The Cities And Their Colours: Anneke van Giersbergen Interview
Achieving her long-standing ambition of writing a heavy album in her own right, with VUUR Anneke van Giersbergen draws inspiration from a different city for each song; how does it make her feel, what has it been through? And how would Manchester fit in?
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Anthony Firmin
For Anneke van Giersbergen the heavy progressive creations of her new band, VUUR, help cross off a burning desire long since etched upon her musical bucket list.
“I’ve always wanted to write a heavy album,” she tells us in the open and colourful surroundings of the Ibis Hotel lobby situated across the road from tonight’s venue, FAC251. “I’ve just never really had the right people around to do it with. I’ve worked with Devin [Townsend] and Ayreon, Within Temptation and all those guys but still I never had a group of people or a band of my own with heavy metal players in it.
“Every time I made an album it would end up being less heavy than I intended so making my own heavy metal album has always been in the back of my mind.” Then, through a happy accident, pure chance or fate, she found herself surrounded by the exact musicians who she’d craved to be in the company of for so long. “With The Gentle Storm,” she continues, “I had this live band which we got together to do a tour and they turned out to be such good players. They’re the best metal players in Holland, I think. So then I thought I’d take my chance and make a heavy album, which they all committed to just as much as me.”
Musically, writing alongside producer Joost van den Broek (Epica, Xandria, Ayreon) VUUR’s debut record, In This Moment We Are Free is robust and rugged yet adventurous and progressively propelled. Her voice is the icing in which sweetens the heaviness, adding glory to aggression.
Lyrically meanwhile, Anneke would unravel another long-standing idea across the record’s 11 tracks. Each song draws inspiration from a city the vocalist has frequented from her escapades across the globe with her numerous projects. Tracks like Days Go By – London and Time – Rotterdam draw from historical events, others from the emotions the different places make her feel.
“Rotterdam is about pre-WWII, from the perspective of the city. It’s high and mighty but it feels something’s about to happen. We all feel it, it isn’t good, it’s an ominous feeling. So I made that my own. Then you get things outside of yourself that you maybe didn’t realise you had. It’s a learningful [sic] experience writing from a different perspective other than your own.
“I’ve had this idea for a long, because I’m travelling all the time, for a long time. And I’m always writing when I’m on tour because it inspires me. Certain cities and places in the world make you feel a certain way, they make you feel at home or they make you feel uncomfortable. For instance Moscow is a very uncomfortable place for me but so beautiful in a way too. For someone from Holland it’s very harsh and everyone there is so busy, so it’s strange to be in such a big and different place. Then when you’re on tour, one week after being in Moscow you can be in Rio and it’s so different.
“But because I’ve wanted to write about these places for a long time, these are thoughts I’ve had for a long time too. So when I sat down to write the lyrics for the album every thought I’ve collected over time came forward to the front of my mind.”
As a result, each track stands tall and proud with its own definitive personality. From the fragile, wounded but resilient sounding Reunite! – Paris to the vast, triumphant power of The Martyr And The Saint it is an album of real depth and character, reflecting that of the wide stretch of places given lyrical treatment here.
But how would Anneke look at Manchester with the idea of writing a song about our streets, our home?
“I think Manchester is sad and beautiful at the same time,” she says, responding quickly, like the thought had already crossed her mind before. “I think that’s partly because of the climate. It’s always grey, apart from today and there’s sunshine which is a surprise! Manchester is so industrial and I like the architecture very much. I was talking to Robin my tour manager earlier and she said ‘I hate it how there’s a beautiful old building with a super new building behind it’ but I look at it and love it. I think it’s really beautiful that all the new and the old go alongside each other. In this country everyone’s running around doing everything at the same time, so it’s like an ant’s nest, but there’s so much culture, there’s so much music and art and history to Manchester as well. So I’d probably write something that has a very masculine feeling to it but also some beauty because of the people. Everyone you know here is making music, and you support each other. Because you have to, if everybody’s going to be your competition then that’s no life. Manchester doesn’t feel very big like that, it feels like everything is very crammed in together.
“Although Manchester is more industrial than London, London is more harsh because people are more to themselves. I love London, of course, but I like Manchester because it’s compact, everything is happening at the same time and it’s friendly. I went to the dentist today because I had a little problem and all the people here are just so nice and friendly. So with Manchester there’s a contrast between it being very harsh and grey and industrial and the people looking after each other and making something good of life.
“Moscow feels very heavy, Manchester does not. In Moscow people are very suspicious; everyone in Moscow is suspicious of you when you walk into a shop. But when you have fans who know you and your music they open up and they can be the most welcoming people in the world, but there’s this big façade that the people put on. But I still like going there, it’s different from home and so you appreciate when you come from.
"Rio is a beautiful, beautiful city but life is hard there, there is a lot of poverty. Then you come home to Holland and people complain about so many nothing things. It shows you how good your own life is, you just have to make it good!”