The revered Belgium-based band Brutus are stepping up a gear with their newly announced third LP, Unison Life.
Comprised of drummer/vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts, bassist Peter Mulders, and guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden, Brutus have cemented themselves as one of Belgium’s most exciting contemporary acts, thanks to their infectious sound which traverses emotionally raw rock tunes to elements of metal, punk, post-hardcore, and beyond. The three-pieces’ 2017 debut LP Burst was an explosive introduction to the group which was subsequently followed up by their more refined sophomore 2019 project, Nest. Throughout the last several years Brutus have played numerous well-received shows across Europe and the US, alongside gaining some famous fans. Including the likes of Lars Ulrich (Metallica), Simon Neil (Biffy Clyro), Ben Koller (Converge) and Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan) to name a few. With everything going their way, Brutus’s momentum was halted by the global pandemic. The trio utilised this extra time and space to craft a record with more focus and direction, 18 months later Unison Life was born. A record that is more experimental, fiercer and full of atmosphere. Thematically, Unison Life is a portrait of life and contentment before its unravelling and the hope we have as individuals for a life of total peace.
To celebrate the announcement of the new LP which drops on October 21st, 1883 Magazine sat down with Mannaerts & Mulders to discuss their new single Liar, the making of Unison Life, and of course English vegan breakfasts.
Hi Stefanie & Peter, we need to talk about the new Brutus single Liar. The song itself is so lively and the accompanying visuals are beautiful. Can you please tell us about the video’s concept and why you wanted to shoot it in Village Al Majd / Agafay Marrakech?
Stefanie: Yeah, so it all started with the new record and we wanted to do something special for the videos of the album’s singles. The song Liar is about putting on masks and lying and the concept started with wearing masks but in our vision, the location could have been in our hometown or just in Belgium. Our friend, Maximiliaan Dierickx, directed the video and suggested doing it in Morocco because he said the concept is very cool and simple but wanted all of us to put in some special effort in terms of how it looked and the atmosphere in Morroco would suit the artwork of the record as well. As the location had the same colours as the records. So instead of doing it in our grey hometown, in a city environment, we went for full nature, Moroccan vibes. So that’s why we went to Morocco. It was never our idea but when he proposed it, we were like: “Yeah, let’s do it.”
Peter: It made for the perfect fit when he proposed the idea to take our concept with masks and the story to an environment like Morocco.
Stefanie: Yeah also the mask that you see in the video is the artwork of the record.
How long did it take to shoot the video?
Stefanie: We were there for six days, but shot the video over two days and a half. The first few days you get to the location and visit and prepare the location. So it was two days and a half of shooting but we had to make sure we were there for sunrise and then at the end of the day. The days were very long with little sleep.
Liar is taken from your forthcoming third studio album Unison Life. It has been mentioned that with this record you all had the time and space to really consider the direction of it. Could you please tell us how you all decided on the direction and what you wanted to achieve and then how you have achieved your goals whilst making the record?
Peter: We didn’t have an exact idea about what it would be in the beginning but it all shaped up as we put the time in. We wrote like maybe 30 demos and we then dwindled them down to ten songs on the album. It was a very organic process. It was only at the end when Miles Away was written that it was complete. So we didn’t really have a certain idea in the beginning. The only main goal was that we wanted to make a very good album because that’s what you want to do as an artist. You want to make the best songs you have ever written.
Stefanie: As we had a lot of time we had no excuse from touring or things like that but I think the direction of the record changed a few times over the course of writing it. You know when you’re writing some songs and then three months later it’s a completely different body of work. It’s always going from left to right from dark to light. And when you think you’re so sure about the theme of the album, like three weeks later you can suddenly change your mind and be like “this is total bullshit. Let’s not put anything on it until it’s finished”. But then it became the record, Unison life.
Following on from that question, with the extra time you were able to experiment more. I heard in a previous interview that you all brought some new musical gear, so would you mind sharing what pieces of gear you got and were there any pieces of kit you’re now completely in love with?
