Memorial Day Weekend has become somewhat of a musical tradition in New England over the past decade with the Boston Calling Music Festival. It’s quite the spectacle and this year’s edition promises to be one of the best ever with a stacked array of music taking place at the Harvard Athletic Complex from May 26-28. The lineup includes the likes of Foo Fighters, Flaming Lips, The National, Queens Of The Stone Age, Alanis Morrissette, Yeah Yeah Yeahs among many other talented acts. One of these other acts is Brutus, a kickass post-hardcore trio from Leuven, Belgium. The trio of drummer Stefanie Mannaerts, bassist Peter Mulders and guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden will be bringing their emphatic sound to the Blue Stage on the last day of the festival at 3:45pm. They also have a unique musical approach with Mannaerts also singing while drumming.

Mulders and I had a talk ahead of Boston Calling about the band’s latest album that came out last year, dealing with the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic, having an interesting structure and thoughts on being part of the festival.

Rob Duguay: Last October, Brutus released their third studio album Unison Life, so how would you describe the experience of making this album? In what ways was the process different from your previous two studio releases?

Peter Mulders: We had a lot more time because of the pandemic. A lot of tours got canceled and suddenly we were stuck at home, much like the rest of the world was. Then we took our time to explore more and to write more than we did for our previous albums. We went deeper and experimented more with instrumentation in our songs and we recorded many more demos than we ever did before, I think that was the biggest difference from the other albums.

RD: How were you able to whittle those demos down to the tracks that are on the album? Did you just choose which ones fit best?

PM: It was very hard for us, especially with the time we had, because it’s like you’re killing your darlings. I think we had 30 demos and when the pandemic hit, we moved into a new space. With the first two albums, we rehearsed in our old space that had no facilities and we recorded every demo with an IPhone in the middle of the room and then we’d play a track. With those demos, when we went into the studio it was the only time we could hear what we were doing because recording demos with an IPhone is crappy. With this new space for our most recent album, we had everything mic’d up.

We also had a computer so we could record demos to tracks. It enabled us to work a lot harder and more in-depth on the songs with melodies and different instruments than we ever could before.

RD: During the recording process, was this still during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and you were all wearing masks while being socially distanced or were you able to get into the studio when things started opening back up?

PM: Things had already opened back up. We had also played some shows because in Belgium and all of Europe there were some ups and downs. We called them “corona shows” and they had a seated audience. I remember when our producer Jesse Gander flew in from Canada and he had a lot of stress about not being able to get on the plane, so there was still some COVID danger. He actually got the flu when he was in the studio and he was very scared that he wouldn’t be able to fly back, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

RD: That’s good to hear. Before Brutus started, you and Stefanie were in a Refused tribute band called Refused Party Program. How much has that particular band had an influence on the music that the both of you create with Stijn as part of Brutus?

PM: Of course we consider Refused to be a very special band, but for our music I think it mostly comes from how I met Stefanie. We’re always going to be connected through that project, that tribute band. When a bass player is looking for a drummer, it has to be something special. When Stefanie and I were playing in that Refused tribute band, I knew that I never wanted to not play with this drummer ever again. That was even before she started singing, she’s such a good drummer and she nailed all the difficult Refused tracks so well. I knew then that I wanted to play with this drummer forever, that’s the most important thing I took with me from that period.

RD: Speaking of Stefanie being the drummer while also being the lead vocalist of the band, does it make the songwriting process a bit different from other bands you've previously been in? A drummer doing the singing in a band is still a rarity these days.

PM: I think it definitely affects our songwriting, especially in the beginning. She had to choose a little bit between focusing on the drums and focusing on the vocals, but with our last album she didn’t really care. She’s so involved in it and she’s so good at it now that she can do anything at the same time. It’s the creativity of her that brings these special melodies and vocal lines to the songs, but in the beginning the vocals influenced the drums and vice versa. When you have a singer and a drummer that’s the same person, for the flow of the songs it’s very special because it’s always connected.

The vocals are always connected to the tempo of the song and you never have to search for that. It’s always new and with Stijn, our only task is to click with what he’s doing on guitar.

RD: That’s a very interesting process. What are your thoughts on playing Boston Calling? Do you always get excited when it comes to playing major festivals like this one?

PM: It’s amazing being a band from Belgium, flying over to the United States and playing big festivals like this. We already reached this point in Europe, especially in Belgium, but we’re touring the U.S. for the second time and being able to play Boston Calling is incredible. It was also on our agenda in 2020, but it got canceled because of the pandemic so we’re looking forward to this enormously.

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