It’s the evening before the release of Unison Life, Brutus’ third album, when I speak to drummer and vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts. She’s relaxing at home, looking forward to sharing the remaining songs that form the Belgian heavy trio’s latest record. “I have the feeling we have the best fan base ever,” she warmly enthuses. “They’re so loyal. When we put out the first single from this record ‘Dust’, the reactions were insane. We’d been away for two years, the world is fucked up – even more fucked up than before – so you think, ‘who will care about these three idiots from Belgium?’ and then we released it and it was insane. We are so fucking lucky.”

Stefanie frequently refers to Brutus as “lucky” throughout our chat, but it’s clear that the band who she playfully describes as “three idiots”’ have created their own success. From their 2017 debut Burst, to 2019’s Nest, up to the current Unison Life, Stefanie and her bandmates Stijn Vanhoegaerden (guitar) and Peter Mulders (bass) have delivered relentless, genre-blending, powerful heavy music that’s impressed the likes of Deftones, Dave Grohl, Simon Neil and many more. They have combined their collective talents to create records that absolutely command, and deserve the attention of their loyal fans.

It’s perhaps unsurprising to know that Stefanie has immense personal discipline when it comes to songwriting. When approaching the music for Unison Life, she set herself the “impossibly high standard” of writing the best songs she’s ever written, a “two-year quest of trying to do better.” This wasn’t a torturous process though. The intensity of her vision allowed Stefanie to truly focus on enjoying creating the record with her bandmates, which is reflected in the sheer force of its sound and her triumphant, self-possessed vocals.

“For me, it was the right mindset to start writing the album,” she elaborates. “As a person, I am very black or white, or I am yes or I am no, so I’m a bit extreme in my thoughts. That’s not always easy, but that’s how I am. We had so much time with this record. We had eighteen months to work on it, normally, we only have a quarter of that time to write. So having that high standard was a necessary thing for me. When I look back, I’m happy that I was so strict with myself.

It was not a short process, but it was not this draining journey. It was very reflective. We went the extra mile, and then the extra extra mile, we questioned every lyric, every riff, every note. We talked about it over and over again. I have the feeling we did everything we could to make the record how it is now. In terms of the band, I felt like we had a year and a half of quality time together as friends too, which is also why I’m very happy with it.”

This quality time was something that sustained Stefanie throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst the live music scene suffered under the strain of lockdowns and other preventative measures, she felt that she was able to reframe her thinking and make the most of an unprecedented situation.

“As a band, we’re normally in such a rush all the time. We’re always rehearsing, playing the set, going on tour, doing the same thing again and again. For example, with Nest, we only had a few months to write that record. We even had to write while we were on tour, otherwise we wouldn’t finish it in time. So everything was always very rushed with this band.

I’m also a people person. So when COVID came into the world and the world stood still, I realised how much I needed friends and not colleagues. At some point when you play together so much, you kind of forget that you were friends with your bandmates in the first place. Not that we argued of course, but it just feels like you’re on this train and everyone is always trying to catch the train all the time. So for me, I look back at it as a gift, to have had all this time with my friends and my boyfriend, who is a musician too. We have been together for 11 years, but up until the pandemic we had only been on holiday together once, because our touring schedules were always so different. So, instead of mourning all the stuff that we couldn’t do because everything got cancelled, I just grabbed the opportunity with two hands to make the best out of the time while the world was fucked.”

Stefanie is aware that this wasn’t the case for many people during the early days of COVID, which is when she refers back to Brutus’ “luck” again.

“We are very lucky as a band. There are so many good bands that don’t get these chances. We have all of these people who believe in us, from fans, to labels and bookers, so when the pandemic happened I didn’t want to take anything for granted. That’s why I did this 180 in my head, instead of thinking ‘Oh fuck, we’re going to miss this tour, and this support tour,’ I was like, ‘Okay, we have to do everything we can to make this album the best that we can.”

