There are people working in my office who weren’t out of short pants when dEUS formed in 1991. Not realising the band’s longevity, “fresh” and “young” were the adjectives bandied about when we watched the clip for lead single, Ghost.
Frontman, guitarist and frontman, Tom Barman roars laughing from his Belgian kitchen when he hears this. “That’s cool – I’ll have to tell the band. That’s so great.” The gregariously warm songwriter is brewing tea close to midnight and already thinking about the band’s first visit – not for want of trying — to Australia.
“The first time we were going to come to Australia was to support PJ Harvey,” says Barman in accented tones, “but our bass player at the time had better business to do around here with his side project band so we couldn’t do that. The second time we were invited by Blur to do it in 1999, but then the record company didn’t want to pay for us to do it, so this is the third time and now we’re doing it.” He laughs good-naturedly. “In Flemish we say, ‘Derde keer, goede keer’ – third time, good time.”
Preceding dEUS’ tour down under is the first aforementioned single from latest (and sixth studio) album Keep you Close “Ghost”, accompanied by a (some-may-say controversial) music video featuring – ahem – Jesus. Barman, who gave up on his cinematic studies to move into music as a creative medium, has traditionally driven Deus’ film clips – one of the band’s hiatuses was actually to serve his desire to make a feature film, Any Which Way The Wind Blows – but this time he was keen to let fresh eyes realise the aesthetic.
“I don’t think it’s that controversial; people just generally think it’s funny. It was a young American director who did it, he had the idea for the video lying around for a long time, but he was just waiting for a band. When the band was called dEUS [latin for “god” or “deity”] it was almost too good to be true. I read this treatment it and I was just on the floor it was so funny. I read it out loud to the guys in the band and so we instantly said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’”
The musical composition of “Ghost” has a cinematic quality: it is always interesting to consider how an artist may allow his passion in one medium to be his muse in another. Barman agrees that the part of him making film no doubt informs the songwriter too.
“Very much. As much as I love a three and a half minute song to listen to when it is well done, I just find it unbelievably boring to make myself. I like the physicality of a long song, the song with a narrative, the song that goes off in different directions with all these crazy breaks in it. I just think it’s in all of us.” Certainly the role of director is at the fore of his personality, he laughs, “because I’m basically just walking around the studio interfering with everything” but with a cinematic landscape in song construction he ponders whether it’s “got to do with being soul fans and liking a certain amount of drama.”
From micro to macro: despite that propensity for drama, an important mission statement for the latest record was that all songs were to be written with the live tour in mind. Tom links this concept back to the first shows he saw as a kid.
“I’m a big Prince fan, that was my upbringing, that was my first show basically, Prince in the 80s, and this was the top of his game so we’re talking 86, which was the Parade tour, 87 which was Sign O’ The Times tour… and this guy just didn’t stop. It was one song after the other, it was fun to look at, it was sexy, there were images, and there were videos on the wall. I like the songs to be in very quick succession; I don’t like breaks in between the music. I think a good live show should almost be like a great DJ set. Making music for the show is of course related to that; you just want to make something that’s going to make people dance.”
Making simpler the goal to write songs specifically for live performance was the fact that on this album – as opposed to all preceding studio albums – the band wrote the songs together. Previously, Tom monopolised the composition process bringing in formed songs to make up half of the album and allowing the rest of the band to assist with the remainder. Barman attributes the change in dynamic to a level of trust he previously hadn’t been able to enjoy in the group, personnel situations being what they were.
“This is the longest living formation of dEUS — we’ve been together for 8 years now — so what prompted [writing in that style] in the first place was the fact that we were really well adapted to each other. We were tight, in other words.” It may be, too, that Barman has mellowed as he approached 40, relinquishing control of the songwriting to a greater good. Or, the bass player. “Alan [Gevaert] has a fantastic, very singular style in playing bass and I was just getting bored of letting him play a simple bass line on a song I had written. I wanted to hear his voice, his style…Basically it was the right time to do it, [though] it was very time consuming, because we literally didn’t have a single melody, let alone a beat or a song structure. We had nothing. We just sat together and played and played for hours and hours and days and days. Luckily, we have the luxury to work in our own studio…”
When I bring up the enduring prescence of dEUS co-founder Klaas Janzoons — he and Tom are the only original members in the five-piece that has seen seven others clock in and out over the past two decades — Barman is unexpectedly touched at the recognition of their relationship.
“Thank you for that question – I actually find that quite moving,” he explains, “because in the beginning we actually didn’t get along that well at all, and we’ve grown closer to each other. The dynamic? I respect his opinion one hundred percent and I think he does mine. He’s very important in the band…he’s the most down to earth and we always listen to him. He’s also great because he doesn’t know a lot about music; he doesn’t know all the bands and all the fucking things… I can advise anyone now that’s starting out to get someone in there band that doesn’t know anything about music,” Barman cracks up at the notion, “because their approach is completely unsoiled by any big examples, or heroes or influences. He doesn’t care too much he only cares about what he’s doing with us…”
Like, he doesn’t know anything about music because he is music…
“Yeah exactly! He’s not the greatest virtuoso violin player, let alone keyboard play, but it’s always going to be something interesting. It’s like, ‘Where the fuck did that come from?’ . The funny part was when we started out, The Velvet Underground was mentioned a lot, and he didn’t know The Velvet Underground,” exclaims Tom, incredulously. “He had never heard of John Cale! He was seventeen years and he had to quit school to come and play bass. That is something you have to cherish. Even after all these years he still surprises us.”