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(photo credit: Alex Salinas)
It might not be as bad as being a one-legged downhill skier, but leading an alternative rock band from Belgium with a penchant for excursions into jazz and Zappaesque humor puts you at quite a disadvantage in the commercial marketplace. But that's never bothered Tom Barman, the founder and singer/guitarist of cult favorites dEUS, the first Belgian-based indie act ever to sign to a major international label (Island).
"Our thinking has always been 'let's go there and have fun,'" said Barman, in Israel this week to perform with the band."We never really tried to crack America. We did support Blur on a tour in the late 90s, but to really make it in the US, I think you have to go live there." But with a string of inventive, buzz-worthy mid-90s albums, the band was able to achieve a comfortable level of popularity.
Rock colleagues like Radiohead and REM regularly referred to them with admiration, and they headlined British festivals and European venues (including two successful appearances in Israel).
Then, after a well-received late-90s third album - Ideal Crash - and a sold-out European tour, Barman surprisingly placed the band on hold to pursue his other passion - film. He spent the next few years writing and directing Any Way The Wind Blows, an art-house film that centered around a day and night in the lives of several friends in Antwerp.
"The movie started off as a short film, and I was encouraged to make it into a feature," Barman told The Jerusalem Post from his Antwerp home.
"So I looked for money, made the film and traveled around the world with it. It appeared in 20 festivals - from New Zealand to Vancouver, and got sold commercially to 12 countries. That's not a major success, but I loved the adventure, and I definitely want to make more."
Back in 1991, Barman had to choose between continuing his studies at a film school in Brussels or devoting his energies full time to his burgeoning band - and the music won out. But he never discarded the cinema, directing the videos for dEUS and other bands.
"My lyrics and music have always been inspired by cinema, whether it's song titles or soundscapes - at least that's what people have told me. I've also been told at various times that we're a cinematic band, and that it's a musical film," he laughs.
Barman sounds both enthusiastic and cautious when talking about the process that brought the band back together last year to record their acclaimed comeback album Pocket Revolution. That process has also led dEUS to resume touring, and following a well-received European tour at the end of the year, they're bringing their show to Israel for three performances - at Zappa in Tel Aviv on February 9, The Lab in Jerusalem on the 10th, and Hangar 11 back in TA on the 11th.
Barman doesn't try to cover up the difficulties and anxieties he's faced resurrecting a band that's been in limbo for six years.
"There were 40 times a day when I thought it would never happen. It's been a difficult period. It's a cliche, but it's true that you shouldn't stay too long with one band....You lose momentum, and you get into a dangerous area of not knowing what to play, or not knowing what people expect you to play," Barman said.
Another consideration he faced when getting dEUS back together was if the fan base was still there, and if DJs would even remember the band.
"Six years is an eternity in the pop music world for the press anyway. We've done 70 shows in Europe so far, and we're getting it together, and fans are coming out. But in England, press wise, six years means you have to start all over again," he said.
And in a way, the band is starting over. Aside from Barman and longtime vilonist/keybaordist Klaas Janzoons, the lineup is new, a fact which Barman shrugs off.
"Each time we've been to Israel - in '94 and '99, we've had a different lineup besides myself and Klaus. I don't see a problem." Following the current tour, the band is going to make another stab at the US, appearing in some shows with indie favorites Snow Patrol. And Barman is eager to keep the momentum going after that.
"It was stupid to stop the band for six years," he said. "After we get back from the States, we're going to go back in the studio quickly and work on more material." So while his film career is on the back burner now in favor of music, don't expect it to stay that way forever.
"I don't see another film project coming for the next three or four years.
But everywhere I go, I'll be writing and gathering ideas."