January 23, 2017 Interview – Dianne van Giersbergen of Xandria
Rising to popularity during the early ’90s, Symphonic Metal is one of the many off-shoots of Heavy Metal to blossom through the years. Led by pioneers such as The Gathering, Therion, and Nightwish, a second wave of Symphonic Metal bands such as Germany’s Xandria have continued the carry the genre forward. With roots that date back two decades, Xandria has traveled a long road to success while seeing a list of members come and go in the process. Faced with the reality that Manuela Kraller would be stepping down as their lead vocalist back in 2013, they quickly reacted, bringing in Dutch Soprano Dianne van Giersbergen.
An accomplished student of Classical music, as well as a vocal teacher, van Giersbergen fit in seamlessly as a member of the Xandria family. Assisting in bringing their sound to new heights with the 2014 album Sacrificium, van Giersbergen and company are set to return with what promises to be their most complete album to date, 2017’s Theater of Dimensions. Recently we sat down with van Giersbergen to talk her entrance into Xandria, the work on their new album, her passion for music, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in music since you were a young child, and professionally in the Metal world for over a decade now, first with your band Ex Libris and later Xandria. First, tell us, what has this journey been like for you?
Dianne van Giersbergen – That is a good question. It is so hard to describe, it comes so natural to me. You only know when you can compare it to another journey, and I have never known anything else but music. It is hard to say, it is such a part of me. You learn a lot, you discover who you are in and outside of music, you meet a lot of people, learn about different cultures, and different styles in music. I think you can describe the whole journey as one big crossover.
CrypticRock.com – That is a good description. As stated, you began with your band Ex Libris some time ago, and then were approached sometime around 2013 to become the new vocalist of Xandria. How did this come about?
Dianne van Giersbergen – The boys were already in the studio recording Sacrificium (2014) when Manuela Kraller decided to leave the band. It wasn’t for her anymore, she wanted to go a different direction and didn’t see her involvement in Xandria anymore. The timing was a bit unfortunate, as I said, they were already in studio recording.
The producer, Joost van den Broek, who also produced Theater of Dimensions, came up with my name and said to the guys, “You can check her out, and see if it is a fit for your music.” They did, and I think the rest is history (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – It worked out very well. You have certainly fit in nicely with Xandria and offer an extremely dynamic voice.
Dianne van Giersbergen – Thank you very much. For me, it was very important we had a click, not only musically, but also between us as individuals. I wanted us to get along because spending time together in such a close environment is sometimes hard and you really have to take into account that people get frustrated, tired, and emotional. The boys are like brothers to me and it worked out very good.
CrypticRock.com – That is great that you developed a bond and friendship so fast. Sometimes it takes a band years to develop such a chemistry. You mentioned how the timing was unfortunate at the point you joined, but you came in and Sacrificium became Xandria’s most internationally successful. Were you surprised to see such a positive reaction so quickly?
Dianne van Giersbergen – Surprised would suggest that I expected the other part to be true. I was happy about it, but one cannot argue taste. If people would have taken longer to get used to me, and get over that Manuela had left the band, that would have also been fine for me. I am a totally different singer and voice, I would understand people not being happy about me suddenly being there.
I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but indeed, I was very happy, or one could say overwhelmed, with all the positive reactions we received. Still, people are so happy and always asking me to please not leave the band (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – That is all very positive and it also adds antipcation to Xandria forthcoming album, Theater of Dimensions, due out on January 27th. This is a very bold and beautiful record. What was the writing and recording process like this time around?
Dianne van Giersbergen – This album was very different. Already for the EP, 2015’s Fire & Ashes, I was much more involved in the writing process. Especially for this album, we set out as a team. It was Marco Heubaum and our Producer Joost van den Broek, who also co-wrote on this album, and me, working together. We focused much more on the vocals earlier so that my voice could really blossom. When I sing the old songs, I figured out a way to make them mine, since they are not written for my voice. For this album, we took much more care of that and I think that is really something you can hear.
Next to that, arrangements are much better. I don’t only mean orchestral arrangements, but also band arrangements. Meaning that everything is stacked much more as it is should be, people are in their place, not meaning this in an insulting way, they are not put in their place (laughs). Everything fits much more together and I think that creates a transparency, but also a much more organic flow to the music. Which is much easier to listen to in a fast run, it is not chaotic music, it is very structured, it is like a puzzle, and everything just fits into place.
CrypticRock.com – That is understandable, considering the fact that you had come into the a recording process that had already begun for Sacrificium. This time, you had more time to work together in writing and recording of the material.
This lineup of Xandria has been established now, together four years, with the addition of yourself and Steve Wussow on bass. There was quite a bit of change over with vocalists until you joined the band. That said, do you feel like Xandria is home and this is a relationship that will last for many years to come?
