Picking (up) where they left off

K’s Choice: Reforming was "the right decision."

May 11, 2010 07:26
Austen Tayshus.

K's Choice 311. (photo credit: Frank clauwers)

Despite our tiny fan base and remote location, many international artists have a soft spot for Israel. Radiohead owes a debt to Army Radio and DJ Yoav Kutner for playing their single “Creep” and making it a hit in Israel in 1992 when their debut album Pablo Honey was going nowhere. Kutner’s championing of the song starting a trend that caught on in Europe and then the rest of the world. Radiohead emerged as one of the most acclaimed bands of the last 20 years and ironically now release albums full of songs that no radio stations play.

Or take the case of K’s Choice, the tuneful Belgian indie rockers led by brother and sister Sarah and Gert Bettens. Back in 1999, they had already released a handful of compelling albums – like 1996’s Paradise in Me, with its semi-hit “Not an Addict,” and 1998’s acclaimed Cocoon Crash – that were marked by buoyant pop melodies, propulsive rock rhythms and vivid lyrics. Imagine Crowded House songs played by the Foo Fighters and sung by Sarah Mclaughlin. Despite US tours with Alanis Morissette and spots on the Lilith Fair Tour, the group was not a household name, so when they were booked to open a show in Tel Aviv for Garbage, they had no idea what to expect from the Israeli audience.

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“We were surprised and excited to be invited – not only to be able to visit Israel but to get to play there. But we didn’t know if anyone had even heard of us,” said Gert Bettens in a phone conversation with The Jerusalem Post from his home in Antwerp.

“When we came on and started, people were actually singing along and we were so blown away. The reception was so uplifting and warm – and unexpected. I don’t think we’ve ever forgotten it.”

The band returned to Israel a few months later, this time as headliners, and the romance between Israel and K’s Choice was sealed. So it wasn’t too surprising that when tickets went on sale for the band’s return to Israel this month on May 18 at the Barby club in Tel Aviv, they were gobbled up immediately, prompting a second show to be added for the following night.

THE SHOWS here were triggered by K’s Choice’s resumption of activity following a seven-year hiatus and the recent release of a fine new album called Echo Mountain, which recalls their best work but adds some new dynamics to the mix. For Bettens, it was never a case of if the band would ever regroup, but when.

“It’s interesting, because we weren’t really tired of each other or of the music,” said Bettens, referring to the mutual decision with Sarah to put the band on hold in 2003, after the release of Almost Happy. “But there was a general fatigue that had cropped up after playing together for 10 years. I think that, simultaneously, Sarah and I realized that we felt the need to do something different and play with other people.

“We needed to do something for ourselves in order to keep K’s Choice going. Looking back, if we had tried to make Echo Mountain seven years ago, it would have been crap, because we had lost the fire to be creative. And as a result of being apart, we had so much fun making the album.”

It didn’t start out that way, however, mainly because the brother and sister team were living thousands of kilometers apart. Following their decision to pursue fresh professional avenues, Sarah launched a solo career and relocated to the US. At the same time, Gert began producing other artists and eventually formed his own band, Woodface, named after his favorite Crowded House album. By 2007, the Bettens were sharing concert bills with their respective bands, often performing K’s Choice songs together in the encores. In 2009, the reunion became official with a celebrated show in Belgium and the Sony greatest hits release of The Essential K’s Choice.

A new album seemed like the natural next step, and despite the physical space between them, Gert and Sarah began writing songs – virtually.

“We started sending each other MP3 files by email. I thought that Sarah was making some excellent songs, and she thought the same of me,” said Bettens. “But it seemed like we were making two different albums, which wasn’t the idea.

“But things starting going much better as soon as she was back in Europe and we were sitting in the same room together, and then later when we got the whole band together. We realized we were on the right track. Our kind of music is too personal and too real to be created by sending computer files to each other.”

BUT EVEN though Gert and Sarah write separately, it’s the ensuing collaborative process that molds the songs into K’s Choice.

“With Woodface, it was really nice to be doing my own thing. It was great doing something almost from scratch on a creative level and seeing where it leads,’ said Gert. “But writing with Sarah is special too.

“We hardly ever write together, but when I write a song, she starts making adjustments, and it begins turning into a K’s Choice song. It’s a very special experience, and it helps create something of a band sound, of people working together.”

The process produced so much material that Echo Mountain turned into a double album, featuring pop, folk and indie rock that shares an identifiable K’s Choice sound, thanks in part to Sarah’s distinctive vocals and in part to that “realness” that Gert referred to. With original bassist Eric Grossman and drummer Koen Lieckens back in the fold along with new members guitarist Thomas Vanelslander and keyboardist Reinout Swinnen, the band hit the road three weeks ago on their first tour of the revamped K’s Choice. So far, so good.

“Fortunately there’s a real freshness to being out and playing again,” said Gert. “It’s true, we did experience an awful lot of touring, but because we had been apart for so long, it feels fresh to be on the road and playing.

“It’s only been three weeks and we’re having a good time. But in six months, we might be sick of it,’ he laughed.

But now, the difference is, when they do get sick of it, K’s Choice know exactly what the remedy is.

“At one point we will continue to do things separately. We apparently do need our own space and our own projects in order to keep enthusiastic about playing together. But we know now, just like the last time we put things on hold, that we will continue to make music together again.”

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