Exclusive Interview – Susie McMullan of Brume

October 2019

Susie McMullan

Susie McMullan of Brume (credit: Peter Prato)

Susie McMullan fronts San Francisco doom band Brume, one of the new staples of the Bay Area’s thriving underground heavy music scene, and one of the vanguards in the rise of what is nothing short of a golden age of female-fronted heavy bands. The low, hypnotically dirge-y fuzz of Brume is a solid bed for Susie’s soaring, emotional vocals. Guitarist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis round out this darkly melodic power trio, which I’ve heard described as ‘if Portishead was a doom band’.

Effervescent and gregarious in person, Susie was kind enough to answer some questions for me in this exclusive interview ahead of the release of their third full length album, Rabbits.

Mojo: Easy first question, tell me a little bit about Brume – how would you describe the music and what does the name mean?

Susie: Brume means mist or fog and it describes how we wanted our music to sound. Slow, thick, enveloping music to listen to with a cup of tea and a joint.

I had thought it was a Led Zeppelin style spelling of ‘broom’, as in witch. Good to know! I was listening to your debut album “Donkey” earlier, it sounds like you guys came right out of the gate fully formed and with an established sound, which is pretty amazing. How did you three come together so quickly to come up with that sound?

Wow, thank you. I suppose we matured our sound early because Jamie was an incredible song writer and riff master before Brume, Jordan composes beats based on vibe and not technical astuteness, even though he has mastered his art; and I like to weave melodies and lyrics in and out to tell a story. The most important thing we all have is respect for one another so it makes writing a song together really easy but most of all fun.

I love that. Speaking of donkeys and roosters, is there a story behind the animal album names?

I suppose this is a question for Jordan, he names all of our albums. I can tell you a bit about Jordan though, he is sarcastic, intelligent, dependable, cranky and loves animals. He often has stories about his chickens at band practice and he glows like he’s talking about his child. Not to mention he often brings a dozen fresh eggs to practice so that is a double bonus.

Brume Rabbits Cover

“Rabbits” cover (credit: Steve Hoskins)

The last time I saw you was at the Elbo Room in Oakland, and you had Jackie Perez Gratz of Grayceon playing electric cello, which was amazing! How did that collaboration come about?

I wrote a song on piano, Blue Jay, that is coming out on Rabbits. While practicing it I often mentioned to Jamie and Jordan, “wouldn’t it be rad if Jackie of Grayceon played on this song”; but I didn’t reach out to her at that time, it was more of a daydream. One day Jackie called me and asked if Brume wanted to do a short tour with Grayceon. This gave me the courage to finally ask her to join me on a song. One thing I never told her is that I added cello synth sounds to the song demo and removed it at the last minute before I sent it to her. I’m so glad I did, she composed the most beautiful piece that is beyond my capabilities (especially on a MIDI device). What is special about her is that she has not only mastered the playing the cello, but also she is a beautiful songwriter. Jackie composed her own part on Blue Jay and recorded it on Brume’s album, Rabbits. It’s heavy. I can’t wait until it is released.

Earlier this year you signed with Magnetic Eye Records, how has that been? Has it affected how you approached recording your latest album?

MER makes a commitment and they follow through. For example, our records they funded are here on time. They do not have any say in our song writing or recording process. Ultimate creative freedom is important to us.

It’s my understanding that you only just went into the studio to begin recording your new album “Rabbits” in April or May, was it a struggle to get it finished for a November release?

That album was an emotional struggle to create. 9AM till 2AM everyday for 7 consecutive days is exhausting, period. However, if you add the emotional baggage of writing and singing personal songs, it takes its toll on you. When it was over, I had to be alone for 2-3 days straight to feel normal again. Imagine writing a lyric that says, “I’m a depressed loser” and singing it hoping to get it over as soon as possible and then you hear Billy [Anderson, producer] say, “Ok, let’s try that again”. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die at least 20 times a day.

I can imagine! What was it like working with Billy Anderson again?

Billy teaches you how to be a professional, only settles for perfection and gives as much of a shit as you do to make a great album. I’m not a “that’s good enough” kind of person, Jamie refuses to settle for anything but greatness, and Jordan is so good he pretty much has one take and is done for the next 6 days. Here is a fun fact — Jordan is done in day one because we don’t play to a click track, we track it all live, but he still stays for the next 6 days to support the band with beer and camaraderie. Pretty sweet, right?

Very! Can you tell me a little bit about the new album and how it fits in with the ongoing story of Brume? Is it an evolution from Rooster and if so how?

