Sarah Bettens of K's Choice: A Different Kind of Rock Star
After finding success in Europe, the rock group K's Choice, founded by Belgian siblings Sarah and Gert Bettens, began catching fire in the U.S. in the mid-'90s. Their 1996 hit "Not an Addict" still receives regular airplay and helped get the band booked on tours with Alanis Morissette, the Indigo Girls, and as part of Lilith Fair. After taking a lot of time off to pursue families and solo projects, the group is returning stateside, with two albums just released in the U.S. and wrapping up a tour with dates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City. We spoke with Sarah, who's smoky voice Billboard compared to Sarah McLachlan's, about how this out European rock star is adapting to her quiet life in the American South.
The Advocate: Hi Sarah. Tell us about Echo Mountain and Little Echoes. They were recently released in the U.S.?
Bettens: Yes, they came out in Europe two years ago already, but we've been touring over there and and it took a little longer than we thought to get it over here.
How would you describe the music?
Echo Mountain is a 180 degrees from the last album K's Choice made, but I'd like to think we grew as songwriters, as well as with the times. What's fun is that after 10 years doing solo stuff and working with other people, coming back together and trying to find our groove again. The two sides that have always been present in K's Choice, the more dynamic side and the more intimate side, instead of trying to reconcile that on one record we wanted to highlight those two parts of us. That's why Echo Mountain is a double album. It's like one disk on your way to work and one on your way home.
And then Little Echoes we recorded here later, just the three of us, my brother, our piano player, and me. The reason for that was we were doing a seated theater tour in Europe and we thought it would be fun for people to be able to buy what they saw. So we pretty much pre-recorded the show we were going to do and were so happy with it, it became a regular full album. So we're releasing that at the same time here.
You're touring now. Do you prefer recording or performing?
I like both. Obviously, it's more creative to be in the studio and there's something about that I would really miss if I couldn't do that anymore. But of course it's fun to be on the road. Even though I've lived in the States for a while, as a European it's always magical to tour in the States. It's every European's dream. Even though we're vanning it and it's small venues and spending more time driving than anything, we're super excited.
How is it being in a band with your brother? Are there moments of strife?
We get along all the time. He is a very hard person not to get along with. He's been my best friend since we've been teenagers. We disagree on things, but there are no fights, no ego.
What are you listening to now?
Bon Iver I've been really into to. A lot of stuff like that. There's a Belgian band I absolutely love and it's in that same vein. It's called Isbelles. It's just really mellow, very melodic, lots of harmonies, very intimate. I find myself drawn to that more and more.
Sarah, do you identify as L,G,B, or T?
Definitely as lesbian or gay. Ever since I came out, I came out to myself and the world at the same time, it's just been a part of me and my career. When I first came out, I thought this is not something I want to talk about every time, I want to talk about the music. Then it just kind of happened; I wouldn't say I'm necessarily a spokesperson, but I like talking about it and sharing it. I know there are people out there who want to hear it and want people in public to talk about it and make life easier for them. It became a very natural thing for me to answer any questions people have and normalize the issue.
Are you partnered?
Yes, for 11 years. We just adopted two little kids two years ago. A boy and a girl.
Where do you call home?
Johnson City, Tenn.
Do you feel welcome there? Guess you wouldn't live there if you didn't.
In the beginning when we moved here, it was a bit of a culture shock. I moved from Belgium to Santa Cruz, Calif, and then I lived in Atlanta for a year and then moved here. I thought this is going to be really difficult if I can't hold my girlfriend's hand in the street. But we've had very few issues. I feel people get to know you, find out your gay, and they really don't care that much. In the past 10 years, so much has changed everywhere and in Johnson City, as well. Things that wouldn't have possible are possible now. It's really backwards and not cool to not be ok with gay people. Gay marriage might be a separate issue here but the people who are vocally not ok with us, I think they would be shunned by other people at this point.
How does it compare to Belgium? Does America need to catch up?
Yeah, Belgium's very open. Gay marriage has been legal for a few years there. But then they struggle with other issues. We actually didn't have a hard time adopting here as two women and that's a lot more difficult back in Belgium. When it comes to social issues Belgium is very progressive, but when it comes to adoption they have a long way to go.
Click here for more info on K's Choice, including upcoming tour dates.