DAAN STUYVEN : "I make music the way I put new tires on a
by Gert van Nieuwenhove (translated by me)
pictures Mauro Pawlowski
article sent in by Jeroen
I love Dead Man Ray, the Antwerp band of Rudy Trouvť (ex-dEUS), Daan Stuyven (ex-Volt, ex-Running Cow), Elko Blijweert (also: Kiss my Jazz) en Herman Houbrechts (also drummer with Nemo). It did take quite a while to get in with Dead Man Ray. The singles 'Beegee' and 'Chemical' were instant hits, but the rest of the album ĎBerchemí sounded too often like a popmusic quiz. There are people out there who love songs that need discovering, style 'Inc.': a song in which the drums are from Radioheadís 'Airbag', and the guitar parts by Ennio Morricone, and the voice of Matt Johnson of The The. In songs that need discovering, all we can hear is the problems of a pop band: civil recycling, in Dead Man Rayís case of Wire (ĎWW3í) and New Order ('Horse'); the incapability to make you feel
something from music; the constant urge you get to speak of Ďa band with possibilitiesí: one that hasnít been exploring all the buttons and effects during the rehearsals, but during the recording process; the constant quoting of musical influences (of Daniel Lanois and Joy Division), on which your attention is drawn like when you critisise the camera work when the art film sucks and the benches under your butt are too hard and hurt your coccyx. Thatís why we initially typed down in our Dead Man Ray file on our pc: 'Berchem' will receive, just like many artfilms, undoubtedly a high rating from trendwatchers, and is thus suited for all your cocktailparties, particularly if you want to invite men who wear lightblue shirts while theyíre actually too old for them, or beige second hand costumes and Jarvis Cocker glasses.
Weíre glad we didnít publicise that review. Because after a heatwave and a rendez-vous with singer Daan
Stuyven, we're in love with Dead Man Ray. Just like that, because a man occasionally needs a key to get in, and we get to that key in the middle of our conversation with Daan
Stuyven. He says : 'People call me too reserved. As if being reserved isnít a
way of expressing yourself.'
And now we know: reserved music fits better with the new heatwave than the new
It's a thursday in Berchem. In the house of graphic designer Daan Stuyven, the walls are covered with huge advertisement letters.
DAAN Stuyven : "Theyíre from Hotel Arcade. When the Ibis-hotels bought those hotels, these letters had to be replaced. I went to ask to get the old ones."
HUMO: Just like that, out on the street ?
Stuyven : "Yes. Recently I missed out on letters in Willebroek which Iíd been waiting for for years. One fine day the letters were gone. I went knocking on the door : it turned out to be a family company which had changed name, and for sentimental reasons, they had hung the letters in their living room. Iím a big fan of pop-art. Art canít be for elitists only."
Daan Stuyven has a rabbit at home, which is afraid of the new dog of the neighbours, he says. He plays a record of FranÁoise Hardy and starts melting. He tells me he has already stolen a lot of things in his life. When he was being bored in a cafť in Antwerp, he walked up a Russian ship in the harbour. With a pint in his hand. Should he have come across a Russian sailor, he would have told him he was drunk and got lost. He made it to the kitchen.
Stuyven: "One of the kicks of my life. But you canít write down what I stole back then, because I could still get into trouble then."
HUMO : What else did you steal before ?
Stuyven : "Where do you want me start ? All the furniture here in the house. I dream all the time about breaking in and out. I only steal of rich people, wealthy companies and empty buildings of the government though. I canít stand buildings that are rotting away. I recently stole a blackboard in a deserted school."
HUMO : Are you musically also a kleptomaniac ? I can hear a bit of 'Putain Putain' of TC Matic in the break of your single 'Chemical'.
Stuyven : "That must have happened unconsciously. When we bring our influences up, we often donít even know it from each other. Take 'Chemical' for instance. Rudy Trouvť told me afterwards the bass in it is from Clock DVA. He didnít know either I nicked the guitar line from 'Grave Architecture' of Pavement. Itís particularly hard for me to listen to other singers and not copy their way of phrasing. When I listen to our record, I hear my voise sounds a lot like that of Johnny Cash. Itís okay to steal I think, as long as you rip things out of their original context. A lot of people think our song Perfo is very emotional, but itís in fact a spaghetti-reworking of 'Ti amo' of Umberto Tozzi. You can only hear when you know it."
