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.
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.
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.