This outlook has translated into Unison Life, a visceral, deeply engaging record exploring growth, resilience, and the inevitability of change. Stefanie’s unique vocals are underscored by her powerhouse percussion, Stijn’s rapturous guitar riffs and Peter’s brutal bass lines. With so many potent songs on the tracklist, it’s hard to pick a favourite, but for Stefanie, ‘What Have We Done’ seems to accurately capture the essence of what went into the creation of Unison Life.

“I don’t know how to explain it without sounding very ‘hippy’,” she laughs, “but when we wrote ‘What Have We Done’, it was the same feeling I had when we wrote ‘Nest’ and ‘War’. It’s a feeling where you’re super proud, but you’re also in shock that this is happening, and then scared that you’re that you’re going to fuck it up. It was something special. It felt like kind of a turning point or a crossroad for the band.”

The accompanying video for ‘What Have We Done’, made up of live footage shot by Jonas Hollevoet, shows Brutus doing what they do best, performing at their favourite festivals, Rock Herk and Lokerse Feesten. “We realised that we always take our music very seriously, but we never really took our videos very seriously,” Stefanie comments. So for Unison Life, the trio took time to work with friends who could help them achieve more ambitious visuals, particularly for singles ‘Liar’ and ‘Victoria’.

“We shot the video for ‘Liar’ in Morocco with a close friend, Maximiliaan Dierickx,” Stefanie explains. “We already had a concept that suited the story, so we talked to Maximiliaan – who is a big deal in the film industry, by the way, it’s insane that he even wanted to do it – and we chose to shoot in Morocco because the setting suited the album’s artwork and the vibe of the album. The song ‘Liar’ is about lying – obviously. I sometimes tell a lie, just so I don’t hurt anyone. I’m very uncomfortable with confrontation. I run away from it, or I overcompensate because the vibe is not nice, so the three masks in the video represent the lies that always catch me out in the end.”

“’Victoria’ is very nostalgic,” she reflects. “It’s about getting older with your friends, and even though everything sometimes sucks, it’s okay, because you’re going down together, so it doesn’t matter. I’m super proud of the videos we made with Jonas and Maximiliaan. For me, a good video has to make the music feel better, and that’s definitely what happened here.”

We move on to chatting about Stefanie’s anticipations for the band’s upcoming UK tour in November. They’re currently preparing for these shows with lots of rehearsals, so they can deliver their “best set” yet. “We have a label in England, we have friends in England, so it’s always super nice to be in the UK, it’s just a different vibe to Belgium,” she explains. Stefanie is also looking forward to something else during her stay. “You guys have the best breakfast culture ever,” she enthuses. “I’m vegan, so for me the UK is like vegan heaven. Food is very important to me!”

It goes without saying that simultaneously drumming and singing for an entire set must be an appetite-building task. When asked about this impressive feat, and whether she finds it cathartic to sing lyrics that could be interpreted as vulnerable against a backdrop of heavy music – for example, “We’ve been down this road before / I’ve never felt so insecure” on ‘Chainlife’ – Stefanie has a pragmatic response.

“I don’t know how my brain works to be honest,” she laughs. “For me, the vocals and the instruments have to be in balance. It’s not that I need a loud part of the music to say what I feel. The older I get, the more I really just have to say what I think. With our first record, the lyrics for the songs were from made up stories, and I had also only been singing for two years at that point. I think the lyrics I write now are so honest because I’ve learned that you cannot mean the music, and then not mean the lyrics when you’re singing. It took me a long time to accept that I was the singer, and to know how I am as a singer, but I see it as one instrument now.

Of course, you have to think about your technique and how you breathe, but it’s getting more normal. When we’re on tour, I cannot drink alcohol, because then I have no voice the day after, and I have to try to sleep in the bus and stuff like that. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. I work the best when I have full focus. It’s always been like this, so I just have to be thoughtful about it. I mean, I don’t get people who play guitar and sing at the same time. It’s super weird for me to see them doing that.”

