Carol van Dyk and Peter Visser are not what you'd call a-typical indie rockers.
Dressed in unassuming civies, accessorized with the calmly demeanor of an old friend, Carol and Peter have spent the last 14 years tastefully turning out tunes as part of Bettie Serveert; the most successfully Dutch-reared rock band since Golden Earring transmitted "Radar Love" in the mid-1970's. It's mere hours before the band's first Toronto appearance in many moons and Visser is recounting a previous visit to the city, in support of fellow 1990's holdovers Yo La Tengo.
"I had an extremely strange experience that day. Our drummer at the time, Berend, [Dubbe] and I were going to do this interview. It was too noisy in the venue for the tape recorder but too cold outside, so we went into the first bar. And it turns out, it was a strip bar. I had never been in one before and never since. I was really, just completelyÖ"
"Embarrassed?" I suggest.
"Yeah, just in shock," he confirms "I didn't want to be there. It's a bit distractingÖ"
"Especially if it's your first time," says van Dyk with an impish grin. For more erotic tales of the Dutch in North America, please consult the internet.
Bettie Serveert were first introduced to North American audience in 1992 when Matador Records released their classic debut long player "Palomine". Typified by van Dyk's soaring vocals and the charming indie rock chum of her backers, the band quickly built a fanbase stateside that endures to this day. "Attagirl" is their most recent full-length and their first for indie upstart Minty Fresh (Tahiti 80, The Cardigans). To the bemusement of the band, distribution issues plagued the previous two Bettie Serveert releases (2000's "Private Suit" and 2002's "Log 22"), making "Attagirl" a reintroduction of sorts to American audiences.
"Everybody in the US has been saying that to us," says a mildly frustrated van Dyk. "There was a definite gap in North America that we're only finding out about on this tour. Basically, there was no distribution for either of the last two records, so nobody could find them. Our fans would be complaining and all we could do was tell them that it's out thereÖ should be, somewhere. It really showed how strong our fanbase is that we were able to keep on touring even though people couldn't find the records."
In terms of sound and texture, "Attagirl" is definitely a step sideways by the band. It's a denser and somewhat dancier Bettie Serveert, awash in wonky studio touches and loopy loops. This more experimental bent is due in large part to the makeshift studio set up in Visser's apartmentóa set up that allows the band to ride roughshod over their trad guitar, bass, and drums.
"We added a lot of those sounds because we could," Visser confirms. "With a 16-track recording apparatus in my apartment, it gives us a lot more time to try new things we might miss otherwise."
van Dyk adds, "When we're recording at Peter's place, it's like kids in the toy shop; we can try out a lot of different stuff without worrying about it too much. It's almost like whoever gets the stuff on tape first wins. Once we record the basic parts, we have to go to a regular studio to finish up and also record the drums. Peter's apartment isn't that big, you see, so his neighbours wouldn't appreciate a full drum kit, I'm sure."
Having toured over the years with some of the biggest names in American indie rock (Superchunk, Come and Buffalo Tom to name a few), Bettie Serveert now finds itself in the not-so-enviable position of scene survivors. Yet Visser says this supposed vanguard role isn't something the band ever thinks about.
"It's just not a big deal, being around five years or being around 14 years like us. We saw J Mascis a few days ago, and there's all this talk of a full-scale Dinosaur Jr reunion tour. Which is great, except that there's so many new bands that are supercool that being a veteran band like that doesn't mean that much anymore. Even Bright Eyes is a 10-year old band at this point and no one even realizes or cares about that."
The tour in support of "Attagirl" will take Bettie Serveert deep into 2005 and while the recent Toronto stop was their only domestic date so far, they're hoping to hit other Canadians cities on the next leg, especially Vancouver. van Dyk was actually born in the city and lived there until she was seven, providing Bettie Serveert with a maple sugar tinge to their sugary Dutch treats (hey, it's better than a half-cocked windmill or tulip analogy).
"My parents got divorced when I was very young and my mum got the amazing idea of moving to Holland," she says with a giggle. "I was only seven and not allowed to have an opinion back then. But I do try to visit as much as possible. I still have a lot of relatives in Canada and my cousin lives here in Toronto. It's always great coming back because I don't even need a work permit."
For more information on Bettie Serveert, please visit their official web site at: www.bettieserveert.com.
Writer: Cameron Gordon