I do think that a lot of that scene has shied away from politics, because the ethos of the scene cares too much about seeming like they don’t give a fuck.”
There is clearly something about California going on here on NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION lately. A certain focus and passion – just take our recent chat with the punk newcomers FIDLAR or the lovely talk we had with lo-fi girl rock duo BLEACHED. Maybe it’s the cold European winter that pulls us into the sun of the Westcoast. But it might also be the massive amount of talented new bands that happen to pop up recently. And here comes another one. They might not be punks in their sound, but they are in their hearts and minds – and their music is another proof how easily catchy melodies and meaningful songs can go hand in hand. Ladies and gentleman, it’s TRAILS AND WAYS.
The four piece – consisting of Hannah van Loon, Emma “Enya” Oppen, Keith Brower Brown and Ian Quirk – defines their music as Brazilian shoegaze. But of course, this is only one side of the story. TRAILS AND WAYS make sunny and harmonic independent pop with a certain hippie mentality and a strong impact of Sotuh American music. They are political, but not wining about it all the time. They could be the next big thing, but they are too relaxed to fall for the buzz and rather give away their EP’s for free. Maybe it’s our European longing for that utopic harmonic atmosphere, TRAILS AND WAYS tend to live, that makes us wanna love and feel those tunes. Who knows. But just to clarify some of these open questions we had a lovely chat with guitar player Keith to talk about their influences, the lack of political awareness in indie-music and why you should never call their music ‘math rock’.
Your music is so sunny and harmonic, really enjoyable. Would you consider yourself as optimists?
Generally yes. We all have dark times too.
I’m almost thinking about calling your music tropical math-rock. Would you agree with this definition?
No, though I know you don’t mean anything bad by that. “Math” to me means heterodox time signatures and tunings. We play around a lot with layers and samples and texture, but the core songs are written learning mostly from classic jazz and pop structure. On the other hand, it’s true that Hannah was a math major. On the word “tropical” – I hate this word applied to music. I know you didn’t invent it though, so no problem with you. “Tropical” is like “oriental”. The global South has a million musical traditions and I think generalizing them all into “tropical” is hellof problematic.
Okay, so any better way to describe your influences?
Among a lot of inspirations from closer to home, we make music that learns from bossanova and samba (from the time I lived in Brazil), from a handful of Spanish folk and Central American traditions (from time Emma and Ian spent in those places), and a little bit of highlife and chimurenga (which I started learning from a Ghanaian friend of mine at one of my first jobs). We play our own thing in conversation with traditions we love; what else does any musician do?
Tell us a bit more about this South American influence.
A lot of my songs started taking shape when I lived in Brazil, and many of Emma’s draw on time she lived in Galicia. But our vision – it’s in our band name – is that each song is a trip, we want all of them to take you to a different space. Mtn Tune was written in a solo week I spent in the Desolation Wilderness; we have a few songs we’re working on that are definitely set in Oakland.
Are you a bit aware of the musical scene in Brazil and other South American countries?
A bit, at least for the parts of Brazil where I was (Rio, Sao Paulo, Fortaleza). I went to lots of samba and forro and choro, and some more experimental and electronic shows. I always get a lot out of listening to latin pop radio and the DIY scenes whose tunes end up on the blog Club Fonograma.
You’re working on an album right now, is that true? And I’ve read the name will be “Trilingual”. What are the three languages?
We are recording but shouldn’t say yet what it will turn into. But the idea is that each of us sing in three languages each, mostly English, Portuguese, Spanish, though I’m doing a little German too. Emma and I keep on writing songs about the limits of where languages meet, and the unsettled space where they all can’t go.
Is there some sort of trans-national feeling also represents you as persons?
I know I’ve learned a lot from my dad’s experience as an immigrant (his family was from Berlin and Innsbruck), and I know we all want to play in a way that talks across borders.
TRAILS AND WAYS: “Passion is the untuneable instrument of love”
You once said you’d like to live in some sort of feminist socialist utopia in a couple of years. Would you describe yourself as a political band? Or does it happen more on an intellectual level?
I feel like there’s no such thing as an apolitical band. Like, even the attempted absence of politics is politics. JORGE BEN’s first albums were officially about soccer and sunshine but that’s totally a political act, when Caetano and Gilberto were in exile. I want social and ecological justice and I often don’t know what to do about it and that colors everything in my life, and the songs would be hollow without that being there.
Speaking of that political aspect – do you also criticize the certain lack of political interest in the indie scene?
Artists have to make their own choices about how to engage with politics – it’s not my place to tell others what to do and I don’t have many answers anyway. I do think that a lot of that scene has shied away from politics, because the ethos of the scene cares too much about seeming like they don’t give a fuck, like it’s all fun and games and rock n’ roll lifestyle. There are great other examples though. I look up a lot to TUNE-YARDS for her way of doing politically meaningful tunes and especially performance. Been really jazzed recently on ELITE GYMNASTICS and GRIMES‘ blogs too, they’re being so accountable, they really respond when they’re called out.
You also seem to have a foundness for doing covers as you did quite a lot of them in the past. But you also like to change lyrics in them while doing it, is this true? How come this?
In jazz you call a cover a standard, in hip hop there’s the mixtape, and in rock there are all these faithful covers that feel like lifeless re-enactments to me. I think all the fun is in the conversation you have with the original, how you get into it and honor and defy it. And MIGUEL and M83‘s worlds are way different than ours, and we wanted to speak from our own.
Is it true that each of you as awesome day jobs like being surfers and stuff?
(laughs) Haha, not exactly. Between us we’ve got jobs in a landscape architecture group, as a math/science/music tutor, a health clinic admin, and a couple of desk jobs in energy companies. It’s true that Ian and Emma are gnarly surfers though.
What can we – all the people suffering the coldness of the European continent at the moment – learn from the Californian lifestyle? Are you guys more relaxed?
The weather is pretty, but weeks of blue skies can really piss you off when you feel like a downpour inside. There are these glimpses of transcendent beauty you get in sunsets over San Francisco though; no matter how you were feeling a minute before, those moments always align your vibrations with the earth and stars, if you know what I’m saying.
What do hope and passion mean to you?
Hope is the present tense of utopia. Passion is the untuneable instrument of love.