For once, Tom Barman is apprehensive. Not about tonight’s dEUS show, but the two-hour DJ set he’s been booked to play at the official after party. “What has happened in the past is this miscommunication with people,” he explains as we lounge on a terrace in the late afternoon sunshine. “They expect me to play rock, and then I play electro.” Electro? “Yeah, deep house, techno, drum’n’bass, indie house, glitch, trap, whatever you want. It’s just fucking dance music. But then they ask for R&B, so I tell them to go to the supermarket, where you can hear R&B twenty-four-seven. Nothing against R&B by the way, but I just don’t play it, you know?”
Nothing is ever straightforward in the world of dEUS, but for once they’re taking pause to celebrate their legacy and the love fans have for the album that’s come to define them. March saw the 20th Anniversary of The Ideal Crash, and alongside the now de riguer re-mastered re-issue – complete with demos, B-sides, and rarities – they decided to tour it, playing all ten tracks in full and in order, followed by an assortment of their other greatest hits. Tonight is the second of three sold-out shows in Utrecht – they also have eight in a row at Brussels’ Ancienne Belgique alongside dates all across Europe and a summer of festival action. In total they’ll play 34 concerts, quite an impact for something that was initially conceived as more of a low key jaunt.
“A gift,” says Barman of the reaction, but then The Ideal Crash has always stood out as being special. The title, taken from the Alain de Botton novel Essays In Love, references the personal turmoil Barman and violinist and keyboardist Klaas Janzoons were going through – both were dealing with serious heartbreak – but also the difficulty that came with replacing two original members. The band decamped to Spain for over a year and, despite various tensions simmering in the background, their time in Ronda, a dramatic old mountaintop town famous for the Puente Neuvo stone bridge where their management had bought a hotel, proved fruitful.
They returned with a record where every song goes in a different direction, delighting, exploring, and confounding expectation at every turn. The Ideal Crash was also the point where dEUS left behind the chaos and the skewed mix of styles that had made their early releases vibrate with energy. Gone were the skeletal blues, howling guitars, and crashing, angry slabs of noise, and in place of Beefheart, Zappa, Tom Waits, and the jazz greats, inspiration was taken instead from Air, Beck, and Mercury Rev’s “Deserters Songs”. But despite being somewhat more rounded, it remained unmistakably dEUS – “Just a different kind of weird,” according to Barman.
This softer, more mature sound was supposed to help dEUS break the mainstream but, exhausted and on edge from years on the road and internal strife, the stress of the subsequent tour broke the band instead. All five retreated to normal life, and by the time they properly reconvened five years later, their sound – and lineup – had changed once again. Yet The Ideal Crash has endured, both in terms of its influential legacy and as the moment in time where they chose greatness on their own terms, and trusted their instincts; “We were so proud of it when we finished, we just knew,” says Barman.
“You just make albums, and you work, and then twenty years later you find out a particular one really meant something to people,” he adds. “I’m just happy to hear those songs still stand up.” They certainly do; to witness some middle-aged fans defiantly lose their shit to ‘Instant Street’, ‘Everybody’s Weird’, and the title track is to realise just how affecting dEUS’ music really was and, despite little commercial success, how far and wide it spread. Such realisations are also behind a documentary they’re filming on tour, one that will feature the life stories of their fans more than the band themselves.
“I wanted dEUS to be a vehicle for people to talk about their own lives over the past twenty years, to talk about something that’s nothing to do with us,” he explains about the plan he conceived just before the tour. “I think it can become something really sweet and personal, something very special.” There's little doubt that, in keeping with their cultural impact and near thirty-year career, it'll turn out to be something very special indeed.
DiS: I know you’re not particularly big fans of nostalgia and the like. When did you start thinking about doing this for The Ideal Crash?
Tom Barman: About a year ago, but we don’t really see it as nostalgia. It’s more a gift to people who see it as nostalgia, which is basically the people in the room; the fans. I can speak for Klaas too; we don’t have the feeling that we’re making an extra effort, that it’s like: “Oh, look at us playing those old songs.” You know, four or five of those songs are on our setlist anyways.
