dEUS' recently released new album Following Sea confirmed the notion that the Belgian quintet go their own way. Announced and released the same day earlier this month (1 June), the band's seventh album came only eight months after 2011's Keep You Close. We spoke to frontman Tom Barman about how after 20 years releasing albums every three or four years, his band suddenly are in the midst of creative purple patch.
How the devil are you? "Hahahaha! I'm fine, thank you my friend. We've got a TV show later and I'm getting ready, they're picking me up in 25 minutes or something. And then we shall be playing tonight, so it's all good."
So you're back in the saddle only eight months after the release of Keep You Close... "That's correctomondo, it's a world record for us. It was kind of a crazy idea we had six months ago and we persevered, we went from out of tour bus and into the studio and back again. At one point, I thought I was going nuts, I thought I'd never get out of that studio. When it was finished and it was released, it was really cool. We did something we hadn't done before and we released it and people were surprised, so I guess it worked."
How did it come about? "We had a couple of songs lying around that didn't really fit on Keep You Close. Keep You Close was kind of intimate, more dramatic kind of record, and we had a pop song and we said, "why don't we just go into the studio and write some more?" Before we knew it, we had 10 or 11 songs. It was a crazy last minute idea and that was it."
How much crossover with the last album was there? "I'd say the overlap is probably the periods in which they were written and the way they were written, which is basically coming out of jams and improvisation and nocturnal faffings. That would be the overlap, but overall Following Sea is a lighter album. We weren't too precious about certain things. There's a simpler way of recording, although that doesn't count for all the songs. It's a bit more eclectic also. It's like old school days, there's two-minute songs and seven-minute songs. Also, the important difference was they didn't all have to be playable live, which is kind of key for us. If you make an album every three or four years, you better make sure you can play them live and make sure they come across whether that be in a club for 500 people or a bigger place with 5000 people. We don't necessarily have to play these songs live - that was a welcome change."
Was that a reaction from having just come off the road? "Yes, and no-one was waiting for this [album]. The whole summer and festival season had been booked on the back of Keep You Close. We'll add five or six songs from this album, lots of Keep You Close songs and add a little extra for us."
How was it witnessing the fans' reaction to you releasing a virtually unannounced new album? "It was the most relaxed, relieved day I've ever had in my entire life. I was on my terrace drinking a glass of wine when this thing was coming out. We want to do it every time, it's the complete opposite of what a release day is, which is flying around doing interviews. It was just lovely. Everybody should do it!"
Could you ever go back to the traditional method of releasing a record having done it this way? "Well, that's a good question... I think there's more to it than a gimmicky thing. There's probably something to do with me turning 40, a few of us are in our late '30s, and we just want to have a different way of putting things out. The internet is obviously a perfect way to do that, but it's also the fact record companies need three or four months after you've delivered the master to bring the thing out. There is another way of doing it. Obviously, we're not the first ones to do it, but there's something very appealing about it."
Was the release format part of the plan or something after? "No - we wanted to release it before the summer. It was almost how techno producers used to do it, or still do it. Some of those songs were finished in May, y'know? It was basically all very fresh. From the minute we knew we were going to make an album, the idea of not announcing it and keeping it a secret was there instantly. I'm quite surprised we did it! In Antwerp, a lot of friends of mine knew and for some miraculous reason they didn't share it with anyone."
Did you feel a sense of liberation? "It's just quicker and more direct. It's all the things you think it is and it kind of takes away the whole circumstance before. You put all this extra information into interviews before a record comes out and this is what the record is about, we're doing that, but nobody knew where this was coming from, so it bring the attention to the music itself, so that's a cool thing."
dEUS very much seem to exist within their own ecosystem as in it's hard to draw comparisons with other bands - would you say that's a fair point? "That's a big compliment, I hope it's true. The fact that... from the beginning, if we were in the States, people would say, When are you coming to live in New York? If we were in London, when are you coming to London? We love those cities, but the fact we always stayed in Antwerp gave us distance from the way things are normally done, be it the songwriting or the way we bring it, so in hindsight it probably explains what you've just said. I can only hope that it's true."
Which song would you say most sums up dEUS in 2012? "I think the French song, Quatre Main, is the most exciting. As you probably know, I write mostly in English but I was getting really irritated with that song, I couldn't find a melody and I didn't know what the fuck I was gonna do. Then, I just went into French and that was very exciting. My mum listened to a lot of French music, my sister did, as you know we have a French-speaking part of Belgium so it's not really a foreign language for us but I've never done it. So, I would say the pure fun of working on that and then just talking and speaking in French was really exciting. It opens doors. Writing in French was a different experience."
Have you played it live yet? We had to play it two days ago on a French TV show. I was pissing my pants!
How did it go? Well, it went well and they were kind of me but I was really nervous, you're singing their language and on top of that, most of the song is spoken so they can understand the lyrics. I was thrown into the lion's den.
It must be exhilarating that having been in a band for 20 years, you can still find a way to add a bit of nervous adrenaline? "Well, it's still cool that after 20 years, you get to be so nervous. It keeps you on your toes and is the most important thing for a band that's been going for as long as we do. It's those little twists you give your own destiny, those little things that you do that fuck things up - the big possibility of failing keeps you sharp."
You've built up quite a body of work now. How does it feel being able to look back on your back catalogue? "It feels strange in a way because I don't feel that old!"
I wasn't suggesting you were old! "[laughs] Well there's pride there. There's some question marks as well. It's a fucked up trajectory we had, but I guess it's ours. It's like Nicolas Cage in Snake Eyes, [puts on angry Nic Cage voice], This town may be a sewer but it's my sewer! There's some weird things that happened, but the wind of life was always blowing through the band and that's what happens with bands."
What's next - will your restless, prolific streak continue? "Well, first we've got a really nice summer ahead and I'm really looking forward to that. There's some great festivals; in Paris, we're playing before Noel Gallagher and the Black Keys, then there's a beautiful festival on the beach in Italy, we're going to do Latitude which is my favourite in the UK. So we're gonna just take it by the week and by the month and see where we end up in September. After that, I've no idea. I've got my Magnus thing, which is an electro-pop thing I want to finish, or maybe we'll go back to dEUS in the studio. We don't really talk about it at the moment - we've spent enough time in the studio, we just want to enjoy playing live for the moment..." Niall Doherty @NiallMDoherty
For more head to deus.be.