Peter: The thing is at some point for me personally, I was not feeling like a musician anymore purely because all of the live shows disappeared. So buying gear and buying different music instruments made me feel more like I was doing something with music because everything else was gone at that point in the pandemic. We bought a lot of amps and we tried some different tunings. I think maybe the Moog Minitaur I brought is now a part of our sound. It’s almost hard to delete it from our setup. It’s not like we use everything on the instrument, we’re not a synth band. It sounds like a bass, so it’s now really cool we can use two different basses now live and in the studio.
Stefanie: I think we have bought for four pieces of gear that made a big impact on us. You can change every pedal and you can play basically any song on any amp. But the four instruments which I think helped shape this album a bit were: the Moog Minitaur that Peter mentioned, which is used as a bass synthesiser but Peter plays it with his feet. Then we have a six-string bass guitar. It’s basically a bass guitar with six strings and it works very well with the Moog synthesiser because the frequency range gets wider and more interesting and the six-string bass makes a similar sound to the bass on the Twin Peaks theme song. Percussion-wise we bought some chimes, and for guitar, we also bought a 12-string guitar. Those four things had an impact. Obviously, we’ve always used different pedals and amps of course in our music.
Peter: We love amps, reverb, delay and distortion but that’s already been in our previous albums and live shows. The four things that Stefanie mentioned were cool.
As you were arguably more experimental when writing this record then would you say you learnt more from writing this album compared to when the band wrote Burst and Nest?
Peter: I mean Yes we did learn more. I think in the first album, we learned how to be a band, like how to play well together and work out what exactly Brutus is. When it came to Nest we try tried to sound very well and now with this new record we wanted to purify our method more maybe…
Stefanie: I think with this record we’ve learnt to overthink less. With Burst, we felt like we had to play super tight and we could not make any mistakes. Like Peter said, on Nest we tried to talk more and discuss what kind of delay or what kind of chorus we could use in the music. But now, we’ve learnt to overthink less and question things – like “do we really need this in the song” etc. Our conversations were different. Every band that puts out a record, you always work towards something that you think is what you want. But each project you put out is like a step in the right direction. Maybe in three albums’ time, we can then look back and be like ‘this is where we want to be’.
Peter: Every song you write is a new step that you want to take as a band, and this album is our next step.
Of course,as artists your sound will always evolve over time.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge that earlier this year Brutus was voted no.1 ( for your track – All Along) in the ‘Zwaarste Lijst / Heaviest List’ by radio station Studio Brussel. The fans/public voted for you, thus beating the likes of Metallica, Tool, Slayer and more. Some artists wouldn’t care much about this but it’s surely an amazing reminder of all the fans out there, what was the group’s reaction once you all found out?
Stefanie: Yeah. Previously we placed seventh and third on the list and that was unbelievable. My boyfriend and a lot of friends of ours were telling us that we were ranking higher on the list but we didn’t believe anyone. Then this year we thought we probably weren’t going to be on the list. So it was weird but a nice shock. It’s the ‘heaviest list’, not the ‘metal list’. If anything, this told us about our fanbase in our country really, coming first place doesn’t mean we’re better than Metallica or you’re more popular than Metallica, it just shows us that we have really loyal fans. They voted for us. We didn’t vote, if we had somehow voted, there would have only been three votes.
Peter: We didn’t do anything. Then we found out all our fans voted us to number one. It was crazy. It was very heartwarming after the pandemic. We hadn’t played a show in a while but they still knew who we are haha.
You’ve all come from different musical backgrounds and have different music tastes. I have a hypothetical question: let’s say Brutus is going to release a three-track covers EP. You each have to pick a song to cover and it doesn’t matter if it’s a completely different genre. What would you pick and why? (As Stijn isn’t with us in the interview, who would he pick?)
Stefanie: I think Stijn would pick something by The Smiths, maybe There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, Mother by Danzig or Pet Cemetery by The Ramones. He’d definitely pick one of those. I would pick either Push The Sky Away from Nick Cave or Górecki by Lamb because for me those two songs have some of the best vocal lines.
Peter: I would pick the Cranberries, probably their song Linger. Not Zombie because we’ve already covered that live a few times.
What unreleased tracks are you excited for fans hear from Unison Life?
Peter: I think What Have We Done? is a big favourite of ours.
