By Jeb Wright
One of the joys of running Classic Rock Revisited is that I can cover anyone I want. No one is telling me that an artist does not ‘fit’ or that one is not ‘big enough in the USA’ to write about. In fact, discovering new music that is outside of the mainstream is one of the most fulfilling parts of owning www.classicrockrevisited.com. A lot of people tell me their music is good enough but actually finding music outside the mainstream that lives up to the hype is a different story.
When the opportunity to interview Anneke van Giersbergen came up I said, “Sure!” For starters, after doing over 1000 interviews I know I have never interviewed anyone named ‘Anneke’ before and being a fan of progressive music I remember her former band The Gathering. Anneke is back with a new album on Inside Out Music titled Drive that is a cool mixture of pop, rock, prog and even a dash of metal. Her music is original and creative. Her ballads are…well…for lack of a better word so ballady, and her rockers are all over the place. The difficulty in being able to describe her music in words makes her alluring to me.
In the interview below we discuss her new album, as well as some of the key songs on the album, and, of course, we talk about hair color.
Jeb: Congratulations on Drive. Tell me how you approached the songwriting on this album?
Anneke: Thanks Jeb! I have worked with four different songwriters. Usually we would start with a riff, or melodic idea, and work on that together. After that I started working on the lyrics in my home studio and I would record guide vocals at home. Then we would bring in the band and we would ask them to re-write their parts so that it would become close to them and their individual style and sound.
Jeb: You are known best as a member of The Gathering. How important is it to you to keep some of the traditional sound of that band alive in your music? Or do you want to not think of that and just move forward with where you are at today?
Anneke: To be honest, I’m not a person that looks back a lot, I don’t particularly enjoy watching YouTube videos with old footage, or something like that. I’m all about looking forward and even more importantly, the present day.
Jeb: I like Drive because the album has a real album feel. Was this accomplished because you recorded together with the musicians in the studio?
Anneke: Almost immediately after the release of my last album, Everything Is Changing, I started touring live with a very talented, and nice, group of people. We toured over 25 different countries and I think we had a really great creative energy on, and offstage, so I wanted to capture that "making music together" feel on this album.
Jeb: You have a sound that is hard to pin down. Sometimes you are as pop as Pat Benatar and sometimes more progressive than Yes! Where does this unique take on things come from?
Anneke: I love music and I love singing, that’s the main thing. I like to tell “my story” in 3 minutes, as pop musicians do, but at the same time I have a background of dark, melodic and progressive music.
Jeb: You must have a very wide array of influences. What bands have made you into who you are today?
Anneke: My parents played a lot of classical music, mixed with the Beatles and Stones when I was young. My older brother played a lot of Savatage and Iron Maiden when I was a teenager. I liked the energy and the darkness, but at the same time, I was into Madonna and Prince, as well. I’m just really into melody and intensity, which can be found in lots of music, from Mozart to Tool. Today I listen a lot to Deftones and Mastodon.
Jeb: You have toured across the globe, but you have not been able to crack the USA market. Why?
Anneke: I did two shows in Chicago earlier this year and that was awesome. Touring the States is difficult for European artists like me, as traveling across the country, flights and visas are costly, but I really like performing in the US, so we are doing our best to make it happen. I have toured the US several times with The Gathering, but yeah. I am excited to be part of the Progressive Nation At Sea Cruise at the end of February, 2014. Hopefully, that’s the start of something nice in North America.
Jeb: Tell me the inspiration to the standout track on the album, “Drive.”
Anneke: I like driving, being on the move, playing music on my car stereo, but I also think that having a certain drive in your character keeps you going. I don't consider myself as ambitious, because I just love making music and I don't really focus on success, but I like to 'go somewhere', better myself, explore new styles, so in a way that's what drives me.
Jeb: I also want to know about writing the song “We Live On.”
Anneke: This is the opener of the album and it's a great mix of power and melancholy. It is a song about loving life and living it to the fullest. I can't wait to play this one live.
Jeb: I think the sentiment to “Treat Me Like a Lady” is pretty cool. Tell me about that song’s creation.
