It’s a cliché by now. An artist, struggling with any manner of personal issues or disillusionment with the world, flees to edges of society and makes something beautiful. This Waldenesque vision of creativity has helped artists past and present create some wonderful music. And it’s with that same attitude that Anneke Van Giersbergen has made her new record. The Darkest Skies Are the Brightest is a response to a number of changes and worries in the Dutch singer’s life. Made in week long, almost-sleepless stints in the Dutch countryside, the folk-influenced album tackles the worries of uncertain times,and ultimate rebirth that comes with confronting them. Anneke took the time to talk with us about recording the record, her influences and where her music career might go from here.
mxdwn: So first of all, new album coming out, you must be really excited!
Anneke Van Giersbergen: Very, I am extremely excited because it’s a very personal album, and I put my heart and soul into it. And it’s also very different from my last effort, which was a heavy, progressive metal album. And so this is quite different sounding different approach different style. And up until now, the reactions are like people like you to journos. I really positive about it, and it makes me very happy. Yeah.
mxdwn: Cool. So I gave it I gave it a few listens, and I thought it was wonderful. Funnily enough, it reminded me quite a bit of Joni Mitchell. Was that any sort of a vibe that you were thinking about?
AVG: That’s so nice. I take it as a compliment. I suppose I listen to stuff like that, and Fleetwood Mac and Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and so on. So there is, I suppose, bound to be something of that seeping into my music, but I never thought about it. And now people, sometimes they kind of refer to that kind of music that they hear. And I like it, but it wasn’t intentional. I didn’t think a lot about ‘what should I write?’ Or ‘how should it sound?’ I just took the guitar, started playing, started writing, and this came out. And obviously, the way you produce an album has some influence so like with the acoustic instruments you’re bound to be, thinking towards these kind of genres.
mxdwn: Sure. And I saw from, some of the press materials that this came after a bit of a dark and difficult period for you.
AVG: So that’s true. I think like one or two years ago, there was a period in my life with this, so many things happening at the same time. And as well as in a family life, but also in music, my musical life. And it was multi layered, there were so many things at one point, it’s too much to get my head around. And I was actually planning to write a new album, a new metal album. And I was starting to write songs for that. But everything that came out was so melancholic and, and, and it was just wasn’t the time to, to make a metal album, it wouldn’t be honest music if I would make this into a metal album. And so at one point I lost sight, and I lost track of things. My life started slipping through my fingers, my relationship was in was in a bad place. And I was thinking, maybe I should, you know, stop the whole train of what I’m doing, mnd to get back to basics, recluse myself into a little cabin, and start writing and then see what happens — you know, maybe the sky will clear, maybe I’ll come to new ideas about my life. So I did that. And it did clear my head. It did, you know, make me realize, you know, the important things in my life and so on. And this album is kind of the result of all that.
mxdwn: Right, and was it challenging to kind of put yourself in a completely isolated space, just you and the music? Did it feel natural or was there maybe a difficult period to it?
AVG: It felt natural, it felt actually okay to be away from the chaos. I’m a pretty chaotic thinker anyway, so to put everything in perspective, to have this downtime, was great. What I would do in this little cabin, I would go every once in a while I would go for a week for like, seven days or so. Then I would write and record all day and afternoon, I would go out for a walk, and then come back right record. I didn’t sleep much, I didn’t eat much. And that felt cathartic. Because there was no bullshit around me, there was no people saying what they expect of me. That felt really nice. And I think I’m going to do this in the future too, because I still have some ideas for songs. And you know, of course, I’m focusing on the album release and the whole thing and but I think every once in a while, I’ll just go there.
mxdwn: Cool. So tell me about the album title, then? Where did that come from? I can kind of see what it might be about: optimism and stuff, but where did you come up with the title from?
AVG: Well, it’s actually a sentence. Nobody is happy, and even the most enlightened people, they have their issues in their lives, you know, they have the struggles in there. And if we steer away from them, if we ignore them, if we wait them away, they will get worse and they become patterns. However, if we go head on, you know, with our problems, and we try to work through them, and we usually, we come out a better person, we have learned something. I’m always trying to find the balance between the darkness and the light, because it’s both there, We can’t shy away from the things that are not nice in our lives, because they’re bound to be some things.
mxdwn: Right? So by that logic then, is this album more about rebirth or reflection? Or both?