Rabbits is less hard and more heavy than Rooster. I think we all are less hardcore and more heavy hearted, so this album reflects our true nature better.

I hear you did some vocals on the upcoming Lowcaster album. How did that come about?

Marc with Lowcaster, whom I didn’t know at the time, sent an Instagram message, “will you sing harmonies with me?”. He sent me a demo, the song was beautiful, I said, “yes”. Their album is great, they should be very proud.

I’m really digging the photography for the new album, who did you work with on the photography and design?

Two major photographers that are big time. Peter Prato is one of the Bay Area’s best portrait photographers. His instagram feed is insane, check it out. He did our portraits you’ll see inside the album. The lovely rabbit you see on the cover of our album was taken by a photographer that specializes in animal portraits, Steve Hoskins. If you like animals, you’ll love his work. The layout and design of our album was all done by Jamie. He likes to dabble in design as a hobby. I’m kidding, he is a design director for one of the biggest design firms in San Francisco. He’s a busy dude.

Brume Band Portrait (crop)

Brume (credit: Peter Prato)

I can’t wait to see you guys at Parkside on the 9th! What’s next for Brume after your album release show?

Excellent, we’ll see you there! We have a Black Sabbath cover coming out in 2020 on MER’s Black Sabbath compilation. I think folks will enjoy listening to modern metal bands interpret old favorites. Except for Brume, we definitely didn’t pick an old favorite (unless you love bummer music as much as us). We chose Solitude and we are going to fuck that song up in a good way!

Thank you so much for your time! Congratulations on the new record!

Brume is playing with Grayceon and Lowcaster at Thee Parkside in San Francisco on November 9 for a double album release show (Brume AND Lowcaster!). Brume’s new album Rabbits is out on Magnetic Eye Records on November 22, 2019.

Find Brume on the web:

Other links:
Magnetic Eye Records
Billy Anderson
Peter Prato / Photography
Steve Hoskins / Photography

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Mojo’s Top Twitter Tips

TwitterSocial media, love it or hate it, has become part of our daily life. As a musician or creative, you are probably painfully aware of the need to be on social consistently (it may feel like constantly!) for engagement and exposure.

It’s generally recommended to pick one or two channels to focus on that cover the sweet spot between where your fans hang out and your own engagement style. As you may know, my long time favorite social media channel is Twitter. It’s so simple that it can be whatever you make it.

Here are my top tips for having a better Twitter experience.

• Make it your own, tweet what you want. It’s more fun if you don’t overthink it. That said, definitely double check your spelling before you hit Tweet.

• Follow who you like, but check their feed first. Don’t feel obligated to follow everyone back, it’s not necessary. Save yourself seeing what you don’t want to see.

Don’t feed the trolls. This means – don’t engage people who are determined to argue or contradict. Some people need to get out of their mom’s basement. Block and mute without guilt.

• Mute words you don’t want to see. Make sure you mute them ‘forever’.

• You can also turn off retweets for people who just retweet too much. You’ll see.

• Also, you can mute notifications for conversations, like ones you’ve been included in that you’re just over already.

• Hashtags aren’t as important as on Instagram, but they are important if they’re not just made up as emphasis words. They link content together and can be followed, as in a Tweet Chat.

• Images, GIFs, and short videos do very well to stand out. Humor always wins.

• The best way to quickly find quality follows is to check the followers of people you like/respect/resonate with, see who they follow. Peep the feeds of your peeps’ peeps.

• Engage. You can find amazing, like minded people on Twitter instantly and unexpectedly.

• Top tip: make lists of categories of accounts (music friends, thought leaders, etc). If you use Tweetdeck on your desktop, you can make your lists into columns and have columns of curated content! This includes private lists.

• Top tip: another great way of finding and engaging with like minded people is by joining or starting a regular Twitter chat, which is a topic-based discussion held together with a hashtag. Start with #Twittersmarter and get even more tips!

Extra tips for creatives promoting content:

• Create a strategy for posting that aligns with your (music) business goals. Create keystone content posts ahead of time, space them out with a calendar and post them automatically with a tool such as Buffer or Hootsuite.

• Whenever possible, tailor your style to the social channel, while keeping everything on brand. Be authentic and this should never be an issue.

• Social is social, not a broadcast platform. This isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross, don’t Always Be Closing. Instead, Always Be Engaging.

• Definitely feel free to recycle content, everything old is new to someone.

• Don’t fall into the vanity metrics trap, organic reach and growth is always best.

