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3rd June 2008
When Anneke Van Giersbergen announced in June 2007 she would be leaving The Gathering after their appearance at Finland's Ankkarock festival in August of the same year, hearts sunk the world over from the band's thousands of loyal fans. Also with this announcement was the welcome news that she would now be concentrating her efforts on a new project, Agua de Annique. Shortly after her departure from The Gathering, a globally successful and seminal Dutch band which she fronted for thirteen years, Agua de Annique's impressive debut album, 'Air', was released towards the end of the 2007. Mainly comprised of her own compositions, 'Air' received widespread rave reviews, and although perhaps more 'straightforward' in compositional style than The Gathering's music, proved Anneke to be a very talented songwriter autonomous of her previous band. With one of the most versatile, widest ranging, and likeable voices in the music business, Anneke is still a widely respected musician and performer both within the metal scene and by fans of other genres. Having already experienced a degree of success, Agua de Annique are set to become huge, and certainly have the potential to do so.

Over in the Netherlands for the Neurotic Deathfest in Tilburg, I discovered that a few days later Anneke would be performing in a tribute to James Bond theme songs in celebration of 100 years since the birth of Ian Fleming as part of a literary mini-festival at the Melkweg venue in Amsterdam. I contacted Anneke and was delighted when she accepted my request for an interview. Meeting in the Melkweg at 6pm, a couple of hours before the literary festival was due to commence, we wander around the venue's many rooms to find a suitable place to chat (including a mock forensic laboratory!) before settling down in a café-restaurant. Initial conversation reveals that Anneke had also been in Tilburg a few days previously at the first day of the Deathfest to see Napalm Death (which will explain some of the references in the transcript that follows!). We chat for around an hour about a wide array of subjects including her exit from The Gathering, future musical plans, a close encounter with a horny fan, and her fascination with air stewardesses! With a perpetual grin on her face, Anneke is a genuinely charming lady, and sheer pleasure to speak with. Here follows a transcript of the interview in its entirety...
METAL DISCOVERY: How did you get involved in tonight’s show?
MD: Simple as that!
ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN: I was asked! [laughs] The guy from the company who was booking the artists for today asked me so that’s it.
AVG: Yeah, very simple, but I really like it because I like the James Bond songs and themes, and I saw all the movies of course, so I thought it was a nice challenge to do it.
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(Anneke on enjoying the greater creative freedom she has with Agua de Annique)
"It was very personal in The Gathering as well, but I was like a piece of the pie…I was a really nice piece...but I own the whole pie now, and I like it!"
Anneke in the Melkweg's Café-Restaurant, Amsterdam, 3rd June 2008
Photograph copyright © 2008 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: Right, it’s not a question I have written down here, but who’s your favourite Bond - Connery?….Moore?
AVG: Moore. Roger Moore I like. I think one of the few, because he’s also been criticised the most I believe, but I really like this…I don’t know why, I just like him…
MD: Suave, British kind of…
AVG: Yeah, and he’s kind of in words, but there’s a lot of passion, but he’s very restrained, and I like - it’s very…
MD: Runs through explosions and doesn’t have a hair out of place, and that kind of thing…
AVG: [laughs]…very tidy!
MD: What songs will you be performing tonight, or is this a surprise?
AVG: Well, I can tell you! I sing one song of Sheryl Crow, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, this is a really good one.
MD: Did you get to chose your song, or is that…?
AVG: Yeah, and I was very fast in mailing him back because he said these are all the songs which you can chose from, and I was - I have to do that one. But all the vocalists today are really, really good. There will be four girls and one guy singing, so…
MD: Yeah, I checked it out on the website - someone from Room Eleven. I’ve not heard of the band, but I guess they’re quite big in Holland?
AVG: Yeah, they are, they are. They’re even climbing up. And the guy from Moke.
MD: Ah yeah, the other band I checked out.
AVG: They’re very good.
MD: A Gathering question next if you don’t mind…
AVG: Sure.
