In 2003 The Gathering embark on yet another journey. This time, it's their seventh album, "Souvenirs." That's of course after three years of writing and recording, so naturally things have changed. Quite simply, it seems like nobody can hold these Hollander's back from their own chosen destiny. Not only does The Gathering have an amazing new album, but also they've now got their very own record label, Psychonaut Records. In light of the new album, I had a great chat with The Gathering's wonderful vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen. She had a lot to say about the new album and a few other interesting things, as you’ll see.
To begin, I just want to say that I was really impressed by your latest album, "Souvenirs," and that it's definitely one of the best albums I've heard this year.
Wow! That's a big complement. Thank you!
Obviously there has been a progression from "If_then_else." What do you think has changed musically for The Gathering with "Souvenirs"?
Well in comparison to "If_then_else" there are a lot of changes, but the biggest change is actually the fact that we worked on it for a longer period of time. "If_then_else" is a nice album and there are some really nice, special songs on it like 'Amity' and others, but we had the feeling when we finished the album that the songs didn't really ripen enough. We felt like we took too short of time to make it and sometimes songs need to develop a little more. It was kind of a mish-mash of all sorts of songs, you know, mixed into one CD, which is all right, but we really felt we wanted to do something different the next time around. So, we started writing songs while we were on tour for "If_then_else" and we found that a lot of those songs - and we wrote like 20 or so - kind of went in a darker direction in terms of atmosphere and sound. So, we decided to take some time and make an album that is really one atmosphere and that fits all together and has a some more layers to it and is a little more deep than our last one. I think we managed, because we really took a ridiculous amount of time writing this album and recording it, but we're quite, quite proud of the end result.
In your opinion what does "Souvenirs" offer that other albums by you guys might not? Is there anything that you think "Souvenirs" has less of?
Well I think the most important thing is that it's a little bit more mature, and a bit more layered, and there is a bit more depth to it. I think that's the basic difference of with this latest album.
How do you think you've developed as a vocalist since "Mandylion" first appeared, and how do you improve?
Well I think I improved my vocals in some ways, but maybe not technically. The thing with the vocals is that they change from year to year because when you grow up and you grow older you sing a lot and there are a lot of influences when your body changes. My voice kind of went lower a little bit. I have a lower pitch voice right now. So it changes anyway, but you have to kind of learn to sing with it as your body changes.
What I learned, and what I wanted to learn as well, is to sing with even more feeling and more emotion. Just really express exactly what I'm feeling, you know? And that's kind of a tricky thing because it's very personal because the instrument is in your body. It's really your thing. It's tricky to say exactly what you feel in words and sounds but its right on this album very much and I got a bit of help from Zlaya Hadzich our producer and he really cut everything out of there, so that's good. I'm very satisfied with my vocals.
I know that you play guitar occasionally. How did you pick this up and when does it come in use?
I played acoustic guitar for years and years before I was in The Gathering, but didn't really use it when I was in The Gathering. Only for the last couple of years when I started on "How To Measure A Planet." But now I'm playing quite often actually, and I like it because it's something different and its something new I have to learn all over again.
Since picking up the guitar has your input in terms of songwriting gotten bigger, or have you always had a role in the songwriting process?
Not really, actually, because I'm really the second guitar over what René's doing. He's obviously the lead guitarist and he does all the huge guitars. I'm very much kind of in the background making his parts stronger in some of the songs. He writes some of the stuff for me, that I play, so it's not a big role for me guitar-wise.
As long as we're talking about the guitars, since "Souvenirs," the guitars are as prominent as they were a few albums ago, so how does René take that?
It sounds as though he wouldn't like it, but actually the guitar is very much into this latest album in the music, but it's very much layered, and some guitars are so fucked up by effect that you don't really hear that it's guitar. In the end, René has a very melodic quality and he makes leads that are total stories sometimes – they're right up there with the vocals lines and the lyrics telling the story, you know? So it's a very, very important part, but it's indeed not that prominent, like, "oh, this is a guitar." But sometimes in some songs there are seven guitar parts but you don't really hear it unless you listen to it over and over again. So it's just changed a lot.
Obviously the sound of The Gathering has changed greatly since it even began, before you joined and after. What where some of the influences of The Gathering circa 1995 and "Mandylion," and what influences The Gathering of present day?
Music-wise, we are very much influenced by this new dark pop music. You might call it like Radiohead, Massive Attack, and bands like that. They really influence us because we like the catchiness of this music but also the dark side of this music. But other than that, there is an infinite choice of inspiration. You can find inspiration in just about anything, books and movies and friends, and just leading your life, you know? I think that's a big change from what we did in 95-96, because then the world was just a little bit more black and white because you're younger then. But now this whole gray area seems to be an influence on our music these days.
How was it to work with Garm (Arcturus, Ulver) on the new album?