Stefanie’s unique viewpoint on her capabilities as a musician is something that may have been nurtured from a young age. Her family owns a music store in Belgium, Leo Caerts, which has been trading for an impressive 45 years. Her Grandad, who bought the store, is a musician himself, her aunts and her Mother work there to this day, and she describes her Father, who helped to build the business, as “the greatest guitarist ever.” Clearly, a deep understanding of, and love for music is in Stefanie’s DNA.

“It’s a very unique thing to be in a family business like this, but I don’t know anything else,” she explains. “It’s what I’m used to. I worked in the store for eight years, I’ve studied music my entire life. It’s what I do, it’s the only thing I know.”

To wrap up our chat, I ask Stefanie what music she’s been listening to lately, to which she instantly replies with Burial. “He’s my all time favourite, always, forever and ever. I listen to him all the time,” she comments about the UK-based producer. Burial actually dropped a surprise EP titled Streetlands the following day, thus sharing a release date with Brutus’ Unison Life – a coincidence I’m sure made Stefanie very happy.

Order your copy of Brutus’ lastest album Unison Life here

BRUTUS UK Tour Dates 2022
16th Nov – Bristol, The Fleece
17th Nov – Manchester, Rebellion
18th Nov – Glasgow, Audio
19th Nov – Leeds, Lending Room
21st Nov – Brighton, Patterns
22nd Nov – London, The Garage

A full list of Brutus’ European dates for 2023 can be found here

Follow Brutus on bandcampSpotifyTwitterFacebook & Instagram

Photo Credit: Kemizz

Kate Crudgington

LISTEN: GIHE on Soho Radio with Fraulein 09.02.22

Tash, Kate & Mari were back on the Soho Radio airwaves playing loads of new music from some of their favourite female, non-binary and LGBTQ+ artists.

London-based grunge duo Joni & Karsten aka Fraulein joined them to talk about headlining the first GIHE gig of 2022 at The Victoria in Dalston, their upcoming tour dates with The Mysterines, what initially inspired them to start playing instruments and Joni’s upcoming rhythm guitar teaching workshop for First Timers Fest.

Listen back below:


Ronnie Spector – She Talks To Rainbows
Dropper – Ok Ok Ok
Brimheim – can’t hate myself into a different shape
SPRINTS – Little Fix
Kim Gordon – Murdered Out
Moon Panda – Falling
LEYA ft. Julie Byrne – Glass Jaw
Novaa – The World’s Thing
SEA CHANGE – Is There Anybody There
Pearly – Silver Of The Mirror
Fraulein – Belly
**Fraulein Interview**
Bachelor – Back Of My Hand
Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupil – Ceci n’est pas un cliché
Celine Love – Good Girl
MARIA BC – The Only Thing
Gazelle Twin – Hole In My Heart
Mitsune – Maru
Proper. – Milk & Honey
Double Helix – Rat Rave
Bluebook – Shake Shake
t l k – Frame of Ted
Bas Jan – Sex Cult
Queen Cult – Calm
Tits Up – Macho Bullshit
Sassyhiya – I Had A Thought
Nova Twins – Bullet

VIDEO PREMIERE: Pixie Cut Rhythm Orchestra – ‘Empty Envelope’

A disarming reflection on the emotional resilience that’s required in the wake of a bad decision, Dublin-based trio Pixie Cut Rhythm Orchestra shared their single ‘Empty Envelope’ via Anon Records in September last year. The brooding, shoegazey lament was inspired by a dream that vocalist & guitarist Sarah Deegan had about receiving an empty letter in the post, and today (12th Jan) the band have shared an accompanying video, shot & edited by Irish artist Hollie Gilson, further exploring the song’s narrative of unsaid things.

