Refueled Magazine is an independent publication founded by designer Chris Brown. We sat down with him at an old hardware store in Denton to talk shop on philosophies of fashion, the pursuit of creativity, and the excitement of starting something that is all your own. It’s a perfect intro to our friendship as we attempt to refuel the industry of nostalgia together. Call it a precursor to our heritage collaboration on the “Comeback of Coveralls.” Interview and styling by our resident creative Priscilla Barroso. All photography courtesy local savant Will Von Bolton.
Priscilla: We love to know the story behind creative people, especially because the pursuit is never an easy one. Thank you for being a part of ours. Can you tell me a little bit about where you’re from, what led you down this creative path? Was it one specific turning point that changed everything, or has it been your passion all along? In other words, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Chris Brown: Wow. I’ll start with the what I wanted to be when I was, when I was growing up. It was all over the map. I wanted to be a circus clown. I wanted to be a ventriloquist. I wanted to be Red Skelton. I wanted to be John Lennon. But I always knew it was going to be something creative. I also wanted to be a cartoonist. I wanted to be Edgar Allan Poe… so yeah, I was a weird little kid, but that being said, what was the first part of the question?
Priscilla: Tell us a little bit about where you’re from and kind of what led you down the path creatively.
Chris Brown: I grew up in Southeast Texas, near Houston. I was always creative as a little kid, my mother used to sit me down with the Sunday funnies and have me try to copy what I saw and just draw it. She was an artist herself. I think I picked up a pencil and started doing art when I was around four or five, and a couple of years later I got my first guitar, so I kinda was doing art and music growing up. I knew I would probably do one of the other for the rest of my life. And I’ve done both. You know, just being a kind of a creative kid and trying to grow up in Southeast Texas which wasn’t extremely exciting… kind of isolated, you know, so I relied on a couple of things to view the outside world and what was going on, one of them being television at the time. Top 40 radio and print publications. Used all medias to try to see what was going on in the world around me, which was an exciting and kind of scary time. I was growing up in the ’60s … so much stuff happened. I remember watching Walter Cronkite on the evening news every night and seeing scenes of protest in Vietnam War, and to kind of get away from that I absorbed myself in print media, one of them being Life Magazine, and another being Mad Magazine. There were cartoons in it, but it was very satirical, and for me to pick that up when I was seven or eight years old made me as much of a rebel as a kid can be at seven or eight years old.
Priscilla: Rebel with a cause.
Chris Brown: Yeah, I felt like I was being a rebel. You know, by reading the publication and kind of going outside the norms, not necessarily trusting everything your parents told you, but maybe try to search outside sources. Actually, Life Magazine and Mad Magazine inspired me to get into publishing magazines. So at eight years old, I published my first magazine. It was all hand-drawn, the covers were hand-drawn, and I used to type it all up and draw the covers and draw fake ads and write about people in the neighborhood. I sold them for 10 cents to the neighborhood kids. It became so popular I’d have to draw one after another, and then my friends wanted to start creating their own magazines. So we became like this small little community of self-publishers.
Priscilla: I love it! Like a little co-op!
Chris Brown: And each magazine featured something different.
Priscilla: Wow. That’s amazing that you caught on to, that you were so self-aware at such a young age. I mean did your parents help sort of cultivate that or did they just kind of leave you to your own devices …
Chris Brown: No, they definitely did because, like I said, my mom would buy me all kind of art supplies and whatever I wanted to do on the art end, My dad bought me my first guitar, and they really supported both of those. Like when we got little gigs, they would come out and see us play. Whenever I entered art shows, my parents were very proud of see that I would get first, second, third place in a category, so they were super stoked and super excited and supportive.
Priscilla: Well, I think, that does like go to show that if you start supporting, cultivating your child at a young age, they will grow up to sort of create the dream that they want for themselves.
Chris Brown: And I grew up with a brother and two sisters, but I’m kind of the black sheep in the family. Everyone else would just kind of, um, they seemed so square to me at the time. I remember my parents let us stay up on a Sunday night in 1964 to see the Beatles in the Ed Sullivan Show. It’s very apparent that moment spoke to me because in the school pictures from there on out, my brother had the crew cut, but you can see me with the bangs getting longer and longer. So you could tell I was going in a totally different direction than was.
Priscilla: Well, I think maybe that contrast just helped you developed your own look quicker
Priscilla: Why did you launch Refueled? And when?
