Trails and Ways – Bio
Own It out October 7, 2016
Hailing from the technocapital-maimed housing market and dissident art scene of Oakland, CA, Trails and Ways — the core duo of Keith Brower Brown and Ian Quirk — creates indie rock thick with warm noise, harmonizing voices, driving beats, and bossanova chords — all steeped together in a political undercurrent that carves into the capitalist oligarchy eating up life on earth.
The band’s forthcoming sophomore album Own It is the product of the wrenching year following their debut album Pathology. At the end of seven months of touring, two longtime bandmates decided to leave the band, while songwriter/singer/guitarist Keith’s long-term relationship hit its breaking point. The upheaval knocked him flat, and pushed him towards a tough evaluation of his own flaws and how they could have contributed to these collapses. While backpacking across the Sierra Nevada, traveling Baja California and Louisiana, he confronted deep-set selfishness and self-protective vanity in the hope of making something beautiful out of the mess.
The result is Own It, an album that chronicles an attempt at self-transformation through lush, hook-laden songs. The new album roars back with anti-capitalist wit in songs that range from dreamy bossanova pulse to rebellious post-punk strut. In the past, Trails and Ways songs kept their politics wistful and enigmatic; Own It strides out of those confines, unafraid to offend, and commits to anti-capitalism with gleeful abandon. The songs question how identities can get wrapped up in materialism (“My Things”); complacency on climate change at a corporate job (“Coral Bleach”); and the California tech disruption economy where “you only live off what you break” (“Pure Blues”). In “Ursula,” Keith makes a song out of what he feels anarcho-socialist/feminist author Ursula K Le Guin asks: are you becoming satisfied with capitalism and injustice? With powerful foils of heaviness vs. lightness, playful humor vs. raw emotions and serious polemic, the new songs find an exuberant, cathartic power in owning up to your flaws, cutting loose your creative independence, and finding your own way out.
The album follows a few years of Keith’s involvement in climate justice mapping, organizing against renter displacement in Oakland, and publication in socialist magazine Jacobin. With a rebellious spirit of personal and political openness, he wrote Own It in opposition to the way he felt capitalism worked to turn him defensive, vain, and selfish. In this approach, Keith was inspired by Frankfurt School social theorists to look critically at the ways capitalism shapes us psychologically, as well as the Grace Lee/Jimmy Boggs American radical tradition, where personal transformation is the necessary first step to anti-capitalist revolution. “My own experiences — at college, in the renewable energy industry, and in music — made me feel like I’m on my own and can only succeed if I commodify and market myself the best I can,” explains Keith. “This atomizing and commodifying pressure helped me get some very selfish habits, to be very protective of my image, and to be too defensive to be emotionally honest with myself or anybody else.”
It was in their first dedicated practice space that the newly liberated band pushed beyond the airy, synthy pop of Pathology and opened up a punk-inflected drive that draws on Doolittle, 154 and the dreampop of Lesser Matters. Founding members Keith and Ian (drums) then tracked and produced Own It at home during spring 2016, building up each song on overdriven guitars and live drums – the latter a conscious shift away from the drum machines of their Pathology. They gathered friends from across the Bay Area to build out the soundscape, with prominent backup vocals from Madeline Kenney (Company Records), layered harmonies from Rebecca Redman (Drawing Water, Soar), and melodic basslines from Kendra McKinley.
Keith and Ian met as college roommates in a Berkeley, CA commune. After graduation, Keith headed to Brazil to research protests against wind energy companies. By chance, he moved into a flat above a local samba legend, who became his teacher for the summer as he became obsessed with bossanova guitar. Meanwhile, Ian’s post-college travels earned him a feel for far-flung percussion styles as he chased surf across Spain, Indonesia, and Central America.
The duo reunited in Oakland and began recording songs in Ian’s bedroom, with Keith as songwriter, singer, and guitarist, and Ian as producer and drummer. Early singles “Nunca” and “Mtn Tune” rocketed them to the top of the blogosphere charts, with national tours and opening spots for Tycho, Stars, and Mac DeMarco soon following. Pathology landed in 2015 via Barsuk Records and launched the band to headlining shows across North America and Brazil.