We caught up with Sarah to talk about creating the new video, how Pixie Cut Rhythm Orchestra first came to meet and what we can expect from the band in 2022…

Can you remember who or what inspired you to start making your own music?

I remember CDs. I loved the tactile nature of it; putting the CD on and flicking through the lyric booklet while listening, finding your own meaning in the songs. I remember listening to the whole album and not just one song. I remember the music channels on TV, the emo ones of course. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the music video for Evanescence ‘Bring Me To Life’ or Paramore’s ‘Misery Business’.

Neither will we, that’s some iconic 00s imagery. For anyone who doesn’t know, can you explain how Pixie Cut Rhythm Orchestra first met?

The band has changed about 9 times since its original conception, so it’s kind of hard to say, but I first met Danni about 5 years ago through being friends with her brother. I was in their house and mentioned needing a drummer for some college performance thing I was doing. He said it to her at the kitchen table, and she said that she was up for it. About 20 minutes later I could hear Danni out in the shed playing the song. She’s just a legend. On bass, we’ve recently enlisted Sarah Michelle, who is well known for her guitar playing skills. She’s amazing at bass too.

You’ve teamed up with artist Hollie Gilson (who directed the video for your previous single ‘I didn’t love you when I said I did and I don’t now”) to create the video for ‘Empty Envelope’. Talk us through some of the highlights of working with Hollie again…

Me and Hollie are really good friends, so that makes the process a lot easier. We always do 4 or 5 drafts before a video is final. We spend time watching it, we show others, and consider their feedback. It’s important to have people around us that we can bounce off. This video is a lot more abstract than the last one, there’s no clear timeline in it. We focused more on letting the imagery tell the story.

When you released the single back in 2021, you said that the image of the ‘Empty Envelope’ was inspired by a dream you had, and the lyrics to the track are based around the “cyclical nature of bad decisions.” Talk us through how you chose to reflect these things in the accompanying video…

The start of the video is pretty much exactly like the dream. In the dream, I got a letter in the post. The envelope was painted with swirls of blue and pink. It was the most beautiful envelope I had ever seen. It was from my ex, I could see their name and return address in the corner. I opened it and it was completely blank. Just a really nice looking envelope with absolutely nothing inside. I thought that was a good metaphor for the relationship.

We used wringing hands in the video to portray anxiety and nervous energy. The protagonist attempts to write a response to the empty letter, but this only leads to more frustration. Frustrated and alone, they take their piles of paper and burn them, along with the letter.

The track is an ode to moving on, and this is reflected with the imagery of the train. But moving yourself physically doesn’t change anything, in a new place the cycle of bad decisions continues. It takes something a bit more dramatic (like burning everything) to really break a pattern.

PCRO are working on a debut album at the moment. What details can you tell us about the record?

We’ve been working on this album for the last 2 years with Sean Montgomery Dietz, who is an insanely talented producer/engineer/musician. We’re recording mainly in Crossroads, a studio owned by Shane Tobler in Kilkenny. Parts of the album were also recorded in Dublin, at the Annesley House, and in Clare and Drogheda. We teamed up with some really talented musicians who played orchestral instruments on a couple of tracks, Ali Comerford on violin and Karima Dillon El-Toukhy on flute. A combination which I can only describe as majestic.

Most of the songs were written in Mayo, where I’m from. The album takes you on a journey through growing up, the confrontation of idealism and the real world, asserting your independence and getting your heart broken. It’s an honest reflection on the confusion of youth, and talks openly with both sensitivity and cynicism.

We’re really taking our time with this, and I can tell you that, unlike a lot of new albums, every song is a proper song. Long songs, with long titles, that don’t really care for the modern lack of attention span. There has been some debate about whether or not the album will be uploaded to Spotify.

That sounds great, we can’t wait to hear it. Aside from releasing the album, what are your hopes and ambitions for PCRO for 2022?

To play as many shows as the pandemic permits, to just keep doing what we’re doing.

