Tom Barman is used to taking his time. As the vocalist/guitarist and founding member of Deus, long renowned as Belgium’s most celebrated musical export, Barman prefers never to rush the process of making records. Since 1999, the band have released only four full-length records, culminating in the three and a half years between their 2008 release Vantage Point and their most recent release, Keep You Close.
And while many might consider their speed of output a bit stagnant, Barman’s explanation is really quite simple.
“I don’t want to release every single fart we make. Some bands, they just work too quick. We like good sounding stuff, and that takes time, as simple as that.”
A record containing nothing but the flatulence from the five members of this eccentric rock troupe might do well with their hardcore fans, sure. Yet Barman and Deus have found a formula that works for them. And they don’t plan on straying from it anytime soon.
“We usually tour for a year or so and then head back into the studio,” says the amiable 40-year-old, reached on the phone in Brussels after a day spent “recording and mixing in the studio.”
“We never stopped so much, but there’s always stuff that doesn’t make it on the albums and we try to take our time with that stuff too,” he continues. “Maybe we’ve gotten a little slow, I don’t know. Keep You Close was great, but we’re enthusiastic about everything else too. The reason we’re in the studio is an attempt to combat that slowness. So thank you, for rubbing it in,” he chuckles.
What Deus will produce from these current studio sessions remains to be seen. Yet if it’s a continuation of the atmospheric push of Keep You Close, then fans have reason to be excited. Cinematic in scope, the band have continued to evolve since their first full-length, 1994’s Worst Case Scenario, and as many will agree, (and contrary to Barman’s beliefs) they show no signs of slowing down.
Barman speaks in a casual tone, careful not to take himself too seriously. He’s never more than two minutes away from a self-depreciating bit of humour. And as our conversation veers towards how the music of Deus is often perceived, Barman doesn’t seem fazed.
“Unfortunately, the worry about how your music will be perceived always hangs over your head. That starts from the moment you release your first demo. You write one song and you give it to your girlfriend, there goes your freedom, you know? It’s all down the drain from there on in,” he laughs.
When pressed about the writing process of Keep You Close, Barman begins describing it with one of the more overused words when it comes to musical description. Even with his wit in tow, it’s hard not to believe him.
“I think we wanted to do something more dynamic instead of just a modern take on our songs. Something more organic. Everything you do goes towards that point, being organic. Once you’ve said that word and once everyone agrees, it’s sort of a hypnosis. Every instrument, every melody gets engaged by that criteria. This record was a reaction, and we wanted something warmer.
“As far as it being cinematic, I know it’s in my DNA to not think about it,” Barman says. It quickly becomes clear that Barman isn’t nonplussed about his music, so much as he’d rather be making it than talking about it.
“It just happens. We definitely prefer making longer songs. I love listening to three minute pop songs, but to make them, it gets boring very easily. I guess I prefer a three minute outro if anything.”
The three minute outro might be a little more commonplace in the album-oriented rock of the ‘70s. Barman may consider himself a purist at heart, but certainly he can’t consider himself above the music industry that gave his band a home. Those spots are reserved for the true egomaniacs or the truly delusional. And Barman may be up for a laugh, but he’s neither of those.
So through the band’s 20-plus years of existence, do Deus consider the shifting trends in the rock music industry as they approach a new record? Barman takes an exceptionally long pause, falsely beginning his answer before noting with conviction: “I guess you have to. As much as it’s nice to be a naive, hardworking artist who’s always in the studio and thinks that beauty will simply just come to them, you have to find your way. There’s a healthy stubbornness in what we do. It hasn’t always given us pleasure, it’s given us hard times over the last 20 years. But at the same time, you cannot work against your nature. We only recognise our creativity when it’s gone well afterwards. “That’s the compromise we make with the quickly moving scene we’re involved in,” he continues.
“Certainly being in Europe, being a slow-working group has given us a fantastic fanbase. A lot of people I know make records quicker, but I can’t help but question that. Is it always for the right reasons?”
As our conversation winds to a close, Barman sounds convinced that the band have figured out the reason they’re still releasing records. And finally, the idea of time has finally caught up with him as well.
“There’s lots of ways to look at this. You have to follow your nature. We just want to release stuff we hope our fans will like; and there’s a danger in that, because if they don’t, you’ve just lost three years of your life!”
BY JOSHUA KLOKE
DEUS play a special one-off show at The Corner on Saturday May 12.