IRT: Ryan, much of the music on The Gift Horse centers around your experiences while recovering from the rare blood infection you got hit with. Have you been able to find out anything more about your diagnosis and what you learned from this whole ordeal? Was it a one-time thing or something you have to implement preventative measures from letting happen again?
Ryan: It was basically—from what I understand—a freak blood infection they couldn’t figure out how to treat. Along the way they took stabs at every possible terrible thing I could have until something worked or I died. I lived, so that’s cool. It was thankfully a one-time thing and I’ve made a full recovery after putting in lots of hours at the pool to get my lungs back. So now I’m back to doin’ bad shit with my friends.
IRT: What was the biggest lesson or epiphany if you will that you learned or experienced coming out of this situation?
Ryan: That dying isn’t as painful as heartbreak. And always trying to control your world doesn’t allow you to exist in others.
IRT: What records were you guys listening to while creating The Gift Horse and how did these sounds influence the outcome of the record on a sonic level?
Aaron: For the most part we listened to the current mixes while working on the record. It’s not something that we set out to do, necessarily—it’s just how we work. If I we’re to go back to that time—or any time, really—and I just so happened to be in a bar with a juke box, my five bucks would have gone to the Feist version of “Lover’s Spit.” Five dollars worth of “Lover’s Spit.”
IRT: You guys recorded the LP in Folsom. What can you say about the town to sell it to someone who only associates it with the prison?
Aaron: For most people, the allure starts with a romantic idea of an old 49er town wedged into the rolling hills. Twenty years ago, Northern California was littered with towns very similar—nostalgia stores, B&Bs, ice cream shops, cowboys surviving like cockroaches—and if you ask around, you might get a story or two about how it used to be. There’s a draw, I get it, but the older I get the more I feel like the cowboy-cockroach. I could get in to how great it once was, but I think it’s better to just keep the idea of it upstairs, preserved and well-kept like a nostalgia store. It’s changed a lot, and now we just take it for what it is: a safe suburban city-town with a world-class prison and the best tap water in the US.
IRT: When you guys were kids, did you and your siblings ever scope out the prison?
Aaron: We did. Ryan and I used to sneak onto prison grounds, bb guns in hand, and get as close as we could before the guards would fire off warning shots. True story. If only we had bigger guns and could’ve gotten a good look at Charlie Manson or Rick James.
IRT: Why did you guys name the band Brown Shoe? What is the significance of this footwear?
Aaron: We really should have put more thought into our band name. At this point, it feels like our given birth name, and every time I hear it, it’s like hearing my first and middle name in a very stern tone. Like we’re all about to get into some serious trouble.
IRT: How does college radio fit into the world of Brown Shoe? Do you get play on the air and what do you think of colleges and universities cutting college radio programs from their budgets?
Aaron: College radio was the first thing that made us think that we could be a legitimate band, and without it, I’m not sure where we’d be. When we finished our first record, like most bands, we were lost and our only plan was to send out to a bunch of college stations. We ended up getting played on KCRW, which was my first “holy fuck” moment. Weeks later we charted on CMJ and I got a phone call from the CMJ editor asking us what we were up to—Do you have management, label interest, festivals, ect. For all he knew we had made calculated decisions to get to this point when really it was just dumb luck. So yeah, I hate to hear that such a valuable resource for exposing new bands is being cut.
IRT: You say you have a "massive aversion to minor, bluesy, psychotropic music." What groups or albums did you believe fit this description? Are there any exceptions?
Ryan: I just live in a world where I hear things in a major key. I like bittersweet music, and my lyrics are usually the bitter part of that combination. In my head, music should have a pull and a push, and a perfectly-placed minor chord can make the warmth feel warmer. I don’t mind minor, bluesy, psychotropic music. I just avoid it in our music.
IRT: What are your thoughts on the Occupy Wall St. movement?
Aaron: We have varied opinions about Occupy, so we’ll try and keep it short and on point. I’m an optimist and so I look for the good in things. The positives are easy: expression of free speech, fighting for equality, inciting national debate. These ideas are at the core of American ideals but the reaction I've seen from most of America makes it hard to be an optimist. I’ve watched people from both ends of the spectrum stand up against “The Fat Cats in Wall Street,” an idea that crosses party lines.
Yet it seems that from the start, OWS has been trivialized as a bunch of wackadoos with some crazy ideas like "The banks are a bunch of crooks". Which is just hilarious because I don't know anyone who hasn't been f'd by a bank. I guess for some people the idea of urban camping is just too much to handle. There are definite downsides to the movement, but I’ll take these faults over a bedroom culture whose idea of democracy is voting every four years.
Attached is a photo I saw in a Jimmy John's that made a lot of sense to me (left).
IRT: How did the addition of your brother Landon and Chandler Clemons impact the band sound overall, in your opinion?
Aaron: Chandler was our first fifth member. Our sound became larger, naturally. Landon adds an undercurrent of curiosity to everything we play. "Why?" is a very regular part of his vocabulary and will no doubt have an effect on our band for years to come.