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Sarah Bettens

Interview von: Matthias Rauch mit Sarah Bettens, am: 14.03.2005 ]

Sarah Bettens muss nur noch sich selbst etwas beweisen, denn ansonsten hat sie mehr erreicht, als sie sich selbst wohl jemals zu träumen wagte. Mehrere Gold- und Platin Alben mit K’s Choice gehören genauso dazu, wie ausverkaufte Touren in Europa und den USA. Nach einem gelungenen Teaser in Form einer EP kommt dieser Tage jetzt das erste Soloalbum von Sarah Bettens auf den Markt, das sich zwar über gewisse Strecken wesentlich rockiger, lauter und direkter zeigt, als man dies aus K’s Choice Zeiten kannte, doch immer noch zahlreiche verträumt melancholische Songs vertreten sind, die ein ums andere Mal beweisen, dass Sarah auch ohne ihren Bruder ganz hervorragende Popsongs schreiben kann. Wir sprachen mit Sarah über Familie, Neubeginn und die Zukunft des Songwriting.


Musicscan: Has the songwriting process for your new album been any different compared to when you wrote songs with your brother? I believe you always used to write the songs separately anyway if I am not mistaken.

Sarah Bettens: I always wrote alone even for KÂ’s Choice and then my brother would come together and finish the song. So that part of the writing process was pretty much the same, but I think writing for myself and knowing that it was for a solo record made me dig a little deeper even and it made me really want to make my mark and let people know that this is what I want to say. What was also different for me was that I did a bunch of co-writing sessions with other people. That was something I had done a little bit left and right, but only very sporadically and this time I did several sessions to see what I would come up with and just for the experience and the learning. I think I came up with a couple of songs that I would have never written by myself. So that was really fun and a different thing for me to do.

Musicscan: Your songs sound a lot more positive and optimistic compared to your last efforts, particularly “Almost Happy” for instance? Would you agree? If yes, how come?

Sarah Bettens: I totally agree. When I listen to “Almost Happy” now I think “my gosh” (laughs). We were shocked. We had an interview for “Almost Happy” and it was one of our first interviews for the album where my brother and I were sitting together at a table and the first question the guy asked us was: “Are you okay?” (laughs). He was really concerned and I can see why he was saying that. It was not a coincidence and speaking for myself, it definitely was a hard time in my life. A hard coming of age time between 20 and 30 and not knowing where I belonged and I felt like I missed out on a lot of stuff. I just felt really lost and the last couple of years I have been in a new relationship and I have been feeling really good and happy. I think the state of mind that you are in influences a lot what kind of music you write.

Musicscan: Where do you life right now? Do you still live in the States or are you back in Belgium?

Sarah Bettens: I live in the States. I live in Tennessee.

Musicscan: Would you consider it a compliment or rather criticism if someone said that your new songs sound very similar to what you did with KÂ’s Choice in many respects?

Sarah Bettens: That depends on whether it is a K’s Choice fan saying it (laughs). I would say somewhere in the middle probably. I definitely don’t think it is criticism, because I didn’t try to make something that was very different. I just wanted to make my own record and do it in my own way. For me it was a very different experience. The production part was very different, writing it was very different. I feel about the whole thing that I got out of it what I wanted out of it. It was never my intention to nor my brother’s intention to make a record that was going to be about “oh, finally we can do our own thing”, because we always gave each other a lot of freedom with K’s Choice and we had a lot of common ground. It was definitely not like we were frustrated and couldn’t do what we wanted to do. So the last thing I wanted to do with this solo record was to turn it around 180 degrees and make it a techno or a hip hop record. I still like the same music that I have always liked and I still write the same way. So that is probably why the style stays stays the same a little bit, but for me the over all vibe of it and the approach and the production and the way it is recorded, the vocals upfront and the whole feel of it, the positive vibe that you speak about makes it different enough for me and very worthwhile doing.

Musicscan: You just mentioned that you still write your songs pretty much in the same way than you used to. Can you remember when you wrote your first song and how it felt compared to what it is like when you finish a song now?

Sarah Bettens: It doesnÂ’t change that much. I am still very excited when I finish a song and I am still insecure about whether it is good or not and I am beyond excitement when other people like it and I am going to be able to record it. The first songs I wrote was probably around the age of 15 or 16 and letÂ’s hope neither of us will come across any of those songs (laughs). But it is a start, it is when you start to express yourself in a different way and it is different than writing a letter or writing in your journal. But thatÂ’s still what it is to me: telling my story in a different way.

Musicscan: You just said that you have a hard time deciding when a song is good and when it is not. How do you come to the conclusion when a song is finished?

