Ex Libris – Capturing the Essence of MusicSunday, 19th August 2018
The latest from Ex Libris has been a long time coming. Vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen had been involved with Xandria of course, which certainly kept her on the road for a while. But earlier this year, the band made the announcement that Ann was on its way. And that announcement proclaimed it would be working a little differently than a normal album release. Ann was to be released in three parts, over the course of the next year (or so) and contain three songs each about a different Ann in history. Lots of three talk, also in accompaniment of it being their third album, as well as news of the album being crowdfunded and independent.
Today, Chapter I has now been released to the public. Focusing on the first Ann, that being Anne Boleyn, the progressive metal act has boiled down the story into three tracks. Engrossing on the musical and lyrical level, the album is clearly the product of plenty of passion from the musicians involved, paving some high expectations for the remaining two parts. We spoke with van Giersbergen just prior to the album’s release to hit all of the usual ‘new album’ topics, as well as those mentioned above. But we also had time to discuss what makes Ex Libris different for her, some history talk, and her growing Precious Metal jewelry line.
Dead Rhetoric: I don’t want to go too far into this, but when you posted that message about leaving Xandria last fall, it sounded genuinely heartbreaking.
Dianne van Giersbergen: Well, you know I wanted to record something, like you said, from the heart, as the people that have supported me had the right to know the real truth and the way I was feeling. There was no other way, and I didn’t really want to leave. I read the statement to a friend, and they told me that I should record it, because it sounded so pure and honest. They felt it would go over better and it would allow people to better understand if they heard my voice.
Dead Rhetoric: With Xandria in the past, are you looking to make Ex Libris more of a full-time gig?
van Giersbergen: It will be different. We toured a lot with Xandria, and I also learned that touring becomes much more about quantity than quality. With that also, I lost the real essence of why I was in music. I don’t ever want to lose it again – it becomes too much of a business. Ex Libris has been my baby from the start. There’s no way I’m going to turn this one into a corporate machine. So it will stay pure and real. With the people involved, everyone has a different life than the boys from Xandria. For example, everyone has a steady job and career. We have Luuk [van Gerven], who you may also know from After Forever…I can’t even count how many masters’ degrees he has [laughs]! It would be a waste for him to just quit that and [tour]. We will do concerts, but they will be far more exclusive. Our goal is to enjoy every minute, which is what I didn’t have anymore in Xandria. There was too much pressure.
Dead Rhetoric: That makes sense. When you hone in on doing it just for you, it makes it more enjoyable too.
van Giersbergen: Yeah, and it’s not only for me, but I also don’t think it’s fair if I’m on stage and having to pretend and make it seem like I’m having fun. I don’t think that’s fair to the audience, especially when they purchase tickets. Like I said, that’s not the essence of music.
Dead Rhetoric: Moving into Ann, outside of the clear cutting point in focusing on three individuals, what made you decide to release the album in three parts?
van Giersbergen: Well, the idea was born when I was still in Xandria, and we were looking for a way to be able to release music around my busy schedule and we felt that we could do one album but release it in three parts. Then the boys are progressive to the bone, so we thought that it was our third album, and we should divide everything by three and make it our main digit [laughs]! So when that happened, we decided over dinner, and I vividly remember this conversation, and you get carried away – a lot of things can be divided by three. The main lines are there – it’s our third album, we will have three releases, three different periods in time: all of which are historical figures. If you take a closer look at the music there’s a lot of hidden stuff in there. Rhythms built upon threes, the name Ann is also hidden in the lyrics, and of course, Ann has three letters. Things like that. It’s a puzzle!
Dead Rhetoric: Madea was historical in tone, and now you are focusing on Anne Boleyn. What intrigues you about historical figures in terms of writing?
van Giersbergen: I think its roots are in my study of classical music. In opera, you really dive into the past. It’s acting, because you have to become that person and sing as if you are her. You have to live the tale that she lives. Very interestingly, you get to sing one song at a time as a singer – for example, the first song on Ann where she is completely falling head over heels in love with Henry [VIII], she did not foresee what would happen in the end. Of course, I as a person know how it ends, but I have to sing this song as if I don’t know. I think it’s a wonderful feeling.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you have to do any research when it came to the subject matter to insure it was accurate?
van Giersbergen: Definitely! The words and situations that I sketch are my interpretation of my research. I can never say that Anne [Boleyn] said those exact words. Language was different then too, but the facts should all be correct. I don’t want to be really bold and say that it’s all correct because a historian might disagree. But I read books and watched a number of documentaries and films as well. For the artwork, we really dove into it. The cover is me, and I really learned how to do make-up from that time, how to divide my hair and wear the ‘hat’ – it’s actually a scarf and the rest was photoshopped on. I made a shirt with a square neckline – it’s all historically correct. Again, this is something I discovered from doing opera, because you also have to do your research. There is a lot! When you sing Mozart, which is from the 1750s, there are things that you should or shouldn’t do, that 100 years later was completely different. I’m speaking style-wise, but it’s something that is everywhere, and in every aspect of the music. I like it. It gives me some rules to live by, and from that point, I can create my own interpretation.
