My Interview with The Brute Chorus

Describe the average day of a The Brute Chorus member…..

That question used to be a lot easier to answer when we all lived together! We all have pretty separate lives now.

Completing the band line up with bassist Dave was quite a weird coincidence.Are you people that believe in ‘meant to be’, destiny, fate etc….

A lot of the songs on our album How The Caged Bird Sings deal with the idea of fate. It’s very easy to say stuff was meant to be or more often not meant to be. When I was writing those songs I definitely believed in fate and destiny but since then I’ve learned that I can have more control over my own destiny than I thought, and also to remember how amazing chance and coincidences such as finding Dave can work to one’s advantage.

Some of you were in a band together before the realization of The Brute Chorus. Was the new sound that was made from playing and writing together surprising – or was it outlined to a degree in discussions about intent for the band?

We’d been playing in the band Low Sparks for a while and we just grew out of it in terms of the sound and what we were writing about. It was time for a change. We didn’t really sit down and draw up a manifesto but our attitude was certainly different.  We were more focused musically. The Brute’s sound has evolved too and that’s great. Sometimes it makes it hard for people to pigeonhole us or pin us down but I think we have a distinctive style that’s discernible in everything we do. When you hear a Brute Chorus song you definitely know it’s us!

It has been said that you are all into ‘roots’ music. Are there any current bands you are enjoying or that you even see informing your work inadvertently?

We were all raised on folk music and that informs a lot of what we do but we’ve all got such eclectic taste in music it would be a lie to say we only listened to folk or blues music. We think the music we make is very contemporary albeit built out of some quite old fashioned influences. It’s a tricky thing to start listing bands who are influences. Everything you listen to influences you in some way. In terms of bands we’d plug; we’re always happy to recommend John & Jehn, Kirsty McGee, Anna Calvi, Mary Epworth, Underground Railroad, John J Presley, The Fabulous Penetrators,  La Shark and a host of others we’ve worked with and consider ‘friends’.

Victor Van Vugt has produced some of your work. He has worked with artists you greatly admire. You have mentioned that you like having control over what you do, so what attributes do the people you work with have to have to allow you to relinquish control happily?

With people like Victor it’s easier because we’ve heard and admired the work he’s done in the past. In fact when he first arrived we were probably too in awe of him and it took a while to break the ice! So much of what we do is done by us and this is a real part of who we are as a band. We have a close-knit group of friends we work with regularly and these relationships are born out of mutual respect for each other. When we started making videos with David Fishel, he’d worked with The Drums and Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip before us. He and I had long Skype chats before we agreed to work together. The things that convinced me were that he clearly loved the songs and also he had such strong ideas for the videos, not to mention his production values are clearly very high! It was a really rewarding working with him and we’ll probably do more too!

What sort of relationship did you have with Victor. Was he accepting of everyones opinions , was he taskmaster/laidback etc. Did you manage to squeeze out any good stories about previous artists he’s worked with?

Ha! Victor’s an awesome raconteur, bon viveur and drinking buddy. Sadly, due to the way we made that record with him we didn’t have much time in his company. He came and oversaw the recording which was done as a live show but then he took the tapes back to his studio in New York. We then had to mix the album by correspondence. We were on tour and he would send us the day’s mixes and we’d bounce back our comments. The process took over two weeks. He worked really hard on it and we were really pleased with the results. We’ve stayed in touch and are looking forward to hooking up again when we get to America.

You have been invited to play SXSW but you are going to make the most of your Visas and squeeze in a tour kicking off in New York – a city known for its particular music scenes. How do you predict you will be received?  

You can never predict these things. We just hope that people will come to see us! We’ve got a lot of confidence in ourselves. We know we can put on a good show anywhere. If New York provides the crowd, we’ll take care of the rest!

Apart from being a great life experience, what do you hope the band will gain from the trip ideally?

We’re looking to build relationships while we’re over there. We’d like to come over and play more and get our music heard by a new audience in the States. It’s the land of opportunity after all, right?

You are raising money to fund the trip yourself. Bands with impressive fan-bases seem to be struggling financially these days. How do you think music industry needs to change to support bands?

Change is happening… it’s just really slow. That’s the frustrating thing. It’s taken too long for labels etc to adapt to how people want to consume/listen to music. Too much is invested into rereleasing back catalogues are revamping old bands… comeback tours etc. There’s not enough invested in new music! This is an attitude that needs adjusting. Instead of paying millions for Stone Roses or whoever to reform and fill the big festival slots they should be investing in developing new talent to fill those spaces. New bands should be given more opportunities to rise to the occasion. New bands are expected to do more for themselves these days. This is a good thing. The punk ethos has a lot to offer but there comes a point now where bands need to be endorsed by those who still hold sway over the industry. Labels/promoters need to give more acts their vote of confidence before the wider public will take notice.

It is not unusual for American bands to move to London when they realize there is more demand for their particular sound here and vice versa. Would you be willing to up sticks to another country?

If it looked like it was worth doing I don’t think any of us would hesitate to try a change of scene! We love living here in London but who wouldn’t like a spell in New York or somewhere else equally as glamorous?!

Although many initially pigeon hole you as one particular genre you actually incorporate many sounds, including punk and rock n roll. Essentially your music is generally high energy. Do you always manage to win over audiences and get them to dance? If you have a less receptive crowd how does it affect you during and post show?

