Interview with Anneke van Giersbergen (Gentle Storm/The Gathering)

She’s recently worked with Devin Townsend and Anathema’s Danny Cavanagh and now she is about to release Gentle Storm, her latest collaboration with Arjen Lucassen. Mick Burgess spent some time with Anneke to talk about her latest project.

Your latest album The Diary by Gentle Storm is out towards the end of March. Are you looking forward to it finally being released?

Oh, yes I’m so excited as we’ve been working on it for a year. Once it’s all done and finished and we don’t have to do anymore writing it’s like the silence before the storm. The only people to have heard it so far are you guys so I’m looking forward to everyone else being able to hear it.

Gentle Storm is a project you have undertaken with Arjen Lucassen. You first worked together on Ayreon’s Into The Electric Castle in 1998. Did you already know Arjen at that point or was that the first time you had met him?

That was the first time we’d actually met but of course we knew of each other but the Electric Castle album was the first time we’d met and worked together.

You’ve also worked together on Ayreon’s 01011001 album in 2008. Why has it taken you nearly 20 years to finally do a full project together?

We did do some collaborations after Electric Castle but nothing full on. We’d both been very busy with our own careers but these things tend to happen at a good time. I was searching to do something new and it just seemed the right time to work together.

How did Gentle Storm first come about?

It was about a year ago. Arjen was working on some material and I’d sent him an email about something completely random. He said to me that he’d been writing some songs and that my name had been going through his head and he said let’s do something together. We shared ideas about the concept, the music, the lyrics, everything. So we started work making this huge double album with huge artwork and everything. It’s great.

The album will be a double album one part being more Metal and the other in a more acoustic Folk style. That’s a totally unique approach. Why did you decide to do that?

When I asked Arjen what he wanted from me we talked about the direction we would be going. We were looking at going in a heavy direction with Folk elements and he said why don’t we do two versions. One a heavy, more complex version and the other a Folk, more acoustic version without the heavy stuff so we’d have the same song but two totally different versions and I just loved that idea.

Which came first, the Folk version or the Metal version?

They were done simultaneously. Arjen forced himself to write songs so he couldn’t lean on a riff so the structure of the songs with the chords and chorus and everything were done and then we built the whole thing up simultaneously into the Gentle version and the Storm version.

Did you have to record two vocal parts for each song or were you able to use the one recording for both versions?

I recorded two entirely different vocal parts for the different versions. The two versions are so different to each other musically although the melodies and lyrics are the same it just made sense to sing the different versions in a different way.

What is the story running through the album?

The story takes place in the 17th century and it’s a love story of where the woman stays at home while the guy is out at sea. It’s a period of two and a half years and they write letters to each other but every letter takes at least half a year to arrive and during this time lots of stuff would go on in each of their lives. It’s a story about daily life, about love and travelling and everything is in the story.

There was an issue with the drums that meant Ed Warby’s parts had to be recorded on one day. What happened there?

There was a problem at some part of the studio. We thought his parts had been recorded and we found out that for some reason they hadn’t. That was so horrible when we found out. After the recording session Ed knew exactly how to play his parts so he went back into the studio and did them all again in one day.

Who’s idea was it to bring in a choir?

That was Arjen’s idea. What I really like about the choir is that you only hear it every now and then so it’s not full on. It’s used to really enhance certain parts of the music and I think it works really well. They sing sometimes in the Dutch language which I think is really cool.

The artwork by Alexandra V. Back is stunning. Did you give her an idea of what you wanted for the album or leave it to her to create her vision?

I love her work as it’s quite romantic and I really liked what she’d done for Stream of Passion.. Quite often artwork on Metal albums can be so dark but we wanted something more melancholic and we sent her the lyrics and told her about the concept and she came up an amazing cover.

In the past Arjen has put out superb box set versions of his albums in a large book format with loads of bonus material. Are there any plans for a special deluxe edition for this?

Absolutely!! There will be a lovely large format deluxe edition with extra artwork and bonus discs so it’s going to be something really special. The book will contain all of the lyrics and diary entries. There’s also a huge elaborate timeline for the whole two and half years of the story and that explains the whole story. I’ve never produced anything like this during my career but for Arjen it’s kind of normal.

Do you hope that this is the first in a line of albums?

We are a band and we exist but we’ll have to see how this album does and if people like it we hope to do another one in fact me and Arjen are already talking about new ideas.

You have some live shows lined up too. Are you looking forward to taking the new music out on the road?

Oh yes, I am really looking forward to playing these songs live. The band really kicks ass and features members of Stream of Passion, Ayreon and MaYan, it’s going to be great playing with these guys. It’s going to be a really heavy show. We’ll be doing songs from Gentle Storm, The Gathering and Ayreon. It’s going to be an epic Rock show.

Arjen is not known for performing live too often but he will be joining you on stage for a few select dates. How did you persuade him to do that?

I don’t know, it’s a miracle. I just asked him and he said yes. He loves this album so much and he just wants to get some attention for it. He’s not going to do the heavy shows, he’ll be doing a couple of acoustic ones in Europe. I love playing whether it’s acoustic or the heavier stuff. Maybe I just inspired him a little bit to come and play a few shows. It should be cool.

Do you hope to record any shows on the tour?

I don’t know if there’s any plans but it would be nice.

You’re only playing 3 UK shows this time. Do you hope to come back again and play more shows across the country?

I sure hope so. We may do some festivals. We’re happy to be playing in London and the other two shows but we would like to come back and play more in other places. We love playing in the UK.

What about your own career. Have you started the follow up to 2013’s Drive?

Not yet. I’m not sure what I’m going to do at the moment as my focus at the moment is on Gentle Storm so that’s taking up most of my time. Last year I did so many projects at the same time which was so much fun but really ridiculous but I have nothing planned yet outside of Gentle Storm.

You’ve also worked recently with Danny Cavanagh from Anathema and also Devin Townsend. Do you find that when you work with other artists that you constantly learn and evolve as a musician yourself?

I love working with those guys and I certainly learned so much from them. They are two of the most talented guys in the business. Being able to work with people like that and Arjen as well, is such a privilege.

If you could work with any artist who would that be?

I’d love to work with Mike Patton, he’s one of my favorite singers and I would have dearly loved to have worked with Freddie Mercury.

What are your plans once the Gentle Storm tour is over? Will you have some time off with your family or is straight back to work?

I try to mix family and work as much as possible and when we go on tour I try to take my family with me and when I’m at home I’m working on my music but see my family all of the time. I try to be with my family as much as I can.

For more on Gentle Storm visit: For Anneke and Arjen


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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