Dead Rhetoric: So is it safe to say that for the next two releases, things will go the same way?
van Giersbergen: Yes, we will have two other ones from completely different backgrounds and moments in time. But I already have my book list. I’m going on vacation in a week, and that’s going to be my vacation, reading up on the next person! I already know quite a bit about her, but I need to know a bit more about her in order to become her, or at least portray her. So you can definitely expect that I will dive into someone else’s history again and make an interpretation. The cool thing is that we sent out the download links, which you also received on Saturday. Those who backed us in the campaign, we asked to respond on our Facebook page and someone said, asking everyone else who commented there, “Who of us is currently on Wikipedia reading up about Anne [Boleyn]?” I thought that was such a cool thing! That’s what we have done – people are intrigued by this character and want to know more. I was so happy reading that – I am putting people on to learn about history in a cool way. It’s not like the dusty teacher in high school [laughs].
In those three songs, what I tried to do, was get people to know her. It’s a tiny story and if I was a listener, I feel like I would want to know her a bit more and dive into her history. I have this feeling when I read books, or watch movies/series – I hate it when they are over because I have gotten to know these people, and it’s silly to say, but they know me too, but you kind of develop a relationship there and you don’t want it to end. I think Anne is someone everyone should know. She’s a very important figure of English history, especially for women, but for men too if they see how far ahead of her time she was back then. We can learn something from that.
Dead Rhetoric: I had remembered the name and major pieces, but I was searching up more information over the weekend too.
van Giersbergen: Awesome! See what we did there! Google is going to see a spike in Anne Boleyn research this week [laughs]!
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that Ann challenged you as a vocalist? I know you mentioned getting into the actual role already, but was there anything else overall?
van Giersbergen: I did things that my classical teacher would not have allowed me to [laughs]. For me, that’s a major, major thing. I dove a bit more into method acting, which is really becoming the person and allowing those emotions to fill you up. At least for me, there are two parts for me on Ann, in the third song, that are the most obvious. In the acoustic intro, you really hear my voice break. That is something that I wouldn’t have done before because my classical background says, “oooh, this is wrong! You cannot hear that!” It’s funny because part of me was fighting with really stepping into character, more than Madea, where everything was raw but still polished. Here I took it one step further. The breaking and the vocal phrases that you hear, I’m not sure people will pick up but for me it’s a huge thing.
The other part is the speaking part that is later on. When she is walking through the crowd, and it’s the first time that she sees the scaffold on which her executioner is standing and she sees the sword for the first time. The speaking part is one big crescendo. I start off a little held back and at the end, that’s the forte, and I feel it – I’m getting goosebumps again just saying it, but I was so into that moment. I actually videotaped it. I don’t know if I will ever actually release it. But at the moment of speaking, I have my arms forward and I’m gasping like “There he is!” and I’m completely feeling it. I really needed a break to sort of calm down and catch my breath again after. Me getting chills again right now tells me that I’m doing it right [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: One of the things that’s really cool about the release is that it might only be three songs, but it’s complete. You have told an entire story in those three songs.
van Giersbergen: I hope that will be the general opinion of the people. Sometimes, you say that you are releasing three songs and people say, “Yeah, only three?” They don’t really get it. But I think what you say is correct. Imagine if I was doing this in 10 songs, as a listener it would have worn you out half way through. It might be cool to know that for the next chapter, because in the end they will all be on one album, what we are going to do to prevent this is to go into a different style. It will really color those three chapters. The next thing you hear is the next chapter that will start, but it will have differences. A different setting, a different color, a different vibe. It’s like having a dinner, with many courses. They will serve you a different flavor. Its like, “Ah, this is new. I thought I had enough, but now I’ve tasted this and let’s see where this is going!”
