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Bettie Serveert: Paint it Pink

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Feb. 8, 2005

Bettie Serveert
w/Little Brazil, The Third Men
Feb. 16, 9 p.m.
Sokol Underground
13th & Martha

In many ways, indie band Bettie Serveert is truly international. Lead vocalist/guitarist Carol van Dyk calls The Netherlands home, and the band has had a number of successful CDs around the world since it all began in '92 with their hit debut, Palomine, on Matador Records.

But despite that, it's the United States where the band has had the most success. While Palomine sold a respectable 40,000 copies in Holland, earning the band its first gold record, it sold more than 200,000 copies in the U.S. In fact van Dyk, who was born in Vancouver and moved to Holland when she was seven, says her music has never been influenced by her environment.

"I grew up in so many different places, I guess I feel at home everywhere and nowhere," she said. "Obviously there is a music scene in Holland, but most music that I listened to growing up came from America or Canada or England."




My call to van Dyk was made at 5:30 p.m. our time, which is 12:30 a.m. the following morning in Amsterdam. Still, she was wide-awake, busy at work in her office. She shushed any attempts at apologies. "We usually play at this hour; so for me, it's a normal time of day."

She said that although she spends most of her time in Amsterdam, she still considers Vancouver her real home, and spends two to three months a year in America touring. What's the biggest difference between the U.S. and The Netherlands? Van Dyk points to Canada's and Holland's state-provided pension and medical care programs. "I have lots of friends in America, and if something happens to them and they have to go to a hospital, they have to take out loans to pay for it."

On the other hand, you can paint your house pink in American and Canada. "You can't do that in Holland without going through committees, and in the end, they'll say 'no' anyway. It's ironic. You can smoke pot in Amsterdam, but you can't paint your house pink. Sometimes I think they have too much control."

Van Dyk said music and art are state subsidized in Holland, including clubs, which allows them to book even the smallest bands without worrying about the financial consequences. "That's unheard of in any other country," van Dyk said. "The artists here are pampered. It's good to have subsidies to develop certain ideas; but on the other hand, getting too much money can make artists lazy."

That's never been the case for Bettie Serveert (which, by the way, means "Bettie to serve" after Dutch tennis star Bettie Stove, who lost the Wimbledon finals in 1977). The band has released seven albums over the past 13 years, but has never had a hit bigger than their debut. Palomine was a college radio staple in '92 and '93, and firmly placed Bettie Serveert among Matador Record's core stable of acts that included Pavement and Liz Phair. Despite grinding tracks like "Tom Boy," "Kid's Allright" and "Balentine," Palomine's music held a somber, almost lazy tone, thanks to van Dyk's somewhat mournful vocals. She said the album's success was completely unexpected.








"It's ironic. You can smoke pot in Amsterdam, but you can't paint your house pink."








(On Conor Oberst) "I almost met him when he played in Amsterdam and I chickened out."



"When we started we had no plans or goals," said van Dyk, who was 29 and working in an animation studio at the time Palomine was recorded. "We never thought we'd get further than having a gig a month, and we never thought we'd get a record deal or tour throughout the world. It was all a big surprise when Palomine happened and we found ourselves touring in America. It was strange, like being in a hurricane. You could say we were naïve back then. Throughout the years, we've learned so much."

Those years have smoothed out the band's earlier, edgier sound, resulting in the more upbeat, sophisticated college pop found on their new album, Attagirl, released in January on Chicago's Minty Fresh Records (The Cardigans, Tahiti 80, Papas Fritas). The CD boasts a more keyboard-driven approach by a band that was known for its mopey, guitar-heavy college rock sound. There's nothing mopey about CD opener "Dreamaniacs," with its spacey synth touches and bouncy electronic kick-drums. The playful title track is downright danceable. And even when the band puts away the keyboards and leans on the guitars, like on the kicky "Don't Touch that Dial!," they still seem determined to have fun. Pulling it all together and tying it back to their past is van Dyk's distinctive, throaty vocals.

Among the tracks on the new CD is a cover of Bright Eyes' "Lover I Don't Have to Love," a song that Bettie Serveert guitarist Peter Visser introduced to van Dyk. "I listened to it and I loved it from the first moment I heard it," she said. "Everything about it is beautiful. I wish I had written it myself. We started playing it in concerts and it became a favorite. It's sort of a tribute."

Van Dyk has no idea what Conor Oberst thinks of her band's version. "I hope he likes it," she said. "I almost met him when he played in Amsterdam and I chickened out. I wanted to give him a CD but I was too shy."

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Published in The Omaha Reader Feb.9, 2005. Copyright 2005 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.