DATE OF INTERVIEW: 15th January 2019
De Staat, the sonically idiosyncratic crew from the Netherlands, have always transcended genre. Refreshingly so within an industry perennially trapped in a perpetual cycle of categorisation, undoubtedly geared up to feed most people's desire to indulge themselves in endless fixes of familiarity. De Staat have always eschewed the "safe" and "familiar", serving up refreshing blasts of delightfully deranged originality and quirky delectation on four albums to date. With their fifth full length studio offering about to be released, Metal Discovery engaged in a most interesting natter with frontman Torre Florim, to learn more about the band's latest unhinged masterpiece...
METAL DISCOVERY: Congrats on the new album. I gave it a ten out of ten in my review. It’s fantastic! How do you rate it amongst your other four studio albums?
TORRE: How I rate it?
(Torre Florim on the significance of the title of De Staat's new album, 'Bubble Gum')
"I started being obsessed with it all and focussed on being in a bubble and being in your own reality. You’re in a different reality; bending reality… What is true? What is fake? I don’t know."
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2018 Pooneh Ghana
Thanks to Simon Blackmore for arranging the interview
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MD: Yeah, do you think this is your finest work, so far?
TORRE: Hmmm… I’m not sure. To be honest, we’ve now made four albums and this is our fifth, so we kind of look at it as not trying to create a better one than the last one, but just creating something else. Because you know what they say about songs - they’re like your children or whatever. I don’t have any children but I have albums, and I kind of know what they mean in the sense that every album has a special place in my heart and is something that was made in that certain period of time. So, you know, I still love it when I listen to it and it reminds me of that time and where we were as a band. This fifth album, ‘Bubble Gum’, I love it and we worked on it for two years or so, and we approached it as, let’s make something that is a great addition to what we already have, if you know what I mean.
MD: Yeah, another unique album. They’re all unique in their own way.
TORRE: Ah, thanks, man. Yeah, that was kind of the point - let’s not make songs that we already kind of have. A song like ‘Kitty Kitty’ is not like a song we’ve made before, you know… or all of those tracks.
MD: Overall, I described the album as an “invigoratingly unhinged aural experience”. Do you think that sums it up well?
TORRE: [Laughs] I love that, man! That’s great, thanks!
MD: I mean “unhinged” in a very polite, positive kind of way, of course!
TORRE: Yeah, I like both of them. The negative way is fine with me, as well!
MD: [Laughs] So, what’s the significance of the album’s title? Is it called ‘Bubble Gum’ because there’s a lot to chew on? There’s quite a bit of social commentary and social media commentary.
TORRE: Ah, that’s a good one… [Laughs]… I like that, but “bubble” was, to me, kind of the word of “now”… being in a bubble, if you will. I noticed that, when I was writing songs, almost every song kind of had the same theme as being in a bubble… like a group of people being in their own bubble compared to other groups of people. But, also, me, myself, being in my own bubble and feeling isolated. You know, there are different levels of being in a bubble. After having six songs finished, I noticed the theme, so I just started to be obsessed about being in a bubble and the rest of the songs kind of fitted in. You know, I started being obsessed with it all and focussed on being in a bubble and being in your own reality. You’re in a different reality; bending reality… What is true? What is fake? I don’t know. So, that was kind of the whole thing behind it.
MD: Marvellous. I gather ‘Kitty Kitty’ deals with Trump’s arrival in politics, and I said in my review that “the song is as fucked up, unsettling and unpredictable as his presidency has transpired to be.” Is the music in that one supposed to be unsettling to reflect Trump’s insanity?
TORRE: Yeah… [Laughs] Well, the song, to me, wasn’t meant to match his personality in that sense, but it was meant to match the vibe I was getting from everything around him and in the media and stuff like that. I guess the first five minutes of the song, to me, are… if you take a twenty four hour news cycle… let’s say if Trump had a day of campaigning and the twenty four hour news cycle was condensed into five minutes, I was taking all those headlines and different stuff he was saying and other people were saying - the opposition; the different bubbles - and I just condensed that into five minutes and used those words. That was the point of the song and it just felt so threatening… you know, you didn’t know where it was going, so we decided to let the song end in silence.
MD: Yeah, that’s what will happen to Trump soon… imminently… hopefully!
TORRE: We’ll see!
MD: Talking of unsettling, ‘Pikachu’ has sinister overtones, I found… and I gather it’s more of a criticism of how people interact on Instagram rather than of social media in itself?
TORRE: Ah, well, beautiful. You’re actually the first one to get that! [Laughs] Yeah, exactly, that’s exactly what it is. I kind of toyed around with the idea of… because everyone is looking on Instagram in all these different situations - you know, lying in bed, looking at Instagram; sitting on the toilet, looking at Instagram. At the same time, friends of mine were artists or whatever, models or anything, show me their everything on there. All of a sudden, it was like all these people were stalking the others and looking at them, and it just felt kind of weird and personal, but also kind of creepy.
So, that song, ‘Pikachu’ is based on those first techno songs from the 80s. I sing that song with Rocco, the keyboard player of the band, and we kind of felt like we were those boys in the club, in the back of the club, in the dark corner of the club, looking at the girls dancing in the centre of the dancefloor. It felt like we were the creepy guys in the corner, but that’s kind of what it feels like when some people look at Instagram and you don’t know what they’re doing.
