Some musicians pick one style and stick to it like glue, while others will dabble in a little bit of whatever they can get their hands on. We can’t think of anyone who has tried more things and collaborated with more people than Anneke van Giersbergen, so we asked if she had the time to sit down with us for a few minutes and discuss some of her collaborations over the years, and, of course, what she’s up to in the future!
Welcome back to Finland!
I thought I had read somewhere that you were taking a break from touring for a while, so is that true, and if so, what brought you on this tour?
I’m taking a break in 2017, so that’s still coming. Now I’m touring myself silly and I’m doing a lot of solo acoustic shows, so it’s like one big tour but it’s in chunks all over the place. I’m doing some band shows, I’m doing some festivals, and from December on there will be less shows and in January I’m taking a month off. Then the weeks and months after that I’m not going to perform much. I’m going to record the new album, which I’m already writing.
Do you write while you’re on tour?
I do! I write a lot. I have my laptop and all the songs and the demos, so I write a lot of lyrics and I write vocal lines or complete songs, because I always have my guitar with me, so I do a lot at the same time. Being for instance in Helsinki is inspiring, because it’s an inspiring place; it’s a beautiful place, so it inspires me directly, these places. Or being in an airplane when you can go nowhere, so it’s really good for me to focus, airports and airplanes. So I do a lot of writing there.
That’s interesting, because some people think that touring is too busy and they’re so focused on the gigs and the performance that they can’t even begin to think about writing music.
That’s true and I can imagine, because sometimes… for instance now I’m doing these back-to-back tours and I’m physically extremely tired. Sometimes when I do have an hour off I tell myself to sleep for an hour, because otherwise I can’t do it. So on this tour I have written less than I normally do because it’s a lot. It’s too much. But I love it! It’s all good. So when I get home now – I’m going home the day after tomorrow – and I’m doing some weekend shows, and during weekdays I’ll be home a little bit more and then I will really start continuing writing, because I’ve done a lot already.
You’ve had so many projects and collaborations – THE SIRENS, Arjen Lucassen with “The Theater Equation” and THE GENTLE STORM, Devin Townsend, and the individual songs you loan your voice to – there’s so much of everything! How do you balance it all? Is it really difficult?
In a way. Like I said, I love everything about it, and I say yes to everything, and I have a lot of ideas – like THE SIRENS – I always think, “Yeah, we can do that!” Then there’s all the organization and the tour and everything. So sometimes it just goes over my head and it’s too much. I do more shows now because I want to be able to take a few months off, so it’s a bit extreme. I’m focusing on the shows, the solo acoustic thing, and I’m focusing on the new album. I told myself to take the time off and I thought to give myself a break, but also the audience, and I told myself to just focus on the one thing. I love the acoustic thing and it’s nice to play, and then I’m writing the new album – it’s going to be heavy, a heavy prog kind of album – and I’m focusing on that. THE GENTLE STORM was quite successful and I love it and I formed a band for it and I’m taking the band with me for the new album; I feel so much at home with them and with this kind of music and playing that live and making such an album that I want to make a new heavy album, and I thought that it should be so good, because THE GENTLE STORM album with Arjen… it turned out so great and I just don’t want to go down in quality. In order for me to accomplish that, I shouldn’t do four things at the same time. I want to purely focus on that, so that’s my plan!
Do you have a favorite song or a favorite few songs from your collaborations that were the most fun or that you really love?
I love working with Devin! He’s such a master. I love the song “Grace” that I did with him for [“Epicloud”]. To sing it live… I don’t think I’ve ever sang as loud as I did. I really felt my lungs were going to come out when I was singing that in the studio and also live. I love it, because it has a certain majestic energy, the whole song, and I’m just really proud to be a part of it. That would be one of my favorites.
What are some of your current favorite bands or singers or albums at the moment?
I’m listening a lot to the new AMORPHIS. I love the band and I love the album. I play it all the time, especially in the car. I love the new MASTODON. I play that to pieces. Those are my two favorite albums of this last half a year or year.
You’ve been touring what seems like everywhere – is there anywhere you haven’t been yet that you’re dying to go?
Yeah, there are lots of places! Like Japan. We never go to the east. Only places like Moscow, but we never really go into the deep east, like China, Japan, India. It’s supposed to be really nice, so it would be nice to go there. Or Australia, even. It’s just so far away, so you never get there unless there’s an effort. It would be nice.
We flew out to Rotterdam to see “The Theater Equation” last September – can you tell us a bit about that experience? How long did it take to prepare it and what was it like to do a stage performance of a concept album?
Very interesting! I loved it, because it needed a little bit of acting. Like you said, it’s different from stepping behind a microphone and doing your thing. I think we practiced for half a year and then we rehearsed for a week in the rehearsal room, and then for a few days in the theater. Then we did four or six shows. It was great. It was a large group of people. That was nice! And to work with James Labrie is fantastic. I’d never met him before. People say he’s a diva and he probably is, but he’s such a good singer and he had the lead role, so he had to work the most out of all of us, and he has such a work ethic. He was so concentrated. Then after a few days when he got down all his parts and he was relaxing more, he got to be a really funny guy! He let loose a little bit and he made jokes and also during the gigs he made little jokes. He’s a really nice guy! I had no idea, because I like DREAM THEATER a lot and I love his voice. So to work with him was something really nice.
What was it like singing Mikael Åkerfeldt’s songs?
My parts were all the growling stuff, so I had to do something with it because I couldn’t… I started to practice and see if I could do a growl, because if I would, then it would be the first time in my career I would do it, and then I would make a good… moment of surprising everybody, but of course Mikael is one of the best and I’m not, because I need a lot of practice, so I made vocal lines for it. I told him, because I met him the other day, and I told him I’m going to do his parts and he seemed to like that.
