Smile Politely

Trails and Ways and co-ops

After I graduated high school, I enrolled in community college and kept working at the local restaurant where I had been for a couple of years. There were three guys who worked there — fun, cute, older guys — who asked me if I wanted to rent the fourth bedroom in their apartment. I started dating one of them before I was scheduled to move in a few months later. The 19-year-old version of me was thrilled. I thought, “I live with my friends who are awesome. One of them is my boyfriend and we all work together? This is gonna be great!

Two years and a messy breakup later, I realized that compartmentalizing can be a good thing. 

Keith Brower Brown of Trails and Ways might argue otherwise. He is the 19-year-old me… educated and grown up into an adult who knows how to handle adult situations. Whatever it is he’s doing to keep his friends in half a dozen categories at a time, it’s working for him.  

Smile Politely: How did you all meet and start creating?

Keith Brower Brown: We all went to Berkeley and all lived in the co-op houses there. After school, Emma and I lived abroad for a while, in Spain and Brazil respectively, and after we came home, the four of us started recording and playing shows in early 2012. We all sing both lead and backup.

SP: Co-op indeed… What was your personal start in music? What drew you to it?

Brown: My dad played me lots of Brazilian pop, jazz, and new age growing up. I started making mix tapes and trying to DJ young, but I didn’t think of writing music until college. I had got really into writing short stories and poems in high school, and the summer after my freshman year at Berkeley, I started writing songs on guitar. Writing words for an arc of music made the words hit on all these extradimensional new levels. Also the poetry audience is pretty, um, limited –versus pop music, probably the most common language- and ultimately I only felt compelled to write things either for myself and inner circle or for a very wide audience. So I was hooked pretty fast.

SP: Where are some of your favorite places to play?

Brown: I like playing venues where you’re close to the audience, and I especially like venues that feel [like they are] run like co-ops, personal and familial.

SP: Sounds like you’re friendly, in the band, but are you mostly just creative collaborators?

Brown: We are definitely all friends. We do lots of hikes and swims and surfing and friends’ shows together, on tour and off.

SP: How do you write your songs? What’s the process?

Brown: We all have written songs for the band, though the bulk of songs start with Emma and I. Ideas start lots of places -nylon guitar and loop pedal; midi sketches on laptops; piano. Sometimes I hear a phrase that feels like it has a world of meanings, and once one of us has the outline for a song, Hannah, Emma and I then usually workshop the new idea with synthesizer, guitar, and bass. Ian does most of his beat/synth writing after we’ve recorded the rest.

SP: How would you spend your last $10?

Brown: As many books as I could get by Ursula Le Guin or Italo Calvino.

If you want to catch Keith and his clan, get to Cowboy Monkey for a no-cover show this Saturday at 10:30 p.m. to see Trails and Ways with We the Animals and DJ Mertz. 

Related Articles