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Bettie Serveert
an interview with Carol van Dyk by Matt Dornan

unedited transcript

Three years ago Bettie Serveert released Dust Bunnies, the third and, at that time, most cohesive album of their career. In place of the broad strokes of 1994's ambitious but ultimately unfocused Lamprey, the likes of Rudder and What Friends? suggested the band were as adept at writing 3-minute pop gems as they were the impassioned rawk of their unanimously admired debut Palomine (1992). As ever Carol Van Dyk's uniquely oblique lyrics (seemingly personal yet never offering more than a brief glimpse into her psyche) and her affecting, vocal delivery, alongside Peter Visser's untethered guitar-wrangling, separated Bettie Serveert's music from the massed ranks of indie-dom circa 1997. Sadly, Dust Bunnies was the last Betties album to receive a UK release, their contract with Beggars Banquet at an end. Subsequently a Europe-only live Velvet Underground tribute (1998's Venus in Furs was recorded as part of a unique series of shows in which a Dutch band would play a set of covers to honour their heroes - CWAS faves Daryll-Ann chose The Byrds) was the band's only release before the century's end. With the departure of long-serving drummer Berend Dubbe (whose 1999 solo album, On The Move, recorded under the guise of Bauer comes unreservedly recommended) it seemed a change was inevitable for the band.

After Berend left to start his own band, Herman, Peter & I started toying with keyboards, samples and such, and my 8-track recorder. That's when we wrote the song Satisfied, recalls Carol, explaining the origins of Private Suit, Bettie Serveert's brand new, John Parish-produced long player (on the band's own Palomine label). An album, so significantly sonically different from previous recordings that to describe it as a 'creative re-birth' would not be overstating the case.

We used most of that recording when we were in the studio with John, she continues. So I guess that sort of gives you an indication how clear we already were about the kind of direction we wanted to take.

Indeed, the band's self-produced 99 demo EP's three songs all re-surfaced on the album in virtually identical form.
The basics of the songs were already there, confirms Carol, before explaining the open approach the band maintained during recording.

One of the reasons why we chose [e-sound studios] , was the fact that they have a lot of instruments, like marimba, rhodes, hammond, vibraphone etc. So sometimes we changed certain parts on the spot. On Satisfied Peter & I were cracking up, giggling because we had to play the marimba part together, side by side, and we had never played that instrument before! So we kept making mistakes, dropping those darn sticks, or what ever you call them, and hitting each other on the hands.

Certainly Visser's trademark piercing tones have been radically treated on much of Private Suit, adding a variety of hitherto unheard colourings yet, despite the huge shift in style, Carol is keen to emphasise that John Parish's involvement was collaborative rather than dictatorial.
He was the captain in the studio. He helped us to listen to our own music in a different way. At times he would decide to skip a whole part, if it wasn't necessary for the song as such.

And it seems there was little in the way of friction, considering the band handed over sole production duties for the first time.
Of course there were artistic differences, admits Carol. The closer you are to your music, the more difficult it is to 'let go'. But, from the very first time I met John I knew we would have some disagreements. But I felt that working together would be to the benefit of us all. You also need a mutual feeling of respect. I mean, Peter and I are always quarreling about songs - we've been doing that for the better part of our lives - but that has never stopped us from working together! On the other hand, it [was] a hard thing for me to do, as I've always been sort of a control-freak. The guys will probably say that this is the understatement of the year!

In true REM fashion, the departure of their drummer led to a renewed spirit in the camp, albeit tinged with an element of sorrow.
It felt like the ending of a relationship, we all felt a little sad, muses Carol. But, on the other hand, it didn't come right out of the blue. I think we all knew this was going to happen sooner or later, Berend was already working on his own stuff.

In his place, the band recruited Reinier Veldman, an old friend of the band who played with Visser and bassist Herman Bunskoeke in De Artsen, before the birth of Bettie Serveert.
Reinier is a different kind of drummer, says Carol of her new band-mate. He approaches his drum kit in a totally different way. His style is much tighter, so that leaves more space, if you will, for Herman's bass guitar. Reinier & Herman have found a really nice 'groove' together, there's more of a swing in Bettie.

Perhaps the most striking transformation of all for the 2000 model of Bettie Serveert is the abundance of confidence present in Carol's previously tentative singing.
I took lessons! she enthuses. Should've done that a long time ago. Actually, I did, but now I've found a really great teacher and it makes a huge difference. Finally I can do the things I wanted to do for a long time. I just didn't know how. It's like, when you know how to do it, you become more confident about it, so you enjoy it even more.

It's a step her band are keen to follow.
Herman often joins me in taking lessons, so we can do harmonies and stuff. Peter & Herman do a lot of backing vocals these days.

With such subtle yet significant changes all contributing to the sonic success of Private Suit, the reaction to the re-born Betties at home has been most encouraging.
So far people over here say it's our best one yet, Carol boasts. It's a sentiment she's happy to agree with. Yes, it is. And, I must confess, I'm really proud of it. It doesn't mean that I don't like the other ones anymore, it's just that I like the sound of Private Suit so much.

CWAS #6 - Autumn 2000