MD: Yeah, from the comfort of their own homes… or own toilets, as you say!
TORRE: Yeah, exactly, so I thought it was just a weird, funny vibe to go with.
MD: Definitely. The final song on the album, the longest on the album, ‘Luther’, is quite a different song for De Staat. I gather it’s a very personal song, about when you were plagued by migraines for a time. I guess that explains why there’s quite a bleak and oppressive feeling to the track?
TORRE: Yeah, yeah, definitely, man. That song had to be on the album. I was in quite a bad, weird place. I felt like shit and I was going blind at certain points in time, so it was kind of scary, for me, and I didn’t really know how to get out of that. And I was also not productive, at all, because I didn’t feel good. So, that song, I made when I kind of got tired of doing nothing and feeling shitty. I was still feeling shitty, but I thought, I’m just gonna try to write something now and make something. And that was the song that came out of that. So, you know, it was something beautiful that came out of that not so beautiful time, for me. That’s probably why the song is kind of different from what we’ve done before, because I was different. So, that song, yeah, it’s such a different song from what we’ve done before, so you can only use that at the back of the album, or maybe in the middle.
MD: It works great as a closing piece, I think. ‘Level Up’ stood out, to me, as sounding a little reminiscent of Muse in places… more through the vocal arrangements than anything else. Is that a fair comparison?
TORRE: Yeah, sure, man… whatever you feel! It was based on playing those old school Nintendo games and stuff like that. Often, when we use synthesisers, we try to keep it quite basic, and not fuck around with the basicness of the synth too much. If you do that, you tend to sound like Nintendo quite quickly. The song’s called ‘Level Up’, so that kind of had that old school gaming vibe, as well, but, lyrically, it’s more about… I don’t know… maybe you have the same feeling if you make stuff, and have to be your own boss. I noticed with myself that everything I was doing had to be in service of the work I was doing, so everything had to be inspirational, at least, or it wasn’t worth doing, for me.
I noticed with me, when I was at parties, if I thought this person is not interesting for me to get something out of it, it’s not worth me talking to him or her. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but it was definitely going on. And I couldn’t just go to a movie; it had to be a movie that could inspire me in some way, or could help me make a new video. So, that’s a weird place you get into when you have to be delivering all the time, which is, basically, the position I’m in, and I love, and that changes the way you think. That’s what that song is about - everything has to be useful. Everything.
MD: One thing you seem to get asked a lot is what genre De Staat are in and I think the fact people have to ask that means your music is confusing people in the first place. I mean, for me, there’s only ever two genres of music - music you like and music you don’t. I don’t get why people are obsessed, and the entire music industry itself, with having to categorise everything they listen to. So, do you think music should be reduced just to two genres - music you like and music you don’t?
TORRE: I think that’s an excellent idea. Unfortunately, all the playlists on Spotify disagree! [Laughs] If you open the thing, you know, people have to pick a genre immediately. You get categorised all the time. But that’s fine; that’s how it works, but just please don’t ask me what kind of music we make because I suck at it. I think we’re good at making the music but, if you ask me to describe it, I can only do one thing, which is say, “Just listen to what I just made.” You know, that’s the easiest thing, and just let you guys describe it.
MD: I think the fact people can’t describe it means it’s totally original. I think it’s a compliment you get asked that a lot because it means people can’t categorise it.
TORRE: Yeah, I hope so, man.
MD: You have some UK shows coming up, early next month, so what can UK fans expect from those? Will you be getting in the crowds for a bit of a ‘Witch Doctor’ circle pit?
TORRE: Who knows, man! It kind of depends on what I feel or what’s happening in the room. But, yeah, it could be fun… but I don’t do it all the time. Sometimes, I get in the crowd for different songs, but we’re in a new phase right now, with a new record, so we’re gonna see what’s gonna happen next tour and switch it up a little bit, and see what’s happening in the room and cater to that… in some weird way! And let them cater to us… [Laughs]
MD: Of course, it’s a reciprocal thing! Have you ever had any weird mishaps, getting in the crowd at gigs, particularly when people are circling around you for ‘Witch Doctor’… that looks like it gets a bit hazardous, at times?!
TORRE: Yeah, the funny thing is, it’s least hazardous for the guy in the middle! I think I’m in the safest position to be in, in the middle! Eye of the storm, if you will!
MD: The final thing I was going to ask then - you’ve described Trump as an “orange entertainer” in ‘Kitty Kitty’, but what two word phrase would you use to summarise yourself?
TORRE: Myself? The band or me?
MD: Just you. I guess you could be an “orange entertainer”, as well… in a very different way… seeing as orange is the colour of the Netherlands!
TORRE: That works, that works!
TORRE: Ah, man… that’s hard, man. What would you say if you had to describe yourself in two words?
MD: Me? Oh, I would say, that’s hard!
TORRE: Yeah, exactly!
TORRE: That’s a difficult thing to do. I’m not sure.
MD: That could be your answer!
TORRE: Not sure!
MD: Yeah! That’s a two word phrase!
TORRE: Yeah, that’s it!
MD: Not sure… an amazing answer! A good way to end the interview!
TORRE: Yeah, beautiful!
MD: Right, thanks very much for your time, much appreciated.
TORRE: Ah, thanks for being interesting, man. And great to hear that you love the stuff.