With 2019 fast approaching its end, we had the pleasure of interviewing Reading, Pennsylvania’s And you, Brutus? The group’s delicate mixture of folk, alternative and indie rock has earned them plaudits from critics and people in the know.
What follows is a conversation with Zack DeSantis and Amanda Mellinger about their love of indie and folk, their fondness for Ernest Hemingway, the thriving Reading, PA music scene and their most recent EP.
We’re happy to recommend checking the group’s music out on their Bandcamp page. We, especially, recommend their brilliant new EP, Resuscitate, which came out as an independent release on December 3rd, 2019.
Your music, the lyrics especially, seems to be of a very confessional nature. Was it difficult in the beginning making yourself so vulnerable as to express this?
Amanda: In the beginning, it was harder because I didn’t know how people would respond to such personal and raw lyrics, especially my close friends and family.
Zack: This is actually one of the reasons I was initially intrigued by Amanda’s songwriting. I think it’s really brave and difficult to write the way she does and I love it.
Speaking of the honesty of your lyrics, do you find fans wanting to interact with their own stories as a reaction to your music?
A: I do! I really enjoy it when people can relate and find themselves in our songs. It’s nice to have that connection with the audience.
Your 4 song release “Resuscitate” came out in December of 2019. What are some of the things you’ve learned since your last studio release and how did they influence the new record?
Z: Oh man, we’ve changed so much since the last record. We recorded the it really quickly and didn’t spend that much time in pre-production or anything, and even though we had a blast making it I think it shows. For this one we really wanted to buckle down and work all the parts out before we went into the studio. We had everything really well planned out and the studio process was basically just going in and knocking the parts out in a couple takes.
Can you talk to us a bit about the artwork? It’s very striking.
Z: We commissioned out friend Odessa Mark to do the art for us and we couldn’t be happier. She’s an amazing artist and we love her work, so we just sent her the demos of the songs that would be in it and the title of the EP and just let her have complete creative control. We’ve used foxes before in our art and she took that idea and combined it with the resuscitate thing and she ended up with this beautiful piece.
First impressions are often deceiving. Still, what would you hope would be a potential fan’s first impression of the group? What about the long term opinion?
A: Obviously, I want people’s first impression to be, “Oh wow! What a great sounding band! And very attractive all around!” but I genuinely hope people’s first impression is that we’re having a good time. I have seen bands that seem miserable on stage, and it really ruins the experience for me, so I always try to make it seem like I’m having the most fun in the room, which is typically true for the most part.
I hope that in the long term, people can say that they have seen us grow and change, and they still enjoy what we have to offer, and not just “the early stuff.”
I really enjoyed the production values on your latest release. Supposing you had unlimited budget and time, what would you like to to make part of your recordings?
Z: Thanks! This one was pretty simple because of the time and budget we had, but if we had our fantasy I think we’d incorporate more electronic elements and strings. I’d love to have week’s in the studio working on sounds and just trying stuff to see what works.
Let’s play pretend. One of your songs is chosen for a commercial. It is selling out at its worst, but it promises a great paycheck. You get to choose the song and the product to represent. What are they?
A: Oh wow. I think a car commercial is the way to go for that, especially for an Indie Rock band. It’s not always easy to get music to the mainstream consumer, but a nice catchy tune mixed with a shiny new car speeding around an empty desert really catches people’s ears for some reason. I think I would choose our song, “What a mess.”
Let us know if you know any car companies looking for a fresh new hit!
What’s the music scene like in Reading, Pennsylvania? Where do you fit into it?
Z: The scene is really cool. There’s a pretty dense history of metal and punk bands, and I think that attitude seeps into the bands here. Combine that with our proximity to the Philly folk scene, and you get all these cool bands that cross genre boundaries and aren’t afraid of trying new stuff.
We are part of this art collective called, “Hydra” and everyone really supports each other and pushes each other, even though we’re all in wildly different projects. This is actually how we met Odessa; her father, Anthony Mark, is one of the artists associated with Hydra. I think ayb has carved out a little niche here for people that want to hear songwriter based music with a little more thought to it than just kinda playing the chords.
How were your early live experiences? Did you get the reaction from the public you hoped for?
Z: Oof I’m gonna let Amanda answer this one
A: Early live experiences were not always great, haha. One of my first shows was playing to an almost empty room, with the exception of one kind gentleman eating a sandwich. It was very humbling to be standing up there for 3 hours alone, but that one man took the time to put his sandwich down and clap after every song. I will say, for the most part, we were well received. People around here genuinely want to go to bars to hear good music, even if it is a band they have never heard before.
Z: I wanna know if that guy is the slowest sandwich eater in the world or if he just liked you so much that he was sandbagging it.
Your vocal melodies, as well as the instrumental parts, are very memorable. Are you consciously trying to avoid falling into cliche?
A: I think so. It’s difficult to do sometimes, but we try not to get too many eyes rolling.
Speaking of great melodies, the Beatles or Beach Boys?
A: Beatles all the way! I was never a fan of the Beach Boys, but I grew up listening to all of the Beatles’ albums. My parents actually both sang Beatles’ songs as lullabies when I was small.
Z: Gotta go with Beatles here too! (Also I have Lennon glasses so I feel obligated.)
Obviously, the phrase “And you, Brutus?” is one of the more famous ones in history, but when and why did you decide it was an apt title for your group?
A: I started out playing shows solo, but I never wanted to keep it that way, I always wanted to be part of a group. Unfortunately, the name came about due to the number of times I found myself being betrayed by the people I trusted the most. I have a degree in English, so it seemed apropos to use a Shakespeare quote as the name of the band.
Let’s play pretend. You get the opportunity to be part of a touring package with 2 world-famous bands/musical artists. Which two would best accompany And you, Brutus? on tour?
A: Let the record show that we would like to go on tour with pretty much any world-famous bands/musical artists that will have us, except the Beach Boys. That being said, I think it would be pretty fun to go on tour with Death Cab for Cutie (or any formation of Ben Gibbard and his music) and maybe Built to Spill. Paul Simon should really start touring again so we can be friends.
If you could soundtrack the movie adaption of any book that you love, which one would it be?
A: I love so many books that I don’t think our music would match up to because it’s not weird enough haha. There is a short story I read once by Ernest Hemmingway called “Hills like White Elephants.” It is beautifully written and subtle in its storytelling, as the characters never out right say what their conversation is about, the reader has to figure it out by what’s not being said. I think a short film, artfully directed, maybe starring Jason Schwartman, would do it justice with one of our more haunting songs as the soundtrack. I realize how oddly specific that is, but once I started thinking about it the more I want it to happen.
Resuscitate, the new EP by And you, Brutus? is out now.