What are your top suggestions for using Twitter? What’s your favorite social media platform? Let us know in the comments below!

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Interview: Chris Graham of Chris Graham Mastering

Chris Graham HeadshotChris Graham is the people’s mastering engineer. Self-taught, humble, and wise beyond his years, Chris runs a successful mastering business from his home studio while also being a dedicated family man. He succeeds not only on the basis of his considerable skills as an engineer and systems builder, but also on his accessibility, his genuine love of music and people, and his affinity for bad puns and dad jokes, something we absolutely have in common.

Chris also co-hosts a hugely popular podcast called the Six Figure Home Studio Podcast with audio engineer Brian Hood, which I’ve been addicted to since I stumbled across it. In the podcast, Brian and Chris offer a nonstop stream of wisdom nuggets and truth bombs for the aspiring home studio owner. Chris imparts the podcast with his zany humor, his knack for metaphors, and his amazing skill at distilling the teachings of others into easily relatable lessons.

I was lucky enough to get Chris to answer some questions for me about how he got started, how he selects clients, his soon-to-be-relased software tool Bounce Butler, and even his favorite place to eat in his town of Columbus, Ohio.

Why did you decide to focus specifically on mastering instead of mixing and production?

I started out focusing on production. I learned how to mix to serve my production projects, then I learn how to master to serve my production projects when they ran out of budget. It turned out that I was naturally much better at mastering than I was at anything else. I would get customers’ reactions when I produced a project, like, “hey, looking forward to the next project”. Then I’d master a project for a client and they’d be like (funny voice) “OH MY GOSH – YOU’RE GREAT!” Whether it was true or not, it definitely motivated me to get into [mastering].

I also had a mentor that told me I could do mastering for a living after I mastered a project for him when I was just starting out. I didn’t believe him at first, but then eventually I did and so I went for it and it worked out!

Do you miss doing mixing and/or production, and if so, what do you miss about it?

I do miss producing, but I miss the part of producing where I’m helping an artist with their mindset and with becoming the truest version of themselves. I could see myself producing again. However, I probably would be a pretty hands-off producer as far as tech goes. I’d want an engineer do the tech part and I’d want to do the inter-relational stuff and self-actualization stuff with an artist helping to be the best version of themselves.

That’s not that dissimilar to the business coaching thing that I do — I’m talking to people about their mindset around growing their business within the music industry. Most of that’s about overcoming bottlenecks and fear issues and psychology issues and just learning how to be the truest version of themselves. So I can see myself doing that. Mixing though – I don’t think I could ever do that for a living, I don’t think I have the mindset for it. But, it would be really fun to someday mix on an analog console. That to me is exciting. Like a little bit of outboard gear, but mostly just a big console with built-in compression, that would be really fun!

What’s your favorite thing about mastering music for a living?

My favorite thing about owning a business is not having a boss, for sure. My favorite thing about mastering for a living is when I sit down to actually do the mastering, it just feels natural. It feels like riding a bike. I find mastering very extremely relaxing. When I’m sitting down with a record, whether it’s death metal or jazz or folk music or Indian, it’s very relaxing for me to sit down and to try to make that art create more goosebumps when I listen to it. I love it.

What’s the hardest thing about being an independent mastering engineer?

Initially I thought the hardest thing would be finding customers — that turned out to not be the case. The hardest thing is once you find customers, what do you do about it, and how do you handle all those projects? All the organization is very difficult, which is why I systematize all my stuff, more on that shortly.

How did you settle on your DAW of choice?

I tried everything, and eventually settled on a little tiny app called Triumph. It’s no longer for sale, but hopefully someday it will be again. Triumph is awesome, it’s just for mastering, it’s great and it really worked well with my workflow. This is really a workflow question, which DAW you choose — they all basically sound identical.

[Note – Triumph was removed from the Apple App Store in 2017]

Has your mastering plugin chain changed much since you started? How often do you revisit your chain and workflow?

Yes, it changes in some way, shape, or form constantly, depending on the project, but also as I’m experimenting and figuring out things that I like more. Nothing sounds more boring to me than to just settle on a chain and never change it.

What is your take on the ongoing analog vs digital debate?

My take on the ongoing analog versus digital debate is that any debate that says the answer is A or B is a false debate. Sometimes analog is better, sometimes digital is better, depends on the project, on the engineer, depends on a whole slew of things.

What do you think is the most important part of your mastering setup: monitoring, A/D converters, other?

The most important part is these babies right here (indicates ears). The second most important part is whatever makes the noise that these babies hear. So monitoring, hands down.