So to us, this feels like a gift, and a gift that gives us something too, which is love – people are listening and enjoying it. Sorry, it sounds so corny, but that’s the way I see it now after fifteen shows. Nostalgia doesn’t even come into the equation.
And everyone agreed? Everyone was like: “Yeah, let’s do this! Let’s tour the album!”?
TB: Yeah. I think they asked for it for Worst Case Scenario too [their debut album, which was released in 1994].
Klaas Janzoons: This one is a nice one to deal with. With Worst Case Scenario, I don’t think we’d be able to play songs like ‘Mute’.
TB: ‘Mute’ or ‘Shake Your Hip’.
Those would be a bit trickier I imagine.
KJ: We have songs on that album [Worst Case Scenario] that we’ve never played, so this one works. It is strange for us to play the same set every night though.
TB: But we enjoy it.
KJ: Yeah, we enjoy it too. In the beginning, I was a bit afraid of how it was going to be, but then we have these dancers...they give it this extra thing. It’s like a piece of theatre almost. So it’s not exactly the same every time, and you look forward to the point when they come on. It’s nice.
TB: A punter in Austria put it really spot on. He said: “Knowing beforehand...” – and I don’t know if he read it on the Internet or I said it on stage, like we’re going to play it from one to ten – but he said: “a kind of calm came over me, and it made me doubly capable of just enjoying it because I knew what was going to happen.” And I agree that that would be kind of boring to build your career on, doing that every time, but for one tour, I went like: “Gee, thank you. I never saw it that way, and that makes sense.” It’s like: “I know what’s going to come, give it to me, I’m here, I’m listening.” And that’s it – there’s kind of zen quality to that.
Have you been surprised by the reaction to it? Because you’re now adding more and more dates, right?
TB: There’s like five, maybe six added on, yeah. But I am surprised, in a good way. You know, you just make albums, and you work, and then twenty years later you find out a particular one really meant something to people. The confessions that we’re doing, the documentary – I haven’t seen any yet but I hear the stories, and they are proof of that.
I was also genuinely surprised because it’s a very raw album, it’s a very harsh album at times. So, when people come [to the shows], and they’re thirty-two, and they go “I was twelve when this came out”, you go “Woah!”
I always find it kind of ironic that with these classic album reissues, a lot of the time the response and the acclaim is way bigger second time around. And probably more lucrative as well.
TB: Well, we could have played and toured more [at the time], but as you know Craig [Ward] was leaving the band…More lucrative? Probably. In Belgium yes, because eight times at Ancienne Belgique is five times more than the three times we did it [in 1999]. But this is a small tour really. And as Klaas keeps on repeating, and rightfully so, back in 1999 that was some tour. So it’s not like this is way bigger or anything – it was pretty big back then too.
KJ: The old albums are more popular in general, so people are more willing to come to concerts of the old stuff.
Touring classic albums has become a thing though. Alongside the re-issues and special editions.
TB: It is a fad, but when you’re in it, it feels right. As long as you don’t do it for two years straight.
KJ: I think it’s normal because it’s a part of people’s lives, so it’s a nostalgic thing for them. Even if we make our best album ever now, people will always want to hear those old songs; maybe more than the new ones. That’s how it is with all bands that have a long career.
Looking back at the 18 months or so you had in Spain writing and recording, what are your memories and recollections of that time?
TB: For me, mostly good. Klaas had a bit of a dark period, which he will gladly talk about.
KJ: Of course. Half living in Spain at that age was like paradise, all the songs and the beautiful, old, historic city.
It is a beautiful part of the world.
KJ: And the nature is incredibly beautiful. At that age, being able to do that, like a holiday slash work thing? A lot of people at that age are still in a day job, so it was fantastic. But it had its downside. I lost my girl at that time because I was away half the time; that’s how life goes, but that was pretty hard for me.