HUMO : Do you always change the context ?
Stuyven : "Yes. I correct the context, I think. I used to steal a lot of bicycles. When people didnít take care of that bike, I thought I had the right to steal it. I always repaired the bike completely. I used to put new brakes and tires on it. If the bike would have been a judge, he would have said : ĎYes, itís alright. Iím glad you stole me.Ē Thatís also how I make music. Theyíre repaired sounds."
HUMO : Repaired with the aid of the computer. Why do you use a computer ?
Stuyven : At the art academy, I used to work with crayons. I made aquarelle paintings, but they had nothing to do with what I saw on the streets. I wanted colours that exploded. I wanted simple shapes. So I started messing about with computers. Musically, I went through the same evolution. With my last band Volt, I used to work with sequencers, now I have discovered you can cut audio."
HUMO : In peopleís language please.
Stuyven : "Actually, I still play the same, only now I no longer cut sounds from factories, but music I played myself. Weíre working in blocks, thanks to which you can easily form contrasts. Volt was programming, Dead Man Ray is sticking together bits and pieces audio tapes and DATs."
HUMO : I heard you record jams with a rock band and write songs only when cutting and pasting the bits together ?
Stuyven : Eight or nine songs were made like that, yes. The rest is played live. Mind you, it can still be just a regular guitar riff. I only put the vocals on top of it when all the rest is recorded and finished. I wait until we finished the music to know what Iím going to sing. And even then I often still donít know. Figure of speech, then it can even depend on which type of microphone Iím using. I usually already have a title that goes with the jam session. And then I look for a colour that goes with it. Then I start improvising some lyrics around the title.Ē
HUMO : Do you paste everything together on your own ?
Stuyven : "No, I do that with Rudy. He doesnít control the computer, but he does get visions when heís sitting behind the screen. Itís very bizarre, I donít think he ever typed one letter on a computer, but heís a fast learner. ĎCan you move that block over there, Daan? And over here I would like to have complete silence.í Or: ĎYou can loop that part for two more minutes.í
Do you know 'Connector' by Underworld ? It builds up for three minutes, then it goes completely quiet, after which you get some sort of intro, and only then, at 4 minutes and 48 seconds, that one particular guitar joins in. Itís something you wait for during that 4 minutes and 48 seconds. I know it by head. It doesnít hurt to wait for 5 minutes for that piece.Ē
"Itís that sort of tension you can only create with techno, itís much harder to do the same with a rock band, but it was our intention to create the same dynamism. Just like Underworld, we want to let things go by small bits. By repeating certain sounds, the listener will quicker accept ugly sounds. It is almost a way to force people to listen to the hidden charm of a disabled sound."
HUMO : Do you use a lot of bizarre samples to get to your disabled sounds ?
Stuyven : "Weíve been messing about a lot with samples. One particular moment, I rang Japan Airlines. They were sponsoring a poster I had designed. Those Japanese telephone receptionists sounded incredibly charming. I wanted to record their voice on tape. So I started making up a story about a trip to Tokyo, and I got a magnificent five-minute explanation from then. When I noticed my tape recorder wasnít running, I was so frustrated I rang
Belgacom. (*2*) That became the end of ĎChemicalí : 'Indien u dit nummer opnieuw wil horen, drukt u op 2 of 3.' (if you want to hear this number again, press 2 or 3) Somewhere in Horse, thereís also a British preacher to be heard. And in 'MoÔd' we open a can of Jupiler beer a few times. The bicycle bell of my girlfriend is also on the record, as well as the malfunctioning jack plug of my microphone cable."
HUMO : Does this kind of sampling lead to a new kind of musical wining in the bar ?