Stefanie: Let me explain why, when we wrote our album Nest and the track War, I had a feeling that “we would never write to this level again”, it felt like a lucky shot from heaven. If we could only release one song ever, it would be War and I would die happy, that’s how it made me feel. And now with this record, we wrote What Have We Done? This was the second time in our career where I thought “fuck, if this was the only song we could put out, we would be so happy”. It’s sort of an indescribable feeling, it’s a piece of music I’m very proud of.
There’s something really special happening in November, Brutus’s first UK live headline tour in three years. As it’s been a long wait because of the pandemic, are you feeling any extra pressure to put on a good show for the UK fans? And Can you walk us through your pre-show routine?
Stefanie: Firstly, I’m very eager to play the UK again, it’s been three years already. Secondly, you guys have the best breakfast places in Europe! I’m sorry, but it’s true [laughs]. To prepare for a show, I think everyone does it differently. I do vocal and drum warmups. Then, an hour before the show I’ll be getting quiet and just trying to focus on the show. So for me it’s and then right when we go on stage, we have like an intro and then we’re together. Then we hug and then we go play the show.
Peter: Stijn has this guitar with him for the last 20 minutes before the show and he plays mini medleys of all the songs. So he has this four-minute thing with basically every riff from all our songs that he plays to warm up. For me, I just try to focus on the song and not the show. To stay calm and make sure we don’t fuck up. We’re looking forward to playing in the UK because we have some friends there. People from previous shows we have played there, the guys from my label, Hassle records. It has been amazing to see people not on a webcam but in real life. To see Miles again and to see all the guys who put on the shows, come to the shows, and our friends. It will be really cool.
What sort of breakfast foods were you talking about that you love?
Stefanie: Well, I’m vegan so it’s already more difficult to find something decent. But The Breakfast Club in Brighton we like very much. There is a vegan junk food place in Bristol that we go to every time and in Manchester there is also a nice vegan place. Actually, in every city in England, there’s always somewhere to get a nice breakfast.
Peter: The thing is you guys have veggie or vegan sausages for breakfast, but in Europe, we have bacon with breakfast and eggs but never veggie or vegan stuff. We had a few shows last month, one-off shows from Madrid to Germany and when we had dinner and breakfast in those places, we never had a vegan or veggie Sausage with tofu instead of eggs. But in the UK almost every breakfast place has that.
Stefanie: I like that you guys get it, breakfast has to be salty, not sweet. Here at home, I don’t eat sweet, so I was very happy when we toured the UK. I’ll really have to try to not eat too much when we next visit the UK [laughs].
Brutus has been making music since 2013/2014. Over the last nine years, how has your relationship as friends and bandmates strengthened whilst navigating the music industry? You’ve got to navigate so many things like social media (TikTok being the latest), streaming, and more.
Stefanie: We’re tighter and better. Of course, we were already friends in the beginning but then you just do whatever. We always took our music very seriously but I have the feeling that we’re tighter compared to us at the beginning. But back then the only thing we had in common was “We like music, we like guitars, and I like you” so that’s why we started the band.
Peter: I think the key is we always discuss everything as a band, every decision. We would ask each other “How do you want to present the band on Instagram or on Instagram stories?. How much do we share, what do we show the fans, and do we really need to post something even if there is nothing happening?” During the pandemic, we felt the pressure to post content often, but if one of us wasn’t feeling good about the social post, we would always try to discuss it before sharing. Sometimes it’s not easy, but I think we have definitely become closer in the past nine years. It’s also because of all these hurdles that we’ve always discussed things as a band and now we know each other a lot better than we did years ago.
Stefanie: Everything is evolving constantly and that’s just the way it is. I think the key is not to be mad. I know a lot of musicians are mad about TikTok like “this is ruining everything!” or blah blah. Same with Spotify, but it will always be like that, in every industry. It’s getting bigger and crazier and eventually, something dies and then something grows. For instance, with TikTok, I’m too old already for that [laughs]. I don’t get it. I get that it’s funny and interesting, but I think if we would do something with TikTok we will probably hire somebody to do it properly. That’s where my world stops, even when somebody tries to explain it to me, it goes above my head. I think I’m already doing good on Facebook and Instagram and Spotify. For us, as a guitar band, it’s going already good. We’re trying to do our best to catch up with how the world is evolving but we don’t over post.