Being far from home and family is never easy at the best of times.
KJ: Yeah. I did suffer sometimes with a bit of homesickness.
TB: Homesickness or melancholy. But I loved it! Of course, there were moments where things weren’t great, you know? But the kind of lovesickness I felt was before we went to record. That happened in 2007, so for me, it was just cleansing. And also, I discovered myself to be getting more and more interested in the production side and listening to takes. That side of recording was new to me.
What else was new was confessional lyrics, digging into yourself and getting it out of your own life. There used to be kind of a stew on the first two records – a stew of personal things, things that I’d stolen, experimental stuff, experimental poetry, and suddenly I just went like...It just flooded out of me. So, for many reasons, it was a very exciting time.
Which song on the record is your personal favourite?
TB: ‘Let’s See Who Goes Down First’.
KJ: Which is a funny thing, because I remember having to fight for that song to be on the album!
TB: Yeah. But it was...it came a long way. How we play it now, I love it, especially because it’s like dEUS in a nutshell. It starts very poppy, and carefree, yet ends in sheer fucking existential agony. [Laughs] Which, I think, kind of sums us up.
Related to that, do you have a favourite lyric? Or a line where you feel you nailed whatever it was that you were trying to express
Tom: Yeah, from ‘Magdalena’. “But I’m feeling good / And if you don’t exist / You’re still one illusion / That I can’t resist”. That line. That sums it up because that’s basically what love is — kind of a beautiful illusion.
Having seen the show a few times now, I’ve been really struck how faithfully you’ve managed to recreate all the songs. Was that quite hard to do on a technical level, like getting all the guitar tones right for every single song and easily flipping from one to the next?
TB: Oh yes! But all because I’m not from the school who thinks that the best versions are the ones you do after you record the album. I go with the best version on the album. Meaning, you work hard on that, you get it right, so why change it? You fucking already worked a year and a half to get it like that, why would you change it? You could have different accents, and you can make things longer – which we do by the way – but we’re an art rock band, meaning it’s not like a blues or jazz band where that was the spur of the moment thing and then on stage, in The Hague or in fucking New York, it’s going to be something completely different.
We are not that. We are building layers of stuff that we worked on and sweated on, so when it’s there, we are happy with it, and that’s the way we are going to play. That’s how I see it.
You have a new guitarist now [Bruno de Groote, who joined early last year, replacing Mauro Pawlowski], and three members who weren’t around when you made this album as well.
TB: Bruno had a big job, but the others have listened to the record a lot over the last ten years or so. I mean, for some songs, I had to study it again, just like Klaas had to or Steph [Misseghers, drummer]. You know, ‘Let’s See Who Goes Down First’, we hadn’t played that for eighteen years, so there you go.
But those parts are the way they are, and you make things longer, you make an intro longer…we’ve changed ‘Magic Hour’ a bit. We have a new ending for ‘Let’s See Who Goes Down First’. That’s just a luxury you take because you enjoy playing it so much so you think: “Let’s make it longer and make it even more exploding at the end. With Viking shouts. [Shouts]”
It works, though.
TB: It’s my favourite moment!
I’m intrigued by the dancers and the theatrical aspect to the show, which I know is something you dabbled with early on in your career.
TB: We dabbled a lot! In the video for ‘Turnpike’, and of course for ‘Instant Street’.
But, it’s still like: “Oh wow, they’ve got dancers!”
TB: It was my idea twenty years ago, but it was Steph’s idea now. He went: “How about the dancers?” And I went: “Man, that’s insane, we can’t afford that.” But the idea stuck. And then I came up with the idea, why don’t we ask Ann [Van de Broek, choreographer and artistic director] who was there twenty years ago? She’s a great woman, she’s a great choreographer, and she has a network. So we thought: “Why don’t we work – for financial reasons, mostly, but also for the excitement and that homegrown kind of thing – with locals?” And it still cost us quite an amount of money, but it’s worth it because as Klaas says, it’s like this fresh influx of talent.
