Ben and Nathan talk to dEUS (who are Belgian).
Pretty much the only thing people know about dEUS is that, you've guessed it, they're Belgian. However, there's more to it than that. The first album was 1994's 'Worst Case Scenario', which garnered massive critical acclaim due to its collection of pop songs disguised as nasty, experimental noise monsters. However, the follow-up album, 'In A Bar, Under The Sea' splits the two, so you've got straight ahead, radio friendly pop on some songs, but still a healthy dollop of creativity on others. Nathan and Ben met singer/guitarist Tom Barman before their Birmingham show. "The difference is that this is an album of people that were sitting at home whereas for 'Worst Case Scenario' we had been touring a lot, basically only in Belgium" says Tom. "We wrote the [new] album since last September, the weekend of Reading, Pukkelpop and Lowlands. That was the last thing we did. There's a lot more individual songwriting on the album. I did 6 or 7 songs, Craig did one, Klaas did one. The rest were just jams, just like 'Suds & Soda' [from Worst Case Scenario] came out of a jam. When you're on your own and you write songs, you just don't write rock-crazy things."
So there's a difference in the way the new album was written, but more things than that have changed over the last few years. "We've changed a lot, we've learned a lot. There's been changes in the band, there's been changes in our heads. Changes in the world."
The changes in the band seem to have been fairly important. Out go original guitarist Rudy Trouve and bass player Stef Carlens. In come Scotsman Craig Ward, and Danny Mommens, the former bass player from fellow Belgians Evil Superstars. "One change you can make out for yourself. You've heard Worst Case Scenario with Rudy and this one with Craig. Rudy's still on it. He's on 'Roses' and 'Supermarketsong' and on the b-side for 'Arithmetics'. He's still doing the sleeves, and he'll do that for all the other albums we're gonna make, so his presence is still there. Decide for yourself." Stef's band, Moondog Junior, are now his full time occupation, and Rudy is working both on solo projects and concentrating more on his painting. "It's not a personal decision, it's not a music decision. It's a career decision. The way the band was constructed, it also had this auto-destructiveness around it. I think we'll have this problem forever."
With so much going on outside as well as inside the band, dEUS have often been accused of self-indulgence. "That's especially in England. Even what they said about Worst Case Scenario, that they used to hammer on about the fact that it's difficult and inaccessible. I just think that's a whole lot of bullshit. I think it's pop music the way pop music should be made, which is fresh and exciting."
Fresh and exciting pop music it may be, but to a Baggage correspondent stood on a Birmingham street corner, two songs in particular seem a little odd on the new album, namely 'Supermarketsong' and 'Memory Of A Festival'. "Some people pick out 'Turnpike' and 'Disappointed In The Sun' as the outsiders of the album. Those two ['Supermarketsong' and 'Memory...'] are very old songs. And we put them in that place on the album because they come after a pretty heavy trilogy, so we needed something light, and we had those songs. We wanted them on the album for starters, so we put them there. I think it says perfectly what dEUS is about. It's like you get really into a serious mood and then put it into perspective. I think that's what we're about."
At the moment, dEUS could also be about serious chart action, with 'Little Arithmetics' getting played all over the radio. "I don't know if that's going to bring us success. I think 'Hotellounge' (sic) should have been a hit, I think 'Suds & Soda' should have been a hit. We don't write hits, but we try to write catchy tunes. We're not gonna change our music. We've always liked pop music and melody. You work with melody and rhythm, like a squillion of other bands. I'm happy that it gets some airplay. We're on the B-list now, apparently. I've never heard of those A, B, C things, but they've told me, which is a good thing."
So dEUS may find themselves alongside Boyzone et al., but do who do they admire amongst their contemporaries? "One of the albums I got really blown away by was Lou Barlow's Folk Implosion with the Kids soundtrack. I think that's very close to what we're doing. I like Palace Brothers, but that's completely not our territory. Whenever I write slow things, I go towards Smog, Leonard Cohen. Really sadness. Leonard Cohen is a big influence when I write slow stuff."
