’Trails and Ways – Mtn Tune’

Oakland-based band, Trails and Ways, first surfaced back in 2012 with a string of impressive covers that reinvented some of the year’s strongest pop songs in unexpected and refreshing ways. Unsurprisingly, their subsequent debut EP, Trilingual, proved that their unique style is displayed in an even more powerful way through their original music. The 5-song project, true to its title, features lyrics in English, Spanish and Portuguese–a reflection of the group’s travels in Spain and Brazil. Aside from the evident international influence, Trails and Ways have an incredible take on dreamy California pop, teaming addicting lush acoustic and electronic melodies with the diverse vocals of all 4 band members.

We had a chance to catch up with Keith Brower Brown (guitar, synths) and Ian Quirk (drums) at this year’s Outside Lands to discuss their travels, musical influences and fantastic covers among other topics. Considering the quality of their library thus far, we could not be more excited for what Trails and Ways have in store in the next year.

TMN: First of all, we’re here at Outside Lands. Did you come here when you were at UC Berkeley?


Ian Quirk of Trails and Ways

Ian: I’m from the East Bay. Hayward, which is a little south of where we live now in Oakland. I went to Outside Lands twice growing up. One of the most memorable experiences was at Radiohead. The sound went out, like the main speakers went out during their set, but they totally just kept playing. Everybody was dead silent—it was crazy at a festival that big—just trying to hear basically the stage monitors and a few little speakers. I’ve never seen that before at a festival where there’s dead silence. And then the sound came back on and after the most quiet I’d ever heard, it was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard immediately afterward.

TMN: Did the whole band live together in college?

Keith: Three of us lived in a building called Lothlorien, not the the Land of the Elves although I’d love to live there. This was a co-op at Berkeley—one of the student bought houses. Hannah, the lead guitarist, lived very briefly there for a summer, but we all went to school at Berkeley. Graduated a few years ago.

TMN: Having all lived together, had you started messing around with music? How did the band come together?

Ian: I think this is a really interesting story because there’s a lot of inter-tangled threads. I was in a band called The Dance. We were a dance party band and I played with Hannah, she played Violin in that band. We had a horn section so she was a part of our dance-disco band. Emma and I were in a band called Quail-Trail, which you can see was the early influence for our name.

Keith: That’s a band name that I actually came up with.

Ian: Yeah, and then I was Keith’s producer for his solo project, Red Cedar.

TMN: One of the first things we noticed about your music is that you sing in multiple languages, which seems to have stemmed from your travels. Talk a bit about your travels and how that’s influenced your style in general.

Keith: A few of us have had the awesome privilege to live in other places in the world for a while. Emma lived in Spain for a year teaching in a public school and I know that was a really meaningful experience for her. I lived in Brazil right after I graduated from school and I had always loved the music from there but, getting to go there, it just took over my life. I had songs I had started writing then and Emma had songs that she had started writing while she was in Spain. When we got back, we hung out and were like, “let’s write some music.”

Ian: I also lived in Spain like Emma for about 9 months. I think the biggest thing I got out of that experience was just getting to surf every day. I lived two blocks from the ocean—here I live about 30 minutes from the ocean, but I’m a big surfer. At that time, I actually hardly played any music. I did one jazz gig because I used to be a jazz drummer, but I think it really instilled in me the lifestyle of being at the beach and surfing everyday. Really, just trying to enjoy life as much as possible.

’Trails and Ways – Taj Mahal (Jorge Ben Cover)’

TMN: In general, what artists have influenced you the most as far as the music you make?


Keith Brower Brown of Trails and Ways

Keith: There’s always a million people because when you get to the point where you want to make music, its because your listening to so many different artists. Jorge Ben is a musician from Brazil who inspires me all the time. He has a lyrical narrative vision and incredible passion for writing grooves.

Ian: We’ve covered some artists and I think that any of those artists we’ve covered obviously have influenced us. Either for the music or just the production and sound. So, I’d say Miguel and Frank Ocean on the pop front, we’ve covered songs of theirs. Great popular music that everyone can listen to.

Keith: I feel like Soul is something we’ve all been really drawn to. We’ve been listening to a lot of Motown even. But also people like Drake, Frank and Miguel have some of that soul as well.

Ian: Some dream-pop as well. M83 is definitely in there.

TMN: Building off of that, how do you choose the songs you cover and what is your approach? 

Keith: Its fun to share some parts of a song that you really love. When you hear someone say something in their voice in the context of their band or sound, its fun finding your own spin on it. I feel like its an old tradition in a lot of other music scenes like jazz and basically everything except pop music. Specifically how we choose each one is different. The “Sure Thing” cover, for example, came when Ian, Hannah and I were talking and were like, “we should do another cover. Let’s all go home and think about.” So, I went home and laid down in bed after a long day of practice and I hear this car coming down the street that’s blasting “Sure Thing” so loud. I go to the door and these dudes are ghost-riding the whip to “Sure Thing.” And they were singing along so beautifully, really on point. I was like, “this is a sign if I’ve ever seen one.” I love that song.

Ian: Something that we always do with every cover is we try to deconstruct it and flip it on its head somehow. Either change it from a really electronic song to an acoustic song, or from English to Portuguese, or if its some really serious club tune we try to mellow it out. So, that’s something we try to intentionally do is change at least one really important thing about the song.

Keith: You’ve just got to make it your own because no one can make a better Frank Ocean song than Frank Ocean.

Ian: That’s the thing because if you try to just copy a song you’re always going to fail.

TMN: If someone had never heard your music before, how would you describe it?

Keith: We go back and forth on this because it feels like in any given moment you’re waxing or waning towards different styles. I would call us bossa nova, punk, soul, dream pop. Somewhere in there.

Ian: I want it to be something you can hear and love on the recording and get it stuck in your head. Then come to the show and be able to just dance and move so it’s not just passive music.

TMN: What’s next for you guys? 

Keith: We have been recording our first full-length album. We finished up the recording right before we left on this tour and this was the last leg of that. So, we’re finishing mixing and all that jazz and it should be out some time next year. We’re really excited to share it with the universe.

Ian: We’re going to get really really good. We just got a practice space. We had been practicing prior to this in my bedroom for two years and we just got a dedicated space where we can be loud anytime 24/7. We’re going to practice constantly between now and when we put out the record.

Special thanks to Trails and Ways for taking the time to speak with us and, more importantly, for continuing to make epic music! 

Related items::

Trails and Ways