Members include Herman Bunskoeke (born c. 1961 in Amsterdam, Holland), bass; Berend Dubbe (born c. 1961 in Amsterdam), drums; Carol van Dijk (born April 22, 1962, in Vancouver, British Columbia), vocals and rhythm guitar; Peter Visser (born c. 1961 in Amsterdam), lead guitar. Addresses: Record company--Matador Records, 676 Broadway, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10012.

There is no such person as Bettie Serveert; it's a band. The group has been asked "Who's Bettie?" so many times they sometimes wish they'd taken the whole naming process more seriously. The confusion certainly hasn't hurt Bettie Serveert's career, however. This Dutch band's first gig in the United States--after only a few shows in their own country--caused a feeding frenzy among record labels, and their debut album, Palomine, brought universal acclaim from critics. When their second album showed no sign of the sophomore slump--or of the band being a one-record wonder from a far-off country--it became apparent that, funny name or no, Bettie Serveert was here to stay.

The name began as a joke. One day drummer Berend Dubbe was flipping through a tennis instructional book called Bettie Serveert (pronounced Bet-ty Se-vere-t), written by Dutch tennis champion and Wimbledon finalist Bettie Stoeve. Loosely translated, it means "Bettie serves" or "service to Bettie." Dubbe found the pictures in the book hilarious and thought this would be a great band name if he ever had a band.

He did, in 1986, but it broke up after one 20-minute gig when lead singer Carol van Dijk walked offstage because no one wrote out a complete set list for her. Besides, lead guitarist Peter Visser and bassist Herman Bunskoeke were too busy with their other band, de Artsen (the Doctors), to continue with Bettie. Van Dijk remained de Artsen's sound person and Dubbe went back to being their roadie. At the time, van Dijk was also a colorist for an animation company; Dubbe did commercial voice-overs and worked as a pirate radio disc jockey; Bunskoeke was a nightclub DJ; and Visser, an art school graduate like his two male bandmates, was making a pittance painting, while selling shoes on the side.

When de Artsen's lead singer disbanded the group in 1990, the four best friends decided to give Bettie Serveert another shot. Basically they had nothing better to do, so the story goes. Van Dijk had already been writing songs, and they thought it would be fun to play some gigs around the Netherlands. After just a handful of gigs, Bettie's manager sent their demo tape off to the independent label Matador. The executives at Matador were bowled over by the band and immediately flew to Amsterdam to hear them live; they offered to sign them on the spot. Bettie Serveert released their first album, Palomine, in 1992, and Matador brought them to the United States to perform at New York City's New Music Seminar. Major label representatives came out in droves and tried desperately to woo the band, but Bettie stuck with Matador. That label had just made a distribution alliance with Atlantic Records, who re-released Palomine in July of 1993.

Critics fell over themselves trying to describe and pigeonhole Bettie Serveert's sound. Journalists compared them to nearly every band with a female lead singer and filed them under varying stylistic headings, in the end making it clear that they simply could not aptly describe this new "kind of foreign, kind of American" sound.

One thing they agreed upon was the quality of the music. To begin with, according to a Sassy reviewer, van Dijk had "the most effortlessly beautiful and stirring voice" she'd ever heard. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, to Dutch parents, van Dijk moved to Amsterdam when she was seven. Once an outgoing child, she immediately became withdrawn in the face of the language barrier. She never truly perfected the Amsterdam accent when speaking Dutch, nor was her English accent just right, being a Canadian/Dutch mix. Her strangely over-pronounced way of speaking and singing and her awkward cadences added to the difficulty of putting a label on Bettie Serveert's sound.

In New Musical Express, Johnny Cigarettes described Bettie as "a supremely seamless hybrid of late '60s American underground, new wave and grunge, but with gorgeously melancholic overtones." Reviewing Palomine for Entertainment Weekly, Ira Robbins wrote, "This captivating Dutch quartet pulls you in with its gentle indie-pop demeanor and Carol van Dijk's cool, conversational vocals--then unleashes a storm of jagged guitar noise. Palomine's remarkable feat is that its quiet arrangements never undersell the offbeat songs--and turmoil can't shake the music's sturdy foundations."

