(Photo Credit: Bettie Serveert)
We had the opportunity to interview Bettie Serveert, a fantastic alt-rock group from Amsterdam! The group formed in 1991 and consists of Carol van Dyk - vocals & guitar, Peter Visser - guitar, Herman Bunskoeke - bass guitar, and Joppe Molenaar - drums. Their music is extremely melodic and is easy to sing and dance to. Give them a listen and check out their interview below!
1. How did you come to pursue music and how long have you been at it?
Peter: Since being a little kid I wanted to make music. Made my first “guitar” out of cardboard and plywood with rubber bands for strings. Started to play snare-drum in a local marching drum band when I was about 10 years old. I got a real snare-drum to practice at home. Played hours on end and endlessly banged on it as loud as possible. Can you imagine the sound coming out of my bedroom? And the torture that must have been for my parents, sisters and neighbors? Then, at my 12th birthday I got my first proper acoustic guitar. Obviously I didn’t know how to tune it so I broke strings all the time. Having just enough pocket money to buy 1 string a week I taught myself to play “solo’s” on 1 string. Still do that most of the time.
Carol: Since I was 7 years old, I really wanted to have piano lessens, but it was too expensive, so instead I started taking classical music lessons at school, where I learned to read & write music. I got my 1st acoustic guitar when I was 14 and started writing songs at age 16. They were horrible. I never thought I would be a live musician, because I was a very shy introvert. Instead, when I was 11, I wanted to go to art school to study graphic design. Which didn’t happen (I didn’t have the money), so in the end I started working at an animation studio in Amsterdam.
As a child, I heard a lot of classical music, but also The Irish Roves, who were very popular in Vancouver, Canada. I remember hearing Petula Clark singing ‘Don’t sleep in the subway’ on the radio, while my parents were driving into Vancouver and wondered ‘why on earth would someone want to sleep in the subway?’, Hey, I was 5 :) When I was 8, I heard a lot of jazz music that my grandfather used to play all the time. I became a big Beatles fan when I was 10, but also listened to the Stones, Bob Dylan & Neil Young records that my neighbor had. And I listened a lot to glam rock/ punk rock as a teenager. Around age 21 Peter & I started playing in bands together, so by the time we started Bettie Serveert we had already been a ‘guitar-team’ for 8 years.
2. Could you walk us through your process of writing music?
Peter: Most of the time Carol, our singer, guitar player and songwriter comes with a song that is either finished and demo’d, or half finished. Then the 2 of us sit together and if the song is finished I’ll try to come up with a guitar part, that is, if she hasn’t written mine already. In that case I’ll learn that part and try to smooth it into the song or improve it. Otherwise I try to come up with a part that complements the song. When the song is not finished we try to get the structure and the chord scheme to work. We demo it, sometimes with ideas for bass and drums or other instruments and take it to the practice space where the 4 of us figure out if we can make it work.
Carol: What Peter said! But sometimes Peter and I sit down with our guitars and write a song together, like for instance the song ‘Damaged Good’. We wrote that one in the dressing room of a Dutch venue in Jan 2013, when the rest of the band was out having dinner. ‘You’ve Changed’ is one of the few songs where Peter and I wrote the lyrics together, usually I do the lyrics on my own. ‘Digital Sin (Nr 7)’ started out as a jam-session between Peter and our drummer Joppe Molenaar. The first couple of weeks I just listened, because I had no idea what they were doing. Then the three of us started working on a structure, Peter & Joppe mainly wrote the first half and I added the last half. ‘Deny All’ was written while riding my bike in Amsterdam, humming the bass-line and hearing the lyrics in my head. By the time I got home, I picked up my guitar and recorded the entire song in a couple of hours. Some songs just write themselves. So, basically there is no blueprint: anything goes.
3. What artists have inspired you in your career?
Peter: From the moment of being aware of music the most important thing for me was to be able to identify with the song or the artist. I always had the idea that an artist I admired could have something in common with me. If the song is happy, melancholic or angry, there always has to be something in it that I can relate to.
So that started with Neil Young and later on with bands like Sebadoh. We got to know some of the artists we as a band admired and in most cases we got along splendidly because we had something in common.
Carol: So many, where do I start? In general: I love any song or musician that triggers a sincere emotion. But I can get inspired by anything, not just music. It could be a film or a book or a piece of artwork.
4. Do you have any favorite music gear (guitars, amps, effects pedals, keyboards, etc.) that you love to use? If so, what’s the story on them?