AVG: I would say both because the rebirth because somehow, and I really I think a lot about life, and I’m very conscious person, but somehow I let a few things slip through my fingers. Even though I work hard, have this wonderful family and still I let some things slide you know, and then so when I found that back and I fought for it, and I found that back and my big love and you know my relationship healed. It felt like rebirth because I felt better than I did before. And the reflection part is part of it, you know, and writing the songs and to think about it and work through the struggle. It’s that part of it. All.
mxdwn: Right? And do you have a favorite song on the album, one that you’re either the most proud of? I don’t know if you listen to your own music too much…
AVG: Once the album is done, I usually don’t listen to it anymore. But nowadays, I do listen to because we are shooting videos, and you know, we are still busy with album. Sometimes when I didn’t listen to some songs, for a few weeks, I’m happily surprised when I do hear them. But one of my favorite songs is “agape”, the first song. And it kind of captures the whole mood of the album. It has some, you know, the dark melancholic side, but also like the hopeful parts of it. And I like the melodies. And I like the string section on it. And so I’m very proud of that one.
mxdwn: Yeah, it’s a beautiful track. It’s a beautiful album. I enjoyed it all the way through. One thing I also wanted to ask about is that there was something about how like, the CDs for the album are all recyclable, and like, the vinyls like, eco-friendly and that kind of thing. Was that an idea that you were kind of always super interested in doing?
AVG: Yeah, because when you think about it, when you release an album and how man people go on Spotify, and everything, how many CDs are being pressed? And, and they’re all plastic? And I think we can’t do that anymore. And I asked the record company, maybe, is it possible to release the album on, you know, non-plastic? Is that is that something that exists? Or maybe we should do all the recycled software? And I was thinking they’ll probably say no. But they said, yeah, we can do that. And so it made me very happy. And it’s really cool that you asked about it. But I think it’s very important to be mindful about you know, the world around us and nature and the environment and so on.
mxdwn: Right? And if you don’t mind me asking, when was this album finished? When did you like finalize it?
AVG: It was finished in the middle of the whole Corona pandemic situation. So I think a probably may or so, maybe a little bit later but I always forget dates and so on. I’ve always been bad with. I can see by my hair color. So the last bits we did, singing and stuff like that, we did either in the studio at six feet apart and the whole thing — but most of it just via email and calling each other and online. But you do this anyway, when you work with people abroad and you work online anyway, so it wasn’t a big problem.
mxdwn: Right. I mean, you said that you still have some ideas and some songs floating around but what’s next for you?
AVG: Next is the release and normally we would go out on tour of course but I’m now working on something online, to do something nice, something beautiful for online to accompany the album release. I’m also working on a setlist and practicing the songs. If we get to green light, I’ll be ready to go out. But I think proper serious, proper touring, will be won’t be until 2022. But maybe we can do some small because I’ll be on my own. So the production is easy. So maybe I can do some things in summer outside, hopefully.
mxdwn: Yeah. Have you thought about doing any like digitally streamed concerts? That kind of thing? Because I know a lot of artists have been doing that.
AVG: During the first lockdown, I did two of those things by request of venues — one of which was quite successful and was very well watched. But I was also in the middle of writing and finishing the album, and recording the album. And so I didn’t do a lot of those things. And I know there were so many artists, and we were rolling over each other to stay visible, because people were all scared that the fans would forget. And so actually online was so busy, that it felt a little bit paralyzing to me, and then I was just I made the decision, you know, I just won’t do any of that. And there was a period we could play for 30 people in the big venue. 30 people want to have 2 meters distance, blah, blah, blah. And I was thinking I shouldn’t do that. Just focus on album, make something beautiful. So I yeah, I did some posts here and there. And I was online, but not so much.
mxdwn: Right. And then I wanted to ask about a couple of other like, musical projects you’ve had going before. I mean, the gentle storm came out in 2015, I believe. Are there any more plans to do anything with that project?
AVG: Yeah, me and Arlene, we are in contact sometimes. And when we are we always talk about this, like maybe we should make a second album with Jenna stone, because the first album was such a great project. Obviously RNA makes created this fantastic music for it. And it’s huge. So this is one of those things that the stars have to be aligned, and, you know, to commit to this. But when the album was released, we immediately had ideas for the next one. It’s the whole story of this couple and you know, in ancient times, and we were thinking like the couple, maybe the couple should continue their journey, but now they are in space and this elaborate idea about a second album. So hopefully the stars will align and we can create something fun again.
mxdwn: Right. And then also, you’ve worked on some stuff with Devin Townsend before. Is there anything else kind of maybe in the works with him? Or have you been in contact there?
AVG: No. He, I know he’s working on several things. And whenever he wants me to be working on something with him, I’ll say yeah, so that’s how easy it is. And but I have plans as of yet. So I’ll, I’ll totally do it if he wants.