Lyricist van Dijk tells her fellow bandmates that they should cull their own meaning from her words, making each song as personal to them as it is to her. Most critics tend to comment on the feeling of the lyrics, how van Dijk's moods and phrasing instill meaning more than her actual words. As Eric Weisbard put it in Spin, "Van Dijk has a mesmerist's ability to make you tune out her words. What one notices is the imploring; the way her ingrained sob both is, and isn't, at one with Peter Visser's clarion guitar." In the Bay Guardian, Weisbard noted that the lyrics were "playful, basically, and never an embarrassment, though you're unlikely to listen to them closely.... Basically not the point."

Whether labeled as Dutch grunge or alternative rock, Bettie Serveert inspired some agreement among critics. For example, Visser's guitar playing is consistently likened to that of rock trailblazer Neil Young. "Visser's got a similar approach to ol' Neil," explained Patrick Barber in The Rocket, "but to say that he sounds like Young is a compliment, and doesn't mean his playing's derivative. Both guitarists play simple blues-rock progressions in fresh, soulful ways that make them sound familiar yet distant."

As comparisons go, van Dijk finds it amusing that they are likened to so many other bands just because of the female vocalist-- especially, she claims, because their sound is actually much more like bands with male vocalists. She emulates singers like Neil Young, Lou Reed, and Elvis Costello, all of whom use their speaking voices to sing. "I am not a singer singer," she told Big O, "I've tried it, believe me. I've failed."

Bettie Serveert has definite influences, but it is not always easy to hear which ones come through in the music. Van Dijk is a Lemonheads and Buffalo Tom fan, and Visser, along with the obvious love for Neil Young, is a fan of Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis. The band has cited a wealth of groups that have had an effect on them, including the Beatles, the Who, the Byrds, the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, the Beach Boys, Sonic Youth, Sebadoh, and Fugazi. Dubbe insists he has a Carpenters shrine in his home. In fact, the band covered "For All We Know" on the Carpenters tribute album, If I Were a Carpenter. Bettie Serveert's influences stem "from every corner of music land," van Dijk told Option. "It's a combination of heavy/sweet combined with a crunchy guitar." And Dubbe noted in the same interview, "The first thing you notice is that we like to make songs."

Bettie Serveert took their time with Lamprey, their second album, trying not to force the music simply to please fans and critics. The album that follows a successful debut is always a difficult one, but, according to most reviewers, they did just fine. Billboard editor Timothy White called it "glorious," saying that fans of Palomine "will be more than pleased with the folk-rock austerity and snarling sonic warnings of the group's new collection. The jangle 'n' hum of Peter Visser's guitar has grown in its exploratory melodicism, and the obstreperous rhythmic bite of Herman Bunskoeke's bass and drummer Berend Dubbe's unruly patterns has deepened. The most dramatic expansion, however, is in the portentous tilt of van Dijk's beautiful tonal verse, which discloses one of the most novel emergent voices in rock." A Melody Maker reviewer concluded that "like... Palomine, [Lamprey's] pivotal themes are time, love and confusion. This time round, however, the weird bits are weirder and the simple stuff even harder to resist."

As for Bettie Serveert's next move, that's up in the air. "We never had a plan, never," Berend told Bikini. Van Dijk added, "In the beginning, we thought wouldn't it be really cool if we could have a band and find a place to play once in a while? It was the only goal we ever had." "To be nicely unemployed," Bunskoeke chimed in. They're taking their time and trying to make wise decisions. As Visser put it in the San Jose Mercury News, "I'm really glad that this all happened to us now. If it had happened 10 years ago, at the beginning of our 20s, we would've signed any contract and done all this stupid stuff. Then your career lasts for only one album, and you're done.... We knew exactly what to expect, so we didn't fall into any of those traps."

by Joanna Rubiner

Bettie Serveert's Career

Band formed in Arnhem, Holland, 1986, but broke up after one gig. Reformed in Amsterdam, 1991; signed by Matador Records, c. 1992; released Palomine, 1992; Palomine re-released through Atlantic Records, 1993.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 8 years ago

Embarassed to say I have only recently found Bettie. Instantly a fan....Carol is so unassumungly coy and sexy...a lyrical genius in my mind. After reading this article, I realized my presuppositions were right on the mark. Funny how we can catorgorize Peter's guitar style, but not Carol's vocals or writing style. MARRY ME CAROL!!!!