Full interview via Pure Grain Audio
When Belgium’s Brutus issued their debut album, Burst, in 2017, the trio had modest expectations. There were hopes that their mélange of melodic math rock, black metal-inspired rapid fire chromatics, new age doom, and sludgy post-hardcore would click with those whose listening habits placed minuscule amounts of credence on genre.
To say drummer/vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts, guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden and bassist Peter Mulders were unprepared for how well their first album would be accepted is an understatement. The humble and chilled-out personalities comprising this power trio quickly found themselves under the spotlight as they opened for some of their favorite bands and became critical darlings. A whirlwind of activity consumed the group for a solid year during which found their personal lives suffering while trying to balance the demands of new popularity and second album expectations.
Nest, out March 29th, via Sargent House and Hassle Records, is that follow up and in addition to expanding upon the already broad sonic palette displayed on Burst, Brutus has addressed their intersection of band and personal life with the record’s lyrics and themes. There’s also a Canadian connection at work as the trio returned to the familiar and comfortable surroundings of Rain City Recorders in Vancouver to capture the sophomore work.
Ironically enough, despite their crisscrossing Europe with tour dates since the release of Burst, Brutus has yet to make their live debut on North American soil. In anticipation of this inevitability, we sent a bunch of questions via email. They took the not-unheard-of tack of responding to our queries about rapid on-set fame, the importance of family life, and all the rain in Rain City as a single entity.
Check out Brutus' 'live at Rain City' performance music video for "War" which comes from the new album Nest.
Seeing as this is your first time around this corner of the internet, can you give a brief history of the band?
Brutus: Hello, we are Stefanie, Stijn, and Peter, we are Brutus from Belgium. We started the band in early 2014. We all knew each other from different bands in the region of Leuven.
Your bio makes mention that the band and its sound was “shaped by physical limitations.” Is this a reference to your ‘power trio’ line-up status or is there an actual hindrance that had to be overcome in order for Brutus to exist?
Brutus: In the beginning, there was a little hinderance: we had no singer. We started out as a three-piece band and were thinking about a fourth member to take on vocals. It was never the plan to put a mic in front of Stefanie; she had never sung in a band before. Stijn and Peter kind of pushed her into trying and they thought it sounded great! It surely shaped our music technically but changed the writing process as well. It’s different, but we like it!
Were you at all shocked or surprised with the positive reaction to Burst? Did you find it difficult to adjust to the attention, popularity and increased band activity?
Brutus: Absolutely, we were so surprised! For us, it felt like the one day we were playing at a small venue for 80 people and then all of a sudden we were touring with awesome bands like Chelsea Wolfe and Russian Circles. That’s just insane! Every night people would show up at shows, asking for pictures and wanting to talk to us, asking us to play more shows and put out more songs. We had never expected it to be almost all positive reactions. And that did have an impact on our lives. I think we have handled the attention pretty well considering we are all introverted and down-to-earth people who do not want to be in the center the attention.
We just want to play music, have fun on that stage and have a beer with friends afterwards. And then preferably go to bed before midnight (laughs). That won’t change. But the touring and increased band activity did get heavy at some point, not only on us but especially on our families, friends, and colleagues. Before Burst, we were just normal kids with families and full-time jobs. Now, all of a sudden, we were managing deadlines at work we knew we would miss, trying to be present at important family activities and playing shows all across Europe all at the same time.
What would you say were some of the biggest or most important lessons you learned with the release of Burst and everything that followed? How were those lessons applied to the new album?
Brutus: Do not take anything for granted. Everyone that you love, whether it’s your fans or your families or your band even, everyone deserves you putting in the best effort that you can. We wanted this second album to be the best album that we could make at this point. We could have made a copy of Burst, but we didn’t. We decided to start from scratch and try to make something that was better, more authentic, more us.
Did any part of all the playing live that you did in support of Burst impact the creation of Nest? For instance, did you find yourselves writing material based on what you witnessed people reacting to in a live setting, thinking more about song sequencing and pacing, song lengths, etc.?
Brutus: Mmm, no, not really. We don’t really go through that kind of thinking process when writing. We try making songs that work between the three of us, clashing and finding harmony at the same time. Everything else is a bonus. We did play two or three songs live on tour before we recorded them, just to get used to them in a live setting and to see how they work for us, but not with the idea to change them. The writing is really something that happens between the three of us, in our own rehearsal space, in our own bubble, trying to put melodies and tunes to what we’re dealing with in our heads at that moment. The only time we’re really aware of variation, sequencing and song lengths is when we make the set list for the shows.
