IT has been a real blast…
speaking with Brutus Begins. He (Ricardo) discusses the track, The Nothing Here, and what it was like filming the video; which artists he would support on tour if he had the chance; what the music scene is like in his part of Canada – he recommends an artist that is filling his mind right now.
Brutus Begins tells me whether U.K. dates are a possibility; why Prince is a huge idol and driving force to him; how the songwriter spends time away from music – ending the interview by selecting a classic slab of Queen.
Hi, Ricardo. How are you? How has your week been?
I’m feeling lucky, very grateful. Things are busy - in a good way.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Sure. I’m a musician who uses elements of Psych, synth and Folk to make songs you might like if you’re into the likes of MGMT, Beck and Peter Gabriel.
Can I ask where that moniker, ‘Brutus Begins’, comes from? Is there a story behind it?
It started where the last one ended.
As the project I was part of was coming to a close, I knew it was bringing about the start of something I could completely immerse myself in. I like the idea that the tragedy of one era is the catalyst for the next. Even something that may be considered a disaster or betrayal is, when you look in a larger context, just the necessary circumstance for fulfilling your own potential. If necessity is the mother of invention, failure is the midwife.
The Nothing Here is your latest song. Does it have a particular origin? What was it like recording the video?
The song was inspired by a scene in the film, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. There’s a scene where Sam Rockwell’s voiceover describes all the things you could have been and the terrible day you wake up and realize that you’ve become none of them. I think, for a lot of artists, there is an innate fear of becoming invisible and that can lead to reckless behaviour - whatever it takes to be seen.
Making the video was a lot of hard, fun work. My good friend Reinaldo Tragnone co-directed and shot, while my wife Jessica Lea Fleming (who is also a filmmaker) helped produce and got us our first location…her grandma’s cottage in the dead of winter. There was no running water but it had heat and character. The outdoor scenes, walking toward the sunrise in a bathrobe, were probably as cold as I’ve ever been (it was around -30 degrees).
After editing some of that footage, we decided to get a little more ambitious and expanded the concept and crew. Another contributor, Adrian Mehes, joined us to help on the subsequent shoots. The whole thing was done on a modest budget only because Reinaldo, Jessica and Adrian were so innovative and committed.
Uncanny Valley (2016) was met with huge acclaim. Were you stunned by the reception it garnered? Will there be another album coming along?
It was really nice to get such positive feedback and press for an album I recorded on my own, at home. Still, it made me aware of how much further I still wanted to push my sound and how much I have to learn. That’s part of why I went to an outside producer for The Nothing Here. After talking to some people, I ended up working with Michael Dilauro who I felt did a great job of polishing my sound and helping me bolster a pretty simple song with a dynamic arrangement. I’m working on a batch of new recordings and plan on releasing a few more singles before releasing an E.P. or full-length album.
It’s an advantage of being an independent artist when you can take the time to immerse yourself in the minutia of each track without being pressured to meet a deadline that serves a short-sighted goal. For now, I feel like singles are practical and allow me to reach out to a new fanbase while I evolve and grow.
You mix natural sounds and acoustic instruments – some synthesisers thrown in there. Do you think that mix of nature and electronic is what gives your music its depth and fascination?
For me, yes. That was part of my goal and really part of why I’m so interested in music today…where different sounds lead and the buttons they push. I’m fascinated by the way we straddle this imaginary line between the things we call natural and synthetic and how these things need each other to be relevant and effective. Power on, turn on your Wi-Fi: the stereo, the Bluetooth so you can hear an acoustic guitar or some congas - or just a human voice. It’s a long way around to get where you were.
Still, these things play nicely together and they are reflections of who we are and how we live. Even the ‘unnatural’ blips, effects and wires have their nature…Sh*t; I can’t really make sense of it but that’s what gives me that feel of wonder. Still, each listener is going to find depth according to where they dig; whether it’s samples, melodies; beats or stories. I’m trying to make something that lets you dig in a different direction each time.
How did music come into your life? Were there particular artists that made you want to go into music?
As a kid; it seemed a bit mysterious or magical. To see my dad get nostalgic while singing a Charles Aznavour song or just watching a band move a crowd when my parents took me with them to the Portuguese dances in the community…it was like watching mass hypnosis. I think, when you’re really young, so much of what you perceive as your parents' life seems grey, work; controlled…not free. Music seemed to be the only thing that gave everyone permission to reach up, dance; stomp, hug; make noise and play all at once.
I remember seeing my first videos and lots of artists scared and excited me at the same time. They had bright colours like real-life cartoons, moved like superheroes and snarled like pr-wrestlers. Prince blew my goddamn mind - this little dude in a lace blouse and heels. I saw that and my tiny brain lit up! I thought: ‘This is allowed?! This guy is weird and cool and he doesn’t give a fuuuuuck!’ I don’t know how I knew this…but I was pretty sure girls loved this dude. Then, I saw him playing the guitar and it was like he was pouring his molten heart into it; like everything he felt was way too big for any words but he could find a way to fit this giant feeling into a sound. It was like hearing a new magic language - but it would take me years to get up the nerve to speak it.
Toronto is where you are based. Is it a great city to create and perform music in?
Well; not anymore. I recently moved to Hamilton (about an hour away) and while, yes, Toronto is a great city to create and perform - there’s something very exciting happening in Hamilton right now. It took just a few weeks before I found some brilliant people to perform with here and round out the live show. I think a lot of artists have been priced out of Toronto and have had to move to places where lower rents allow for more time to create, experiment and grow.
Since coming to Hamilton, I’ve seen some incredible musicians honing their craft and laying the foundation for a powerful scene. It’s just a matter of time before everyone else sees what is being built here.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
Hmm. I think playing shows to really get our band as tight as possible. We have some exciting things lined up including a festival here in Hamilton and we’ll follow that up with a couple of singles and another video that’s in pre-production right now. It’s for a song called Casual in Cruelty and the video can best be described as The Great Gatsby-meets-Caligula-via-David Lynch’s-meds. It's gonna be a trip.
Will there be any tour dates? Might you head to the U.K. at all?
We’re setting up tour dates and are looking at opportunities that would take us through the U.K. So, yes - and probably!
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
I’ve been fortunate to make some great friends and have some adventures through music…even if, at the time, they seemed like disasters. Whether it’s as a performer or a fan, the moment I can regain the same wonder and awe I had as a nine-year-old hearing Prince for the first time - that’s the new favourite time.
A couple of nights ago, I saw Beck perform. After introducing his band and playing some bits of covers he said: “Someone out there might be thinking - why are these guys playing all these covers…is this a wedding band?! *pause* No; THIS IS A CELEBRATION OF MUSIC!” The place went bananas and so did I. It was a concise, earnest and massive expression of what drives me. So, that’s my most recent favourite memory but I’m always chasing the next one.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
I’d like to open for Paul Simon....
As far as the rider goes, here are my demands: cappuccinos, creme brûlée and a projector playing Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz on a loop.
Then, ten minutes before I go on, Paul Simon has to come in and compliment me on a very specific lyric from my most-recent single. He has to tell me how clever said lyric is and that he wishes he could have written it himself. Then, hugs me real tight, kisses me on each cheek and says he can’t wait to watch me perform.
That is the rider…
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Fail big. Don’t shrink your ambitions to fit them comfortably in the minds of small people.
IN THIS PHOTO: Khruangbin
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
I’m currently obsessed with Khruangbin.
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I chill out with my lovely wife, travel when I can; watch good movies and write whenever I have a moment.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Queen - I Want to Break Free
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