Interview with Sarah Bettens

AE: You started out at the very beginning recording solo, before you were recording with your brother — is that correct?
SB:
Yeah. That was so short-lived, though. I mean, it was important and it was vital to being able to start K’s Choice. But it was a very, very short period of time when I barely knew what was going on. I got signed and got asked to do this song for a Belgian short film it was a Hank Williams song and it got instantly successful in Belgium and that’s how we were kind of able to start the band. So, it did start off that way but I never think about that until someone reminds me of it, Because I really feel like the beginning was always the band, and that’s in the end the thing that I always wanted to do: make my own songs and have a band.

AE: So the solo work that you’ve now been doing, to you it doesn’t seem like it’s returning to where you started? This is a new experience to you?
SB:
It’s new, yeah. Because at that point in time I didn’t feel ready to do things on my own. I really wanted to do it with my brother. I didn’t feel ready to write an entire record, you know? I just wasn’t there yet. And two years ago I felt like, all right, after ten years of this, of really developing as a songwriter, now I’m really ready. So it’s very different than that one single I did 12 years ago.

AE: When you became, at first in Belgium, this instant success”did you feel like you woke up and all of a sudden you’re touring with Morphine, Alanis Morisette, the Indigo Girls and the Proclaimers? Did you feel like you woke up in the midst of it or were you kind of aware as it was happening of where it was going?
SB:
Um, a little bit of both. I felt like, on the one hand, things happened gradually for us, and we always kind of had a little bit of time to adapt to whatever was coming next. But, on the other hand, I feel like it did happen in the very beginning really very fast for us. We were really not such a great live band yet and we were already opening for Morphine and Ryan Adams in France. It’s our first record and we have video footage of that on the K’s Choice DVD and it’s so funny how, I mean, we were just ecstatic that we were there. I mean, I don’t think we really sucked, but we were probably not that good yet. So things did fall into place for us early. But at the same time I feel like we always worked very, very hard. Meaning that we did a lot of support tours where it was all investing in a future, in a real career. Not just accepting the gigs that were going to make us some money, but accepting all the gigs that had any kind of potential of getting us to the next step. Because that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted not to just have one great hit record and that was it. We’ve always wanted to just do it always. And if there was one goal I had to name, I think that that’s what I’d say. If I never get a gold record in the States, if I never sell a lot of records, if I never sell out a 2,000-capacity club in the States…if I can say that all I’ve done is music for 25 years, then that’s a much bigger goal for me. Being able to do what I love to do. So, we always really worked hard. We played a lot, did a lot of touring, did a lot of shows, a lot of promotion. I’m still of that philosophy, also because I love it. I love playing live. If I didn’t love it I wouldn’t do it. But I also just think it’s good to do, even if I don’t always feel like it.

AE: We were talking about what your experience has been working solo, having all the responsibility as well as all of the credit, and how before that you had worked in partnership, with your brother. Well, the record industry, at least in the U.S. is notoriously sexist, and I’m curious if you’ve had to experience any of that working solo now or if you’ve been spared that.
SB:
I think in general I’ve been pretty lucky. Like I said before, I’ve been lucky to have been surrounded by great people who have always shown me a lot of respect. Everyone in my band has always been great that way. And I think maybe the record industry is one area where a woman can make as much money as a man can. If we sell a lot of records it will make the same amount of money as when a man sells a lot of records. But at the same time, I guess what I do notice is that”and it hasn’t happened that much, but it’s just something that’s underlying that I feel”in K’s Choice, for example, people always assumed that my brother wrote the songs.

We signed Gert and Sarah Bettens on every single song. The entire K’s Choice catalog is signed Gert and Sarah Bettens, even though he and I always write separately. 100% separately, lyrics and music. Then we come together an tweak the song a bit, but the actual writing is always separate. It’s kind of fifty-fifty on K’s Choice records, his songs and mine. And the reason why we did that is we felt like it’s easier that way. We’ll never fight over whose songs will be on the record because it just won’t matter that way. The financial part is it’s just both of ours.

And so unless you’re a hard-core K’s Choice fan and you’re writing on the forum and stuff, most people don’t know which songs are mine and which songs are my brother’s. But my brother would get nominated for songwriting awards, and I thought, that’s funny. They don’t know who wrote these songs and it might’ve been based on songs that I wrote. And I know that that is a male-female things. I know that people think that maybe I write some lyrics and maybe I write some melodies, but the bulk of the songwriting is done by him.

AE: Wow. I’m really surprised actually that you were receiving that kind of-
SB:
But that’s just from outside, people I don’t know. I feel like within the people that I work with, I’m lucky enough that that’s never really been a problem.

AE: And I guess when I talk about the record industry, it’s a huge, impersonal entity, and your experience of it is going to be based on the people you work with in it. So it’s great that you’ve had good people and good experiences with it.

SB:
Record company people are hard to work with whether you’re a man or a woman. They’re always kind of a little but of a pain in the ass, and especially major record companies. It’s all about money, and all the cliches I could possibly tell you right now, they’re all true. It’s always hard, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with me being a woman. I will say that in finding a label for this solo record in the States was very, um, confronting in a way that people would flat-out say without any apology or hesitation that she’s too old. I like the record, I think the songs are great, but we’re looking to sign 22- or 23-year-olds.

AE: Wow. I think you’re the same age as me. [Laughs] Weren’t you born in ’72?
SB:
Yeah.

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