The Un­gen­tle Storm

“I’m an 80s kid so I grew up with a dif­fer­ent sound [to my band­mates]. In prog mu­sic, I lis­tened to Yes and Pink Floyd. With the new guys in the band, 10 years makes a big dif­fer­ence.” Em­brac­ing her in­ner head­banger, An­neke van Giers­ber­gen plunges into t

Prog - - Limelight - Words: David West Por­traits: Tina Korho­nen

It’s been a decade since An­neke van Giers­ber­gen left The Gath­er­ing, the band that first brought her fame, to strike out on her own. In those 10 years, she’s lent her creative en­er­gies to a host of projects, from col­lab­o­rat­ing with Devin Townsend, Danny Cavanagh and Arjen An­thony Lucassen to re­leas­ing solo al­bums and record­ing and tour­ing with The Gen­tle Storm. Now she’s set to un­leash her heav­i­est mu­sic to date with her new band VUUR – which means ‘fire’ – on In This Moment We Are Free – Cities. Where does she find the time?

“I love singing so every­thing peo­ple ask me to do, most of it I say yes to,” says van Giers­ber­gen. “My hus­band Rob, who is also my man­ager, has to stop me a lot of times:

‘You re­ally phys­i­cally don’t have time to do this.’ Hav­ing said that, I did every­thing in the last 10 years and I feel like I need to fo­cus more on a few spe­cific things. Maybe you can say it’s the same as be­ing mar­ried for all this time, then you break up and you do it with every­body and then it’s out of your sys­tem and you’re re­laxed again. Then you can… I wouldn’t say set­tle down, but I would say fo­cus on a few things that I love the most.”

VUUR share plenty of per­son­nel with

The Gen­tle Storm, the band founded by van Giers­ber­gen and Lucassen. Joost van den Broek has switched from play­ing keys to pro­duc­ing and co-writ­ing, while drum­mer Ed Warby, gui­tarist Ferry Dui­jsens and bassist Jo­han van Stra­tum all con­trib­uted to The Gen­tle Storm be­fore join­ing VUUR.

“Arjen and I put a band to­gether just so we could tour with The Gen­tle Storm and I re­alised half­way through, ‘Holy shit, this is such a good band,’” says van Giers­ber­gen. “The play­ers are re­ally good and they’re such nice guys. I thought, ‘If I’m go­ing to do this, I’m go­ing to do this now, with them,’ so I asked them, ‘Will you join me in a new band?’”

De­spite the fa­mil­iar faces be­hind the scenes and in front of the cam­era, plus new kid on the block Jord Otto as lead gui­tarist, the two groups sound com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Where

The Gen­tle Storm had strong folk and clas­si­cal in­flu­ences, VUUR have their feet firmly planted in pro­gres­sive metal, with a dash or three of djent in the pum­melling at­tack of

Otto and Dui­jsens’ twin-gui­tar on­slaught.

“It’s a funny thing,” says van Giers­ber­gen. “We wrote on a six-string with a drop tun­ing. Nei­ther Joost nor me can play a seven-string but we al­ways worked in a key that was good for a seven-string be­cause we had gui­tar play­ers who play seven-strings and our bassist has an ex­tra string so it’s go­ing to be ex­tra low, low, low. We had dis­tinc­tive ideas about how fresh but heavy it should sound.”

A sec­ond fac­tor in se­lect­ing the line-up was van Giers­ber­gen’s de­sire to have younger play­ers in the group – roughly a decade sep­a­rates VUUR’s front­woman from her guitarists. “I’m an 80s kid so I grew up with a dif­fer­ent sound,” she says. “In prog

mu­sic, I lis­tened to Yes and Pink Floyd and it’s all warm-sound­ing, and with the new guys in the band, 10 years makes a big dif­fer­ence.

“I thought it was im­por­tant to sur­round your­self with peo­ple just a lit­tle bit younger so the gap isn’t too big – you un­der­stand each other but you keep be­ing fed fresh ideas. Plus I wanted a dif­fer­ent sound. I wanted to be heavy and dark but maybe catchy or epic. I didn’t want any re­stric­tions.”

As much as the young gun­slingers bring their fire to VUUR, it’s not a one-way di­a­logue be­tween the mu­si­cians and their band­leader, as borne out by van Giers­ber­gen’s ex­changes with gui­tarist Otto.

“He’s a fan­tas­tic solo player – he’s very skilled and he can play re­ally fast,” says van Giers­ber­gen. “I ask him all these ques­tions be­cause I love play­ing gui­tar but I’m ob­vi­ously not that good in that way, and then he’s ask­ing me ques­tions. Be­cause I do a lot of solo shows, I play a lot of acous­tic gui­tar and I could teach him a thing or two on the acous­tic – sim­ple things, melody things. I was ac­tu­ally proud that I could teach him about play­ing gui­tar.