Sarah Bettens: I can decide that for myself. I can really say “I think this is a good song”, but at the same time I realize that I am so close to it that I might not be the best judge. So I often leave it up to people I trust to say whether it is good or not. There are songs where you just feel it, you know that it is a good song. But then there are also other songs that I am excited about, but I realize that it might not be as ace as the other song. I gave a lot of power like that to my producer who I have the utmost respect for and how I trust 100% also as a songwriter. I had about 30 songs so there was going to be a lot of cutting. I really left it up to him in a big way to say that these songs were not good enough, but that these ones we were the ones we were going to record. We went back and forth with a couple of songs, but in general I would really let him decide.

Musicscan: Are there any particular themes on the album that you could identify that are particularly dear to you that sort of stand out?

Sarah Bettens: There is a theme of hope for sure. I think that was always in K’s Choice music, but a little more absent than on this record. I had a lot of lust for life that I think was also part of the record. Particularly songs like “Fine” or “Go”. Then there is also the theme of a new beginning. That is sort of the thread that goes through the record a little bit. It is about difficult times and how you deal with it and how you get through it and how you come out at the other end of it. So a lot of songs are about that.

Musicscan: Your lyrics come across as being very personal once again. How much of it is actually from your own experiences and how much is fictional?

Sarah Bettens: Some of it is definitely from my own experience. For sure, this is the most personal record that I have written and I even dove a little more into political subjects than I ever did with K’s Choice. Things that I feel like I need, for example songs like “Not Insane” or “Come Over Here” where I really feel like I need to say and scream. I need to say something. I have a stronger feeling that I have to contribute than I did in my twenties. I don’t know what it is, but they are all things that are very close to me and that are very much a part of my life.

Musicscan: It is a weird phenomenon that people perceive lyrics that are supposed to directly relate to the songwriterÂ’s life as more authentic as opposed to when someone openly says it is purely fictional.

Sarah Bettens: I think the reason why people relate to my music is because it is real to them. I think when you write out of experience, there is a realness or a roughness to it that is hard to put your finger on, but it is something that other people can feel. I have had so many people come up to me and say “I feel like you wrote that entire record for me and every song applies to my life somehow”. I think when you really write from the heart and you write about things that are important to you, it just affects people in a different way. That doesn’t mean that I never write about fictional things, which I have in the past, but even those were subjects that were close to me through a friend or a subject that I care a lot about and that I have a lot of emotion about. What I can’t imagine is someone telling me “alright, write it like that” and if it is something I have no feeling and no affinity with. I don’t know if I would be able to do that.

Musicscan: One particular theme that I find very prominent in your lyrics is “family” and of course relationships in general? Has your relationship to your family changed over the years with K’s Choice and all the travelling involved?

Sarah Bettens: I think it has only gotten better. Not that it has been bad before, but we appreciate our time together so much more, because I live in the States and I am on the road all the time. It is almost like a party every time I come home. I think when you get older, or a little older anyway, you start to develop a very different relationship with your parents that is less antagonistic then when you are a teenager. My relationship with my family has been really great, though. Especially now starting my own family, I feel a bigger connection. It all makes sense now, the circle goes round and the torch being passed to the next generation. It is all stuff that you think about less when you are younger and you are growing up, those things start to become more important.

Musicscan: Is settling down and having kids an option for you at this point? Is that something you consider?

Sarah Bettens: Yes, I have to step kids that I live with and have lived with for over two years. That has been one of the big changes in my life and it gave me a lot of great perspectives and peace. It has been really good.

Musicscan: What is it like being on a rather small label again after being with Sony for such a long time? What were your experiences with the whole major label machinery in the past?

Sarah Bettens: It is a really different feeling, because I feel like I am being really close to every aspect of this record. I donÂ’t feel like I am recording this record and them I am throwing it out there to someone and then hope it sticks. I feel like I am very much involved in the process of trying to get it out there and marketing and how we are going to do certain things. I am also very aware of how much everything is going to cost and I try to be really smart about it. I know everybody who is working on it really well and they all love the record and they love what I do and they really believe in it. It is kind of nice to be the biggest artist on a label again and not the smallest. I am all about great independent labels. I just signed a record deal with an independent label in the States, too, and you just know that there would be no reason to sign you if they werenÂ’t into your music. They are not signing you for some tax reasons. Sony is a machine and it is hard to get the machine rolling, but once it is rolling, it roles really hard and really fast. Of course, with a smaller label every country and every territory is a new fight, a new struggle. You are just trying to get to that next level. In a way it is harder work, but it is a lot more gratifying.

Musicscan: Did you honestly never get hassled by Sony? DidnÂ’t they pressure you to do certain things?