Chris Brown: I launched Refueled eight years ago. I was just in a period in my life where I was kind of getting through with my musical career wanted to do something in a different creative output. Like I said early on, I knew there’d become a time in life where I was going to do my own publication. So just like everything I do, it’s always very organic and seems to fall in place at the right time. I created the first issue, and it kind of encompassed everything that I loved… fashion, adventure, photography, music. So yeah, that’s when I created the magazine. That being said, those first couple of years were more like an experiment to try to even see if someone would be interested in what I was sharing, because Refueled is very much like personal journals to me. They’re so personal, each issue, whether that’s reflected to the reader or not. For no other reason, I created the magazine just for myself and I put it out there online. Digital online copies for the first few years. Feel super lucky that folks seemed to kind of be drawn to it, accepted it, and dug what it was about. So over those first three or four first years I tried to stick in everything that mattered to me and it wasn’t focused as I wanted it to be. So after those years I decided to start doing print publications. I kind of pulled the reins back and made it more like a cohesive, not just a whole conglomerate of everything I loved. I started picking and choosing what each issue would be and kind of slowed down the mind-thought behind each issue.
Priscilla: Yeah, just spread it out a little bit more. Nice, nice. What does the term “refueled” mean to you exactly? Or what do you want it to mean to other people?
Chris Brown: I’m not sure I would ever want to dictate what it should mean to others. It should be like great song lyrics, where you just decide what Refueled means to you. What it personally means to me is everything that I try to do creatively as an adult, always goes back to something in my childhood
Priscilla: Right. Makes sense!
Chris Brown: I think I grew up at a very pinnacle time in history. There were so many important events and such great cultural things happening around me, it just stuck with me my whole life. So I think I have all this great material to pull from. Refueled for myself means taking something old that I grew up with, an idea, a thought, and making it new again, refueling it.
Priscilla: Well, I am so inspired by you. I would love to take something of your childhood nostalgia and remake it for you, or your audience.
Chris Brown: That’d be super cool.
Priscilla: So, if you have some heirlooms in mind, please like, let me know! I’m happy to be in a position that we can take your inspirations and go places with it. It’s always a risk starting out. Did you have a backup plan, if it didn’t work?
Chris Brown: Well, you know, I also do design work for a handful of small clients. So I guess you could call that a backup plan
Priscilla: You were just going to keep going.
Chris Brown: Yeah. That’s, just who I am. Someone can always make something happen. I don’t see roadblocks in my life. There’s no roadblocks. I mean if something is in your way, if there’s a stumble, just go around it. There’s nothing that can permanently stop you.
Priscilla: I love that.
Chris Brown: Just my thought. I mean everybody may not agree with it.
Interviewer: Yeah. Well, that kinda goes into the next question which was… how do you stay motivated through hard times, but I guess you don’t really look at hard times the way other people look at them
Chris Brown: No, because I mean if you’re waking up every morning and doing something that is important and that you love, it’s not a job, it’s not a strain. You don’t need to be motivated. Each day, I mean, 24 hours in a day is not long enough. There’s not enough time to express what’s inside of me. So I’m never going to run out of material. There’s always something else inspiring me, whether it be art, whether it be music, whether it be literature, whether it be craftspeople, whether it’s a new person you became friends with, whether you’ve taken a new trip out to Joshua Tree, whether you’re gone out to Marfa for the 50th time. You discover something new, even in old places. So I’m just, I’m constantly inspired, and definitely don’t use this word, but it seems like, my life seems more like an adventure than it does a chore… and start the day creating no matter, if it’s in my art, it’s with the publication, spending time with my family teaching my girls about the ’50s, or teaching them about a new song by the Beatles, or something they don’t know about. I’ve been really blessed. We didn’t grow up rich. We grew up middle class, working class, but I feel like I’m the most rich person in the world
Priscilla: That’s really rewarding. That’s what true wealth is, wealth is where your heart is, you know?
Chris Brown: I definitely don’t see wealth as a monetary thing.
Priscilla: Truth. And not giving up I feel is really important.
Chris Brown: I’m not sure why, why folks give up on their dreams. You know?
Priscilla: I don’t know, either, ’cause it gets hard maybe? Who’s your greatest influence, in life? Are you emulating a style from your grandfather or is there somebody that is constantly in the back of your mind?
Chris Brown: Yeah, I’d say the number one influence is my dad and both my grandfathers. My dad grew up blue collar working class, worked at a oil refinery in Southeast Texas his whole life, but it is his style that I still emulate today. I mean when I was a kid, I wonder why Levi’s had this little red and white stitching on it and my Sears tough skins didn’t have that.