As well as listening to left-field American rock groups in his spare time, Tom also drags their members onto the new album. "That really came about, like everything else, by accident. Dana [Colley] from Morphine was just around, playing at a concert Stef was giving with Moondog Junior. We were in the studio, I said "come over", he did and he played a cheesy saxophone. With Scott [McCloud, of Girls Against Boys] I asked him "you want to do something" and he said "yeah, man, I'll do anything." We recorded half an hour of jams, and it didn't really work out, so I said "just talk a bit" and I used it for 'Fell Off The Floor'. It sort of makes sense there."
This is not entirely true, as nothing really makes sense on 'Fell Off The Floor'. It's the most unhinged song on the album, with all sorts of ideas thrown into the mixing pot. It sprawls all over the place, with Scott McCloud's philosophy on how being your own dog is a James Brown thing. Duelling vocalists spit out seemingly unconnected phrases, which sounds like one person reading Dr Seuss, while the Shaun Ryder feeds the other one his fourth tab of acid that day. Just before the cheesiest Hammond solo known to man, Rita Hayworth enters the equation, and things begin to get really strange.
Evidently, dEUS remain almost completely on their own planet. "I couldn't name it, what I want to express. I think we express something, but it's for others to say what that is." We suggest to Tom that the band are lyrically ambiguous, but sadly that phrase wasn't in his Anglo-Belgian dictionary. Ben hurriedly translates ambiguous to having no meaning, before realising that wasn't really what we meant by the question. Too late, Tom is riled. "There is, there is, only you don't know it, maybe. There is for some songs. 'Suds & Soda', I don't think you have to go and look for any meaning in, same for 'Fell Off The Floor'. 'Festival', for example, is just Glastonbury 1994, a memory of that festival, that was the first big thing we did. 'Serpentine' is about the problems of staying with the same person in a sexual relationship. 'Gimme The Heat' is about something too. I do write about something, otherwise I don't write a song."
Possibly what makes the lyrics sometimes feel strange is the fact that Tom writes in his second language. "It's a weakness and a strong point at the same time. I'm very aware of that now. We have a band in Belgium who were pretty successful in the 80s call TC Matic (?) and he can't speak English at all. He used to mix English with Flemish and French, so that he created his own language. The biggest criticism comes from the non-English speaking people. When a Swedish guy comes here, and he asks you in broken English the way to somewhere you won't say "hey man, you don't say it like this, you say it like that." You like the way he says it, and you probably think it's funny, the way he says it. That's the way I try to approach it. When I write a lyric, I let Craig read it. He's Scottish and he's got a degree in literature. In 'Disappointed In The Sun' I say "I troubled everything too soon". That's not correct English, but who cares, you know what I mean when I say that."
So, with such an off-kilter musical and lyrical present, what of Tom's musical past? What kind of warped experience could possibly make someone decide to start such a warped band. Nothing very dramatic, as it happens. Tom started on this weird and wonderful road "basically because playing guitar was fun. The first song that I was singing along to with my guitar was 'For The Turnstiles' by Neil Young, and that gave me incredible kickback. I don't need anyone else, I can be in my room and do that, you know, I used to play a lot of sports when I was young, and Iím very kinetic, and I can't sit still. That [guitar playing] made me sit still, and do nothing and something at the same time."
Tom has come a long way from sitting in his room singing along with Neil Young. dEUS have been found on high profile supports for Pavement, Afghan Whigs and, soon after the Birmingham date, with Polly Jean Harvey and John Parish. "She's a fan, basically. John Parish is a very big fan. Eric Feldman has worked with us." Feldman is one of PJ's band members, and also produced In A Bar, Under The Sea. So do dEUS make musicians music? "I must say that Iím really proud about some of the remarks Iíve had from people we admire."
And Tom can rightly feel proud. Few bands would dare attempt what dEUS attempt, and even fewer would succeed.
dEUS were talking to Ben and Nathan, in October 1996.