Peter: Nerd alert! OK, I have 2 guitars that I play on the most. The first one is a Gibson SG from ’68 we bought in Denmark Street in London. The sound is incredible and the vibrola tremolo is great. However: it has had some damage during the years: The neck broke off at the heel! Headstock broke off twice, vibrola tremolo broke in 2 so I had to bring it to a welder. Replaced the pickups and electronics countless times. Had a refret, other tuners, the wood under the bridge was replaced to make it more solid. Still play on it every show. The other one is a Epiphone Rivera. So we opened up for The Counting Crows in the U.S. and one day their guitar techs came up to me and gave me a note with a telephone number on it saying I had to call that number. I thought they were playing a prank on me but it turned out it was the number of the guy from the Gibson endorsement company. Couple of days later me and Herman (bass-player) and Carol went to the given address and half an hour later the 3 of us walked out the door with filled guitar cases in our hands. We didn’t know what had happened but I said: “Just keep walking!” Damage on the Epiphone: same story with the Epiphone as with the SG: head crack (just last week), the Bigsby B7 broke in 2 so I replaced that one with another one (B5), new electronics for splittable pickups (same as the SG by the way), filled the space under the F-holes with foam for controllable feedback, etc.
Pedals: most important are the tuning pedal and the power supply! Without them I’m lost. Then: tube screamer, Yamaha D1 distortion, Boss RE-20 Space echo, Zwex FuzzProbe, Digitech Whammy.
Amp: VOX AC 30, from 1993, the crème anniversary edition.
Carol: Mostly I play my 1999 hollow-body black Jet-Glow Rickenbacker 360 during live shows & my mid-70s Fender Starcaster at home or in the studio, sometimes I borrow Peter’s SG in the studio. When it comes to amps, I love my Marshall JCM 900 4 x 12!
My Rickenbacker 360 is my ‘work-horse’, always steady and reliable. My Starcaster on the other hand is a ‘full-on diva’! It doesn’t like to travel, gets fussy when it’s cold and needs to be pampered at all times. But…. the sound of it is quite amazing. It came from a pawnshop, in 2 pieces. The neck & the body were disconnected. A guitar freak was able to completely restore it. I took it with me on a couple of tours, but then some people started to threaten me online, saying I should sell it to them b/c they thought I was a lousy guitar player and didn’t deserve to have it. Well, suffice to say, it stays home these days :)
I don’t use a lot of pedals, mostly the Marshall JCM distortion channel and sometimes a couple pedals that are lying around in the studio. When we play live, I never use any effect pedals, because I like the way my Rickenbacker guitar sounds. If you have a good guitar with good pick-ups, you don’t really need any effect pedals. At least not as a rhythm-guitar player. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been a big fan of Mick Ronson. But I love the fact that Peter uses all those pedals and I really enjoy the crazy sounds he can make with them!
5. Can you describe the vibe at your live shows? Also, what do you enjoy most about a venue when you do a show?
Peter: Well, we’ve been very lucky with our audiences. First of all, they keep coming to our shows! In The Netherlands the hospitality is very good; there’s always food and drinks, good PA system and technicians. The vibe is mostly pleasant, but you never know what will happen during the show ‘cause we tend to improvise a lot, set-lists change from show to show and the banter is never scripted so that’s always different each show. Very important is how we are treated by the local crew when we get in in the afternoon. Being very sensitive to vibe we tend to react to that, so if we are treated terribly by the people from the club it certainly will have it’s effect on the show. If on the other hand if the people of the club are super-nice it mostly will be a great night for everybody.
Carol: We still get nervous right before a gig. If that should ever disappear, it probably means that we should stop. But after so many years it’s nice to have a certain routine and to know that no matter what happens, we’ll land on our feet. I’ve always been an introvert, but I’m not so painfully shy like I used to be. The main reason I love doing live shows is the fact that we always improvise and I love listening to what the rest of the band is playing. It’s never the same. The stage is like our ‘private island’ where we can make our own rules and try to pull people into our imaginary world. If/when that happens, those are usually the best shows.
6. What is one thing that you want the public to know about your music?
Peter: Well I guess it’s best if people make their own conclusions!
Carol: That we love playing our own songs - and the occasional cover - and we always stay true to our selves.
7. Do you have any upcoming projects you would like fans to know about?
Peter: Never tell your plans until you can present them!
Carol: What Peter said :)