Story: Jennifer Rolf
Photos: Cory Weaver
Three Friends Making Music Together Is the ‘Best of Both Worlds’ for Brutus
rutus translated from Latin, means “heavy.” While that’s one way to describe the metal stylings of the Leuven, Belgium-based three-piece, the truth is they can’t be pinned down so easily—their sound is often referred to as post-hardcore, math rock or progressive rock, to name a few.
At Voodoo Fest, touring in support of their second LP, Nest, Brutus performed at the tucked-away South Course stage in an early afternoon time slot, gathering a decent-sized crowd for their debut appearance in the States. While bassist Peter Mulders and guitarist Stijn (pronounced “Stan”) Vanhoegaerden are impressive on their respective strings, it’s hard not to be mesmerized by vocalist and drummer Stefanie Mannaerts, who can belt out sublime melodies and seconds later scream impassioned lyrics at the top of her lungs. We caught up with the band after the set.
Stijn Vanhoegaerden, Peter Mulders & Stefanie Mannaerts
You three coming together—were you friends before you started a band?
Stefanie: I played with Stijn in a band when I was 15, and I played with Peter in a band when I was 20.
Peter: [Motioning to bandmates] I knew them from the local scene, and they knew each other very well.
How important do you think it is to have that connection as friends before [playing in a band together]?
Stijn: Very important, because I think it actually made our friendship even better, because we were friends and we started making music together, and there’s not really other people I can imagine doing this with. It’s the best of both worlds. You play together, and we’re friends.
Stefanie: I think you have to be friends.
Peter: You go through so much, to playing the first show, to playing here, or on the road; there’s so much happening, and it’s not always good. Sometimes it’s bad too, and you have to stick together, and if you’re not friends, I don’t know how you would. It’s almost like a relationship.
Do you live in the same city or in close proximity?
Stijn: When we started out, we used to live in the same building. The three of us. We moved together to be able to play together.
Peter: Those were good times. One car. Go to the show. Come back from the show. Me and Stefanie live in the same city—20 minutes apart.
Stijn: In the beginning when we drove different cars, if you arrived at the show and hadn’t met up together, it was weird. Now we drive together to the shows, even if it’s just one hour.
Stefanie: After a festival date, my boyfriend came to see the show, and [after the show] I had to decide who I would go with. I asked the band, “Would you mind if I drove with my boyfriend? Is this weird?”
Do you tour around Belgium frequently?
Stefanie: It’s less and less. Belgium is a small country. You can play so many shows until a certain point. The first four years, we played in Belgium 150 times, and they were so small. And when you go bigger, and do your first big festival, now we play a big venue once a year and then a big festival once a year.
Stijn: And the rest are all across Europe.
Peter: Outside of Belgium we tour all of the European countries—they’re so different, France or Spain. Germany. UK.
Your songwriting process—you all work together. You don’t do your own separate thing? How does that work?
Stijn: It’s difficult, but really nice. Everybody works on parts and then we get together, but the moment one of us starts playing something, it’s three of us, hands on from the first note.
Peter: The most important thing is that everyone has the right to say everything or anything. So when Stijn makes a lick at home, and he plays it for the first time, it’s not his anymore, it’s from everybody. Same with Stefanie for vocals. Equal rights for everybody.
Stijn: The cool thing is, I can play something for two weeks in my apartment, and think, “I really like this riff,” thinking I’m such a genius, then I get to the rehearsal place, and she’s like (pointing to Stefanie) “That’s just stupid. Play that note.” [All laughing.] You can be honest and open with each other.
Peter: It’s super important.
Stefanie: It makes sense because sometimes we just talk about it. If we disagree and someone says, “Should we do this?” and you say something that makes sense, then it’s okay. But if you’re just saying, “I just want to play this riff,” if it adds nothing to the music, that’s stupid.
What about lyrics?
Stijn: That’s actually just Stefanie.
Stefanie: I work hard on it because English is not my first language. I don’t even speak my own language properly [laughing]. I write some stuff and ask, “Is this correct English?” And then when everything is done we go through all the lyrics.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Stefanie: Ignore each other. Also after the show. Ten minutes before the show, it’s like, “I don’t know you.” Ten minutes after the show, “I still don’t know you.”
Peter: We go out on stage on the same side. We used to not do that.
Stijn: We don’t have anything we do every show. We do warmups.
Do the drums take a physical toll?
Stefanie: The vocals are more draining than the drums. It’s more tiring than the drumming.
If you could project out five years from now, where do you want to be with the band?
Stijn: I just want to do what we’re doing, hopefully in five years be at a place where we can still grow, always have opportunities that we can take.
Stefanie: Always do better.
Peter: Make better albums.
Stijn: Make better records.
Stefanie: Better live show.
Peter: And maybe start living from it, because it’s not easy. We don’t have to be rich, or in nice hotels, or nice buses. Basic living, basic money.
Stijn: Buy shoes and food.
Stefanie: Now it’s a joke—everyone thinks that you tour so much and “You must be rich!” But no, I’ve never been so poor.