Dead Rhetoric: So the other two parts have not been recorded, correct?
van Giersbergen: Right, they have not been recorded. We are really doing everything bit by bit. We are currently writing Chapter II. We really want to keep our focus. Now that Chapter I is finished, we can move on. We were in the 1500s and we are stepping a few centuries further. We have to do our research and see what sort of instruments were used there and see how we can implement them into Ann. I think it’s like making a certain music genre your specialty. If you only study doom metal, and you want to make one symphonic album in between, it’s going to sound really silly and not symphonic, because your focus isn’t there. That’s what we are doing here. We have focused on one chapter, and we are opening up number two. We are starting by doing our research, I of course with the character, but the boys have to look at the history of the music then. That’s actually what’s happening now. It’s all about focus. I think it’s a different approach to music.
Dead Rhetoric: This isn’t the first time you’ve done crowdfunding for the band either. Did you apply what you learned last time in order to make Ann more successful?
van Giersbergen: I wish I could say yes [laughs], but it was so long ago that it was like doing it all over again. I am not sure which one we used last time, but it might have been Indiegogo, because that is the major one to use. But they don’t accept PayPal anymore, so we researched and found this completely unknown one, and I don’t think it’s even meant for music, but it did accept PayPal and bank wire tranfer. There is a generational difference in how you pay. For example, the people that I know who are 50 and upwards, don’t necessarily have PayPal and don’t trust something like that. You still want them to be part of the journey. It’s funny to say, because now we can download the information and what we saw was that for those 50+, they almost all paid by bank wiring. So that was very important, so we could open it up to everyone.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that the crowdfunding allows for a more personalized experience?
van Giersbergen: Definitely, I do think so. I really loved the whole period of being so engaged with one another, and I really feel that this new album coming out is going to happen because of people wanting it to happen, and not because of business and the corporate machine throwing money at it. Now we are receiving the money from the fans and if you have a label, you would receive money from the label, but it would be a loan. You have to pay them back with interest. It doesn’t come for free. The cool thing about the crowdfunding too is that it’s one big pre-sale. I love that we are cutting out all third parties in between. It’s just us and the fans. That’s it. Again, it’s going back to what I think is the essence of music. I already received a lot of emails from people saying they would be willing to distribute the music and all that. But I’m okay with the way we are doing it now.
Dead Rhetoric: You had the crowdfunding for all three parts done. Do you feel you are going to have to come up with something else to grab people’s attention as the other two parts are released?
van Giersbergen: That’s actually something we are thinking about now. We are having a lyric video being made, and it will be very cool to have a band video made too. We are still brainstorming about this. The crowdfunding took so much time and focus that now is the part where we can sit down and think about what will be good for the other releases. That’s the other thing about crowdfunding – it’s one big promotion. I’m so happy with the way that things have gone so far, it’s been one big burden off my shoulders.
Dead Rhetoric: With Precious Metal growing, do you have more bands donating to you at this point as it has expanded?
van Giersbergen: I do, I have a lot of bands. I don’t know all of them by heart, but the biggest might be Epica I think. I have a lot of strings from bands that I toured with. Almost all of the bands that have come into the studios where we have also recorded I have grabbed them by the neck and said, “What do you say?” [laughs], so yes, there’s a lot of bands coming my way thinking that it is such a cool project. What I like is that I also have bands that are not as famous yet, and for them, it’s a way to have them promote it. They send strings my way, and whenever I make something with them, I tag them. I want people to go and see what they are actually wearing, what music has been made with their necklace/bracelet. I think that makes it full circle.
Dead Rhetoric: The other thing I was doing over the weekend after hearing the album was trying to figure out who the other 2 “Annes” could be. Do you have people asking you about that or trying to figure it out themselves?
van Giersbergen: A lot of people are busy figuring that out. We actually have a contest that if someone guesses all three ladies right, they will get a free merch package. But so far, no one has all three. There are a few with two though. There are so many famous Annes!
Dead Rhetoric: So lastly, what’s the plan at this point, with Chapter I coming out and having two releases to go?
van Giersbergen: My first plan is vacation [laughs]! I really need a break. When I come back, we are now in Chapter II and we are busy writing and then we are heading into rehearsals and pre-production. Then the same thing for Chapter III. After that, we are looking into doing some exclusive concerts. I also think this is something that we are letting just evolve, because I think it’s a more organic way. We want to grow, and learn where are biggest fan base is in order to organize a concert. I see now that I don’t have a label, publisher, and management what they take off of you and how much is out of your hands, which can be a cool thing. Having to invest the time yourself is a major undertaking, but there is so much freedom. The cool thing is that there’s no time or pressure. I think better things come from that.