Belgian favorites K’s Choice throw a twist

Much of the band’s appeal through the years has centered around Sarah and Gert’s harmonies and the sound of a female vocalist surrounded by chiming guitars.

Rockers K's Choice  (photo credit: COURTESY/LIVE NATION)
Rockers K's Choice
(photo credit: COURTESY/LIVE NATION)
Sarah and Gert Bettens, the sister-brother team that powers tuneful Belgian rockers K’s Choice, have returned to Israel seven times since they first opened up for Garbage back in 1999.
But when they come back to headline Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv on December 16, it will mark a debut of sorts – the first time that the band will be fronted by brothers Sam and Gert Bettens. Since their triumphant sold-out shows last year at the Barby Club marking the band’s 25th anniversary, Sarah underwent surgery and completed her transition to Sam.
Sporting a boyish, lean look throughout the band’s career, Sarah began publicly identifying as gay in 2002 and the band has always attracted a considerable following among gay women. But earlier this year, she began taking hormone replacement therapy as she transitioned into Sam. In a YouTube video released earlier this year, Sam said, “being transgender is not a choice. I always have been, I just didn’t know it until now.”
Much of the band’s appeal through the years has centered around Sarah and Gert’s harmonies and the sound of a female vocalist surrounded by chiming guitars. And while entering uncharted territory, both Sam and Gert say that the gender change is unlikely to have a major effect on either the band’s music and dynamics or their own personal relationship.
“I’m wondering the same thing – if things are going to change for us musically,” said Sam last week, speaking to the Post from his home in Palm Desert, California, where he lives with his partner and four children.
“I’m older, and farther away from my adolescence,” added the 47-year-old singer, “and hormone therapy may not affect me the way it would a younger person. We’re going to keep making music the way we always have and hope that our voices blend together the way they always did. I’m sure that some of the content and lyrics will be affected by all the things I’m going through, but I think the dynamics of the band will stay the same.”
Older brother Gert Bettens, who still lives in Antwerp, also said he didn’t expect the ‘personnel’ change to have a major effect on the band.
“Sam’s voice sounds the same to me, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens in that regard,” he told the Post last week.
Regarding their family relationship, Gert simply said, “Now she’s my little brother instead of my little sister. It’s not really strange, because I always felt a bit like I had a little brother.”
Sam added, “My brother and I are buddies in the same way we were before. I’m just happier now and feel better in my own skin.”
Another thing the brothers agree on is that they love coming back to Israel and are still surprised each time at K’s Choice staying power and popularity in the country.
“I’ve wondered many times why our relationship with Israel is so special,” said Sam. “The other day I was thinking that K’s Choice fans in general are loyal, intense and passionate – we’ve never had a following that only cares about one record or song. And I find the Israeli people to be very straightforward and passionate and intense and emotional. So maybe that’s how the connection started.  I don’t know, but I do know that I felt it from the first time we were there.”
She was referring to their alternative rock hits “Not An Addict” from their 1996 second album Paradise in Me and “Everything for Free” from their 1998 album Cocoon Crash, which spread their name worldwide and led them on tours with Alanis Morissette and Garbage.
“We didn’t know what to expect and we didn’t know we actually had a hit song on the radio in Israel,” continued Sam. “And I’ll never forget when we started playing, people starting singing every word. We just flew to this completely different place with different culture, very exotic to us, and to know that we actually had an audience who knew us and loved us was an amazing feeling. And I’m happy to say we can still come back and play and they still want to see us.
“We felt an intensity and energy from the first time we played in Israel,” added Gert. “We were treated like real rock stars and we weren’t used to that. We were doing quite well in the Benelux and a little in the States, but to be received that well in a new place was really special and we still remember it.”
At next week’s show, K’s Choice will be joined onstage for a few songs by the Tom Petrover and Orit Shahaf, the leaders of local heroes Hayehudim. But the main focus of the crowd will likely be on their first glimpse of Sam Bettens, who they’ve known for years as Sarah.
“Obviously it’s different for me than other trans people who have an option of not being out to everybody or to keeping their past a secret. For me that was never a possibility. Everything was going to be done out in the open,” said Sam.
“I might at some point in my house take down some pictures where I look really girlie and maybe replace them with newer ones. But it’s not like I have an option to deny my past or pretend that it didn’t happen. I decided early on in this process to embrace my past as a big part of me – I don’t really a desire to separate myself to that extent from Sarah.”
At Hangar 11 on Monday, it’s also unlikely that packed hall full of K