Stuyven : "Yes. In 'Bones', right after the intro, a bassdrum starts playing, which sounds very high pitched : thatís because there one thousandth of a guitar on top of it. And yes, we wine about that sort of mistakes. On this record, we held on to a lot of accidents. When something was disturbing the sound, it was important it stayed in there. "
HUMO : I think white peopleís music is music that needs to be heard with the treble-button set to +10. To my feeling, you make the ultimate white manís music.
Stuyven : "Absolutely. Itís a very edgy record. Itís almost unpleasant to listen to in one piece. I wanted a nervous, sad atmosphere, the sound of small speakers, of a cheap car radio. We didnít have much choice. A lot of things went wrong Ė or right to put it more correctly Ė because I had made a mistake. For instance, I didnít have enough room on my hard drive, so I had to sample everything in low resolution, making it all sound much thinner and more digital. The Prodigy does that intentionally, to make their sound sharp and dirty. For them itís luxury and experiment; we had to turn the bad situation into something good."
HUMO : Your band Running Cow didnít sound dirty at all, Dead Man Ray does. Back in the eighties, nearly everything sounded polished. You have seen that evolution to a dirtier sound as a musician.
Stuyven : "And I think it will evolve even further. All the letters in MTV-videoís have been broken into bits. Graphically, theyíre three to four years ahead of the rest of the world. When you hear the records that go with the video clips, they are all songs recorded on 24 tracks and properly equalised and mastered. When I see that, I think : this isnít right. The video shows more guts than the song itself."
HUMO : I think itís bizarre that people like undergoing hyperfast storms of images and scenes on MTV or in films, but the same people run out of the room as soon as something sounds dissonant.
Stuyven : "I stopped watching television five or six years ago. Even the news is edited too fast for me. After watching ten minutes of television, I get simply tired. With sound, I have to listen to a drill for ten minutes before I wake up, as a matter of speaking. Besides, people are not used to strange sounds coming from their car radio, but when they sit down on a terrace, there are hundreds of city sounds and cars chasing by coming onto them, and they can stand that. Or take the waves of the sea. They supposedly sound romantic. You should really listen to it Ė that sound comes down to you from everywhere. Itís madness.Ē
"Now, my music isnít so extreme. The core of it might sound dirty from time to time, but thereís also harmony and melody in it. We even put some strings in it somewhere. Dead Man Ray and its romantic sublevel !"
HUMO : I can hear a lot from the eighties, Daan.
Stuyven : "Iím also surprised in one way or another, weíre being considered modern. Weíre in 'De Afrekening' charts now, and it surprises me. A lot of eighteen year olds probably donít even know Wire and Joy Division. We basically just did something, there was no record company that came to interfere, there was no budget, all those things turned out to be in our advantage. We didnít do it for that reason, but all those handicaps now turn out to be whatís so nice about the album. And that feels nice. I would never have thought they would play ĎBeegeeí on the radio. It lasts five minutes and contains two chords. Maybe weíre
just alternative enough for the pop lovers, and just enough poppy for the alternative people."
HUMO : The record is heatwave resistant, Iíve noticed.
Stuyven : "Thatís strange. Itís a winter album. We recorded it here downstairs. The heating wasnít working, it was nine to ten degrees Celsius down there. We were frozen. The good thing about that is your brains start functioning quicker. Cold is a good way to put pressure on you. I think itís because of the cold the record sounds so skittish."
HUMO : Whatís your favourite sound ?
Stuyven : "The sound of my car. Itís more or less dying. Itís 23 years old now. Every day new sounds arise. The brakes were squeaking, I had them replaced, and now they are squeaking even more. Eh, thanks a lot mr. car mechanic.
"Iíve felt like recording songs in the car, thatís how good those sounds are. My turn signals have a rhythm thatís incredibly random. And when that turn signal light burns, itís nearly disco. I love scraping, rattling noises. Like the one of my coffee machine. I donít have any CLR to get rid of lime at home, so I regularly have to buy a new one. At the end of their life, those machines always sound the nicest. Thatís when they start sounding asthmatic.Ē
HUMO : People often take pictures out of fear of forgetting. In Dead Man Ray, I hear the urge to hold on to certain sounds. A wild guess : is it a melancholic looking back upon the eighties, a period when you could still naively listen to music ?
