Though gigs have started to resurface in new, socially-distanced forms, live music's absence from 2020 has been hard-felt by bands and fans alike. Luckily, live albums are a 'thing' and Belgian trio Brutus are releasing their first-ever one, recorded in their hometown of Ghent last year in front of 750 fans. Catching up with the three of them - Stefanie Mannaerts (drums, vocals), Peter Mulders (bass), and Stijn Vanhoegaerden (guitar) - fresh out of rehearsals, they give us the lowdown on what's been going on in their world.
Hey guys, how are things at the moment?
Peter: We're writing new songs, or trying to write new songs.
It's exciting that you've got a live album coming at a time when there's no real live experience happening.
Stijn: I never thought we would make a live record this fast, so it's really nice. When there's no live music, it's nice that we can still do something like this.
Have you been listening back to re-conjure that feeling?
Stefanie: I think when we were judging the mixes, it brought us back right through that moment, but we are rehearsing so much that the focus is now on writing new songs. But two weeks ago, 'All Along' came out, and I checked it again. I'm very proud of what we did that night.
It must be nice to have this moment of your career immortalised?
Peter: It's an honour to have a live album. We're only a band with two studio albums, and now we can do this live album. It's cool. We had the idea, but you still have your labels who need to follow you in the idea, and when they listened to the mixes, they were so enthusiastic. It's weird, we had the idea in March at the beginning of the lockdown, and now it's six months later that when it's been released.
You've also played a couple of shows since being in lockdown?
Peter: We played one live show. There was one cool venue in Belgium, like an amphitheatre, and they did some live shows. We played one live show, and then one live show for a video on the rooftop of an old fort.
How was it playing to an audience in that situation?
Stijn: There was this vibe of 'how was this going to be?' People had to sit down, had to wear masks, had to keep their distance, so it wasn't full capacity.
Stefanie: No, but you felt that people were very eager and excited to watch a live show again. That was in June or July, so that was only four months after the lockdown, but that night was very good.
Peter: People were very eager, or very thankful for live music, and we were thankful because we can play, so it was a really nice, really good energy. We were a little bit afraid because everybody had to sit down and it was a 2000 capacity amphitheatre, but only 400 people were allowed in, so they had a lot of distance between - but it was a great night. Everyone had so much energy. We saw a lot of people headbanging on their chairs, and there was no mosh pit, of course. But to be honest, at Brutus shows you don't see a lot of mosh pits or, I don't know people are most of the time…
Stijn: Just listening.
Peter: Listening, or something like that. Sometimes there is dancing, of course.
What aspect of the live show have you been missing?
Stijn: For me, it's the energy; the adrenaline; the stress. It gets me to play a good show, and then the release after a show and being able to talk to people, all those things together make a show for me, so it's really boring now not playing.
Peter: Your mood of the night, you take that feeling into the show. Sometimes you have a bad night, and the show fixes everything - I miss that.
Stefanie: In the beginning, it was okay because we were writing so much, so I didn't miss something, but then in an interview two months ago, they asked us 'If you have to choose to make songs forever or play music forever…' Out of nowhere, it hit me. I actually really miss playing live very hard. I ignored it when the lockdown was there; we didn't cry about it, and we had so many shows that we still had to play in the States, and then suddenly everything was gone. I didn't take time to think about it. I really miss playing a show, being focused and like Stijn said before, to have a release moment when the show was good.
Peter: I was just thinking about it but just playing a show is one thing, but it's everything that's going on around the show - the people that we travel with the evenings when the venue is closed, and everybody is enjoying the after-show moments.
What shows stand out to you?
Peter: Hell Fest, that was so special. At first, we were surprised that we were on the list for Hell Fest, because we were not the typical Hell Fest band. It was super hot by the last day, it was 12 o'clock, it was 40 degrees, and the area was completely full. They had to close it down, and we were like 'what the fuck are these people coming to see us at the hottest day on the last day of the festival and everybody should be at least [finding] some shade to see the headliners'. It was so much energy, and I was like, 'Fuck, this is great'. It was amazing, really great time there.
Stijn: I was gonna say a different show - we did one in LA in a really small club. That was a really special night, the club has so much history and just being there was so intense. It was packed. There were so many people there that I grew up listening to their music, I was so nervous - and we didn't fuck up!
Stefani: I remember, I think in 2018, we had tours with three big artists where we were the support. We did a tour with Russian Circles and Chelsea Wolfe, and Thrice. And when we came home from Russian Circles we played a show in Ghent, and I don't know why but that was the first time I felt like 'I'm coming home and my friends are here, and our families here, and our boy and girlfriends are here', and that was, based on the vibe for me a very memorable show. People cried. It was crazy!
How was that rooftop gig for you? That's a unique place to play.
Peter: It was an old place with a lot of history. You can look it up on YouTube, we played the song 'Distance'. It was a weird day. In the first show in the amphitheatre, it didn't feel a special vibe, but on the rooftop it was weird.
Stijn: The first one was really nice, and then that second one it was like the middle of the day, a lot of sun, something we're not used to.
Stefanie: It felt like a blind date. Am I liking this, or am I disliking?
Peter: It was weird, but it's all new. Our sound guy is installing solar panels right now, so that's also totally new for him, but he has to do it, so I think we all have to cope and adjust with this new situation.
Stefanie: Yeah, because for us bands, okay, all these shows they stop, and you just go into the studio or go into a rehearsal room and rehearse your ass off but for our mixer like it's not that he has to rehearse his mixing every day. The shows stop for us but also for everyone that works with us.
And how have you all been dealing with the lockdown?
Stefanie: The thing for me is that I have more time with Peter and Stan. When we were so busy, I had the feeling it was only rehearsing, playing, rehearsing, playing. Because you have so much to do, you have so little time. The best part for me is that there is time to be stupid, not like we only have three hours and blah blah. I feel that my friends-battery is charged [for] when we are ready to play again.
Peter: Sometimes [when] we are on the road, it's all stress. Earlier the question about what do you miss hanging out in the venues, touring - for me, most of the time's also the job of tour manager. I don't miss that. I don't miss everything like getting to a venue on time, and driving eight hours and stuff like that. But the question, how I am now? I think I am pretty annoying for my girlfriend! Because of no release time; I don't do sports, so I only have this time in the rehearsal space here with Stijn and Stefanie. I still have a part-time job, they hate me by now, because I am focused on the job, and I'm not away touring. That's why I need live shows again soon, or I will have no more girlfriend or job.
Stijn: For me, for the last several months I have too much time on my hands so for some reason I use that time properly, and I've been really into music theory for the first time in my life - how to record, stuff like that. I just keep busy on my own, that's just the one thing I'm super focused on right now.
Taken from the November issue of Upset. Brutus's album 'Live In Ghent' is out now.
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