Sarah Bettens: Well, a little bit, but not too bad. I felt like with KÂ’s Choice we were always able to do what we wanted to do. So that was ok. But while I was trying to make this solo record I was still with Sony and that was really bad, which is also why it took me forever to release this record, because I ended up not working with them and working with another label. They put a lot of pressure on me to by wanting it to sound a certain way and I didnÂ’t really know what they meant. They had this expectation that I obviously wasnÂ’t meeting so that was a hard time. It was very refreshing to work with people that were from the very beginning excited about the disc I was making.

Musicscan: Since you live in the States, I assume you enjoy living there. Did you experience any differences as far as the way people deal with music there compared to Europe for instance?

Sarah Bettens: Yes, I really love living there. On the musical level it really depends on what style of music. There are so many different kinds and so many different things. I feel like there are a lot less differences than you might think. Of course, America is very different from Europe, but when it comes to music, the people who appreciate my music and who are looking for really good music are the same as over here. There is certainly a lot of bullshit on the radio and there is all kind of crap on MTV and at the same time there are a lot of people who want to listen to good music and who will do anything to find it. It is very comfortable that way.

Musicscan: How are you experiencing the political climate right now as someone born and raised in Europe?

Sarah Bettens: Well, letÂ’s start by saying that I was beyond disappointment after the elections. We had a little post-electoral depression going on. But everywhere you go in the world, there are a lot of dumb people and America is such a big country and it is so in the picture constantly on TV and people are watching so that it is highlighted. But when I go back to Belgium, to my hometown of Antwerp, one out of three people voted for an extreme right-wing neo-Nazi party. I was thinking how is that possible? In the country I grew up in which is such a liberal and great place to live. I feel a lot like that about America. Half of the Americans is very stupid and very narrow-minded and they just canÂ’t think outside the box. A lot of people, unfortunately, have never been outside the box. They have never been outside their state and they only know what they know and they are scared of everything and everyone who is different. It is almost hard to be mad at them for not knowing any better. But then the other half of America is really full of really intelligent, really interesting and great people. I have made great friends in America. Like in any other country you have a lot of dumb people and you have a lot of great people.

Musicscan: Did you feel by living in a different country and a different culture you got a different picture of yourself and your own culture?

Sarah Bettens: Yes, for sure. I would recommend it to everyone, to go and live somewhere else for a while. It doesnÂ’t have to be the States, but just getting away from what you are used to, getting away from your everyday life and the things that you deem important or not important. Even before I moved just travelling and getting away from Belgium really put a whole different perspective on it. I look at Belgium as my home, my home country. I mean that is where I am from and I still feel 100% Belgian, but I donÂ’t necessarily think anymore that it is the center of the universe which is always what you think when you live somewhere. You know what you are going to get when you go to the doctor, you know what you are going to get when you go to the grocery store. You trust things, because you know what to expect and when you talk to someone you know what they mean, because they are from where youÂ’re from, so you understand what they are saying. You learn to understand that the reason you love Belgium is because I am Belgian. If I was born in Germany, I would think that Germany was the center of the universe and so when I am travelling I feel a lot more like a world citizen. I feel very Belgian during the World Cup or any other occasions like that, though.

Musicscan: Do you think that the general trend is that nationalities are less important and that we are truly beginning to live in a global culture?

Sarah Bettens: I really hope so, but I find that a lot of people are resisting. A lot of people feel like when you learn English or when you subtitle your movies that you are loosing your own culture, which is such a narrow-minded way to think about it, because the world will evolve, with or without you. I mean with the internet, everyone speaking English, everyone can watch CNN, it is changing and young people are travelling more and more and are moving to different places. I feel like we should really embrace that change to the point where we love all those other cultures and we open our borders to different people who come from different backgrounds and have different religions. I donÂ’t know what it is like in Germany, but in France they have this rule that half of the music on the radio has to be French. I think that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. If 30 new songs come out that week and 25 of those are English and 5 of them are French and the French songs are not that great, you still have to play them. It is the most absurd thing I have ever heard. I feel like it is really stifling.

Musicscan: They are trying to establish a similar rule in Germany. I donÂ’t know if you heard about it. They are basically trying to imitate the French example. It is a pretty pathetic and sad picture.

Sarah Bettens: It seems so weird, because face it: there is more music coming from England and America than there is from France. It is just so limiting and there should be other ways to protect your culture and there should be outlets for things in your own language and all this kind of stuff, but it is really sort of shielding yourself from what is out there. It is the same with dubbed movies. I always wondered what the philosophy behind that is. The day is going to come where people in Germany, too, are going to say “ok, now I want to hear Robert DeNiros real voice”. It is part of the art, it is part of how he talks and what he says. It seems so weird to me that people don’t think that this is important. They are always trying to protect their own culture and when something else comes from another culture you kind of butcher it. They do that in Belgium, too, particularly the French part of Belgium. It is such a weird contradiction to me.

  Sarah Bettens
  K's Choice