Brume: Track-by-Track Through Marten

Thank you to guitarist/sometimes-vocalist Jamie McCathie from San Francisco’s Brume for the insights on the band’s new album, Marten (review here). Released in May through Magnetic Eye, it is a stylistic outlier from the bulk of heavy anything, with a character that moves forward from the then-trio/now-four-piece’s past work in ways that are likewise bold and exciting. I’ll put it forward as their best and most expansive collection to-date, and if you’re the type who puts value on year-end lists and things of that sort, I’ve been thinking of it as the one to beat for album of the year.

The songs are accessible, melodic, often beautiful, but it’s not an unchallenging or u h-harsh listen. Bassist/vocalist Susie McMullan, cellist Jackie Perez-Gratz and McCathie often share vocals — drummer Jordan Perkins Lewis even gets a word or two — in arrangements that are dynamic and emotional in kind, and from the accusation in “Run Your Mouth” to the need of “The Yearn,” the righteous spit of “How Rude” and loss-of-place-and-belonging in “Faux Savior,” Marten is unafraid of bearing its heart in a way that any number of genres would benefit by learning from.

I spoke to McCathie and McMullan earlier this year for a video interview, but Marten is such a complete, encompassing listening experience that a dive into the songs themselves felt warranted. As noted above, McCathie was kind enough to get on board with the idea. The results follow.

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Brume, Marten Track-by-Track with Jamie McCathie

To start, please tell me about putting the songs together as a four-piece for the first time. How involved was Jackie in the writing? How was it different from when you did Rabbits?

A lil delayed (Euro tour was a blast) so thank you for having me and letting me ramble.

Everything about the approach for this record was new, that’s part of what makes it so exciting.

There were a handful of songs that came out of covid, a huge emphasis on lyrics-first, so there was a lot of instrumentation, arrangement and ideas that all four of us were involved with. Once Jackie started practicing with us on a more regular basis it was amazing how quickly it felt good. Not that I was concerned, but we three have been a unit for 10 years. She brought a level of musicianship and practical music knowledge that elevated everything, our jams, our conversations and even frankly us individually as musicians. She’s really direct about what she likes and dislikes (my favorite trait in a creative) and as you can probably tell, all of these songs have a big influence from her, way beyond just her playing cello.

On our plane ride back from Desertfest NY, me and Jackie talked about doing a ‘Fleetwood Mac’ album now that we had three vocalists. That opened up a lot of ideas and sounds we hadn’t previously explored. We did lots of demos, back and forth critiques with Sonny [DiPerri, producer], so the pre-production process made us talk, question and push each other to try things and get uncomfortable. It was intense but an incredible experience.

Rabbits, I did a little more backing vocals. We pushed ourselves to include more dynamics than previous recordings, but with Marten we just pushed more, further away from the standards of metal/doom. I think Marten sounds like a fairly natural progression from Rabbits. I’m pretty keen to see how much further we go with our new lineup.

How did you land on Sonny DiPerri to produce? Was there something specific you wanted in terms of sound or something about his work that stood out?

We immediately knew from the first few songs we weren’t making a ‘traditionally’ heavy record.

“Jimmy,” “Run Your Mouth” and “The Yearn” were the first. Based on these we felt it would be interesting for us to work with someone else instead of Billy, who definitely makes the most incredible heavy recordings.

I love Emma Ruth Rundle, I had JUST heard her latest and most beautiful (Engine of Hell) record that I thought sounded INSANE. It is so delicate, beautiful and raw. Just her singing and playing. It sounds like you are sat next to her. I immediately googled the producer, and to my excitement, he’d worked on pretty much all of her other records. Marked for Death and On Dark Horses are both amazing, dynamic band performances. Once I read that he had also worked with Lord Huron (another love of mine), Portugal the Man and Diiv, we knew that he would bring an eclectic influence that would help us go where we thought we were headed. I had it in my head that the aim for this record was to make ‘our Kid A’. I used this analogy a lot. Luckily, Sonny is as big a Radiohead nerd as I am. Needless to say we hit it off.

To get into the songs, you start the record with “Jimmy.”

First off (as mentioned last we spoke), this started as a Susie rap. She sent me a trap beat that was a generic Logic loop and that she recorded “Jimmy rise Jimmy rise, from the basement” over. It sounded wild, but I loved the melody and lyrics, they felt fresh for Brume. We pushed the tempo much slower than she originally sent, a more laid back approach. The minimal guitar part made way for the bass to drive the song and the cello to take center stage next to the vocals. The drums have this odd-timed, really interesting rhythm that is really considerate of the vocals, Jordan plays with a lot of restraint on this. Overall there’s definitely a whole bunch of Emma Ruth Rundle influence to this track, but also some Tinariwen / West African guitar (solo/lead part) as well as our first Fleetwood Mac moment, the a capella.

This song originally never had the big ending. We had this idea to make it feel so laid back it kinda never went anywhere, just chillin’. Sonny pushed for it and now I love it. Susie’s vocal performance at the end there is another level. She’s a fucking badass. The big end also gave us the opportunity to take it back down, me and Jackie doing ‘swirlies’ is our happy place. We get to harmonize a bunch and just make pretty, sad-sounding music. It makes me happy.