Stuyven : "Yes. All the music of before I started making music was pure and absolute. When I hear the same music again now, I can hear how it was made, and I can get very sad from that. Iíd be happier if I didnít find out. It was one hundred percent pop music with which you could feel completely happy, or dream away with. Thatís a feeling you have to sacrifice as a musician. In a nearly fetisjising way, I try to re-obtain that feeling. When Iím recording, I no longer can listen to other records. I canít stand them anymore then.Ē
"These days, there are a lot of references to be heard to the seventies. Thatís because the people who make things now associate that period with childhood happiness. I do the same thing in my graphic artwork. I always try to work in the colours of my old Matchbox-cars of the old days; with those yellow, red and blue primary colours. I also get back to Popeye a lot. Popeye makes you happy with no further suspicions attached. I also try to wear the clothes of the old days. An important phase of my life is the one from my first communion. My parents were against the idea of me doing it, and as a matter of subtle protest, they bought me a jeans outfit in stead of a black suit. I felt just like John Travolta. I kept wearing those clothes afterwards in school. I was being the local jock."
HUMO : Youíre in luck. Grease is being re-released and the Beastie Boys are soon even going disco.
Stuyven : "I would love to cover 'Black Beauty' once, with a vocal track on top of it. I think itís particularly strange the eighties are coming back to us. Pulp en Air are possible now, because the eighties are behind us for just long enough. Maybe thatís also why theyíre playing us on the radio now, who knows. My former bands didnít have any success at all. I made nostalgic eighties music back then as well. But it wasnít hip anymore back then, and not retro enough yet."
HUMO : Which was your favourite eighties-depression-band ?
Stuyven : "Talk Talk. A really sad band. It was naÔve, but it already had its roots taken away. There was nothing revolutionary about it anymore. A lot of polished music was made back then."
HUMO : When I think of the eighties, I always have to think about Spandau Ballet, and thatís why Iíll never like that period anymore.
Stuyven : "That was indeed over the top. They went too far. That wasnít cool anymore. I would love a haircut like Simon Le Bon in the first years of Duran Duran though. A blonde
mÍche and cut very short in the back."
HUMO : What did you look like when you were young?
Stuyven : You don't wanna know. I listened to Duran Duran, but I wore a long raincoat and I smoked pipe. I was a pathetic display."
HUMO : You have played in Antwerp with the avant-garde-anarchists Pere Ubu. Thereís an Ubu-methodology, a series of rules David Thomas tries to hold himself to. 1. Never organise an audition. 2. Never try to play together with a special musician. 3. Never strive to success. 4. Pick out the first musician of who you hear. 5. Always stick with your initial idea. 6. Make sure you only engage 'unique' people. Unique people might not be able to play, but at least unique people play in a unique manner.
Stuyven : Waw. Can I put my signature under that ? Never organise an audition, thatís the best on I think. Dead Man Ray was formed purely because we
felt like it. Itís a very frail little band. Now weíve started to know each other better, and thereís a real band now, but in the beginning it was very fragile, we only stuck by each other out of some sort of faith in each other. We didnít start this to get big or something. We just like each other musically. There was an introvert atmosphere in here, we were extremely polite to each other. Very serene, almost cold. Out of precaution. Most musicians do it differently. I thought it was cool we had that introversion in common with each other."
"I wouldnít even know how to organise an audition in the first place. I sometimes hear the stories of the ten jazz drummers that show up at those auditions. I donít think I could have the discipline to work as a serious musician. To put a song on paper, look for a break with different chords for it, and then playing the song on a piano to check if it all fits together well, I just canít do it. I work in peaks of half an hour. In fact, thereís nothing Iíd do rather than smoking cigarettes all day and drinking cups of coffee, and then crawl into the studio when Iím sharp. Itís in that half an hour things have to happen. Iím
waiting for those edgy moments; as the matter a fact itís even quite boring. I wish I didnít have that absurd pressure for once."
HUMO : You look like someone who often doesnít do anything all day long, but isnít capable of going on a holiday.