Finally, are there any bands or artists you’re listening to who you’d like to recommend we check out?

Another Anon Records artist to watch this year is OG CNT & the 1240. OG CNT is a WhatsApp famous counter-cultural anti-hero. Tracks like ‘HATE’ and ‘Everybody that I know’ are unforgettable. His album, The Memoirs of OG CNT, will be out this year too.

Thanks to Sarah for answering our questions!
Watch the new video for ‘Empty Envelope’ below.

Follow Pixie Cut Rhythm Orchestra on bandcampSpotifyTwitterInstagram & Facebook

Photo Credit/Video Still: Hollie Gilson

Kate Crudgington

INTERVIEW: Divide & Dissolve

Fuelled by Takiaya Reed’s doom-ridden saxophone sounds and Sylvie Nehill’s phenomenal percussion, Divide & Dissolve create idiosyncratic instrumentals designed to erode the foundations of colonialism and liberate the land for indigenous communities. Flowing with a unique gargantuan grace, their second album Gas Lit has been haunting our ears since it was released in January of this year.

We caught up with Takiaya to talk about the record, the reception that it’s had, the new Remix EP that it’s inspired, and a shared love for Radio 6 presenter Mary Anne Hobbs…

Hello Takiaya, how are you doing today?

I’m good, I’m in finals right now, so I’m studying a lot and trying to drink enough water to feed my brain. I’m studying psychology. It’s intense, but I feel super chill about it, because it’s all just a pseudo science. It’s kind of comical trying to find ways to talk about things that are extremely inaccessible and continuing to perpetuate all these things that are sometimes helpful, and sometimes not. The mind is so mysterious and vast, and we’ll never really know what it’s capable of…

I think you should put that in your final essay. You should just end it with that sentiment.

Yeah, they’ll be like “50 Points off for not using enough empirical evidence…”

That’s true, maybe don’t listen to me! In terms of music, let’s start from the beginning. Can you remember who, or what first inspired you to start making music? And how Divide & Dissolve first came together too?

It was my dad who first inspired me. I started out playing piano but then he was like, “hey, you look like a saxophone player,” and I was like, “what? A sax player, really? I thought I should play trombone or something?” but he said “I know you’re a sax player. I play trumpet, so we could play duets” So he got me started on playing saxophone and I felt this intuitive almost spiritual connection with the instrument. I still roll my eyes at my dad for what he said about looking like a sax player, but I think there’s something to him having had that knowledge.

Then later on, I was inspired to play guitar because I met my friend Osa Atoe, who does Shotgun Seamstress and was in a band called New Bloods. She showed me how to put on shows, how to set up a PA and she told me to play guitar. Osa was super inspirational in terms of me not playing classical music, which is what my first passion was.

With Divide & Dissolve, I just had a good friend say to me “Hey, you should meet Sylvie, you two are going to love each other” and we instantly just got along. It’s not a very eventful story, it’s just more like, “hey, you’re cool. Okay, cool. Let’s play music. Sweet!” We’re both super chill people, so it just works. I’m trying to trust in that. When making decisions about life, sometimes it just feels super right, like you’re just supposed to be there. Those are probably very good guiding principles.

From what you’ve told me so far, it sounds like you rely a lot on your intuition, which surely can only lead you to the right kind of people and the right kind of things.

The music you make as Divide & Dissolve, aside from being amazing, is fuelled by a powerful anti-racist, anti-white supremacy, anti-colonialist message. Do you feel like your music is uniting and educating people about these issues?

I can only hope that it is. It feels amazing to be able to talk about the things that we want to talk about, and be able to experience relationality with our ancestors, our relatives and our kin, and to be able to talk about the Earth in this way and just feel all the resonance. That’s just what we’re about in general. So I feel super grateful and I don’t want to take any of that for granted. I want to be able to continue to connect with people in these really positive and meaningful ways. That’s just how Sylvie and I are. We’re pretty focused and we want to directly communicate our message. We would like the systems that continue to perpetuate genocide to end. If you can imagine something ending, then it can end. Instead of living in the world where you feel like, “oh well, that’s not possible” – you should try to believe that anything’s possible. That’s where I’m at.

