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12th March 2015
METAL DISCOVERY: The concept is based around “a tale of love, loss, and separation” for two 17th century lovers and the songs are about the letters they write when one of them goes to sea… so where did the inspiration come from for that concept?
ANNEKE: In the very beginning of the whole thing, Arjen said: “Let’s do a concept album, but let’s do it about something Dutch because we’re both Dutch; and wouldn’t it be cool to shed a light on our seventeenth century and on the Dutch colonies because it’s a very interesting period in Holland.” You know, it was like the country was blooming and booming, and there was this whole VOC thing where ships would sail out and get spices, and fabrics, and food, and everything from other countries. In those days, we were introduced to new things, but also in music and art, so he said: “There’s infinite inspiration in this.” And then I said: “That’s cool, and we should do a love story.”
(Anneke van Giersbergen on shooting the 'Heart of Amsterdam' video)
"…there was a big carriage with two horses and a guy, and he was already on Dam Square... and then all these tourists came to us and they thought I belonged to the carriage and the horses… and I made this guy ten Euros in five minutes!"
The Gentle Storm - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2014 Raymond van Olphen
So we came up with these sailing letters, which is actually a thing. You know, actually, there are lots of sailing letters because there was a lot of writing in those days between the women at home and the people at sea. And they would write letters, and lots of these letters are actually safe, and lots of them are in the UK as well, for some reason. In the English world, also, they were sailing a lot in those days… we were actually at war a few times, and the English, they confiscated a lot of these letters and now they are in storage.
So it’s very interesting, the whole thing about writing these letters, and it’s super cool – we have this love story and lots of drama, and a lot of stuff happening. But, what’s very interesting about these sailing letters when you actually read them, it’s truly about daily life; about what’s happening in the city; about what’s happening in their lives; and how they feel about each other; how much they are longing for each other, because they would miss each other for two and a half years, or whatever, in one trip.
MD: Yeah, I guess you can learn a lot about the history of the period from reading those kind of letters but, at the same time, the emotions are going to be the same.
ANNEKE: Exactly. Yeah, that’s so interesting because when we think about this age and this era is that things were beautiful and booming, but also dramatic. And we see movies about this period and it’s always big dramas but, really, like you said, people were just people – with babies, with births, with deaths, with family things.
MD: Exactly. I guess if you set the album in the twenty first century, it’d have to be Skype, Facebook and emails or whatever!
ANNEKE: [Laughs]
MD: …which doesn’t seem as romantic now, but I’m sure in three hundred years’ time, when they’ve invented teleportation, Skype and Facebook will suddenly seem romantic when people look back on it then!
ANNEKE: Exactly, and all these conversations on WhatsApp!
ANNEKE: Because I got this record player, like you said, for my birthday, I told my son about albums and about buying albums in the store, and they’re huge and you can flap them out and read the lyrics, but you have to carry them home and put them on your record player. Then the CD came and we were like, “whoa, a CD is so cool because you can fit more songs on one disc.” And my son is now ten – he skipped the whole CD thing and he has, now, a phone with a thousand songs on it. So he was amazed that, after four songs, you have to turn over the record and start playing it again! [Laughs]
MD: Yeah, I actually miss those days of going down my local record shop and flicking through the vinyl, and finding out what’s new… because there was no internet in those days so you had to actively go out and find stuff. So, yeah, it’s a whole different generation. It’s a shame, really, isn’t it.
ANNEKE: Yeah, very different.
MD: When we last did an interview, when you were promoting the ‘Drive’ album, I asked about your “progressive hair” as it keeps on changing…
ANNEKE: [Laughs]
MD: …and you said your new hair style then was to reflect the nature of the music on that album. So in the new promo shots with Arjen, you have another new hairdo… is that supposed to be the stormy look?!
ANNEKE: [Laughs]
MD: It looks like you’ve been out in a gentle storm, maybe!
ANNEKE: Yeah, yeah! That’s so cool for a guy to ask about my hair! [Laughs]
MD: I happen to find it interesting, because your hair does change a lot!
ANNEKE: Yeah, it does, it does, but…
MD: In a good way.
ANNEKE: Oh, thank you. You know, the thing is that I like change, and I can’t keep the same hairdo for five years. But, I have to say, I was blonde for a long time and then I needed a change which, for ‘Drive’, was perfect. But, now, I don’t feel like there’s a change because it’s still red but, of course, we tried some new, cool things for the pictures and everything. But I want to keep the same hair for as long as I possibly can because I know people already get confused about my musical ways and all the different things that I do, and then all the hair styles, and then people are totally lost! So I promised myself – keep your hair like this for just a few years and then people will, maybe, relax about it! [Laughs]
MD: It is progressive hair, like I said, though… as progressive as your music.
MD: And talking of progressive hair, that’s quite some wig you’re wearing in the ‘Heart of Amsterdam’ video! Where did you get that from?
ANNEKE: Yeah, we wanted to make a fun video for one of the lighter songs on the album because, lyrically, it deals with, like we discussed, everyday life and about the city of Amsterdam, and how cool it is to live there. And we thought of an idea to be in this old dress and be ancient in a very modern city. Nowadays, you have the Macintosh store, and you have all the clothes and stuff, and we thought it would be cool with this dress and to go in the heart of Amsterdam. And there are lots of beautiful, old buildings still but there are also lots of… you know, the whole shopping area is very modern, so we just went out for a few hours and we had loads of fun, and we recorded all that and put it in the video.
MD: It looks great, but it must’ve been weird dancing around Dam Square in that big dress with all the tourists around? Did you feel a bit self-conscious?
ANNEKE: No. On the contrary, I loved it, because I got a lot of attention because it was just so funny how people reacted, because there’s always loads of tourists around, but also just residents who live there. People in Amsterdam, as opposed to, usually, lots of other people in Holland, are very cocky and talkative. In the rest of Holland, especially not in the west, they are a bit more introvert, but Amsterdam people have a big mouth so they immediately start talking to you about the dress and it was all very fun and positive. And the tourists, they just thought I was just there representing the city of Amsterdam, so they all wanted to take a picture because they thought, “okay we’re in Amsterdam, and here’s this Amsterdam girl in the old dress, let’s take a picture!” So there were lots of really cool reactions to it.
MD: You should’ve put a hat down to make some money! Aren’t there a lot of living statues always around Dam Square who do that?!
ANNEKE: Yeah, true. Actually, you know what, I kind of earned some money with it because, by chance, there was a big carriage with two horses and a guy, and he was already on Dam Square. Can you believe the coincidence?! Like, you shoot a video about that and there’s a horse and carriage! And it was amazing and he was just there, and he was doing the touristy thing, like people could take a ride in the carriage and you could take a picture. So I went up to this guy and I said: “Can I take a few pictures and can I playback in front of your carriage?” And he said: “Yeah, whatever.” But he had a little pot for money in front of his carriage, so I was at the carriage and then all these tourists came to us and they thought I belonged to the carriage and the horses, so they said: “Where should I pay?” And I said: “Yeah, put a Euro in the little pot”… and I made this guy ten Euros in five minutes! [Laughs]
MD: Oh wow, amazing! You should make him buy the album with those ten Euros!
ANNEKE: Exactly! Initially, I thought, “I’ll put some money in his pot because I made use of this horse and carriage and made some really cool pictures with it.” But, then, the money made itself! This guy said: “Well, you know, we should work together more often!”
MD: Get him on tour!