What is your criteria for selecting projects?

One — how fast do they need it, two — can they afford me, and three — is their music fun to listen to. I’ll work with just about anybody, so long as the time frame and the budget is there, and so long as that they’re not advocating for things that I despise, like violence against women. But generally the thing I love the most about mastering is making something better, bringing out the nuance and increasing the number of goosebumps I get when I listen to it. Obviously if the project came in and it was nothing but distortion I would have an honest conversation with that artist. But I generally I like to work with as many people as possible.

Do you turn down many projects?

Yes, specifically for turnaround time. If they want it next day, especially with a first-time client, that’s a big red flag. And especially if they don’t want to talk to me. I like to talk to people. I like to get a feel for their vibe when I’m working on a project, and if they’re just like “I don’t want to talk, just master this and have it done by tomorrow” then I’m like, uh, yeah, probably not.

Knowing some of the things you know now, what would you do differently in the beginning?

Damn near everything. (laughs) For more on that, check out my podcast the Six Figure Home Studio Podcast, it’s available everywhere and pretty much all I talk about is what I would do differently when I was starting out 16 years ago.

What advice would you give someone who wants to get into audio mastering?

I would say get really good at all the other parts of making a record and then graduate to mastering. The biggest red flag for me is when someone says “I want to be a mastering engineer, and I graduated from college last week!” Cool, either go intern or go make a lot of records. That would be my advice. When you’re mastering there’s over a thousand potential problems that you can have to try to address and help the client address, and it’s very difficult to do that if you don’t know all of those problems. The other thing is if you’re brand new it’s difficult to convince anyone to hire you, because why would they hire you when there’s a bunch of other people with more experience?

So that’s tricky, that’s probably something you need to overcome, and I would just say I’m not really happy with my answer this question so far (laughs) but I would just say it’s really important to serve people. Don’t think about what it is you want to do for a living, and what you want validated by people giving you money. Serve people. Figure out how to help them get where they’re going, and to do that you need to figure out where they want to go. So ask a lot of questions, be kind, treat people the way you want to be treated. I find that lot of people are attracted to mastering (and I think I probably was too) because it’s kind of an elite thing of like you get to say “actually…” all the time or “well, and…” all the time, so correcting people seems to be a common trait among mastering Engineers. Now I’m definitely guilty that as well, but basically don’t get into mastering because you want to be people to think you’re smart.

One of the things that really impressed me about your story was the way you automated and systematized your process. How did you find you had an affinity for scripting and automation?

I do not have an affinity for scripting and automation, I have an affinity for efficiency, and scripting and automation is how I do that. With mastering, I also have an affinity for wanting to show up and do art, and not do anything else. I can get into my mindset, into my flow state instantaneously because of my automation, and that’s what I’m all about. Being able to get in, drop in, do the art and be the creative guy, rather than be like (funny voice) “I’m going to relabel this file, and then I’m going to drag and drop this file, and then I’m going to relabel this folder…” all that crap I don’t have to do because of my systems. I get to art for a living, which I love!

Speaking of systems and automation, I understand you’ve been working on a program called Bounce Butler to automate one of the more time consuming parts of an engineer’s job, can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Yes! Bounce Butler is awesome, I made it about a decade ago because I would bounce files instead of having dinner with my family. It sucked. So I made an app that I could put a bunch of session files into. and it would bounce it in whatever software I was using, whether that was Pro Tools, Logic, Digital Performer, Cubase, Ableton or whatever. It’s basically a render management software.

It’s currently in Early Access and my hope there, my number one mission, is to bring freedom. That’s what I’m trying to do for people and my hope is that it brings a whole bunch of audio engineers a lot more free time to either spend more time working on their business rather than for it, or to go live their frikkin life while their computer bounces out all their renders. I can’t believe that that feature’s not included in like every software out there but it’s not for some reason so I made it for you. Check it out at bouncebutler.com!

Nice! Thanks again for taking the time, Chris! Last question – what’s your favorite restaurant in Columbus?

My favorite favorite restaurant would be Commune, it’s a vegetarian restaurant that’s fantastic. It’s brand new. My favorite based on frequency is Northstar Cafe, I go to Northstar Cafe at least three times a week. Third place goes to Brassica. Brassica’s incredible.

Find Chris Graham on the web

Chris Graham Mastering
Bounce Butler
The Six Figure Home Studio Podcast
The Six Figure Home Studio Facebook Group
Chris Graham Instagram

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