Peter: The three of us all agree and the most important thing in everything is your song and your music. If we write a new song, how we feel and what we think we made is more important than how many likes we have on Instagram or how many plays. Of course, I know the plays are important, it’s important for the labels and for everybody involved. But for us, it’s like let’s try to make really good music that we’re proud of.
Stefanie: You may have 300,000 followers on Spotify but that doesn’t mean you can fill a venue with even 500 people. I noticed it already. I can see what’s poisoning everything, what you see on the surface is not what it is happening on the inside. I’ve seen bands with a small following headline and sell-out venues, so what Peter said is true, if your song is good, everyone will repost it. You don’t have to post it on Tuesday at 11 O’clock if you think that’s the best time. At the end of the day if a song is good it will get noticed.
Peter: We do also have a TikTok account, but there’s nothing happening on that platform. I registered the name once because I thought maybe it would be something we would want to explore, So I registered our name so we had it as the username. We never talked about that. I just did it as a reflex because I’m on my computer a lot and I do a lot of social media for Brutus so that’s why I registered the name. In the end, I just want to make good music, it’s very cliche but that’s what I want to do.
All you want to focus on is making your art and obviously if you can use platforms to get it out there sure that’s handy, but at the end of the day, what matters the most is the music.
Peter: You don’t have to be naive because I also know a lot of really good bands who hate social media, they rebel against social media or they don’t want to do it or they just don’t have the knowledge or the energy to do it. Sometimes it’s very hard, there’s just the three of us and we play a lot of shows when we are on tour. You have to play live, but then you have to post social media content as well. It can feel a lot sometimes.
Stefanie: I think it’s the same when you open a store. For example, if you open a music store but don’t have a website or some publicity, then that’s your store as it is and you’re busy running that even before you introduce social media or a website or marketing.
Peter: You have to make sure you don’t become a slave to your marketing or your commercial activities. You just have to be real and be yourself and that’s it.
Technically Brutus started in 2013 but I know you both don’t really count the start untill 2014 as that’s when you started touring. But either way, we’re not too far away from a Brutus 10-year anniversary. Do you have any special ideas in mind for the anniversary, is anything you want to do?
Stefanie: It’s funny that you said that because I sometimes think about it and to be honest I want to host a music festival and not play it myself. I don’t want to be nervous. In this dream world of ours, it would be a night for us but not playing there. We would have bands come and play for us!
Peter: Like a birthday party!
Stefanie: Yeah, a big birthday party that would financially ruin us!
Peter: We would have the front of house table and then in front of that there’s a big chair and the three of us are just sitting there.
Hypothetically, who would you have play this festival, any top few picks?
Stefanie: Oh, I have so many ideas. I would ask Underworld to do the after-party, I would also want a mariachi band to cover The Smiths…
Peter: Russian Circles would be one of my choices. I think Metallica have to be there. We watched Metallica a couple of weeks ago and James Hatfield is a king so they can complete the lineup.
Stefanie: Mr. Bean would present the evening for us.
Peter: Yeah Mr. Bean can do the announcements between the bands.
Stefanie: And the karaoke afterwards! [laughs]
Finally, musical trends come and go, some music genres go out of fashion and then come back around. Why do you think heavy/post-metal music always remains a beloved but somewhat outsider style of music?
Peter: I think it’s because the fanbase who listen to it are very loyal. I think it’s a really fan-driven genre. The crowds that go to post-rock shows or post-metal shows are special. I like to call these sorts of crowds the ‘Roadburn people’. Roadburn is a very cool festival in Holland, it’s a niche festival that’s dedicated to putting on the best bands from post-metal to post-rock to all the genres with guitars that are not mainstream. The people that attend these sorts of events are really loyal and they push to make them happen.
Stefanie: In every niche genre of music there will always be a loyal fanbase, we can only comment on the post-metal genre and everything surrounding it genre-wise, such as post-rock. But our fans are truly special.
Liar is out now. Unison Life is out this October. Follow Brutus @wearebrutus
Interview by Cameron Poole