Interview || The One With Anneke Van Giersbergen from Vuur

Anneke van Giersbergen is one of the most recognizable artists in the metal scene, whose unique voice has established her as a sought-after singer. I met her on a cold December evening in Italy and I was really amazed by the positive energy she was radiating and how calm and soothing her voice was before contemplating answers to my weird questions.

U: Most people got to know you as the voice of The Gathering and stuck by your side through your next projects. After 20 years of creating art, do you have any memories that stand out?
Anneke van Giersbergen: A lot actually! I really enjoy the reoccurring events, like working with Devin [Townsend] and Arjen Lucassen [in Ayreon]. Those collaborations are very dear to me so I would say those are my precious memories and precious work relationships that I have. I learnt so much from them and I want to grow as an artist, I want to be better, better singer, better performer, but I did some cool one-off too. I sang for the Dalai Lama and for the Dutch king… Things that don’t happen every day, you know? Super cool things have happened in the last 10 or so years.

U: And now you released your first album with Vuur, which is a super-group. How did the idea come about? You already have your solo project, you have The Gentle Storm… You are a busy woman to say the least!
A.v.G.: Indeed. Working with Arjen on The Gentle Storm has lead me to wanting to make a heavier album for a long time and, although I’m in the metal scene, I never had the right people around me to ask. When we were working with Arjen for The Gentle Storm, we formed a live band for that one album. Arjen was [busy with] Ayreon, I would go my own way, and then this band comes along. We put together this, like you said, super-group; an all-star band of people who have all made a name of their own with their [respective] bands, and it worked out very well! Really good group, good musicians, nice people…

U: Good chemistry too.
A.v.G.: Yes, indeed. And I figured that, if I wanted to make a heavy album, I needed these guys. I asked them and pretty much they all said yes, so we started writing and recording.

U: You don’t change a winning team.
A.v.G.: Exactly! That’s what I thought. I needed metal players for this. My old band, they are all great players, but they are not metal players.

U: The title of your album is “In This Moment We Are Free-Cities”. What is the relation, for you, between overcrowded cities and freedom?
A.v.G.: Strange thing, right? The whole underlying theme next to the cities is duality and life; humans and nature, night and day, black and white… I talk about it a lot but, for some reason, overcrowded cities give a sense of freedom…

U: You are anonymous in the crowd.
A.v.G.: Yes. And you are not alone but you are alone, in a good way, you know? I truly like being in a strange city or a city I’ve been to before and go to a new part and to walk about.

U: Explore the city a little more, see it like the locals.
A.v.G.: Exactly! This inspires me a lot and, for a long time, I thought that I wanted to write about these places that I’m always at. This theme fits with heavy music, because we talk about big cities with a lot of history, so that’s how it all came together.

U: Was the choice of the cities random or do they mean something to you?
A.v.G.: They do! All the cities in the album are my favorite cities, where I feel at home and comfortable. These are also places that I love to visit. Some cities are too big, or too small, or whatever, but I have many memories from these cities. I like to write in a more poetic way, because you have to be careful, as it becomes a history lesson. I wanted to make a poetic album about cities; some of them have a historical theme, but then again even modern cities have gone through wars or conflicts, so they flourished and then went down, flourished and went down again. It’s a cycle.

U: If you were a member of the Spice Girls, what would be your Spice Name?
A.v.G.: Jesus, what a question! (laughs) I liked Sporty Spice the best, but I wasn’t into the Spice Girls. I would go with something cool, like Metal Spice? Heavy Metal Spice? Why not?

U: What is passion for you? How would you define it?
A.v.G.: I think passion is not something you believe in but experience. Passion for me is the chaos that’s going on in my life; music, personal life, all that inspires me at once. That’s the reason I like touring; there’s a lot of shit happening and you go through changes a lot [over the span of] few weeks. It’s both emotional and physical. This chaos, I call passion; it gives me inspiration. It's a catalyst.

U: Your house is on fire and you only have time to grab 3 items before you run away. Family and pets are safe. What do you take?
A.v.G.: My phone... No, actually, everything I need is on iCloud so I don't even need my phone! (laughs) That's where all my pictures are, my life is in my phone. 

U: Would you take socks?
A.v.G.: I can borrow socks. It depends on how heavy the fire is. If you have a minute, you can put something on before you go outside. If you don't... That's my biggest fear! My house catching fire -knock on woods, because I'm moving house right now- while I'm sleeping, because I would look stupid running out in my nightgown. It's silly, but it's my biggest fear. Everything that's in the house you can buy again, and I don't have many [printed] photos, and the rest is on my phone, I only need my family.

U: What is the biggest trouble you've ever gotten into?
A.v.G.: [Long pause] Once I was very drunk, when I was really young, and we trashed a front yard with some kids...

U: (laughs) You were wild!
A.v.G.: It is the only thing that seems so rock 'n roll! For the rest, I'm super nice but that day we ripped off small trees and flowers... The police came and picked us up, and we were interrogated... (laughs)

U: How old were you?
A.v.G.: Seventeen or so. I had two friends who were in the metal scene, and who [introduced me] to metal, but they were always into bad shit. Sometimes I'd go with them.

U: That's what friends do!
A.v.G.: Right! But after that I was OK, more reserved.

U: If there was an issue you could swipe off the face of the earth, what would it be?
A.v.G.: Conflicts [deriving from] power struggle and money issues. I think we would be reasonably at peace if we swiped those away. 

U: If you could have a one-minute phone conversation with a younger you, what age would you call and what would you tell yourself?
A.v.G.: I like this question. I would call 17 year-old me and I'd tell myself to stop being silly (laughs) But that's the thing, it's not necessary to call yourself, because you do what you do anyway, and you gain experience and then you grow. I almost never look back but, if I do, I see silly stuff happening and me being stupid, but now I'm more grown up, a bit wiser and a better person because I learned from [these experiences]. I wouldn't call myself but if you forced me, I'd tell myself not to get worked up by stuff. 
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