Long Read: Brutus – “There’s always going to be bullshit in the world. There’s always going to be a reaction to it. I think most of that reaction comes from music, still”

The path Brutus have taken in 2017 has been meticulously mapped out on Nest, their latest record out via Hassle Records and Sargent House. According to the band, the album is a reflection of everything that came with making choices about themselves. A diverse mix of influences penetrated the Brutus bubble, the biggest of which was the people around them on the journey to the creation of Nest. Be it the bands they toured with, their family at home, or indeed their own bandmates, human interaction is the nucleus of the album. The choices they have made in pursuit of their goals and the impact those choices have had on both themselves and those they have left behind in their nest. The arc of the album charts the friction between the band’s forward motion and their desire to maintain a connection with those back at home. It’s a timeline of invincibility and doubt, of taking risks and letting go; a chronology of what they are and what they’ve done. Here’s our interview with Stefanie Mannaerts, Peter Mulders and Stijn Vanhoegaerden.

As of last year, it’s been 5 years since Brutus were formed. Do you think that Nest is like a retrospective and that it represents you as a band?
Peter: It was an album about the period that we were to have. When we wrote it was like 2017 and 2018. The first album was out and we had to tour a lot more than we expected because we were just a Belgium band and we didn’t know we would do anything outside of Belgium and when the first album came out we could tour Europe, we could do all the great supports and it was a lot of stuff that changed in our lives. That’s in the album.
Stijn: The fact that we were away from home so much, we wrote about that for the last record. But I think “does it define us as a band,” I don’t know. I think we say it every time we make a record, it’s like, “This is the best we can do. It’s what we are at this moment.” The record is out since March, so yeah, I of course stand behind it. But I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Do you think that your creative process changed between albums?
Stephanie: I think it will always change.
Peter: It has to change.
Stijn: I think if you write every record the same way, it gets boring, for one. And maybe you make the same record every time. I don’t think we want to do that.
Peter: Also, we’re discovering a lot. With the second album, I think we discovered a lot more about Stephanie and her voice than we did in the first album because she was all-new as a singer in the first album and in the second album she wasn’t a new singer anymore.
Stijn: That’s the fun thing, I don’t know how we’re going to do it. It’s going to be a surprise for us too, I guess.

Relationships are the main theme of Nest. It’s like if every song talks about what is going on in your own life, in your own group of people. Is that the meaning of the title?
Stephanie: It was very easily chosen, the name. Like with Burst, it came after we wrote the songs. And with Nest, the name was there when we were half-past the songs or something. The theme was very clear on the album.
Stijn: It’s also that we had the title half-way through the songs, maybe we started thinking about it more. Because I know in the beginning, it wasn’t really like, “We’re going to make a concept record about this,” but we started writing and that’s what came out. We started writing songs, we had some songs and all of the sudden there was this word and yeah, that’s what we were writing about. So we just took that idea and went with it.

Why is it important to you guys to have your own nest?
Stephanie: I think it’s for everyone. It is.
Stijn: I know there [are] people that say they don’t need it but…
Stephanie: They’re denying it.
Stijn: I think it’s important to me personally to have it at home but also to have it on the road so the people like us three, the people that are traveling with us, it has to be like this or it’s not fun.

The entire record sounds like you had lost faith in people when you say “Fire, burn them all- Lonely days are over since the day we met- That girl, I could never trust her, she’s a fucking wreck- I’m lost-Our world It’s gone”. Where does this feeling come from?
Stephanie: I think that’s more losing faith in yourself than in other people because I wrote that and it was more about me, those sentences. It’s more about me.

Where do those feelings come from?
Stephanie: Separation. Disintegration. Just stupid stuff that happens when you’re doing stupid shit.
Stijn: Is it more like that people at home are losing faith in us? Is that more the case?
Stephanie: Yeah, but also in yourself. It start with yourself and then everyone… Sometimes it’s about one specific person, sometimes it’s like you say, like kind of a journal. That’s what music is like, I think, to everyone, when you write lyrics. Like what you just said, like everything combined. For one, for me, for us, for them, just a pile of emotions. The main theme is “nest” and that’s why the album is Nest.

There’s a new generation of young songwriters who sing with this calm, warm voice but then the lyrics are like knives directly in your face and I found the same on the way Stephany uses her voice.
Stijn: Sometimes I’m on stage and she can sing something that’s really mellow but I know what’s behind the lyrics and I’m like, “Fuck.” It hurts even more than when she would yell it.
Stephanie: I think it’s the same thing when you have argument with your girlfriend and you’re yelling the whole time and when somebody’s like, “I’m done. You can do whatever you want.” It’s even worse than “Fuck you.” I think it’s the same thing. The message will come across even better if it’s like… And also the three of us we just love melody. It’s the thing that actually connects us through all our different tastes in music because it’s so different. We don’t have more than three records in common. Like favorite records, we don’t have more than three in common. Stijn is more like Picasso. If people would collect your work, it would be all over the place. He would be Mondrian, very tight.
Peter: Who would be you?
Stephanie: I don’t know. Something weird.
Peter: Somebody who painted just black.
Stijn: Somebody that’s only black is… You should be Francis Bacon. Francis Bacon! Fucked up shit like, “Aw, cool colors but that’s really fucked up.” That kind of shit. That’s Stephanie.

