On her new album ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’, Dutch singer-songwriter/guitarist Anneke van Giersbergen has produced her most personal album to date. Rather than going down a prog-metal route, ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’ is an intimate, acoustic album with some extra flourishes added. We spoke with Anneke about the writing and recording process, the heart-warming reaction from her fanbase upon hearing the new material for the first time, and why no matter where she is performing (or who she is performing with) a joyous smile is never too far away.
The current curfew in the Netherlands is quite a contentious issue, protests, riots, etc, how are things at the minute?
It’s not so bad, to be honest, if you see on the news and everywhere, how people are struck with this crisis and how the situation politically explodes everywhere, then we are blessed to be in a little country like Holland. People mope at the government but it’s not all that bad.
It was strange watching the anti-curfew protests on TV becoming violent, it just didn’t seem like a Dutch thing because the stereotypical Dutch person is so laidback and friendly! Even Spiderman said so!
That’s true! The protests were, to be honest, not super-dark as some protests can be. It was a lot of youngsters who were fed up and started wrecking stuff, and that’s kind of what it was. One of the cities that was wrecked the most was Eindhoven where I live, and I live between the city centre and the hospital so we saw what was going on. It was pretty bad for a few days, but as you said, Holland is not really known for that. We are blessed, man!
Onto the new album, ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’, you have been on the promo cycle for a while now, you must be exhausted talking about the album, but in a sense at least you have something to talk about during lockdown!
Absolutely, it’s always the case though. You work on an album for a year or so then you’re happy that it’s out there, and you have to go talk about it. I had the opportunity to create and finish an album in this pandemic situation, so I was creative and that kept me sane! It’s great to talk about the album and have this kind of connection, even though it’s through Zoom, but it’s great to chit-chat because my social life is obviously down to the minimum! So I’m happy to talk!
Good! The album is obviously deeply personal to yourself, but can you get too close to an album when you have invested so much in it? Did you find yourself having to step away at times?
No, but I know what you mean. If you are so involved in an album and you are making these songs, sometimes you don’t really know…for instance, at the early stages of writing, I told myself “just concentrate, clear your mind, work on the album, and don’t think what other people want as this is your story”. But then, even though it’s your own feelings on paper, you don’t know if it’s good quality, if it’s good enough to put on an album? But I always have that a little bit anyway. If I create something then I ask people at certain stages whether something is worthwhile, is worth working on, is this going somewhere…and now I have that even more! It was personal, and my feelings and emotions were in it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good song. So I waited until I had 10 or 12 songs ready to record before I let anybody hear them because if they said that they were crap, that would have been especially hard! But I knew that they were good enough to work!
With these songs, I don’t think that there was ever any danger of anyone saying that they were crap! What was going through your mind just before the first single ‘My Promise’ was released? Were you nervous, excited, both?!
A bit of both! Especially because I knew that this was a very different album to what I had done before, as my last album was a metal album…a heavy, progressive album. So I was a little bit anxious, a little bit nervous because it’s personal stuff, it’s close to my heart…and what if people say “…well this is not what I was expecting”, or, “…it’s too soft..”. But I have a distinct feeling that this album has been received in people’s hearts way more immediately than my progressive metal album. I think with this album, everyone understands it immediately. It’s amazing.
There’s no hiding place for you on the album, you can’t hide behind a wall of Marshall amps, or have a guitarist doing a three-minute guitar solo, it’s just you out there, with nowhere to hide…[Laughs] Yeah! That’s true, man! And that’s the scary part as well, if it falls that’s one thing, but if people take it into their hearts, then that’s the best feeling in the world because everyone is going through the same things in life, the same basic needs like love and understanding and connection, and respect and so on. Also, in this crisis situation, and in love and your personal life, it resonates with more things than just me and my marriage! I was scared at first because if people didn’t get that, then it was futile because the world is on fire.
It must have been heartwarming for you after the first single was released and the overwhelming response was positive?
It was, yes. And it still is, now that the album is out and people have had the chance to listen to all the songs. I’m really stunned by the reactions and about how people don’t really care what kind of music it is, it’s almost like “…it’s an honest piece of music so we’ll have it!”.
On the subject of pieces of music, where did the trumpet solo on ‘Hurricane’ come from?! Did you have a trumpet lying around?!
Well, when I was writing and recording the demos, I was just by myself. I secluded myself in a cabin and every once in a while I would go there to write and record demos, and then I had this idea of having a surprise element to the song because it needed to burst out of the walls. I thought something loud and nasty like a trumpet, so I went on YouTube and found someone playing something totally random on their own and I pasted that in and said to Gijs [Gijs Coolen, producer] – “this doesn’t make any sense but here’s a trumpet, and it needs to be somewhere random…”. I would have loved to have used that YouTube clip because it was so weird but you can’t just use something without rights so we asked someone to come in and put something on there. It’s cool.
It’s the element of surprise that is so important, it works so well! And no-one listening to that track could have foreseen a trumpet solo!
No! I love that you picked up on that! That what I had in mind came across to you as a listener! That’s fantastic.
Another quirky moment is the new single/video ‘I Saw A Car’, it’s almost instant, and without knowing it, you find yourself clapping your hands and stamping your feet in time to the song. The percussion on this track is gorgeous, was it always so percussive-heavy?
Yes, absolutely! It’s actually the very, very last song that I wrote for this album. We had written twenty songs, I think, for the album and I thought…one more! I wrote this in an instant and it made me so happy! It also made the producer happy so we worked on it, we did a lot of body percussion on it, and in the studio, we put a microphone between me and Gijs and we did all the percussion on our knees, handclaps, and so on. So that was super-fun, great energy, and a lot of people say something about this song because I think that energy comes across. And I think, or I hope that this is a really cool live song.
On the subject of live shows, the Anneke Goes to Church live shows have already been postponed a few times and are now pushed back to May this year, I know that no-one knows what’s happening next week never mind in ten weeks’ time, but at the moment how are they looking?
We take everything day-by-day and week-by-week, and they have been pushed back one or two times. They should be going down in May, but I don’t think, because I’ve sold a lot of tickets already, that I can pull these bigger shows off in May. I think that the government will shut us down until then, I think that it would be safer to pick up the whole thing and put it down in 2022. We might be able to do some bits and bobs after Summer, but proper touring? I think 2022. [see statement below]
2022 is going to be a busy year!
Yes! Everybody has tickets to shows that have already been postponed to 2022 and then there will be new shows added, so people will be going berserk with all these shows! The audience can pick and choose in 2022, but in any case, I’ll play for two people, man! I don’t care, I love playing!
That really does come across, no matter if it’s your solo acoustic or a VUUR show, or performing with Devin Townsend or Aryeon, you play with such a smile on your face that it’s obvious how much fun you have playing! All artists enjoy playing, obviously, but there are the “serious” acts that don’t crack a smile during a show, and then there is you, you genuinely seem to love singing and performing!
Yeah! I love it so much! I love creating and recording music, and everything around it, but I love, I adore playing live. When things go well it’s almost like a religious experience because you are sharing it with your audience. I love expressing myself, I love singing, and I’m at my happiest when I’m on stage.
‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’ is available now through InsideOutMusic, order here.
Interview – Dave
Please note, since recording this interview Anneke has announced a virtual album release experience:
Anneke comments: “As I won’t be able to tour for the foreseeable future, I wanted to create something special to celebrate the release of my new album “The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest”. This streaming event features a solo acoustic live performance, complemented with 5 music videos. I’m so happy to have this opportunity to stay connected with my worldwide audience and I’m very excited to share this experience together with you!”
More information here.