Very good! Although it's only one song, and actually we never met because we did the whole song through email and CD's. So that's kind of a pity but he was so damn busy and we were quite busy, so we had to do it via mail. But the thing is we just asked him if he wanted to participate, and we knew he liked The Gathering, and he just said yes, so that was easy enough. Then we started sending him CDs with our songs and he liked it and I sent him my vocal lines and lyrics, and we made lyrics and vocals lines together. We talked a lot on the phone. He made a lot vocal parts in his studio in Norway, sent them back to us, and I made my parts in Holland and that's how the song came about. But we're quite proud because he has such a beautiful voice. We're all big Ulver fans, so that was great. We're quite proud of it.
Obviously you're a fan of Ulver, but what about Garm's other projects like Arcturus?
Ulver especially, yeah. Actually, I have to say I only know "Perdition City," and I heard some other stuff but I don't have it and I don't really listen to it a lot. But "Perdition City," I played it until it broke! It's so beautiful. I like the fact that he came from the black metal scene, and the elements the black and death genre are the typical darkness. He really took that and put it into a modern jacket and that combination I love.
Is there anybody else that you'd like to work with?
Yes, infinite! Tons of people who I'd love to work with, but they're all huge stars like Radiohead. But yeah, you never know. We'd like to make film music! That would be cool, for some really nice picture or whatever.
What is in store for The Gathering in terms of touring for "Souvenirs"?
Well we just finished a European tour, which went very, very well. Now we're doing Holland for a month, so we're kind of in and out of our homes. And we'd love to come to Northern Europe at the end of the year. And hopefully, USA and some Mexican gigs. That would be awesome, but it's a bit difficult to plan. We are talking to a lot of people in America but it's difficult because it costs a lot of money, which we don't have, so maybe we can get some help and have a good deal somewhere so we can make it. That would be very, very nice.
Well, at least you have The End Records and Andreas over here in North America.
They are really really nice, actually. They're one of the few labels in the music world that are really with their hearts into the music and the music business, so we're quite happy to live with them.
How did you manage to get "Souvenirs" lined up with The End Records for distribution?
I don't know exactly because I don't handle the distribution in our office, but I know that we got in contact pretty early on when the word was out that we wanted to go on our own. We didn't really look very much further in America for a deal because we were very charmed by Andreas and his label.
How is your new record label, Psychonaut Records doing?
Very good, I have to say! First of all, we gained all this freedom – creative freedom and financial freedom. We make all the decisions now. We actually did exactly what we fancied anyway, but now there's not anybody giving us tips on how to sell better or what to do just in order to sell our records, which is normal for any record company to do, but we just felt that we could do better on our own, and we are.
It feels very good. The CD is selling now. It has to sell somewhat in order for us to really get back on track, but it feels very good. Even if the CD was to flop from this moment on, it felt very good to have done this and make exactly the record you love making and we succeeded in that and I have a pretty good feeling about it.
Is there a theme for "Souvenirs" lyrically?
Not to capture in one word, but the lyrics have to do with us as a band moving through this world and through the music world and there's kind of a society aspect as well. And with all the stuff going on in the world, the wars and such, there are a lot of people who don't really understand or keep up with the rhythm of today. And I know there are a lot of people who want to just take time living their lives, and besides that, listen to some music, which is good and solid and emotional, instead of all the Britney Spears and one-day stuff. It's good to have something that's meaningful, and we talk about that a little bit as well. We're not trying to sound political or even hippy-like, but I think it's an important thing to just live your life at your own tempo, which is very valuable.
What things are most important to The Gathering when writing music?
You know, the power of music is quite great. It stirs up many emotions, if you want it to, and that's quite powerful. So we really take making music very serious and we want to make it as good as we possibly can. On the other hand we are five people who love making music, we are friends, we make music, and whether it sells or not we love doing it. We really take our time making it and have a lot of fun making it, so that's very important to us.
Technically, we're not that skilled, but therefore we make very honest music and we do it as well as we can. I think people also like that about us that we're pure and just doing it and don't really think about it.
This last question is kind of difficult to answer, but what is it that you love about music?
Yeah, that's a hard one! Good question, with a hard answer. I have to think about this... I don't know. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is that it makes me feel good, or it strengthens the feeling that I'm already in. So when I feel sad, and I put on sad music, it indulges that feeling. But when your sad and you put on cheerful music, it makes you more cheerful. It sooths and comforts you. And sometimes you just ride your bike - living in Holland - and you listen to Slayer and it gives you energy. So, any emotion or any feeling humanly possible it can indulge or comfort or energize or whatever. That for me is the power of music and that's what I love about it.
I thank you for your time and this lovely interview. It's been nice! Do you have anything you'd like to say before we go?
The only thing we hope for is that we can return to the US to play! Thank you!
Entered: 5/17/2003 4:16:17 PM