“That’s what music is like, I think, to everyone, when you write lyrics. Like what you just said, like everything combined. For one, for me, for us, for them, just a pile of emotions. The main theme is “nest” and that’s why the album is Nest.” Stephanie

If you’re all so different, how do you get along?
Peter: Sometimes we don’t.
Stephanie: It’s the same as a relationship.
Stijn: If you meet new people and you have a base that’s really, really strong, all the shit that’s happening around you, it can affect a lot but not the base. I think if you have that base everything is okay. We argue about everything if it’s necessary and we all have an opinion and we all talk about it, but the base is strong. We’ve known each other for a long time.

How long have you been friends?
Stijn: We met five or six years ago in Belgium where we’re from. We met in our first band and they met in a band they started together and they were like, “We want to do something.” And she just said, “I know a guy, Stijn. Let’s ask him.
Peter: Yeah, that’s the way we met, just through music. And now we see each other more than anyone else.
Stijn: The three of us, everybody has a really strong opinion about what they want to do when it comes to music and it’s not always easy with two people in a band. When you’re three people and you have a different opinion, the third one, is that easier, is it more difficult?
Peter: Trying at least not so easy.
Stephanie: Three people is the worst dynamic between people in general. There’s always one person alone. If you’re with five, at least you’re with one or two other persons, at least you’re not alone. But being in a triangle is very difficult.

It goes back to the theme of the record…
Peter: It comes straight from who we are and our heart, who we are and what we do and what’s in our mind the last two years and still is important.
Stijn: It’s not a promo thing. The record, when I listen to it, every song – she wrote the lyrics but I was there when those things happened. We lived that record.
Stephanie: Yeah, and you guys also read the lyrics. It’s not like it was a surprise in the recordings. You have a lot of bands that when the singer records, everyone is like, “Oh, that’s what you’re singing.” But they knew it already like two months before and checked some things.
Peter: And changed some things because we had some questions like, “What is this?

I think Nest is very raw and personal in terms of the abrasive nature of the music, the heaviness of the lyrics and the vocal delivery. What was the challenge with Brutus for this new record? What was the main challenge for you on the record?
Stephanie: Recording.
Stijn: For me, it was talking about the fact that its so personal. That was difficult for me. Because when we recorded the record and it was done, that was the moment that I was like, “Okay, it’s kind of heavy for me.” It’s kind of heavy for them, too, of course.
Stephanie: For me the hardest thing about every album is mixing. Like everything is super fun, fun, fun… For me, I get a lot of energy from it and mixing is like draining you.

So you didn’t have the songs prepared in advance?
Peter: We do pre-recordings in Belgium. Because we toured so much, we did like five or six moments, like weekends that we write in our rehearsal space and we record everything with an iPhone. Sometimes songs are on the iPhone but you have to listen to like, “Pssshhhh.” Then if we have a song that we hope to play, we go to the studio and record it for real and some things come out like, “Oh, this doesn’t fit,” or, “Let’s change this.” Then we have pre-recordings and then we have like twenty or something, and then we choose songs and then we record them for real.

Was is it a natural process to arrive at this album?
Stijn: Yeah, and if you’re working on songs, you have these moments that you dive into a song really heavily. So if it’s a heavy song emotionally, I was like, “Oh, fuck, this is a heavy song.” But if you finish a record, everything’s mixed and you put them in an order that makes sense to you as a band and then you listen to it, I never have an idea before that moment how it’s going to be as a whole. So for me, the first time I heard the record as a whole like, “What the fuck is this?” I had the same with the first record, like, “What the fuck? Like what is this?” It’s weird. Speaking for myself, but it’s a special thing. “So this is what we’ve been doing for two years? Nice.”

“There’s always going to be bullshit in the world. There’s always going to be a reaction to it. I think most of that reaction comes from music, still.” Stijn

After 1 year and a lot of shows, do you still feel the songs when you play them?
Stijn: Yeah, definitely.
Peter: It’s so different playing the song and listening to it on the album.
Stephanie: Yeah, we’re eager to make new songs as well.
Peter: I’m sometimes eager to take out a really old song and play it again, like from Burst.
Stephanie: But I can see like for us, we started working on this record two years and a half ago, and for example, it’s only been out since March but songs like “War” and “Sugar Dragon,” we[‘d] been playing that like seven months before. And when we do Instagram, in the stories it’s always “War,” like another story from “War.” It’s stupid because we were so proud of that song and now we’re like, “Can we write another War please?” because people are just filming this… When we tour, now we open with “War” because we are a support band. When we do [a] headline show, “War” is in the middle. When we play it, it’s like, “Aaaaaahhh” after two seconds.