“They’re so un­be­liev­ably good at what they’re do­ing, it’s like, this is the song I wrote, this is the whole struc­ture and every­thing is good, now we play it and they kick it in the butt and make it so much bet­ter.”

Then there’s Ed Warby be­hind the kit, one of Hol­land’s top metal drum­mers, whom van Giers­ber­gen calls “a liv­ing leg­end” from his im­pres­sive body of work with Gorefest, Ayreon and Hail Of Bul­lets.

“When you’re writ­ing, you think you know Ed’s drum­ming,” says the singer, “and in your head, you think, ‘Okay, Ed can do this here and he can do some­thing like this there and then it’ll take this part to the next part when he does this.’ Then he comes up with some­thing 10 times as cool as you ever could imag­ine.”

The sheer heav­i­ness of VUUR brings its own chal­lenges for van Giers­ber­gen, as their mu­sic de­mands all of her power as a singer.

“I re­alised when we were done with the al­bum, every­thing is full-on, vo­cal-wise,” she says. “There are a few pas­sages that are quiet, but most of the stuff is re­ally belt­ing it out, whereas The Gen­tle Storm had a lot of soft songs and soft pas­sages. I was think­ing if we do head­line tours, I don’t know if I can do that for one-and-a-half hours for 30 days straight. We’ll see. Maybe we’ll do an acous­tic bit in the mid­dle. But it’s a good en­ergy.”

The 11 tracks on In This Moment We Are

Free – Cities share a com­mon theme, as each song is about a dif­fer­ent city. “Some­times you go into a city and you im­me­di­ately feel a vibe or it trig­gers some­thing,” says van Giers­ber­gen. “Its cul­ture, its cli­mate and its peo­ple, every­thing can make you feel a cer­tain way in a cer­tain place in the world. Be­cause we skip around so much, you could be in Moscow one day and then Is­tan­bul the next and they’ll be to­tally dif­fer­ent worlds. That makes you have these dif­fer­ent feel­ings and trig­gers in a short pe­riod of time. That’s why I write a lot – I’m in­spired a lot.”

In some cases, van Giers­ber­gen imag­ines a lo­ca­tion as a char­ac­ter for one of her songs. “A city like Is­tan­bul, I re­ally see a big guy hang­ing over the city with a big sword, my war­rior,” she says, “but I did also some­times write about some­thing that hap­pened in a city. For in­stance, for Lon­don I wrote about the Great Fire, but I al­ways write po­et­i­cally, so in this case I write about the fire speak­ing to the in­hab­i­tants and the in­hab­i­tants speak­ing to the fire. It’s never ‘Hey, this hap­pened’ – it’s a po­etic story. Some­times it’s hard to talk about it be­cause it’s moods and feel­ings and so on, but every city has a to­tally dif­fer­ent an­gle.”

Van Giers­ber­gen’s ca­reer has cov­ered a huge range of mu­si­cal styles far be­yond the op­por­tu­ni­ties af­forded to most mu­si­cians in the are­nas of rock, metal and prog. She’s sung for the Dutch king and the Dalai Lama, while in May she’s go­ing to per­form with Res­i­den­tie Ork­est The Hague (The Hague Phil­har­monic Orches­tra) for their Sym­phonic Junc­tion con­certs. Then there are her solo shows, and the Dutch-lan­guage al­bum and live mu­sic show she wrote based on Frank Tash­lin’s chil­dren’s book The Bear That Wasn’t.

“It was fan­tas­tic,” she says. “Play­ing for kids is com­pletely dif­fer­ent to play­ing for adults, but we had grand­moth­ers, we had dogs in the au­di­ence, and also the oc­ca­sional met­al­head, peo­ple with Pink Floyd T-shirts who came to see us play be­cause they were just in­ter­ested. That makes metal and prog peo­ple so very open-minded. They check out every­thing. Be­cause they like me as an artist, they’ll go, ‘Okay, I’ll go to a chil­dren’s play,’ and they buy the al­bum for their niece. It’s nice.

“I can do every­thing I put my heart into. It’s an hon­our to be able to do that. I’m un­be­liev­ably blessed that things come my way.”

“Some­times you go into a city and you im­me­di­ately feel a vibe or it trig­gers some­thing. Its cul­ture, its cli­mate and its peo­ple, every­thing can make you feel a cer­tain way in a cer­tain place in the world.”

AN­NEKE VAN GIERS­BER­GEN, SHOT EX­CLU­SIVELY FOR PROG, SEPTEM­BER 2017.

VUUR, L-R: FERRY DUI­JSENS, JO­HAN VAN STRA­TUM, AN­NEKE VAN GIERS­BER­GEN, ED WARBY, JORD OTTO.

STO­RIES FROM THE CITY:

VAN GIERS­BER­GEN RE­TURNS WITH A VERY HEAVY NEW AL­BUM.

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