BRUTUS : the confidence to write each song as your last song

BRUTUS : the confidence to write each song as your last song

Pierre Sopor 28 août 2023 Virginia B. Fernson & Pierre Sopor

Everything is going so fast for Brutus since the release of the impressive Unison Life last year. The band is getting a lot of praise and is chaining tourdates. We had the occasion to meet Stijn Vanhoegaerden (guitar) and Peter Mulders (bass) during the Motocultor Festival, just before their show. Despite a problem with their van, they took the time to answer our questions about the life of the band, new pressures brought by their success but also the confidence they're getting and the trust they have in each other and how they keep writing each song as their "last song" again and again.

You played in Paris a couple years ago ans Stefanie seemed a bit stressed. She apologized a few times for "fucking up" even if no one else noticed her mistakes! Does she feel more confident now?
Peter : It was in the basement on the Seine, right? She still says "sorry" when she makes a mistake! We were at the Alcatraz festival last week and she hit one snare wrong... And she started singing "I fucked it up!" instead of the real line, she put her mistake in the music! I think it's a reflex, when she thinks she's fucked up, she wants to say something about it. We let her be who she is, we're just smiling at each other and it's fun. She's a perfectionist.
Stijn : If she's not at 200%, she feels like she fucked up. We've known her for so long... you can't get that out of her. She wants to do the best she can for the people she's playing to... I think it was also the same show when we had technical problems...
Peter : Yeah sometimes stuff happen on stage and you're just human so you try to make it work. Fun in an important part.

Unison Life was a much personal album than your previous ones. Is it something that requires a certain level of confidence or could you have done it before ?
Peter  : No we couldn't have done it.
Stijn : We couldn't have written it eight years ago because it's like a process in the band but also a personal process as people and as friends.
Peter : Yeah, we get to know each other. When you start a band, you want to do your own thing and start to play together first. And then you start to grow a little bit as people and as a band and that's what leads to Unison Life. It's a natural process.

I guess that being friends and trusting each other was necessary to make such an album...
Stijn : I think it's a very difficult thing... People always talk about it but... You can write a book, it's something you do by yourself. But as a band, there are multiple views on how things should be made and I think you need a little trust, friendship and understanding to do something like that. For us it took a while to get to this point.
Peter : It's like a relationship with a girlfriend or a boyfriend.

When you released Unison Life, you said that every song on it was like your "last song". What did you mean by that? When you made a collection of "last songs" how do you start working on new music?
Stijn : That's a good question! You only think about that when your last song is written... and then, you make another last song! It was Stefanie who said that and when she said that to me it was a shock too because I was like "wow, that's a very high bar to reach". To me, it showed how much she wanted us to make a very good album. It was a metaphor for that. I hope that we will write a lot of other last songs! When we started the band, we just wanted to play a couple of shows in our hometown and write some songs and have fun. At this point, we've been doing it for nine years and it would be nice if we could write a song that people would still be listening to in thirty years, it's like a legacy thing.
Peter : Yeah, shows are important but the songs are very important too. Maybe the next album will be something different but I think this shows what we mean and how hard we want to go for it. We give everything for every song just in case this would really be our last!

People are often impressed by how Stefanie drums and sings at the same time. But since she's not here, we can talk a little bit behind her back. Doesn't that make it also easier to be in the right mood to sing, since she's already so physically involved?
Stijn : I think that now she sees it as one thing. At least the way I see her move and sing, it's like one thing now. I know that at the beginning she was saying "if I could just drum or just sing I could do either of them better because I don't have to think about the other one"... But at this point, I don't see the difference.
Peter : When we record together, she also sings and drums. The first time she was singing alone in the mic, it was different than when she was singing and drumming. We even struggled and thought "maybe Stefanie should sing it again but behind her drums because it's different". When she's not really into it, into the energy, it doesn't sound the same.
Stijn : Yeah, we did a session some years ago with our friends The Guru Guru, we covered each other songs and Sinead O'Connor's Troy and they wanted to make a booth for her in the middle of the studio to sing... and she sang everything behind her kit! She wasn't playing but it was very important for her, for her breathing...

She wasn't a singer at first... Maybe drumming makes it easier because she has something to do with her hands and doesn't have to be just facing the crowd? I mean, if I had to sing, I would rather do it hidden behind a drumkit!
Stijn : Oh, she does it sometimes, whe she does a guest appearance with other bands or stuff like that. Shoe does it very very well, she's very comfortable.
Peter : But to me it would be very weird to me on stage without my bass! What do you do with your arms?