Dianne van Giersbergen – Yes, I think so. We are all in a period now where our age is on the table, thinking about do we want to have families? Can we combine such a thing? It is not a topic yet, but there is talk about that. I think if something should change, it might have to do something with that, then again, it is minor talk.
Band-wise, exchanging members, I think we are good. We are a group of five and our characters work together good. We all have our good points and our negative points. I think it is sometimes really hard to say. I am just happy with the way things work and the way we all work together. Let’s see what the future holds for us.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. During the last album cycle, you had visited North America to much fanfare. Breaking into the North American market can often be a difficult task, but Xandria are doing extremely well. You are set to perform on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. Will there be a more formal string of North American shows lined up for 2017?
Dianne van Giersbergen – We are discussing dates and it is on the table. The thing is planning-wise, it is hard; you don’t just come over for the weekend. Two of us are entrepreneurs. For example, me, I am teaching and having my jewelry, for this, I need time. Another two of us have steady jobs. Basically, it is a schedule thing to see when and how we can come over for a longer period and tour. The possibility is there, it is just us having to make it work.
CrypticRock.com – Well that is an exciting possiblity. Congratulations on your jewelry business as well.
Dianne van Giersbergen – I love it so much, it gives me the chance to still be creative, be creative in music, but also shut up for a while (laughs). Which is really hard for me, if I didn’t have it I think I would be talking and singing all day. The boys in the band are really happy I have this. I just love creating the jewelry and giving strings and also drum cymbals second life. Giving fans a chance to wear something created out of a concert they visited. I think it is a perfect circle.
CrypticRock.com – It is very creative and compelling for sure. As mentioned earlier, you are heavily classically trained, you graduated with honors, you are a highly accomplished musician. Have you had aspirations to do something more formal with music in the future, perhaps Opera or Classical?
Dianne van Giersbergen – Yes and no. At the moment, I am very happy with where I am. Though, I must admit that sometimes, when just studying at home, I sing Verdi or Puccini, then my heart really yearns for the Classical stage. I feel very much alive when singing Classical songs. Although, for me, it is much more about the music than about the world. Like the Metal world, the Classical world focused. Sometimes the Classical world can be a little stiff.
I really noticed this when I went for an audition for the Belgian Opera and there were 200 contestants that day. Everyone had to go through three rounds, and on every round, you saw people coming out and crying when they heard they didn’t make it. When I didn’t make the second round, I felt myself relieved. I felt yes, I can go home and focus on my own music again.
This was such a wakeup call for me. I had to really decide to what it is I like about Classical music. It is much more the music than being in the Classical world. Obviously, that is why the crossover works so well in singing with a Classical voice in Metal music. I feel at home in the Metal world, but I love to sing Classical music.
CrypticRock.com – History has shown that Classical and Metal music have a lot of similarity. They both have bombastic sounds and dramatic arrangements.
Dianne van Giersbergen – Agreed! I am so curious what Beethoven would have done with a guitar (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – That would have beeen extremely interesting. You sound like you have very dynamic tastes. What are some of your musical influences?
Dianne van Giersbergen – Yes, I am very, very widely interested in music. What might be nice to know is, when growing up, my mother used to listen to Classic music, but my father Progressive Rock. He listened to The Moody Blues, Deep Purple, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, The Doors, as well as Simon and Garfunkel. Basically, the crossover has been nurtured to me from very early on. Those two things really influenced me.
When I was younger, I listened to Nirvana, Skunk Anansie, Muse, but obviously also Nightwish. Nowadays, because we are touring with so much Symphonic Metal around us when being on stage with our own music, but also albums from friends who come out, when I have private time, I like to listen to singer-songwriters and Classical music. It is the other side that doesn’t feel like work to me.
CrypticRock.com – Completely understandable. When you are surrounded by something all the time, you want to have something different outside of that.
Dianne van Giersbergen – Yes, true. If I listened to Symphonic Metal at home constantly, I think, somehow, you might lose the love for it. If I listen to different genres and return to my own genre, it is like, oh there it is again.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly, diversity is important. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of the genres, what are some of your all-time favorites?
Dianne van Giersbergen – Horror, no, because I simply will not sleep anymore (laughs). When I was younger, I read a lot of books by Stephen King. I have seen a lot movies that were made after the books.
CrypticRock.com – Stephen King is one of the greatest Horror authors of our time. Which are some of your favorite books?
Dianne van Giersbergen – It has been a long time, I would have to look up all the books, but I think The Stand.
CrypticRock.com – The Stand was a good one. The television movie was alright. A lot of his books often do not translate well into film.
Dianne van Giersbergen – Well, can you name one movie that actually suprasses the book?
CrypticRock.com – Very good point. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) was exceptional. Pet Sematary (1989) was excellent as well. Not as good as the book, but good.
Dianne van Giersbergen – I watched Pet Sematary a long time ago when I was alone at home when I was little. I am never doing that again (laughs). I also like Anne Rice. Her books have been made into movies, I loved Interview With a Vampire (1994).