Bettie Serveert: Paint it Pink
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: Feb. 8, 2005
w/Little Brazil, The Third Men
Feb. 16, 9 p.m.
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.
ironic. You can smoke pot in Amsterdam, but you can't paint
your house pink."
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,
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
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."
Published in The Omaha Reader Feb.9, 2005. Copyright
© 2005 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.