That’s a really refreshing and hopeful sentiment. You do a magnificent job of making listeners feel this way on your most recent album, Gas Lit. What would you say you were most proud of about this record?

I remember having a conversation with Ruban Nielson (Unknown Mortal Orchestra) who produced the record, and I just told him, “I hope people can understand exactly what this album is about.” We put a lot of intention into the album when we were writing it. We put a lot of effort and love in, and we consulted with our ancestors. So when it was released, the way people were writing about it and talking about it felt so attuned. They knew what the album was about without me even specifically telling them what it was about. It was abundantly clear and that still feels incredibly special. It’s so amazing to want to communicate something, and then to have it actually happen. It makes me feel super inspired to continue playing music. I love that Sylvie and I get to do that with one another. It feels like such a blessing.

Do you have a favourite track on the album? Is there one that you enjoyed recording the most or one that you enjoy playing live the most?

Do you know what, I don’t feel properly equipped to answer that question yet, because we have been in a pandemic and this music hasn’t been played live. But, I feel like I’ll know the answer once we go on tour. I’ll be like, “Oh my God, it’s this song!”

The creation of all of the songs was so unique, so it will feel awesome to learn more about the album in terms of performance when we play it live. It feels so wild to be able to do such a thing, because we haven’t had the opportunity to. I’m very excited to play live. I feel optimistic and hopeful that live music will return in a way that feels meaningful and good.

I can’t wait to catch you live when you’re here in the UK. You’ve recently released a Gas Lit Remix EP, featuring tracks by Moor Mother (‘Mental Gymnastics’) and Chelsea Wolfe (‘Far From Ideal’). Talk to me about how this EP came to life…

Our label, Invada, thought it would be cool to do some remixes and I just knew who I should hit up. I feel so connected to both of Camae (Moor Mother) and Chelsea. I think they are both amazing people who do amazing things. It feels so special that they would want to work with us. It just makes me smile a lot.

I’ve just seen that BEARCAT has also remixed a track for you, which is cool!

The visuals that you’ve shared to accompany the Chelsea Wolfe remix and the Moor Mother remix – shot by artist, writer, and filmmaker Sophia Al-Maria who currently has a sculpture at the Serpentine in Hyde Park – compliment the songs so well. 

I love music videos. I don’t know how to make them myself, but the visual world is so interesting. I love it when people who have an understanding of it decide to connect with us and tell another story. Maybe they make it deeper, maybe they don’t. It feels special to try and achieve deeper communication. I think it enhances the music and I love that. Anything that helps us to be able to feel this feeling deeper is awesome. But also, maybe the videos help you not feel things as deeply, and that’s awesome as well, because maybe that’s what someone needs.

I agree, I think there’s a nice balance between the visuals and the sounds.

We’re big fans of Divide & Dissolve her at GIHE, and someone else who also is also a big fan of yours is Radio 6 presenter Mary Anne Hobbs. How do you feel about that?

I really want to meet her, she seems so cool. Sylvie and I want to hang out and eat food with her. She’s across so much cool music, she has really great energy and it feels like such a huge blessing to have her understanding of what we’re doing. I admire her, I think she’s awesome.

We think she’s amazing too. Maybe this will be the interview that she reads and then she invites you to dinner?

Finally, what else is on the horizon for Divide and Dissolve? 

We’re going on tour soon and we’re playing Roadburn in 2022, so that will be fun!

Thanks to Takiaya for the chat!

Order your copy of the Gas Lit Remix EP here

Follow Divide and Dissolve on bandcampInstagramSpotifyTwitter & Facebook

Photo Credit: Jaimie Wdziekonski

Kate Crudgington