Stuyven : "Hmm. The last vacation I was on I couldnít make any music, so I started drawing and photographing. I get so much into that I donít know where I am anymore. Youíre looking for an output for the intranquillity thatís inside of you. Itís also an obsession of mine to make things no one asked me for, because as a graphic artist I have to work more than enough
for other people. I have to be on stand by until someone gives me a signal. And thatís when fun is over. Iíve always wanted to make things first and then ask people : do you need something like this ?"
HUMO : In between : is the artist Man Ray important?
Stuyven : "No."
HUMO : I know a few photoís of his, but I think of it as something for the more sophisticated postcard.
Stuyven : "Yes, something for a fake-phosh artbook collection. For the more sophisticated collector who wants to differ himself from the regular Permeke-specialist, and who lives in the villa further in the street, which is was designed by a modern architect. I think Man Ray is a bit too polished, too clever. I donít think he worked from within his soul. But Rudy came up with the name and I thought it sounded fantastic."
HUMO : And Pere Ubu says : always stick with your initial idea.
Stuyven : "Yes. Plus : it has 'dead' in it; the dead, the new wave. 'Ray' sounds like country. In Dutch it would be 'Dode Man Straal', which reminds me of a warning sign with a fisherman on it, which throws out his fishing rod and gets electrocuted."
HUMO : Give us an example of a song you wrote for a stupid reason.
Stuyven : "'Perfo' is called 'Perfo' because we perforated that song. We made holes in it with the computer. 'MoÔd' is 'maar iets' (just something) in Antwerp dialect. I asked Rudy : 'How shall I name this song?' 'O, zet mo iet', he said. Itís very hard to play live, we turn it into a dance song. Then itís called 'ZoÔd', zoiets (something like that). We add a twist to the sillyness so it turns into something serious. And sometimes it is serious. Thatís when I make sure it looks as if itís silly. Itís the fun of the game. Iím playing hide and seek with myself then, I suppose."
HUMO : It reminds me of what M. Doughty of Soul Coughing said to me: my songs are like VU-meters which are zig-zagging constantly in between nonsense and sadness for a broken heart.
Stuyven : "When I catch myself singing about my broken heart, I immediately turn of the tape recorder. I donít feel like sharing that with the rest of the world. Imagine : hearing myself on the radio singing about my broken heart. I know itís thť big subject of music, but I always run away from it. I want to express a certain feeling, like a sort of anger or so. I hope people can recognise themselves in the chaos of the album, in the soup that is their lives. My attitude is : okay, so you donít understand what life is all about. Get over it and turn it into something nice. My dad taught me that. He has always said no to pure sentiment. Jaques Brel wasnít allowed in our house. We listened to George Brassens, someone who came to tell his story very straight and sober, with a lot of
humour with it. Sometimes I put something on paper and only noticed afterwards Iím talking about myself in it. Sometimes it even gets embarrassing. At those moments, I think : I should have taken that out. But someone else would probably think itís just a meaningless sentence."
HUMO : Suppose : In three months time, your doing promotional interviews in the States. Iím the guy from The New York Times : 'Mister
Stuyven, is there anything particularly Belgian about Dead Man Ray?'
Stuyven : "I think so. Thereís a sort of cynicism in it. Something un-pure. The junk thatís on our road tracks with all its different sorts of architecture where everyone just does what he feels like. Dead Man Ray is full of contradicting influences. We put a country guitar on top of a techno beat. The beauty meets the messy, isnít that a typically Belgian thing?"
HUMO : Who are you jealous of ?
Stuyven : "Of Herman Gillis, who used to play with me in Volt and Running Cow. About two years ago, he withdrew himself in his attic in Aarschot. Everyone thought he went insane. Two years later on, he came out with a machine he designed himself, the Filterbank. He immediately sold twenty of those machines to techno musicians he knew. By now he has made about a thousand of them. When Ken Ishii comes DJíing in here, he wants a Filterbank. Madonnaís entire album is full of it. The Chemical Brothers made music with it. 'Electrobank' of The Chemical Brothers is a tribute to the Filterbank, but they didnít want to call it like that. Itís a wicked device. Weíve used it a lot as well. "
HUMO : Herman Gillis, alias mister Filterbank, the Adolphe Sax of Techno.