So what about THE GENTLE STORM? Where did that whole idea and concept come from?
Actually, I sent Arjen an email about something totally different, something random. I saw a picture on the internet and I wrote about it, and I thought while I was writing to him,I’m just going to ask if he wants to do something with me. I asked, “Are you doing anything? Maybe just you and me, we can make an album,” and he said, “Yeah, I’m working on two or three songs at the moment but I have no idea where to go with them, so yeah, let’s do it!” And then we started. We didn’t know that a year later there would be a huge double concept album and a tour and a new band and everything. I really was… I was behind the computer and I never gave it a thought before, I was just like, “Hey, maybe we can…” You know? And then voila, a year later! It’s been great.
Is he going to continue with it? I know he’s not big on live performances and the touring thing.
He doesn’t tour at all. I formed a band for it but he never joined. I did an acoustic tour… I was in Finland as well with him, and that’s pretty rare. The thing is that, when he performs he likes it very much because he likes the energy from the audience. People adore him! Of course, also because he never goes out, people are crazy for him when he does come out, but in general… and he’s a good player and a wonderful performer, so it’s a pity that he never performs, but that’s his thing. He wants to be a hermit. He wants to be inside, thinking, writing.
The quiet genius.
Yeah, totally! So I’m extremely proud that I got him to go on the road. I called him. I said, “I want to do an acoustic tour and I thought maybe you’d like to join me,” and he said, “Are you kidding? No way, you know that I never tour, are you crazy?” I said, “Okay, fine, sure!” Then a few days later he calls me back and says, “Maybe I could do it.” Then it was really nice for 2 weeks or so through Europe. Then in the end I asked, “How did you find it?” and he says, “I loved it and I will never do it again!” [laughter] It’s great.
What about Devin Townsend? How did you meet him and start working with him?
That’s another funny story. I did a cover of his song when I just went solo, after THE GATHERING. I played it live in Santiago in Chili and it was a really good crowd and everything. I thought, because there was a video on YouTube of it, I thought I would email it to him just as a compliment and say, “I’m covering your song.” Because I know he knows me because we were label-mates and I had heard that he likes my voice, but I had never met him before. I had been to his concerts but I had never dared to speak to him. Then I didn’t have his email or anything, so the one guy that I knew had his email address, I emailed him and I said, “Do you have an address for Devin, because I want to send him a link,” and he said – and he’s a German guy, and Devin is Canadian – and he said, “I’m in Oslo with Devin at the moment.” [laughs] Crazy, right? So I sent him the link and then Devin said, “I’m working on an album and I need some female vocals,” so a few months later I was in Canada recording! That never would have happened if I hadn’t just sent that link as a compliment.
We actually met him last year and asked him if he would ever be interested in doing an acoustic tour with you and he said he totally would, so would you be willing to do that?
Of course! Oh my God, yes!
So who do we need to harass to make that happen?
I think his management. [laughter] He’s so, so busy, you know him. He’s so all over the place all the time. But one day, it has to happen, or either our bands or an acoustic string of shows. I’d love that. I’d kill for it.
It’s quite easy to read on your Facebook about how The Sirens formed, but I was wondering, did any of you actually know each other beforehand?
Not really, only by name. Because of course, we go way back! That’s the whole thing about The Sirens, we were the first three ladies in metal, and THE GATHERING were very much fans of 3RD AND THE MORTAL and Kari, and it was doomy stuff. We were at the start of this whole scene and I thought it might be fun to have these three ladies do all the old stuff, THE GATHERING, Liv‘s and everything, and do our own stuff, and do stuff together, so we made a live project.
It’s really fun! We saw it at Tuska last year. Do you think we’ll ever get an album of it, from the three of you?
No, it was really a live project. And then everybody switched to do our own records again and everything. But we will do one more show in Finland.
Now with regard to THE GATHERING, at least by my experience, you’re still the voice most associated with the band, even though they’ve had a vocalist after you for so long. What were some of your highlights from your time with them?
There are many. When I first joined, it got big fairly fast and I loved that band. I saw everything and learned everything in that band, because it was my whole adult life. I grew up in that band. On many levels there were many highlights. There are some festivals that were great and I’ll never forget and my favorite albums, but in general it’s just me growing up and everything I can do now I can do because of that start.
If you were ever to rerecord “King for a Day” would you make any changes to it or would you keep it the way it is?
What an interesting question! You know I love that song! I wouldn’t change a lot and I love Bart‘s vocals, but they are, of course, so different from how I would do it because he’s a growler and he has a different way [to sing] melodics. I don’t think I would change anything, because it’s a classic THE GATHERING song, but I would probably make it a bit more melodic in vocals. Although I love the vocals as they are, but I couldn’t sing them as well. Good question!
Last question then! You’ve had such a diverse and really fascinating career already and you’re still really, really young. What do you think the future has in store?
Thank you! I think, even because I’m working on the music and I love doing everything and it gives me a lot of energy, but when I’m too old – like Iggy Pop, you know? He’s just going at it! – but if I get too old to headbang and I’m just doing the acoustic thing… I think about getting older and doing music that fits me and my character and my age and everything, and as long as it feels good I’ll do what feels good. I don’t think I’ll ever stop music. I hope I’ll just one day collapse on stage and that will be it. As long as I have a voice, I will definitely use it. You can do so much. You can see a lot of really old people, like 70-80 years old, still singing. I love that! I want to do that too!
Awesome, well that’s all of my questions! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and have a great show!
Interview by Bear Wiseman