How long did it take to write Nest and what and did you feel any pressure, internally or from outside the band, during the creative process to live up to Burst because of how well received it was?
Brutus: We started writing new songs while we were still touring Burst. We kind of felt that the energy that surrounded us on those live shows, also weighed in on the creative process, especially at the beginning. We were in such a good vibe when we started writing, almost feeling unstoppable. As a band, we had also grown a lot closer together and we definitely wanted to translate that to our music as well. We just wanted to make a better album, with a better vibe between the three of us, with better songs and an even better energy.
Take a listen to “Cemetery,” another one of the key tracks off of Nest.
What is the meaning and/or significance of Nest as it pertains to being the title of the album?
Brutus: Well, everybody has a “nest.” Your nest is not your bed or your house, for us, it is the circle of people that are close to us and mean a lot to us: our lovers, our family, friends, even colleagues... and, of course, ourselves as bandmates. The people you have a connection with, the people that mean a lot to you, the people who feel with you and take the consequences of your decisions in life. At the end of the Burst tours, while we were writing Nest, all three of us went through some personal stuff that made us realize that we had been taking our nest for granted. So Nest, for us, is an ode to everyone that stuck by us, even though we were completely absent to them at some point.
Is there a theme or concept that runs through the album’s lyrics?
Brutus: That was definitely not our plan at the beginning, and not even when recording. As said, we went through a writing process that started out really energetic and positive, but due to some personal stuff, things got more difficult toward the end. We could never put our finger on what we were feeling until we came back from Vancouver. As soon as we were able to take a step back from the album it became clear all of what we had gone through with Burst and our nest at the same time was all there in the songs and the lyrics.
We never wanted to write a concept album, but we can’t ignore that the way we lived through this process is tangible in Nest. Which, for us, is quite scary ‘cause we were just doing our thing, not really thinking too much about it all. But it’s there, the whole process from feeling invincible and grooving together through life to eventually almost losing all that you’ve built, it’s right there and almost chronological even.
Was there anything that was done differently in terms of the way the album was written than the way you had done things in the past?
Brutus: Mmm… I think maybe we talked more about it. Burst was made on spontaneity. Like, “Let’s do this, it feels good. Let’s do that, it also feels good!” But with Nest we talked more about why we wanted it to sound like this. Why are we playing this riff or why does she or he want to bring in this melody at this point in the song? We wanted to understand better what we were doing and what every member of the band personally wanted to put in. We wanted it to be the best thing that the three of us could make, like the greatest common denominator between us, so every one of us was able to feel like this album is completely theirs.
Since there was so much talk of the album Burst in this interview, let’s check out the video for “Horde II”, shall we?
With so many people dealing with shrinking recording budgets, recording at home to save money and making use of all the technology available at our fingertips, what was behind the decision to record your new album in Vancouver, a city that’s at least 8,000 kilometers away from home?
Brutus: Several reasons; being away from home gave us the chance to focus on the album for 100 percent. Another time-zone and just the three of us. It worked well on Burst and we wanted to go back to that vibe. We were also looking forward to work with Jesse Gander again. We click well with that guy; he is super fast and multi-talented. And about money, to be honest, the Canadian dollar is well priced and Vancouver is a music city with a lot of possibilities for backline and stuff. Recording in Europe at the same level would have cost us a lot of money.
How did your experience at Rainy City Recorders differ from what you knew or were used to?
Brutus: There was a LOT more rain in Rain City this time! Besides that, I don’t think we did anything different. One of the reasons we went back is because we knew we were able to fall back on some kind of stable ground we had built last time we were there. We had the feeling the three of us had changed a lot since Burst, the way we worked had changed, and even the songs were so different from Burst, so we thought we should at least keep one thing the same. We believe it worked out well.
Now that you’ve had two album’s worth of recording experience under your belts, how would you characterize Nest versus Burst?
Brutus: It’s hard for us to answer that question. As said before, it’s the best album we could make in this moment of being a band. It’s a different album from Burst; we’re different, we work differently, but it’s still pure, honest and authentic Brutus. No compromise, just pure emotion. So in some way, nothing has changed at all.
Will you be touring at the same pace as you did following Burst?
Brutus: We’ll see! A lot is happening and we are going to try to make the best out of it. We’re planning our first North American shows for later this year. Of course, playing live is what we love to do most, so we hope we can play our music to as many people as possible!