Anneke: “Treat Me Like A Lady” is fiction, but I guess every girl has been there. You just want to be treated nicely and respectfully…kinda like the Aretha Franklin song "Respect," although I do think that that song is originally written by a man named Otis Redding.
Jeb: I bet there is a good story behind the song “Mental Jungle.”
Anneke: I have been friends with Turkish superstar Hayko Cepkin for a couple of years now. I have performed with him in Turkey and he has performed with me in The Netherlands. I just love his voice & vocal phrasing and I have been wanting to record that on one of my songs for years. My guitar player, Ferry Duijsens, had this really cool riff with an Eastern vibe, so I knew this had to be the song. I'm really happy with the way it turned out.
Jeb: I love how the last song on the album is “The Best is Yet to Come.” It says, well, the best is yet to come. What is yet to come that is best? Tell me! Tell me!
Anneke: Ha-ha, “The Best Is Yet To Come” is one of my mottos in life. I don't like looking back at all. The song is written with a dear friend in mind who had become some sort of passenger in life. The song was meant to wake him up and convince him that life's for the living!
Jeb: You have a physical look that is as interesting and unique as your music. Talk about your sense of fashion and how it helps make you such an individual.
Anneke: Well, this is interesting, as I just wear what I like without consulting a regular stylist. I’m also easily bored with my hair color, so that changes a lot too. All of that without much of a purpose I must admit, other than just being intuitive about it.
As far as clothing, I work with a Dutch fashion designer called Hans Ubbink, who works with bands like Duran Duran, so it’s not the typical metal approach I guess!
Jeb: How good do you consider yourself as a guitar player?
Anneke: I don’t think I’m much of an instrumentalist, but I do play piano and guitar well enough to be able to accompany myself. I love to better myself in anything that I do – I wish I had more time!
Jeb: I know you are well known for your intricate ballads…but I have to say I like you best when you rock out. Have you been finding yourself wanting to rock more than in the past?
Anneke: I noticed in recent years that whenever I was writing a setlist, I was looking for songs that were full of energy, so I really wanted to write a bunch of those for this album. Writing ballads somehow seems more easy.
Jeb: Was one of your early bands really called Bad Breath? What a terrible name!
Anneke: [Laughter] We also sold tooth paste at our shows!
Jeb: In your past you have worked with Devin Townsend. What was that like?
Anneke: I love recording and performing with other artists. Every collaboration creates a new energy and creative output. I love the freshness and it inspires me as a solo artist in my own work.
Working with Devin is incredibly fulfilling. We were label mates back in the 90s, and we became label mates again with the release of Drive, but our friendship became a lot closer since we started working together.
It takes up all my skills to sing his compositions and that’s very challenging. I like pushing my limits like that, but at the same time, his songs sound so intense, creative and heartfelt. Working with Devin is a dream for every musician, I guess.
Jeb: You also worked with John Wetton of Asia. He is amazing to me.
Anneke: Oh yeah, I’m so excited John will be part of the Progressive Nation At Sea Cruise, as well. I’m also a massive King Crimson fan.
Jeb: Tell me about working on The Human Experiment.
Anneke: To me, it was more a studio project than a band. I love working with Jeffrey Fayman, but other than that, I was just a singer and not that involved with the album. Too bad, because some of my favorite musicians are on it, as well!
Jeb: You play in a band with your husband and you have a family. Tell me of the challenges to all of that! It must be difficult to balance everything together.
Anneke: Music and family life go hand in hand in our household. My husband is a music manager and also the drummer in my band and we take our son with us as much as possible. Our lives are quite busy, but I feel really blessed to be able to make a living as a musician after all those years!
It’s easy, since we both know the in’s and out’s of living with musicians, so no stress there [laughter]. I take my son with me on the road as much as possible. When we are touring together as a family I am the happiest person alive.
Jeb: Last one: I LOVE the red hair…I want to know why red…you’ve had other hair colors so the red must MEAN something…spill it girl!
Anneke: [laughter] It’s really what I feel like at that moment. The other day somebody asked what the title of my biography should be. I said, “1000 Hair Styles.”