Chris Brown: So I would study those little details in his jeans, and his chambray shirts and his bandannas. He wore Red Wing boots and he wore, I mean this is my grandfather’s Stetson. I would try on his clothes and his hat because it smelled like him. And my Italian grandfather on my mother’s side, I never saw him when he wasn’t wearing a white shirt and a tie, if not a whole suit…just sitting around the house. He owned a bakery and a liquor store, and then, my grandfather on my dad’s side, who I never met ’cause he died before I was born, my cousin said that I always reminded him of my grandfather, maybe because of our height and our personality, and I think I look like him …
Priscilla: So nostalgic!
Chris Brown: He grew up, you know, early 1900s, so I go back and look at those old photographs and there’s something about that lifestyle and the way they present themselves. Even if they were poor, they were proud of who they were and what they did. He was a butcher, which I think is a super cool trade.
Priscilla: There aren’t many butcher shops anymore.
Chris Brown: No. So, you know, I kinda wanted to be like all three of those guys, but I’d probably have to say my dad, and not only for style purposes. I mean, even though I rebelled and bucked against everything my dad tried to tell me or the way he disciplined all of us growing up (which we hated at the time). As you get older, you realize they were such great life lessons. He and my mom gave me so much of their life and dedicated their lives to raising us kids and trying to teach us great values. It’s very unconscious and not with any effort whatsoever, slowly over the years I’m just becoming more and more like my dad, same mind-thought, same values, same just everything.
Priscilla: I always wonder if this is something that we just naturally will progress into, becoming like our parents. Maybe we choose the best parts of them.
Chris Brown: It’s destiny. We just do. Good or bad. I think we just do.
Priscilla: I mean obviously your design style is incredible and totally fits in with the brand, but how do you describe your sort of style to someone that maybe is a little bit more conservative, that wouldn’t get it. I mean someone that would just assume “He’s wearing a beard. He’s a hipster?” How do we sort of break that mold and describe this style as something more than just current?
Chris Brown: Well, I can only tell you how it relates to me. I find myself stuck in several decades, the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, but I find myself stuck in those just because I continue to delve into my family’s background I continuously delve into old photographs of my grandparents and relatives during Dust Bowl days, the poorest of people, you would see them and they would have probably that one jacket and it would just be full of dust, and these kids would have on these dresses that you know were handmade, but for that one photo, they put on what the best things that they had and they were proud. So I’m not really sure how to answer that question other than this, I feel really comfortable in who I am, in how I present myself. I think you either inherently have style or you don’t. But I also think it needs to come from an unconscious place. If too much thought is put into it, at least for me, then it’s not authentic.
Priscilla: And so maybe like this genre is just authenticity. Maybe being authentic is really the current trend. I feel like we’re almost creating a new genre for the new era mixing with the old, you know? But going back to the past is where it’s at. I mean in terms of fashion
Chris Brown: You’re not going to learn from the future because you don’t know what the future is. The only thing you can access is the past. That’s where you can learn from. In my opinion, whether it be philosophy, whether it be literature, whether it be culture, whether it be style or and I hate to use, I always want to use the word “style” because I hate the word “fashion.” To me, the word “fashion” shouldn’t even exist. What’s fashion? I’m not sure.
Priscilla: It’s a good question. I mean, people are still deciding whether or not fashion is an art form
Chris Brown: I think designing clothes is an art form
Priscilla: I almost feel like the more personal you are, the more universal you become. So it’s perfect that you go back to specific parts of your life and share it with the world because like that’s how most people respond best, when you’re being personal, you know?
Chris Brown: I try not to think about it too much because I’m afraid I’ll start unconsciously doing something to try to gain more readership. Well, this works really well, maybe I should do that again. I don’t want to do that
Priscilla: Do you collect nostalgia? If so, what do you love to hunt for?
Chris Brown: I stopped hunting. I like to discover things now because there was a period in my life maybe 20 years ago where I would collect maybe nothing but old garden hose heads. And I’d have like 30 of them. Now that became like too contrived. I like to discover pieces now. Again, it’s like pieces from my childhood. Like recently I found an old radio from the early ’60s. A transistor radio, but it was one of these bigger transistor radios. Yellow and plastic and still worked. So that’s something that speaks to me. If I do try to collect anything, I seem to be collecting more old Stetsons and old hats.
Priscilla: I do, too. I feel you on that. Do you feel like they don’t make hats now like they used to?
Chris Brown: There are a very few people who makes hats like they used to. I think there are a few craftspeople that are trying to bring them back and I’m super stoked on anything from the past that someone can kind of put somewhat of a new spin (and not too much of their own personal spin) Try to keep it pretty authentic with what was originally there because it’s what people fell in love with.
