(originally published in Avenue magazine, August 2005)
By Kristi Singer
Sarah Bettens, known as lead singer of rock group K’s Choice, is feeling renewed towards her music career. Although the Antwerp, Belgium artist has seemingly done it all through years in K’s Choice – writing international hits (“Not An Addict,” “Believe,” “Almost Happy”), awarded Gold and Platinum records in Europe and toured relentlessly, she will have a “first” come August 23rd, when her solo debut, Scream releases on Hybrid Recordings.
“I’m so excited,” Bettens said recently in New York City where she was spending three days doing press, promotional shows and appearances at clubs such as Tonic.
“Being from Belgium, it’s always a whole other level of excitement to have something come out in the States. I’m really happy that it’s happening and very anxious for it to start,” she said.
Scream had its European release in March and Bettens has been touring there ever since. She says the album is moving forward, but slowly.
“It’s always a marathon more than a sprint for us, and it’s the same now – slow and steady,” Bettens said. “Reviews have been great and word-of-mouth is getting things moving. It’s taking some time to educate people about Sarah Bettens being the singer of K’s Choice, but it’s been good.”
Bettens doesn’t feel like she has to create a new identity for herself separate from K’s Choice, but she does feel she has to prove herself – prove why she’s still out there, why she went solo and why it’s “as good, or better than, K’s Choice,” she said.
K’s Choice began in 1991 as a duo with Bettens and her brother Gert Bettens. A few years, a few band name changes and member additions later, K’s Choice was born and signed a deal with Epic Records in ’94. The band released its second album, Paradise In Me, which included the dark, modern rock single “Not An Addict.”
“Addict” caught on radio like wildfire and spent nearly 30 weeks on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart, later spending time on modern rock charts in addition to be used in the film Wild Things. Alanis Morissette, having one of her best years ever with Jagged Little Pill, invited K’s Choice on tour with her in 1996.
After spending more than the last ten years as K’s Choice, Sarah and Gert decided it was time to seek out new artistic challenges. They had a short five-minute conversation while on tour about both wanting to record solo albums.
“My brother and I decided that after ten years there was a little bit of routine that had crept in and for us,” Bettens said.
“Making a solo record sounded a lot more exciting than making a fifth K’s Choice album. And now that I’m in the thick of it and really doing it, it makes even more sense than when we first made this decision. It’s feeling all new and fresh, like a brand new adventure and new beginning. And that’s really what we wanted.”
Bettens says she misses performing with her brother, but needed a challenge, which Scream brought. Gert Bettens’ solo record is scheduled for its Europe release in September. Musically, Scream shows a more diverse side of Bettens, running a wide gamut from pop numbers to hard-edged rock. There are some similarities between Bettens’ solo work and the sound of K’s Choice, and Bettens thinks that her K’s fans will enjoy Scream.
“It’s definitely in the same style of music,” Bettens said. “It’s all a little more in-your-face and straightforward, maybe a little more spontaneous. It’s the same kind of music. I was very happy with K’s Choice, there was never something I wasn’t allowed or able to do – so it’s not like I had to work out some frustration.”
The main difference between Scream and K’s Choice albums is that Scream has a more “straightforward” sound focused around Bettens’ vocals and lyrics.
“I’ve always written about myself, but I think knowing that this was really going to be my record and my name was going to be on it, and this is how people are going to think about who I am, it made me dig a little deeper,” Bettens said. “It turned into a very personal record, kind of the story of the last three or four years of my life.”
Bettens has gone through a lot of personal discovery over the last four years, a topic she writes about on Scream. She also covers some of her political and social opinions, particularly on the track “Not Insane” (also the first European single) where she sings about the negative impact fear, and breeding fear, has on a society and its people.
“I don’t know if it’s making a solo record or because I’m getting a little older, I just care more about the world around me and feel more inclined to say something about it,” Bettens said.
Scream’s first U.S. single is “Stay,” which officially released to radio on July 12th. The track combines acoustic and electric pop arrangements, centered on Betten’s throaty singing.
“That’s a love song,” Bettens said of ‘Stay.’ “If there was a chronological order to this record that would be the last song of celebration and happiness. It’s really a happy love tune.”
Bettens said she will tour the States beginning in October for the Yellow Umbrella Tour.
album review – Scream
By Brian Tucker
There’s always a fine line to walk for solo artists, especially the singer. Fans expect the same thing they got from the band they were a part of. For better or worse, it’s either way off path (Scott Weiland’s 12 Bar Blues) or just a step outside with good results (Joey Ramone’s Don’t Worry About Me) or something that takes time to grow (Chris Robinson’s two solo records).
Sarah Betten’s Scream falls somewhere between stepping outside her work with K’s Choice and taking time to grow. If you are not familiar with K’s Choice, and you really should be, Scream is a great first solo album, traversing recognizable territory but paints different strokes as well.
The saving grace is the always intoxicating vocals from Bettens. Her voice is raspy and sugary – honey soaked vocals that can bend around any length of lyrics. Case in point – ‘Don’t Stop’ in which she sings almost non-stop, uttering advice to someone while the music plays like a children’s lullaby.
She sings without order, “Spoil, your body, spoil yourself/Never cheat and share your wealth/Think before you buy a car/Don’t marry someone you met in a bar/Be nice to your dog/drive slow in the fog/It’s okay to wonder why/Don’t expect to understand your life.” It’s thoughtful and random, useful advice for no one in particular.
Whereas K’s Choice straddled the fence between acoustic songs and those aggressive alternative rock, Scream has a only a few rockers where the rest of the record is low-key. It is more akin to Almost Happy, K’s Choice last studio record that was more emotionally acoustic than bombastic and guitar driven. For a quieter record, Almost Happy is solemn, probably their best, emotionally powerful and absolutely beautiful to sit through.
As always, Bettens’ material is personal and introverted, but songs like ‘Not Insane’ focus on the outer world. Although the lyrics of ‘Come Over Here’ are heated, the music behind those words is sensual and sexual, working against a subtle and driving bass line. Bettens vocals are softer, whispering, hinting at something behind the cooing, “What you take is what you allow…Embrace the color of your life…Why don’t you come over here.” Vocals have the feeling of additional space between the words, adding to the sensual nature of the song. ‘Turn Around’ is simply Bettens’ vocals with piano accompaniment.
The title track is a driving song – part confessional, and concerns accepting growth, “I sometimes say things really loud/I found that volume can make up for content drought/I used to know how to change the world/I lie awake at night and envy that girl. Other songs, “Sister” and “Follow Me,” confess too, serving as apologies to others about behavior, about not being a good friend or relationship uncertainty.
Scream is a pick-me-up record. Its songs are about people who need to make change and who realize the changes from years of mistakes and growth. Bettens’ first solo effort is also about growth. There are shades of her previous band and the new musicians she worked with to some extent cater to that. But the work shows promise of an evolving artist and on her own after a decade with K’s Choice.
The album benefits and partly suffers, with songs that feel culled from different years instead of one period of creativity, like pictures from varying years in a photo album. Nonetheless, Bettens’ vocals are so unique and striking that she could sing an instruction manual and make it a worthy listen.
Scream is being released August 23rd, 2005