A Conversation with Sarah and Gert Bettens of
It has been four years since the last K’s Choice album. It’s been said that The Phantom Cowboy is the most honest, gritty, straight-ahead rock album of your career. How does this change musically reflect where you are today personally?
Sarah: We find ourselves over and over again looking for ways to keep K’s Choice as fresh as anything new that’s out there. We know we have a lot to offer and we want our experience to be positive, without any sacrifice of spark or enthusiasm. We trust that when we are having a good time, it shines through in what we do. One of the perks of having been around for a while is that you care less and less what other people think and that always enhances the creativity.
Gert: It’s probably the change itself that says more about us than the musical path chosen for this album. After having toured acoustically and in an intimate setting for years, a heavy rock album is what we wanted to make, but it being so radically different from our previous albums was equally important to us. We’ve been doing this for 20 years, so the urge to change and surprise ourselves and our audience is becoming more and more important.
What was your mindset when writing the songs for the new album?
Sarah: This record had to have raw power and had to be fun from the first minute to the last …not too much mushiness and not too much second guessing. We recorded it the way we wrote it: fast, focused and unapologetic.
Gert: To put it in one word: live. While writing, we just never stopped picturing ourselves playing the songs live, and the potential reaction of the people there. It’s probably less introspective that way compared to other K’s albums, and surely more linear; whereas we used to switch between heavier, poppy and an intimate folk-like song easily in the past, this is a rock album from the first song to the last. We really wanted to write songs that just give the audience a good feeling this time, so we avoided all melancholy and that’s a first. There’s plenty of room for melancholy on a daily basis, no need to always take it on stage with us. Having said that, the song “Perfect Scar,” one of my favorites, happens to be pretty melancholic actually…this goes to show that I’m just not making any sense, am I?
You chose “Private Revolution” as the first song released, to give fans a glimpse into the new direction. What about this song lead you to select it as a single?
Sarah: It was hard to choose the first one because it automatically puts you in a certain box and you can only hope it’s a box you want to live in for the next two years. Without wanting to sound like an ass, I feel like we could release almost every song on this record as a single, but this one had a few features that we wanted to highlight right at the start.
Gert: I usually don’t have a clue what to choose when it comes to singles. As far as I’m concerned, we have 11 songs I’m really proud of. But it turned out to be a good call; it’s representative for the entire setup of the album, and very “in your face,” so I believe it made an excellent choice.
Here in the U.S., you are signed to indie label MPress Records. What drew you to this label?
Sarah: I had met [label founder] Rachael Sage before at a show and we had heard about her and her label through mutual friends. We are fans of the way they work and that they don’t sign anything they’re not fans of. It’s a luxury to work with a label like that. Our excitement of getting another real shot here in the States is sky high.
Gert: Their enthusiasm! I think I’d rather not be signed at all than be involved with a label that’s not really sure about us. Also, our friends from the band A Fragile Tomorrow told us about MPress, their dedication and how happy they are there. It’s the first time since we signed with Epic 550 years ago that I feel so much positive energy coming from across the ocean, and it’s a really good feeling.
The music business is a drastically different industry than when you first began. Are you finding it difficult to embrace new technologies such as streaming music and social media? Or do you welcome it?
Sarah: It’s nice to be able to listen to anything you want at any time as a fan, but it’s no secret that a lot of these new entities have been a detriment to the music business. We have to work twice as hard to maintain our same income and I would lie if I said it wasn’t frustrating. We pride ourselves on being a live band and luckily, that is still an experience you can’t have unless you’re there. YouTube is awesome but it doesn’t replace standing in a concert hall.
Gert: We go with the flow and we’re having a good time doing just that. But we are finding it a bit difficult to be honest, yes. It’s not the technologies that are problems to me, on the contrary. The first time I heard about Spotify’s concept for example five years ago I got all excited and couldn’t wait for it to be available here in Belgium. Now I realize the format is everything it promised to be for the listeners but not for us. I heard Pharrell Williams received about $3000 from Spotify for his song “Happy,” so one can’t help but wonder where all the money goes. Most bands like us, still invest thousands of dollars in recording a new album. From album sales and streaming we will make a break-even at best. But it’s still possible to survive and even make money by playing shows and fortunately that happens to be something we love doing.
Throughout your successful career and international fame, what is the one thing are you are most proud of?
Sarah: That we’re still making music, still viable, and that we just made our best record after 20 years…and that we’re all still relatively sane.
Gert: To still be able to do what we’re so passionate about after 20 years is not something we take for granted. That might very well be our biggest achievement of all. That and some of the songs we made. We also made some pretty crappy songs in the early days too, but let’s not go there.
Who is one artist currently on the U.S. radio charts that you would like to work with and why?
Sarah: Since Paul McCartney is on the charts right now, that’s going to be a no brainer. Just saw him in concert a few months back and I was absolutely blown away by how good he is. Straight forward, no frills, fantastic rock ’n roll.
Gert: I will have to Google the U.S. charts first. (5 minutes later) Ariana Grande! My daughter’s respect for me will be eternal. She’s also pleasing to the eye.
This album lyrically seems to reflect on your past and personal journey. If you could go back in time and offer advice to your younger self, what would you tell yourself?
Sarah: I would tell myself that one day my brother would stop hitting me and that we’ll end up being friends, so just power through it. J I would say it gets better all the time. Growing up is fun and learning is fun and don’t be in too much of a hurry.
Gert: “Gert, you’re 19 now, and already a decent songwriter. But if you want to play in a successful band so bad and tour the world with it, why don’t you learn how to play guitar first?” Further back: “Gert, you’re 15. You look ridiculous smoking a cigarette. Don’t do it!” Or even further: “Stop hitting your sister!”
Aside from music, what fascinates/inspires you? Do you (or anyone in the band) have any specific hobbies, collections or idiosyncrasies?
Sarah: I have a day job as a full-time firefighter and that job satisfies all kinds of desires. It makes up for the missed opportunities I may have had because I never had a true college experience, for having to grow up pretty fast in K’s Choice as a 20-year-old and for not having a sense of community outside of the band by traveling all over.
Gert: Most of K’s members have more than one passion. We have firefighters, 3D animators, barbers…All 6 of us are in love with our families. I’m passionate about all things beautiful and exciting. Stories, paintings, photography, nature, vintage robots, music, food, history, wine, people, bicycles, coffee, space, travel, soccer…and Ariana Grande. J