A few years ago, recent UC Berkeley grad Keith Brower Brown traveled to Forteleza, a city on the northern coast of Brazil, to study the effects of wind farming on fishing villages. While there he bought a cuica -- a medium-sized drum that sounds more like an opossum being throttled to death than any conventional percussion instrument.
One day his downstairs neighbor, Junior, yelled from his window to come down.
“Listen,” he told Brower Brown. “I’m the best cuica player in the city. I’ll be your teacher.” Beyond instructing Brower Brown on the cuica, Junior began bringing him to neighborhood jam sessions at the local samba bar, where Brower Brown found a welcoming community -- one in which, perhaps inspired in part by $1 cocktails, "everyone sang along."
In Brazil, Brower Brown began writing songs of his own on a borrowed nylon-string guitar. His songs celebrated both his love of bossa nova and his interest in indie rock. When he returned to the Bay Area, he assembled a band to flesh out the tracks he had written: Hannah Van Loon on guitars and synths, Emma Oppen on bass and Ian Quirk on drums. Trails and Ways was born, releasing the Trilingual EP in 2013.
On June 2, Trails and Ways release their debut LP, Pathology, on the esteemed Seattle label Barsuk, home to big-name indie acts like Death Cab for Cutie, Mates of State and the Dismemberment Plan. Pathology picks up where Trilingual left off, combining bossa nova guitar patterns and rhythms with infectious pop hooks. Brower Brown and Oppen, with whom he shares lead vocal duties, sing in English, Spanish, Portuguese and a little German -- you know, for good measure.
The band hits the road this month with Oakland’s Waterstrider, starting with an album release show at the Independent on June 5 with Bells Atlas and Perhapsy. Trails and Ways also plans a tour of Brazil for later in the summer, where Pathology is being released on Balaclava Records.
“To have them put it out is a dream come true,” Brower Brown says. "The last thing I expected was to get to go back and play this music."
Listen to Trails and Ways discuss their new single, “Jararanda” above, and be sure to catch them at the Independent on Friday, June 5.