuur you’ve got more of a metal or progressive metal sound. Was it an aim to sound like this from the start or was it something that evolved?
For the last ten years I’ve done so many different things, I think everything is bunched up in this album. On top of that I had this clear idea that I wanted the music to sound masculine, heavy and energetic, and the vocals to sound beautiful with beautiful melodies. The melodies in the guitar are beautiful, and all together it sounds epic, so those are the key words. I wanted to bring those worlds together, the darkness and the light. I love metal and heavy music that has that, like the music of Devin Townsend, there’s so much beauty but it’s so heavy at the same time, and Gojira does that. It all comes down to the same thing, and I thought to mtyself I can do this, make music and express all those things at the same time.
You’ve got an album coming out at the end of October, “In this moment we are free – cities”, with each song being inspired by a different city. Can you give an example of how a city inspired a song?
There’s a lot of different angles to it. Sometimes I see cities as a character, a human being, an entity, and I wrote always poetically about it, even existential, and I try to be epic in the lyrics. Sometimes I talk about events taking place in certain cities, like for instance, San Francisco is about the fire in 1906 and I talk about that as an event but not like a history lesson so I try to be poetic about it and talk like the fire is speaking to the inhabitants and making them fearful and desperate, and the inhabitants speaking to the fire and so on. Lyrically it’s all as epic as the cities I write about.
Did you write all the music or were the other guys involved in that process?
I wrote the music together with Joost van den Brook, our producer, and we wrote together everything. I wrote all the vocal lines and lyrics and we had some help writing from our friends, Mark Holcomb from periphery, we had Esa Holopainen from Amorphis, they’re all friends, and Daniel Cardoso from Anathema. I asked them, I’m making an album, would you care to contribute, and they came up with riffs or half songs, and everything we got from them we turned into actual songs. Our two guitar players also came up with a song that we then further worked out, so that’s kind of how it went.
Joost is one of those names – you look at any Dutch band and he’s the man they go to.
Yes that’s true. He does a lot of Ayreon, for Epica, and also for me. He also does a lot of other things and classical things. He’s such a good producer, he knows metal but he also knows melody and exactly how to turn something into reality when I talk to him about it.
Originally Dynamo metal fest was due to be your first show as Vuur but you ended up doing Tuska a week earlier. Did it put any pressure on you being booked when you hadn’t released any music at all?
Totally. We wanted to do a tryout show, which in the beginning was going to be a nice intimate venue, and we thought we’ll try something out and see how it works live, mess around with a few things, then that got sold out so we thought maybe a bigger venue, then that sold out, so then it was 700 people and we thought, Wow, we have to do a proper show now, it’s not intimate any more so we worked really hard to get every song done. Except for one song we played them all live and it’s not easy for the guys – it’s kind of complicated shit. We had to get all the technical stuff in order, and make a show from scratch. With the festivals it’s not easy because a festival audience is checking you out rather than seeing a show if you play new songs, so they’re there with their beer going “well ok”, and you’re playing a lot of new songs, a few oldies as well, but mainly new songs and they’re all long songs and not super-catchy so we were a bit nervous and said lets just play really well and see what happens, and the reaction was truly overwhelming I have to say.
We were scared it was maybe to much new stuff, but people in prog and metal, they don’t mind, they have the energy and stamina to listen through a seven minute song.
You were on quite early at Dynamo so most people had only just got inside (most missed the first band), and were still sober.
That’s true, that’s a good thing.
It’s good and bad – they’ve got lots of energy still which is good, but they arent fully in the party mood and you’re the first band they see.
It was light out too, so there goes the atmosphere. We were just saying lets kick ass and see what happens because there was a lot we couldnt control, we didn’t have a soundcheck, it’s just plug and play.
It was great to see you perform with Devin too later that day.
It would be silly if we didn’t play together when we’re both there.
Later this month you’re performing alongside an ammazing group of singers and musicians as part of the first ever Ayreon live shows. With something like 10 singers that’s a huge amount of talent on stage.
Just like Arjen making some crazy plan. He did The Theater Equation..
Yes although he only got involved quite late and said those weren’t proper Ayreon shows.
This is all his idea and production, I think it’s going to be better. He will I think participate a little and he will manage because if he’s on stage he has such charisma he’ll wrap the whole audience round his finger.
As soon as he appeared on stage at the end of The Theater Equation the crowd cheers were deafening.
I still have goosebumps when I think about that. When he walks on stage, he didn’t do anything, it’s his legacy speaking for him. He got out of his bubble and people saw him – they didn’t expect it either, and they went nuts.
You’ve got a European tour in November supporting Epica.
I think it’s a good package. I think there’s a good overlap, and I think Epica have a bit of a younger crowd and I really believe they can get into Vuur as well, so we will work really hard to win everybody over. It’s a blessing to be able to play to more people than you’re used to, either at a festival or on support tours, to get the music out there
You end with two headline shows in London on 9th December then Utrecht on 10th. For the headline shows, presumably you’ll play the album plus some songs from the rest of your career?
More or less the entire album. Also for the shows with Epica the emphasis will be on the album, but in any case we’ll always play some Devin, some Gentle Storm, some Gathering, they’ll always be there because people like those songs and we need some oldies. We only have one album but we have such a back catalogue, the whole Gentle storm album is there to pick from so that’s a rich catalogue to pick from.
You’re spoilt for choice with The Gathering, Gentle storm, Ayreon, Devin, your solo albums – so many songs to choose from.
Yeah it’s ridiculous. It’s sometimes hard to choose, but you have some like the songs with Devin, the hits, that you have to play, but other than that we can play what we like.
Thank you for your time.