Unison Life was very successful. Does that bring more confidence or more pressure ?
Stijn : For me it's stressful. Stressful is the wrong word, maybe, but I'm already looking forward to the next record because even if it's a lot of fun to play the songs live I'm really curious to see what we're gonna do next. The process for the last record was very important for me, it opened a lot of doors and showed that we can do whatever we want to do, we don't have to just do the same thing. We can do whatever the songs need... That's something that I'm looking forward to.

Last year you were saying in an interview that you couldn't live only with your music... but you are really touring a lot since Unison Life...
Peter : Yeah, Stijn was the last one to quit his job. It was a month ago... We had no other option. It was the moment to go full for the band and now we can say that we don't have other jobs anymore!
Stijn : It's a time thing. We just don't have the time. We have families. When you're back from touring, you just sleep and then you have to get up and go to work and that's very difficult sometimes.

How does it feel to be on the road so often, not seeing your family but seeing so many people every day that love you but you have no idea who they are?
Stijn : It's a blessing and it's a curse I guess. It's difficult because i'ts the best thing in the world to do but on the other side you can't be at home, you miss your family, you can't see people you love, it's tiring sometimes like when you play three shows in three days and your van breaks down... like today! We didn't speak a lot the last three days.
Peter : It's Sunday tomorrow. We should have been home tomorrow morning but because the van broke down we'll only be home tomorrow evening and we'll miss this day with our family... Sometimes the switching is emotionally draining for me. It's fun on the road, it's fun at home but the switching is difficult. At the moment I step into the van and the crew is back together, when I'm with Stijn and Stefanie again, it's a lot of fun but it's also hard because I miss my girlfriend... and I'm telling her that I'm gone but it's so much fun on the road!
Stijn : We have our friends and our families and it's beautiful because we can do what we do and in the end we have the best of both worlds, but it's hard to combine the two.

Does working with friends make it easier?
Stijn : Sometimes yes... Sometimes, not really! Everything is personal when you work with your friends! You know, in the work environnement, when people fuck up you just tell them but it's more difficult when you love the people that you are working with.

Do you have time to enjoy the festivals you're playing at?
Peter : Sometimes. Today is special because without our van problem we should have been here a lot earlier... But now we also have to leave earlier. It's a special day with road problems! But there were some festivals this year where we could see some cool bands.
Stijn : Yeah at the beginning I didn't want to see other bands play because it makes me nervous. Now, I'm getting to the point where I really enjoy seeing other people play and it really bumps me up to play myself.
Peter : For example, we really love Chat Pile on album and we had to play with them two days ago at the ArcTanGent Festival and I could see them... And I was like "Yeah, fuck!". I watched the whole show thinking "yeah, those guys rock!". And then they came to us saying "hey, we're big fans!". I watched their show and now they're here to watch mine, that was really nice. I also like Russian Circles, we've seen them this summer and toured with them a few years ago. We consider them as friends even if they live on the other side of the world. We've seen them three times this summer and at the moment we see their van we're like "oooh, the guys are here, great!". I know they're playing tonight, Amenra is also playing...

Yeah, we just saw Colin before the interview and were like "stay cool, stay cool!"...
Stijn : He's such a sweet guy!

We just have a geek question left : what's your favorite reverb pedal guitar ?
Stijn : On stage I use the ones that are practical and that I know the best but I also prefer the sound of other pedals... I keep buying reverb pedals. My favorite now is the CRM-1970-something... 1978 maybe? I like a lot of them but I can't use them on stage.

Do you have a lot of them?
Peter : Yeah, he has...
Stifn : Yeah !

Do you use all of them?
Stijn : I use all of them.

And does everybody understand why?
Sitjn : You mean in the band or in the audience? In the band yes. We are very critical about everything, even each other's stuff so there is nothing there that souldn't be there.
Peter : We try to do our best to have the same sound live and on the album and that's hard because in the studio you have so many options. We took maybe ten meters of pedals in the studio! But when you go live you have to make it into a travel pedal board. The thing is that when you are on the road, you don't have a lot of time. You don't do tests. You have your live set-up and that's it.
Stijn : It's something we enjoy a lot, we have to think how we are going to make this work. Gear is my life, it's always a good question for us! At least for bass and guitar players! Maybe not so much for singers and drummers, but they're not here now!