Ian Maleney spoke with Tom Barman of dEUS about their new album, the band's upcoming 20th anniversary, and his fond memories of The Olympia Theatre.
There haven't been many international success stories for Belgium's music scene and it probably wouldn't be a stretch to say that dEUS are the big fish in that particular pond. With a career spanning two decades and six studio albums, the five-piece are well and truly approaching stalwart status but show no signs of slowing down.
As a band, they've always been about pushing the definitions of rock to their limits and the duo at the vanguard of this twenty-year effort has always been Tom Barman and Klaas Janzoons, the group's two remaining original members. Line-up changes and shifts have played their part in the dEUS timeline but with a solid line-up for the past seven years, the ship is certainly steady. Their new album Keep You Close is another slice of expertly constructed rock music with hints of electronica throughout. With a show in the Olympia coming up next week, Tom Barman gave us some insight into the dEUS world as it stands today.
How do you feel about going back out on tour again? Has the experience changed for you over the years?
My friend, it's the reason I do this. I love it so much. I like being in the studio too but travelling around and just playing and bringing the songs you've worked on to a live place is something we've always loved and it hasn't changed over the years. It hasn't changed at all so yes, we still love it. Most of the songs we've already played because we treated ourselves to a summer tour. After the studio we said fuck it, lets book some festivals. We tried about five of the nine new songs in rotation, not every night but about two new songs every night and they went down really well. So they're already under our skin. We can already play them well. There's a couple we still have to do and we're going to start on those today. They go down well and they rehearse quite easily which was basically the intention because you can fall in love with a sound or a loop or something that happens in the studio but it still needs to be solid enough to be playable. You don't want to go on tour with three laptops if you know what I mean.
So the live versions won't be dramatically different to the recorded ones then?
I'd say they're a bit rougher, I'd say they're a bit louder. There's no point talking about it really, you'll see it next week! It's the Olympia right? It's a great venue. We played it in '99 for Ideal Crash. Actually the Ideal Crash tour started in Dublin, also in the Olympia. We have very fond memories of it.
Have you been happy with the reaction to the record so far? It certainly seems to have been well received in Belgium, now that it's gone gold.
Actually to be honest, the least favourable reviews were in Belgium! But no, it seems to have gone down really well. I don't read everything but I've seen a couple. We'll have to see what the tour brings!
Do you still get nervous when you're releasing a record like this?
Nervous is not the word because when I think of nervous, I think of an acute thing like being nervous to go water skiing or being nervous before a show. When you work long on something, like it goes to journalists first and then your friends hear it and then the people buy it so it's over a longer period of time. So it's not nerves, it's more like fear. It's more like agony! I'm slightly exaggerating there but you get my point!
How did the collaboration with Greg Dulli come about on this album?
We'd met over the years. We played with Afghan Whigs in the nineties and then I'd seen him play with Twilight Singers and Gutter Twins. He was in town in Antwerp one night and we went for a few beers and I asked him if he was free the next day and he was and I asked him to sing and he said fine. I hadn't anything prepared, I had a few loose ideas about where he could join in. 'Twice (We Survived)' was an obvious one because that chorus is very low for me to sing and I knew that when he hit the high-notes in the way he does so beautifully, it would be fitting. It was I think. It all happened really casually. He was in the studio for a few hours and then I dropped him off at sound-check. That was how it happened.
So would Afghan Whigs have been a big band for you guys back then?
Oh yeah, I think all my friends would have that copy of Gentlemen at home, it's a classic nineties album. You know, his voice is just unstoppable. He has that rock and roll grain but still he has that pitch and he's got so much soul. It's just such a great voice. Yeah, sure I was a fan. I saw him recently with The Twilight Singers and, even though I don't have every record, it was beautiful. He wasn't very well that night and he kept apologizing like "I'm really sick, it's going to be a shorter gig" and I was saying, don't tell us that! We can't tell you're sick, don't tell us that all the time because he was singing so beautifully. It was great stuff.