MD: How was your final gig in Ankkarock with The Gathering - was it a happy and sad occasion?
AVG: Yeah, it’s always double, you know. I never went through this in my life, but obviously it’s double because of course I made a choice, and I was happy that I was going to do what I wanted to do. But, of course, after thirteen years it’s really difficult to leave and sad and, of course, the atmosphere is weird because, you know, you have to part ways but, at the same time, you have to do the show and when you play you are so together…so it’s really double, double feelings. But what was really nice was that there were so many people from all over the place come to see us, and they become old friends, you know, this Gathering group of fans who travel and…so that was nice, they came to support us. I think back with very much pleasure because it was a good gig, we played really well and we did a good job, so that’s good….that’s good to end this day, because of course The Gathering continues.
MD: Leaving The Gathering seemed like quite an amicable exit from the media point of view, but are you still on speaking terms with them, and…?
AVG: On speaking terms, yeah. We are on speaking terms, but we don’t speak a lot! [laughs] Because I guess you have to go your separate ways, and I believe it will come together again, but we need some time to be apart. And I heard somebody say - you never go apart hugging, while hugging, you know, you have to be whooosssssh and then we’ll see where it…but, you know, it’s a small music scene, so we’ll come across each other.
MD: I’ve heard they’re going to do an album with lots of different vocalists rather than just replacing Anneke, so it’s kind of a compliment in a way I guess.
AVG: It is yeah, and I think they didn’t want to have all the people comparing one with the other, so I guess it’s smart to do. It’s more of a Massive Attack approach with different….and I know they have some famous singers and some unknown people so, yeah, I’m very curious…really, really curious!
MD: ‘Air’ is a stunning album with incredibly well composed and performed music - I absolutely love it - was all the music written after you announced you were leaving The Gathering, or have some of those tunes been knocking around for a while?
AVG: Yeah, some. Some songs, a few are really old. And because I just write a lot of songs, some of them have, of course, been used in The Gathering’s albums, but I just write so much that I had a lot on the shelf, and a few of those I liked, really enough to put on this, like when I do something by myself I’ll use this. I had a small shelf for that, for those songs. There’s one or two songs …a song called ‘Take Care of Me’ - that’s been…that I think the oldest has been written when we were recording ‘Nighttime Birds’, so it’s really old. But it’s such a simple song - you can use it or re-use it or whatever, you know. So I really liked it - it’s about my husband Rob, I met him then, in those days. I like to use that, but most of the songs are from this half a year on the flipside - of the half a year before and after I left The Gathering. But I formed Agua de Annique while I was in The Gathering, like in the last half a year or so I was working on these songs because this was supposed to be a side project. So I did already some recording and such when I was in…and then I didn’t even think about leaving - that occurred to me later on - but then I was already in the process; I was really fast with releasing this album after I left The Gathering, so it was kind of an overlapping business.
MD: This leads me nicely onto my next question! You recorded and released it very soon after leaving The Gathering, so was it important for you to get your music out there as soon as possible to show people what Anneke can do outside of The Gathering?
AVG: Not really. It just wasn’t like that, but I know people around me - they thought it was very smart because then you’re not forgotten in the half year there’s a silence. And I think it’s a good point of view, so I think I’m lucky and I could use everybody’s attention so say and now I’ve made this, but it was not a big plan for me, it just kind of happened. So I’m happy that everybody just checked it out, you know, that’s nice about it.
MD: The Gathering would never let you dress up as an air hostess then!
AVG: [laughs] They would, they would, but they were, for instance, never so fond of putting the band on the cover, or the singer on the cover which was a good decision, but now it’s all free, it’s all open.
MD: You’ve written most of the music on the album - do you feel like you have more creative freedom with Agua de Annique more than you had in The Gathering?
