If Holland's Bettie Serveert didn't reinvent indie guitar rock in the '90s, nobody did. Singer and songwriter Carol van Dyk, guitarist and arranger Peter Visser and bassist Herman Bunskoeke have managed what few of their peers have: They've stayed together for fifteen years. Buffalo Tom, the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr. -- they have reunion tours. Bettie Serveert has never stopped making spectacularly melodic, groove-conscious, noisy pop music. The band's seventh record, Attagirl (just out on the Minty Fresh label), sounds as fetching and provocative as 1991 itself. Visser explains what makes, and keeps, the band ticking.
B-Sides: What makes Attagirl different from your previous records?
Peter Visser: It was a little bit similar to our last (Log 22), because Carol and I recorded the biggest bits in my house, then we did more in a studio with the band. We mixed real drums with the drum machines, with an extreme amount of editing. I don't even know what's the real drummer and the machine anymore.
Is your drummer pissed?
There are three drummers on the CD. We moved all the parts around. Nobody knows who played what.
Do you talk about the concept of the record before making it?
Before we start, we say, "Let's make a dance album," or "Let's strip it down." When you get down to it, the songs direct you. All you can do is go along. Carol and I fight all the time. We have totally different tastes. The deal is we both have to like it. She's a little more conservative. The songs have to be round. I like chaos and dissonance and out-of-tuneness. It takes a lot of fighting and talking to get onto a single rail.
Have you ever failed to work things out?
Those are all the songs that are not on the album.
I got a free song on iTunes when I bought a Pepsi. I downloaded an alternate take of "Greyhound Song."
Jesus Christ. So we are helping Pepsi?
Pepsi is helping you.
Oh, well, that's good. They have a lot of money.
Are you glad that you released some major-label records?
No. The third album was on Capitol, the single was extremely expensive, with an expensive video, and it didn't make the charts. So they stopped and moved on to some other band. We had meet-and-greets in every city, with so many things they said they were going to do.
So the band played one gig in 1986, broke up, and reformed five years later?
That is true. First there was a band called De Artsen, which means "The Doctors." We had a practice space where you had to do a show every year, so we did. But there was a problem with the set list, so after twenty minutes, Carol walked offstage. She was shivered with fear anyhow. That was our first gig. Herman and I continued with De Artsen for five years, but the lead singer quit, and we picked up with Bettie again.
Now you clarify the set lists.
Carol takes control of that these days. It won't happen again. -- Roy Kasten
Doctor of Skank
Professor Skank is the nom de plume of Jeff Frelich, one of the most enthusiastic fans of reggae music in this or any other town. Over the past twenty years, the good Professor has written about reggae for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the popular reggae magazine The Beat. He's promoted concerts by the Meditations, Lucky Dube and Midnite. He's hosted Positive Vibrations, the most prominent reggae show on KDHX (88.1 FM), since 1982 (Skank alternates his Saturday-night slot with Michael Kuelker every other week). And a year and a half ago, he started his own record label.
By day, Frelich is co-owner (with his brothers and parents) of Shoe Stop, a chain of women's shoe stores in the area. His interest in reggae goes back 25 years and has roots in his love for the Clash. "They covered 'Police and Thieves' on their first album, which was incredible," he says. "They also covered 'Pressure Drop' on one of their singles. So I went out and found the original reggae versions and slowly started getting hooked."
Listening to Leroy Pierson's long-lost KWMU (90.7 FM) radio show Beat Down Babylon taught Frelich plenty about the music of Jamaica, and his friendship with one of St. Louis' first reggae club DJs, Joe Striker, taught him even more. He adopted the name that would define his public persona when he began writing. "There was a guy in D.C. called Doctor Dread. I liked that and tried to come up with something, and 'skank' hit me as a really funny word. It's in tons of reggae songs -- it means the offbeat reggae dance," he explains. "Even though it means something entirely different in the U.S., I thought it was hilarious, so Professor Skank was born."
A couple years ago, Professor Skank was speaking with Ossie Dellimore, a singer from the island of St. Croix. Dellimore suggested Skank start a label to re-release his out-of-print record, Freedom's Journal. "I didn't think it could be done," Skank explains. "Then I thought: Why not? Give it a shot. So I went and found a few books and read up on it, then found an entertainment lawyer, got all the legalities done and ultimately made it happen." Skank Records was the result.
For his second release, Skank began assembling a compilation of tracks from recent releases. "I lined up some of my favorite tunes, and it happened that I only had one Jamaican artist, so I decided to omit that track after I realized I could make it Crucial Reggae from Outside Jamaica." The result is as good a collection of deep, roots-oriented reggae as you can find.
"I also wanted to give some of the proceeds to charity and settled on Doctors Without Borders, which is a great organization," Skank adds. "And I'm also paying fair royalties to all the artists, which I really wanted to do. There are way too many bootlegs out there ripping the artists off, and I just wanted to do it right."
With good reviews and reasonable sales, Professor Skank is already hard at work on a second volume. "I'm still trying to figure out the exact song order," Skank explains. "It's close but not quite there yet. I need to start working on the booklet and getting all the lyrics. Lotsa work and not easy, but my passion for the music is incredibly strong, so it's no problem."
Skank Records releases are available in Shoe Stop locations, in record stores and at www.skankproductions.com. -- Steve Pick