Priscilla: So how does music play an integral role in the style of Refueled? I know that you have a musical background, but in the current issue, for instance, did you just highlight somebody that you was in your playlist at the moment or?
Chris Brown: Yeah, music plays a huge part in each issue. Before I start each issue, I gather up a whole group of albums and I’ll completely listen to that over the whole time I’m designing an issue. So it’s like each issue has a soundtrack, and I don’t think I talk about that enough. I should probably put that out there more.
Priscilla: Most creatives that come from Texas leave Texas, but there’s so much hidden talent here. How do you find the talent you want for Refueled? Is there a go-to source online or do you happen to meet most people in real life organically?
Chris Brown: Yeah. Definitely organically. Most of my friends tend to be musicians, actors, designers, chefs, photographers, so folks I grew up with or that I have made friends with throughout my life have stuck. I get inspired by what they’re doing.
Priscilla: The One Series is really special, the collaboration between you and Jason Lee is particularly wonderful. How did that come together so effortlessly?
Chris Brown: I told this story before, but now I’ll say it on the record. Jason and I met about a year and a half ago at a photo event. We immediately found that we had a lot in common: our personalities, our backgrounds, the way we grew up, the things that we loved, the music that we loved. We love kind of old things, vintage, throwback things…so we had a lot in common. I was really drawn to his photography because I’d never seen his acting work. I’d never seen those until we met. So I just knew him from his skateboard days and from his photography days. I loved his photography, so I asked if he would like to maybe do an issue of the One Series. He was super into it. it was going to be something completely different at first, and then just a couple of months of us talking together, he always wanted to publish a book of his photography so we kind of settled on that idea. I was super honored that he chose Refueled to release his first collection of photography. Basically that’s the way it came about. It was a super exciting project to work on together. We did it over the course of two or three months. Released it as a special edition, signed and numbered 500 copies. Sold out in a little over 48 hours.
Priscilla: So great!
Chris Brown: Yeah it was really cool. It was a really special project. We really got to know each other better through that. Now I’m known as Uncle Chris at his house. It was fun and I, and I think I’ve made a friend for life.
Chris Brown: That was the fourth issue of the One Series. The One Series has been a big surprise for me because in the past I’ve been releasing what was kind of the normal format magazine, lots of features, the standard-sized format, which I love, but I wanted to do something a little different. So the One Series represented a couple of things directly drawn from my childhood: Life Magazine & Mad Magazine. The size dictates the old Boy Scout manuals. The paper stock to be really like Mad Magazine, really thin, really cheap. So yeah, that was my idea behind the One Series and the other issues have a number of features, the One Series would just focus on one photographer, one artist, one craft person, or one subject. Traditional publishing never allowed 120 to 125 pages of one subject, which has allowed myself and the readers to really get an in-depth look behind whoever I’m featuring. I find that more and more people who have embraced the magazines the less marketing I have to do. I basically like to use the word “share.” I definitely share what I’m doing and what’s coming.
Priscilla: What do you want to be known for? Is there a personal legacy that you want to leave behind?
Chris Brown: That’s a great question, and I’m not sure I have a really good answer for that. Maybe I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to share what was important to me, whether that means anything or not. I mean who am I? Why would people care about what means something to me? But, the folks that do get me, my friends, my family, it’s important to me that they knew I shared what was inside of me
Priscilla: That was straight from the heart. So most guys carry around a pocket knife. What is the tool or accessory you have to have with you at all times? That’s a very fashion question.
Chris Brown: A notebook.
Priscilla: What projects are you working on right now? Anything in the future you can tease us with?
Chris Brown: In 2017, the One Series is going to continue, like I said. It’s going to be presented in different formats. There’s a couple of books I’m working on with Jason. A documentary I may be involved in. So yeah, a lot of exciting things, but nothing that I can really share much more than that.
Priscilla: Is there any advice you can offer someone inspired by you that wants to make an impact in their own community? And that’s the last question.
Chris Brown: Create or share something that’s important to you individually, that means something to you, that you’re drawing from. I mean ’cause you’re an individual no one else can draw from your background. No one else can access and share your experiences. So just share or create something that is truly yourself. And then, if it doesn’t resonate with others, at least it would’ve meant something to you. That’s all that matters.
Priscilla: All right. That’s a perfect way to end this.
Chris Brown: Nice. Was that the end?
Priscilla: That’s the end!
Chris Brown: That was painless.
Priscilla: Thank you!
Chris Brown: Those were good questions.