Musically speaking how difficult was to give the right atmospheres to the words?
Stijn: The words don’t always come first, so there [are] a lot of times that melody, melodies, and riffs or whatever are first. Then she lets us know which one feels right.
Peter: Stephanie also works a lot on the melodies, on the guitar and the bass.
Stijn: Yeah, we do that together. So I can play a riff on the guitar or he can play a bassline and she’s going to be like, “I have this line. Can you maybe play that longer?” Stuff like that, or, “Change that note so I can sing that and it’s a harmony.” She studied music. We didn’t, so we just play and she knows what she…
Peter: In some way, the harmony between the vocals and music come because Stephanie is not just a singer singing out our lines, she’s a lot into the notes and music too.

So it’s all created in equal balance between the members?
Stijn: Yes.
Peter: And anybody can say anything about anything. When Stijn can have a line or if Stephanie sings a lyric, we can all like it or dislike it or change it or not change it.

Tell me about the cover art. Did you decide it together?
Stephanie: That was also a process.
Peter: Every line is like a relationship and it represents the tension between people.
Stephanie: Peter did the artwork of the first record. This time we asked an artist from Belgium to take care of it.

I’ve always had this idea that Belgium has a great, active music scene. What do you think about the underground music scene in general?
Stijn: I think there are really a lot of special places in the world now, like certain cities, areas where there’s a lot of cool stuff happening. I also think there’s also a lot of places where they were used to be a lot of cool stuff that are dying out a bit. There’re a lot more interesting stuff the last five or six years that came out of Belgium than I’ve ever noticed. So that’s a really obvious one to me. Now that we’ve been to the states for months, there were some cities that when I was like 16 to mid-20s… there were a lot of bands coming from Washington that I really loved. There’s not so much stuff, maybe it’s that I’m too far away from it. Just some stuff I notice.
Peter: All the bands who did our supports in the states were pretty good bands.

Are you excited about Roadburn?
Stijn: It’s not a festival I thought we would ever play. I always thought that maybe we’re too much of a happy band to play there.
Peter: Too many major chords for Roadburn.
Stijn: So yeah, that’s going to be interesting. There is going to be people there that we know and that I really want to see again, see them play live… They’re all awesome people and they make beautiful music so, for me, it’s going to be nice. We can play our set, it’s going to be awesome. Then I’m just going to watch bands.

Do you have any future plans for Brutus?
Stephanie: Roadburn is plan #1.
Stijn: Write a new record, tour, keep touring, keep doing it.
Peter: Making good records. Because touring is cool and playing big festivals in America is also cool, but if you don’t like your records, you can’t take the next step.

Why is it important to you to write music with Brutus?
Stephanie: Because it’s what we do.
Peter: Because that’s the reason for being in a band.
Stijn: It’s what we do. I started playing music when I was like 13-years-old in punk bands playing bass because it was cool and I kept doing it. For some reason, there was always an opportunity for me to do it. I was like, “I have to do it.” Now it’s just at a point that I have to do it. If I don’t do it, it’s just going to be awkward. My girlfriend, sometimes she makes fun of me. It’s difficult because I’m away from home, but she tells me, “Just do it. If you would be home and not do it, you’d be an asshole.” I’d be a pain in the ass because there would be something missing. It’s such a cliché, maybe.
Stephanie: It’s your only legacy.
Stijn: There [are] many reasons why many people still love making music now, nowadays. There’s always going to be bullshit in the world. There’s always going to be a reaction to it. I think most of that reaction comes from music, still. So there [are] reasons enough to do it, I think.

The world is shitty…
Stijn: Definitely, that’s why we need political music, we need emotional music but I also think there needs to be music that doesn’t say anything.
Stephanie: Yeah, that’s just careless.
Stijn: Yeah, that’s just careless music because people have so much shit in their daily lives that sometimes it’s just also cool to hear somebody sing about their socks or something. It’s stupid but it’s not stupid. It’s so important.
Peter: That’s why I like punk music.
Stijn: There has to be all kinds of music. Today, more than maybe 100 years ago – maybe, definitely – there are so many more ways of making music. It’s cool, it’s obvious that there’s still so much music around. It’s not like music is a dying art. Any reason to play is good.

Words: Marika zorzi // Photos: Eva Vlonk – Nest is out now on Sargent House / Hassle Records.

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