AVG: Yeah, different. It’s a different way of outing, and of course I can do more now because it’s all my thing, so whatever I want I can do in a way. And The Gathering we were writing with 5 people, so that’s why they had this beautiful, layered music, and there’s a lot of details, especially with Frank you have a real keyboard player with all the sounds and sampling, so there’s a very rich material from The Gathering - we made very rich sounds and songs. And this is much more simpler, though it gives me more freedom to do what I like in the songs, but it’s coming out of one head instead of five, and maybe 6 with a producer. So what I did is I just wrote the songs and then I showed them to the guys in the band, and when we would record we would work on it for half an hour on a song. We would play it, and then of course the guitar player, the bass player, and the drummer are better instrumentalists than I am, so they made these parts that I wrote much better. So they kind of put the icing on the cake, the cherry on top! But the songs are like what I want to say, and how I feel about it, and how I want it to look, and everything is coming out of my head and my heart, so it’s very personal this way. It was very personal in The Gathering as well, but I was like a piece of the pie…I was a really nice piece, but I have control…control’s a bad word, but I own the whole pie now, and I like it! I like it because also in the visual aspects I could do what I wanted, and put myself on the cover and that’s nice, you know.
MD: Yeah, to make it much more personal to your own feelings, which is what music’s all about I guess - emotions.
AVG: It is, yeah, and I’m a girl, so I like to look nice and be on the cover!
MD: You’ve kind of answered this, but all the lyrics are written in the first person and deal with themes of emotional loss, identity, desire, regret, hope - do those themes relate to your own experiences in life?
MD: Does this music you compose inspire you to write the lyrics you write, the other way round, or a bit of both?
AVG: Yeah, it’s like life itself, so every phase and every emotion comes to pass you by….I write in the first person because it’s my feelings, but in retrospective, if you listen to it, it’s really personal, because I never thought for one second about a lyric - I never discussed it, I just write down and this is it, you know. So it’s really direct and pure, yeah.
AVG: Erm……it’s different with every song. Usually I sit and have an idea, or I just have inspiration and I have no idea what that is, but I’m drawn to the keyboard or the guitar, and I make something, usually the first thing is the melody of the instrument and the melody of the music, and then words come. But sometimes I start with the sentence, and I think ah, the sentence like erm…the sentence “when I met you my eyes hurt - that’s how beautiful you are”. I thought that’s a good sentence and lets make it a song. But with the sentence comes this feeling of a song and then it’s the song’s here and you have to just grasp it and put it in the piano or the guitar.
MD: You couldn’t write lyrics for a Napalm Death song then and compose Agua de Annique music on the keyboard!
AVG: Yes, totally! [laughs] They are very serious people, hey?
MD: Barney’s a very funny frontman though!
AVG: Yeah! [laughs] Yeah, he’s like…he acts like this little boy…
MD: Yeah, yeah, he’s never lost his kind of adolescent….
AVG: Yeah, it’s fantastic. But I met him before the show, he was…they’re all tired because they’ve been touring 30 days in a row already this chunk, and I was talking and he was “yeah, yeah, hmm, hmm”, and then he answered me and he was very composed! And then the music started and “grrrrrrr”!
MD: How has the album sold? I’m guessing you have a ready made fan base from The Gathering!
AVG: Of course I’m smaller than The Gathering…I don’t know exact numbers but I think I’m doing one third roughly in sales and people coming to the venues.
MD: He’s a madman!
AVG: Yes, fantastic!
MD: Really?
MD: Wow, that’s pretty good!
AVG: It’s nice; for me it’s great to start with. I think maybe I sold…well, it depends, with The Gathering we used to sell more because records just don’t sell anymore so much…but I think I sold ten thousand or so.
AVG: Yeah, it’s nice, it’s pretty damn good!
MD: Just in Holland or…?
AVG: No, worldwide. But I’m doing nicely in Holland. The Gathering was very popular abroad and also in Holland, but I have the feeling that I’m doing more in Holland now than we would used to because I’m just a bit home based, and doing all these things, like projects working with other people and just kind of building up again.