Friends Or Enemies?

7 May 2012 | 9:25 pm | Steve Bell

More dEUS More dEUS

Sometimes it's easy to forget how geographically isolated Australia is from the rest of the planet and how lucky we are that so many overseas bands do the right thing so often by coming down here to perform for our amusement. Then other times that tyranny of distance is brought into all too clear focus, such as when a band exists for what seems like an eternity without making it down to grace our stages in anger.

One such example of that latter scenario is that of Belgian indie legends dEUS, who despite having existed for more than two decades and having released a string of excellent and innovative studio albums have never managed to make it down to the correct part of our hemisphere. Until now. Armed with their ambitious sixth album Keep You Close, the band are finally making the long trip southwards and we can only hope that they take the adage 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer' seriously, because this is a band that we definitely want to be mates with. We're so looking forward to finally get down there,” laughs dEUS' frontman and creative lynchpin Tom Barman. “We've been trying for a long time, but there was always something getting in the way or making it impossible, but now it's happening and we're looking forward to it, you bet.”

Keep You Close has been out in Europe since last year despite only getting recent local release, which has given Barman time to get some perspective on the record. “People always have whole theories when you bring out a record about what it means and what it's doing and what it means to them and how they think it sounds. So that's sometimes a very alienating thing to hear, but generally we wanted to make something more dynamic and organic than the previous one [2008's Vantage Point], which was sort of modern-sounding,” he tells. “So we wanted to make something warmer, hence the brass and strings and stuff, but it's been generally really well-received actually and we're really happy about that.

“We started with absolutely nothing. We wrote it all together and it all comes from jams and improvisations and tiny ideas and it was just a very collective piece of work, but also why it took such a long time to record.”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

For long-term dEUS fans, this notion of the band collaborating for the whole session is something of a surprise because the band has long been perceived to be Barman's baby to some degree, but he's quick to point out that this hasn't always been the case, referencing some of the band's earliest (and most loved) material. “We've always written together – Suds And Soda was written together, but Hotellounge was by me, Fell Off The Floor, Man and Instant Street were joint ventures, but Magic Hour was mine…” he trails off. “It's nothing new that we write together, but it's the first time that we've done everything together for the whole album. The whole album was a collective activity, which was time consuming, but when you hit something you just know that nobody separately could have thought of, that's the great feeling about writing together. But it's nothing new. This formation has been together for eight years so it was the right time to do that – we've done many shows and I think we're a very tight unit, so I think it was time.”

This line-up of dEUS is by a fair margin the most stable incarnation of the band – does this mean that they've developed some kind of innate understanding? “It means we tolerate each other,” Barman laughs heartily. “It means we don't get murderous around each other. Although there are moments that you want to kill somebody. No, there's a good understanding, but also, for instance, our bass player Alan [Gevaert] has a very distinct sound – I say he has a 'brutal beauty' about his bass playing, it's very brutal but at the same time melodic – and I was just sick of telling him to play this or that, or 'Okay Alan, here's a song and it goes from here to there'. It was basically limiting, so you just want to hear what everybody sounds like at some point.

“Everyone assumes that we did this to please everybody in the band, but I'm not so sure they're pleased because it's much more work for them! I think they fucking hate me! I was so happy about the album that I told them, [shouts]: “I am never going to write another song by myself in my life!' and I thought we would be high-fiving in the bus, but they all looked really sad. But it was fun to do and in hindsight the satisfaction is more profound because everybody has played a part in the success.”

The lyrics to dEUS songs are still staunchly Barman's domain and while he's justifiably proud of the songs that make up Keep You Close, he's also acutely aware that it's an extremely personal batch of writing. “Unfortunately, yeah,” he shrugs. “I just read an interesting interview with Ry Cooder, he'd just made an anti-war album of some description and he said something like, 'Specific circumstances call for a direct approach' and I guess that's what I must have felt when I was writing some of those lyrics. No metaphors, no 'would-be poetry' – we're just going to name things by their names. I'm not sure if that was a very good decision because it's painful to sing some of those things live, but that's how it turned out. It wasn't easy to write them, but they're just songs. Even though they're difficult to sing live, on some level I like a bit of drama.”

If you listen to Keep You Close compared to the band's earliest material it's still identifiably the same band, but the sonic evolution is quite marked. According to Barman, this is as much a result of natural change as it is differing personnel.

“Obviously it's changed because we're not 21 anymore and from that early period only me and Klaas [Janzoons] the violin player are left,” he reflects. “When people get nostalgic about the first dEUS record I tell them, 'What do you think? That if we were still together in that formation that we would still be making that kind of music?' That's just insane! No we wouldn't! But it's evolved, sometimes brutally and sometimes very fluidly. I had many formations before that [1994 debut] Worst Case Scenario period. I think it was built into the DNA of the band that there was going to be people coming and going. I'm not saying that I was always happy when it happened, but I can tell you that in my life I've only fired two people and I didn't like it. Most people just went away, then they came back again, then they went away again and that kind of became our story – that's just the way it went.”