Picking Factual Brains
Within the first few minutes of our conversation, I realized there was almost no better location to talk with Factual Brains than at Last Exit Books & Coffeehouse. Not because of the environment or because the shop sparked conversations about Kurt Vonnegut within minutes, but because of how I remembered them from their kentcore performance.
I remember being overwhelmed with the musical technology the two brought to the studio this past March. Specifically, there was this Nintendo NES controller that was finagled with to be used as a sort of synthesizer, and then I was overwhelmed with the terminology Alec was using to describe the process. Throughout the show, they included these interludes that introduced them as karate action figures, promoted their newest album, “Scooter” and called the performance the “Factual Brains News.” From that night on, we were all riding the Factual Brains wave.
It wasn’t just how they played their instruments or how they used their equipment. Alec Schumann and Will Hooper make their shows into more than just a musical performance by developing characters for each show, recording musical-like interludes and creating a storyline that encourages the audience to pay closer attention to detail. The two have undeniable artistic chemistry when they are on the stage, collaborating on synthesizers and looping instrumentals along with their shared theatrical mentality.
“I feel like I say this every interview, and I feel like there’s gotta be one point where I gotta stop saying it, but Factual Brains started off as just me,” Alec said. “Then I was like, ‘This sucks, you’re just a drummer with a bunch of stuff, it’s hard to have a lot of fun because you’re sitting behind a drum kit.”
“Scooter,” released in October of 2020, was the first album recorded by both Alec and Will as a band. They had been working on it at the beginning of 2020; the same time as when they were scheduled to tour in cities like Cleveland, Nashville and Dallas.
Factual Brains is no different in the fact that every musician has their own COVID-cancellation story. Theirs happens to be not only the cancellation of their Spring tour, but also their performance at SXSW’s Chili Dog Fest.
But I think from this point on, stories about musicians shouldn’t be about what could have happened during 2020. Rather, they should express what was accomplished despite the trying time and what can happen now. We spent all this time in isolation with ideas and projects flowing through our heads, fleeting or not – it is our time now to bring those into fruition.
So, Alec and Will spent a lot of their time in quarantine recording “Scooter.”
“We didn’t want to make an album about COVID, or about being hopeless or about being hopeful, we just wanted to make it this weird, fuckin’ album – and it was.” Alec said.
“And also we did it in your parents’?...” Will began to add.
“Oh yeah, we did it in my parents’ carriage house, which is a fancy word for barn … We did it in the suburb of North Olmstead, and we did it in the room where I learned how to play drums, which was really cool. I always wanted to make an album there.”
Factual Brains prides themselves on their experimental qualities in both their music and performances. Once you combine the music they create with a live space, it becomes an experience that is unique to them alone.
Alec jokes that the musical interludes and characters were created out of the uncomfort of talking to an audience in between songs.
“A lot of ways, I’m not good at talking to a bunch of people without doing a three vocoder and with a drum kit behind me,” Alec said.
They were magicians for their first tour, they’ve acted as motivational speakers and were even locked in “robo-space jail” for a bit. When they’re in front of you, it seems like this whole involved and tedious process to not only create the characters in yourself, but also bring in musical elements to really solidify the vision. Involved and tedious, minus the stress.
The process isn’t about making the show perfect or creating some unique and intricate plotline. Most times, these musical interludes and concepts are drafted the night before a show. Sometimes it includes scrolling through Etsy for eight hours searching for cool costumes.
Since the release of “Scooter,” Factual Brains has played a few shows aside from kentcore. Along with live streams, they played a small, 30-person-capacity, show at Mahall’s the same month of the album release. It’s been difficult to hurdle over the safety in distancing since interaction is an integral part of their shows. Looking out into the audience to see people sitting at tables separated from each other, only to see their whole face when they removed their mask to take a bite of their food, or sip a drink, felt dystopian.
But soon enough, they’ll be back to pack up their Kia Soul with a french press and other coffee-making materials (as Alec told me they tour with), synthesizers, costume changes and share “Scooter” in a live setting.
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