I think when we choose our set before a show we usually go for the more high energy stuff, especially if it’s a short set in a long bill of other acts. That’s when we really want to grab people’s attention. With longer sets it’s nice to relax a bit and play with the dynamics more. It would be a lie to say we’ve never had a bad gig or that we’ve won over every audience we’ve played before. It’s never nice to leave a gig feeling like it could’ve gone better or we could’ve played better but it does make us more determined to get it right the next time.

You have played  Camden Crawl a few times, and the likes of The Great Escape. Do prefer/think you are best suited to the more intimate, city based festivals or would you ideally play or the larger festivals?

We’ve done both now. We’ve done a lot of those urban festivals and they’re really fun but we’ve done Glastonbury too. I think our favourites are the smaller ones like Secret Garden Party or Standon Calling as they’re the sort of festivals we like to attend as punters. We usually play in clubs and tents and that seems to suit our show quite well but we’d never turn down the opportunity to play larger venues.

You have spoken of the sacrifices and tough times that have occurred during your career. Has there ever been a moment where any of you have considered leaving it all behind. What keeps you all going?

We’ve all had those moments. Usually when one of us wants to throw in the towel it’s the others that keep them at it. We’re all so close as friends that to leave would be a very hard thing indeed. When our drummer Matt quit last year it was heart breaking. Finding Mark to take his place was great but he had an uphill struggle to begin with finding his place personally and musically with us. You have to be prepared to make sacrifices for the things you love and being in this band can be a frequent reminder of that fact! Somehow we all still get so much out of it that we’re still going.

In an interview I watched you spoke of working other jobs and mentioned a particularly lovely memory from working in a pub involving a urinating man. Are you still having to juggle band life with other jobs? How does that affect he musical output?

Yeah, it’s difficult finding time to rehearse and do all the stuff that being in this band involves. Today, for example, I’ve taken a day out of work to finish T-shirt designs, compose the latest mailshot, answer these questions etc. Keeping body and soul together and being a Brute requires a high level of commitment to both! Sure there are times when musical progress seems to grind to a halt. Of course life would be a lot easier if we had a record advance or sold a bunch of albums and didn’t need to work so hard at other things. Our sole aim since starting the band has been to make a living from our music. That’s still a way off but we’ll never stop trying.

Your single, ‘My Testament’ is released in March, it has foundations from another song. Can you elaborate how it came about?

I became obsessed with a song I’d been playing as part of my DJ set. It’s by Big Brown and the Gamblers. It says what should be done with the singer’s earthly remains: If I die… send me to my ma; if my ma don’t want me… send me to my pa; if my pa don’t want me throw me in the sea; if the fish don’t want me… and so on. I’d just split with my fiancé and spent nearly 8 months crashing on people’s floors because I was broke due to some bad money issues connected with the band blah blah… Suddenly this song had a lot of relevance to me just when I had no money and what felt like no one to care for me. We’ve never done many covers as a group but I persuaded the guys to give it a new twist and wrote some extra lines and we really made it our own.

It has been self produced, was this a financial decision or because you wanted it to be a result made up solely of your input?

In this instance it was partly because we were broke, but also we knew we wanted a really garage rock sound for it. We recorded it live in our rehearsal room and then built a mix-down station in our sound engineer’s living room. We wanted to get it down quick and with minimum fuss so that’s what we did. I’d like us to make a really glossy, lush record one day but I also really love the sound we got on this recording. Finding a half way point will be an interesting challenge!

As well as Camden’s Freedm studios and The Strongrooms you have recorded in a lofty, echoey hall in the Lake district. What sort of location creates the sounds you like the most and what setting/environment is best in terms of your creative flow?

The hall in the lake district was amazing. It was an ordeal to record there but the sound the room made became almost the most important instrument on the record! We prefer to have our songs written in advance of going in to record. Because of the way we write some songs can be very quick and others can literally take months. Trying to write and record simultaneously would add a pressure that wouldn’t be enjoyable for me.

Looking over your music so far, how would you say it has evolved over the years?

It’s darker and heavier now.  We’ve lost most of that jaunty skiffly sound now. There’s been no massive shift in the songwriting but our musical palette is broader now and we incorporate other instruments. My thing recently has been buying vintage organs and synthesizers (which Nick then fixes/doctors) so expect these sounds on future recordings!

You have done the very gutsy thing of recording a live album. Do you think this is something every band should dare to do?

No. It felt like the right thing for us to do at the time, but it’s certainly not for everyone and I dunno if we’d go through it again!

What event in The Brute Chorus career would/has really mark/ed that ‘we’ve really made it’ moment for you?

There’ve been many. We’ve never actually ‘made it’ but land marks have been our first radio plays, Glastonbury, our first TV appearance, sound tracking the Adidas ad, our first European tour and now SXSW!

What is on your recently played list?

I’ve been listening to the new albums by The Black Lips, Timber Timbre and The Do as well as some old Nino Ferrer. Last night I got pissed and downloaded loads of gospel music. My current favourite is Marion Williams – The Day Is Past And Gone.

Guilty pleasure?

Pilchards in tomato sauce. Cold from the can.

Person/Band you’d most like to collaborate with?

Lee Hazlewood

Goals for 2012?

America conquered.  A new album recorded.

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