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Hello BeTTY!

BETTY band in NYC
BETTY photo by Francesca Galliani
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BETTY, the iconic indie rock trio, has been together for 38 years. They have been featured nationally and internationally on radio, television, and film. Known most notably for their theme song to The L Word, as well as countless contributions as guest artists in dozens of recordings, Aly Palmer (vocals, bass, guitar) and sisters Amy Ziff (vocals, cello) and Elizabeth Ziff (vocals, guitar, and electronica) formed BETTY in their college days. At the time, they were in another band, On Beyond Zebra, in DC where they regularly played at the 9:30 Club.

In 1986, the woman in charge of the club asked if the three vocalists would perform at the birthday party of the owner. They needed a name in a hurry. “All three of us have a different memory of how we became BETTY,” Aly laughs. “I like to say that it was just kismet. It just appeared out of the universe when we needed it.”

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Amy recalls a 1940s movie character, a wisecracking secretary named Betty. She knows everything, finds everything, and makes it all work perfectly in the end. “Betty seemed like the quintessential all-American, but with a twist.”

An interesting factoid about BETTY is that both the Ziff and the Palmer families had an “Aunt Betty” who was institutionalized. “Back then, no one talked about why Aunt Betty was sent away,” said Aly Palmer. “But we all had a crazy ‘Aunt Betty!’” Whatever the true origin of BETTY is, fans love them and give a heartfelt “Hello, BETTY!” when introduced at their shows.

“Our podcast, BETTY: GIRLBAND,” Elizabeth shares, “is the history of BETTY more than anything else and illuminates a lot of things about us, our memories and the stories of other people who’ve seen us over the years.” After 38 years, there is a lot to share, and it’s all done with intelligence and humor.

BETTY also uses their reach and talents to be activists. The aim of their non-profit, The BETTY Effect, is to “help people find their voice and share it effectively, especially women, girls, and the LGBTQ community, and arts activists worldwide.”

BETTY practices what they preach. They have “been in the trenches” to help support and effect change. Aly recalls a harrowing story of attending the 2nd Gay Pride in Lithuania in 2013 which was nothing like what we’ve come to expect of a Pride March in the United States. “Like you know, rainbow shorts and roller skates going around and all that stuff.

The streets were lined eight people deep with people screaming invective, and hate and throwing bottles and dog poo. It was the most terrifying gauntlet that we’d ever gone down. I was not expecting that at all. There was so much hate and the bravery of these people who are in Lithuanian places and Baltic states, the bravery of them to come out and be marching along for representation was just amazing. At the end of this street was a park and there was a little stage. All these haters continued to come around the sides of the park screaming, and the police came and said we have got to get you out here because the U.S. ambassador was there.

It was getting very, very dangerous. The haters were starting to encroach on the park and still screaming and throwing things. We had to get out of there. But there was no way to get out and so the three of us decided instantly, let’s sing. So, we jumped up on stage and started singing one of our songs, acapella, and instantly the entire energy everywhere you could see just completely changed. People became quiet, like children, and it was like you could hear the birds again while we were singing the song. The whole tenor just changed. I had no idea that we had that kind of power. I think it was the most intense part of the 38 years we’ve ever been together. That was the most powerful moment I’ve ever experienced in my life, being able to change mob mentality.”

BETTY band
BETTY band photo by Erin Schaff

BETTY’s 11th album, EAT, will be released in April 2024. “It’s very exciting because this is sort of going back to our roots in a lot of ways,” Elizabeth shares. “We worked with Jason Carmer, whom we knew in DC back in the day, and became a producer and produced The Donnas and Third Eye Blind and a whole bunch of others. So, working with him was like going home.

“We’re all very old friends and he’s so talented. We did a lot of electronica on this album, but it’s also very pop-oriented and includes a lot of harmonies. It feels like it’s very true to what BETTY is, the encompassment of all that we do. It’s got a lot of vocals. It’s got a lot of happiness. It’s ‘dancy.’ It’s also got sadness in it. You know, like we all do. But it’s very queer-positive. It’s very women-positive because that’s who we are. I love this album. I think it’s probably the best album we’ve ever made. It’s just a great coming together of all our talents and it was fun to make!”

Aly elaborates that they did a lot of the recording in Mexico City. “If you’ve never been, it’s the most amazing place. But we did the majority of it in New York because we got a grant from New York.”

Elizabeth expands, “Yes, we got a ‘finishing grant’ from the New York Mayor’s Office in conjunction with the New York Foundation for the Arts to finish the project.”

Aly interjects, “A women-in-the-arts grant, which is great! We didn’t know about it, and we think that people should. It’s something people can apply for, and I believe there’s one in New Jersey as well.”

“We were very lucky,” Elizabeth continues. “You know, it’s interesting because we’ve always been so fringe in a lot of ways, but then really accepted on the mainstream. But this was a real shot in the arm to say we see you and we support you, not only financially, but as New York artists and as New York musicians, you know? That meant a lot to us. We were able to finish the album, which is going to be released in April but we’re releasing the first single, “Flow,” for our big 38th anniversary party on Feb. 14 at Joe’s Pub in NYC.”

“Yes, we are releasing the first single as an anniversary present to ourselves and to our fans,” Aly continues. “The very best part of this whole career, this almost 38-year-long career, is the fact that we get to travel to all these different parts, not just in America, but all over the world, meet people like you, even 25 years later.”

BETTY’s songs come to them individually, sometimes collaboratively, and even organically when in the studio feeding off the energy and talents of the other musicians. Their single, “Flow,” is one such song. “It started as an idea that Elizabeth brought into the studio,” Aly explains, that evolved in the studio while they were all together. “Coming up with these ideas spontaneously, that’s what we loved about it because the song is called ‘Flow’ and it came about as a flow of ideas. It ends with this party that we were having in the studio. I think it typifies where you want to be, even if it’s not where you are.

“To be in a state of acceptance of what’s going on with the universe and dealing with it in all the different ways you want to. But being with friends along the way and being able to celebrate no matter what.”


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Alyx Reinhardt
Alyx Reinhardt is an opera singer, avid adventurer, and metal detectorist. Her travels around the world have resulted in an open mind and heart. In addition to performing, she enjoys attending opera, concerts, and theatre productions. She’s lived on three continents and, happily, landed in New Jersey.