And it’s great for the fans. By now, people know because they’ve seen something on YouTube or whatever, but a lot of people are still surprised and going: “What the hell’s going on?”
You have just one dancer touring with you, right?
TB: Just one, just Nik [Rajsek]. He’s always drilling the locals.
So in every city, you’ve got a new set of dancers?
TB: Yeah. Basically, we have Anne – she is the moon. Then we have two satellite choreographers; one who travels with us – Nik – and a second satellite in every city. Let’s call him number three. Number three picks the students, and he drills them a day before we arrive, and on the day itself when we play. And that’s it.
That must add a certain element of excitement, like with every new crew you’re not quite sure exactly how it’s going to go.
TB: Well, that’s Nik’s stress of course, but Nik is very professional. And especially because he was thrown into this bus with twelve strangers and he was accepted, he was cool, he was fun.
KJ: We are almost a community, you know? Just from this tour.
TB: Actually, I’m gonna have a hard time doing without in the future, but that’s where it’s related. Maybe we won’t do without.
Maybe you can always have dancers.
TB: Yes, now we have the network. The network is sorted.
I’m also intrigued by the idea behind the documentary that you’re doing around the tour.
TB: Well, so are we!
Because you don’t want anyone talking about the band or the music per se. It’s just about their own lives over the last twenty years, right?
TB: That’s what I’m saying, but people end up doing that anyway, so you can shout as much as you like, “We don’t want you to talk about that!” But people show up for that reason, so they have particular memories that they want to share. I haven’t seen any of it, but I think this is the kind of documentary that will make itself, in the sense that those confessions are going to drive where it goes. But I just wanted dEUS to be a vehicle for lives.
For people’s stories of life and love?
TB: Yeah, but I mean people come there, they talk about something that’s nothing to do with us; about how they met their wife, why they got divorced, whatever. dEUS is just a vehicle for what we are going to have as stories. I think we’re going to intercut that with exciting live footage as well, but that’s just a half page 'Note of Intent'; the rest we’ll have to see.
KJ: People talk to us, and that’s where we mentioned the nostalgia thing coming up. When people come and talk to us after the show, they always go: “You can’t believe how much that album meant to me!” and then tell us about their lives. So, this is actually just what they are doing to us all the time. The good idea is to record it, because you can’t believe the things they say. And it’s not about us – our music was just the vehicle.
TB: It’s also embracing the fact of getting older, and you as a band with your audience. And it can become something very sweet, and hopefully not too...you know? I’m not going to edit it because I might censor things that may be good. It may become something really sweet and personal, with us as the motor for it, the propeller.
Do you have like a working title for it?
TB: Yes. Only ‘Cause Of Love: Confessions To dEUS. That’s a line from ‘Put The Freaks Up Front’.
I was chatting to Fleur [Boonman, the film director and documentary maker] in London the other night, and she said that some of the stuff she’d recorded already was incredible.
TB: That’s what it is. They all start talking about dEUS, then Fleur tries to lead it to being about them, and they either take the bait or they don’t – you’re not going to force people. But maybe some stuff about the band is also nice. That’s why I’m not going to be involved in it, because if somebody says something really beautiful and flattering about the band, I might say: “Oh, come on. That’s a bit much!” you know?
But maybe it is really beautiful, and maybe it is time to embrace that. dEUS documentaries have always been, if I may say so myself, brutally fucking honest about the fights, about the commercial underachievement, and all that negative stuff. Bands usually paint the nicest picture, but we were always the champions of: “look how fucked up we are.” Maybe it’s time to have something really nice, that’s all I’m saying.
I think you deserve that.
TB: Yeah well, we’ll see. We’ll see.
The Ideal Crash (20th Anniversary Edition) is out now via Universal Music Belgium. For more information about dEUS, including current tour dates and ticket info, please visit their official website.
All Photo Credits: Joao MB Costa