Stuyven : "O yes. U2 even wanted to put the logo of the filterbank on their cd."
HUMO : Whatís your ambition with Dead Man Ray ?
Stuyven : I certainly donít want to be singer of Dead Man Ray for the rest of my life, but I do feel like touring because I feel like hotel rooms. Iíd love to sleep in a different place every day. I would want to know what English speaking people think of my lyrics. And I want to write a supermarket hit against Luc Van Den
Brande (*3*). Itís nearly finished. Itís called 'De Koning van Vlaanderen'. When Iím sixty I want to release a compilation that doesnít make any sense at all. I want to be able to look back upon an inconsequent career. It has to be a record which no one can completely like."
HUMO : Last question. Suppose : we take a coffin and put five objects in it that have been important in the making of 'Berchem'. We burry the coffin so someone can dig it up in fifty years, and wants to put together the puzzle of the story about your record. What should be in that coffin?
Stuyven : One: a bottle of white spirit. Because itís much more poisonous and vibrant than what it looks like. White spirit is transparent, it looks like water. You could serve it to someone as a glass of water, but it would end very badly. You can also erase a lot of things with it. You can clean things with it and mix it with your oil paint. It turns your paint into something you can work with. My father used to paint at home, and whenever I could smell White Spirit, the house smelled like creativity. You still canít see a thing, but you can already smell the work, that feeling.
Two: a Stanley-knife. You canít cut as thorough with a regular knife. And cutting thoroughly, thatís what we did on the record. When you break off a Stanley-knife, you can turn it around. Thatís also what we did on the record. Whenever something sounded bad, like the ending of ĎBabydoll', we turned that bit around, reversed it and we got to a completely different sound. The drumbreak after the first chorus of 'Horse' is also simply reversed by the computer.Ē
"Three : a corkscrew. You know, alcohol. The drunken fit. Each corkscrew looks noble. Itís almost a chirurgic instrument. And itís simply meant to open a bottle of wine. To get drunk. So the corkscrew stands for the ennobled drunken fit. The entire record sounds rather like a drunken fit I think.
"Four : a deck of cards. I literally used the game in a few songs. 'Six-Pack' is a parody of 'Het kaartspel' (the card game) of Cowboy Gerard from the seventies."
HUMO : Que?
Stuyven : "You donít know it ? (sings) 'Als ik de ťťn zie, weet ik dat er maar ťťn god is. Als ik de twee zie, enzovoort. Daarna komt de heilige drievuldigheid.' Itís about a soldier who gets caught in church with a deck of cards. He has to go explain why he was playing the cards to the court-martial.
He starts to babble about all sorts of things. Itís fantastic. Three minutes of philosophic crap on top of a Hammond-organ. A deck of cards also contains a lot of symbolism of numbers, and it reminds you of gambling and doing things without thinking too much. And about playing with the cards you have in your hand. Using what you have to achieve your goal. I suppose thatís also what Pere Ubu says.Ē
"And finally, number five: a pair of working gloves. It a connotation of hard labour. Wanting to use your hand, not being afraid of making yourself dirty. Iíve been working on this house, and kept my working gloves. My idea was to clean the entire house, put the gloves in a frame and hang it on my white walls. With a spotlight on it. And from those gloves you could tell work was done on the house. I think itís somewhat of a provocative idea. But, eh, unfortunately, the house isnít finished yet."
HUMO : Thanks anyway.
Daan wants to give us a ride to the train station of Berchem. His 23 year old car refuses to start. But it does make a nice sound.
(*1*) : Daan refers to an Underworld track called 'Dirty Epic', not
ĎConnector'. It's on the album Dubnobasswithmyheadman.
(*2*) : Belgacom : Belgian phone operator
(*3*) : Luc Vanden Brande : former minister-president of Flanders, quite a dull and conservative politician.
Easy to make fun of. :)