“New Sadder You”

This song was a jam from Rabbits that never made it. It came into the fold kinda late in the game for Marten. I brought it back because I always liked how odd it was, it just didn’t click before. The big ‘aha!’ moment when it clicked was when the cello took over bass duties in the verses. I envisioned the sound of the flamingos, a doo wop vibe to the guitar.

Susie had this melody / line I was obsessed with: “that’s who I was supposed to be” that sounded like Dusty Springfield or Nancy Sinatra to me. I thought it would be cool to bring in that ’50s/’60s thing that was happening. That and Radiohead “Nude.” The chorus we worked hard on in the studio, that hook being one of Sonny’s faves from the record. The band gets bigger and rockier to meet that epicness, then it gets intense and weird, Melvins meets Brutus. Jordan RIPS on this song. It’s fun to play live. He had all these cool pause ideas that totally add to it and the F-you ending is the cherry on top.

“Faux Savior”

This was Jackie’s first ‘Riff’ she brought to a Brume practice. I feel somewhat bad about this one ‘cos she clearly had this epic, evil doom melody that I heard and desperately wanted to turn it into an alt-country vibe. I heard Sharon Van Etten or Big Thief meets True Widow in the verse, then a spooky Portishead thing in the chorus. Thankfully Jackie got her doom part by the end/drop. Susie had this whole concept lyrically and pushed her vocals to be the most gospel, spoken word and low in her register — it’s real cool. Jackie’s backing vocals are so haunting and beautiful and Jordan even joined us as the fourth vocalist on the ‘Faux Savior’ chants.

“Otto’s Song”

Very personal song for me. Guitar part came from just days after my son was born. It’s like the most Nick Drake thing I could write. He was almost called ‘Thula’ (if he was a girl). This was after a Zulu lullaby my wife grew up singing as a child (she’s from South Africa). Once the idea came to use the lyrics from that poem, I thought it would be cool to do a Ladysmith Black Mambazo, three-part vocal thing. These are prominent throughout but most prevalent at the end. The drums and the bass coming in heavy was an idea based on the song “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire, and then towards the end heavy part a moment of Pumpkins/Weezer. As I type, I realize how very bizarre this song is.

“How Rude”

This originally came from listening to a King Woman song. Sprinkle in plenty of Radiohead/In Rainbows, throw in an epic Yob ending and it probably makes a lot of sense. Ha, SIMPLE!

“Heed Me”

Susie had these amazing lyrics and vocal melody. We toyed with a few ideas but nothing ever quite fit, including drums and guitar. Susie had this idea of making a Fever Ray or Björk-type song, she wanted to get weird and we encouraged her.

Jackie came with this awesome looped cello sound that is the backing track, the rest is Susie and Lorie Sue locked in this intense conversation. Me and Jordan didn’t know what Susie had planned with Lorie on this when she turned up to the studio. We got into it real quick. I think folks should expect more experimentation like this from Brume in the future. I feel like we just scratched the surface of where this could go for us.

“Run Your Mouth”

I picked Susie up on way to practice one day and we listened to Mogwai’s “Helps Both Ways.” We did not talk, just sat and drove. It is so beautiful, my favorite song of theirs. Fast forward a few months, Sonny suggested slowing “Run Your Mouth” down even more than it was, and I utterly fell in love. This is my favorite song on the album, hands down. It’s so raw, so beautiful, so gentle. Everything I wanted to reach on Marten. Originally intended for a collab track with Mark Lanegan before his passing. This was a true homage to Portishead when it began. Mogwai (and Sonny) guided us to the finished piece.

“The Yearn”

Susie had a real Dolly Parton thing going on this song, I was listening to a lot of Angel Olsen and she and Sonny encouraged me to play a bunch of slide guitar. I was in blues rock band for a while back in London (shoutout Rowse), so this felt like a real blast for me. We had also both been obsessed with Arooj Aftab’s record Vulture Prince. Go smoke a joint right now and listen to that album ‘cos it’s life changing. She’s a Pakistani/American singer that creates the most calm, dreamlike music. Her vocals are so utterly haunting and beautiful — it really influenced the overall vibe of this one. Jordan recorded with a tiny jazz kit to get the sound on this and “Run Your Mouth.” Sonny had a Beck / Seachange idea and I think it really paid off and really set the tone for these tracks.

The outro is 100 percent inspired by the best Guns ‘n’ Roses solo, “Nightrain.” Just as Slash is about to let rip, the track fades. His bent at the end is so good. I can’t play guitar solos, so this was my nod.

How long did it take for the running order to come together and what was that process like?

Susie has always been great at developing ‘flows’ for setlists. She has a strong sense of the journey she wants to take people on and she applied that here. There were a few shuffles here and there, but the arc was pretty mapped out.

Anything else you want to mention about the record as a whole, or anything else for that matter?

Sonny said to me halfway through recording that while I thought I was making Brume’s Kid A, we were in fact making our OK Computer. This made me both sad, and completely excited.

I can’t wait to make more music and see where Brume go from here.

Arooj Aftab, “Baghon Main”

Brume, Marten (2024)

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