by Madison Kahn
Born and raised in Texas, Chris Brown cultivated his penchant for the publishing world at an early age. At a meager eight-years-old, Brown created an illustrated zine about his neighborhood, and has been working hard ever since to both tell the stories of people he encounters and format them in a thoughtfully constructed package. This is best seen in Refueled, a magazine he created with the intention of sharing his inspirations and adventures with the world. As its publisher, creative director and writer, Refueled is at once a personal journal and an in-depth look at people and environments surrounding Brown and his Dallas-based publication.
Although Refueled began online, Spring 2013 celebrates its fifth anniversary as a bi-annual print publication. In anticipation of the edition's launch next month, we caught up with Brown to get a sneak peek at its pages and talk about his dedication to design, media and Americana. From raiding his father's closet and smelling the pages of MAD magazine as a kid, to transitioning Refueled from digital to print and considering the future of the industry, Brown continues to hone his approach to publishing as his an ongoing personal art project.
Why did you decide to start publishing?
I wanted to put something out there that really showed my point of view through my inspirations. And I've always believed that if you want to make something happen, you have to go out and make it happen. I'm really driven to leave somewhat of a mark, big or small, on the world from what I can create.
Where do you look for journalistic inspiration?
The media of the '60s and '70s inspired me so much. There was something exciting about LIFE magazine's full bleed photos, the color of the photographs, the chromotone, desaturated vibes. And then my grandfather bought me my first MAD magazine, and I loved the whole rebellious feeling, the whole "go out and explore and learn about the world yourself" mantra. I feel those vibes are in the things I produce now. It goes beyond print. Everything I create has a bit of that vibe in it. And that's the reason Refueled could be looked at as an art project.
What inspired your interest in design?
It really goes back to my dad's wardrobe. He wore a lot of denim and cowboy boots and these great LBJ-style cowboy hats. While he was at work, I would try on his blue jeans, and that was when I started noticing how they were constructed and the different fabrics used to make them. There's something about clothes—I really cant put my finger on it—that really influenced my whole sense of design and creation.
Refueled started as an online publication and then you started offering a print version as well. Why?
When I started this labor of love, I wanted as many folks as possible to reach Refueled, and read it, and be excited by it. Publishing it online made it accessible to everyone for free. But these days, there's this whole new resurgence of print again. And contrary to what some believe, I don't think print is dead. It's tired. It needs to be refueled, if you will. In the same way that style and music are looking to the past and reconnecting to it's heritage, so are indie publishers. Publishing is about experiencing something and sharing that experience with others—in your own voice. Whether you choose to connect to that experience digitally or through ink on paper is personal. I believe there is room for both.
How do you think the two mediums differ?
With print, folks tend to settle in somewhere and spend time with it. Print has a warmer quality. Maybe its because you're feeling it, smelling the ink, touching its physical qualities. I can still vividly smell those pages of MAD magazine that I read as a kid under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. It's fast and easy to look at stuff online, but its also great to go out to a secluded cabin in the woods, be completely disconnected, and take a stack of books and magazines and just get lost in them.
When did you decide that it was the right time to go to print?
I was always going to create a printed piece when I started online. I just wanted to test the waters a bit to see if it was even something folks would be interested in. And right out of the gate, we had a very strong response. Now it's growing faster than ever. The first two issues did well, but this last one exploded 100% more than the others.
You create each issue mostly on your own. What's the process like?
It's always hard to distinguish which issue I'm working on. I'm constantly on the road collecting ideas and exploring new folks who share my same vision. At some point, I sit down and consider all the stories, ideas, features and photos I've collected for the past three months—and then decide which things go well together for this next issue. Sometimes, it's just a feeling I have, or they all have something in common, and that's how I piece an issue together. The people and the subject matter really dictate the look and the aesthetic so that each issue has its own feel that keeps evolving.
"Like Jack Kerouac, who I draw much inspiration from, I write and document experiences, dreams and hopes of my group of friends, exploring the open road, its people, and the American dream."
I think of publishing Refueled as a craft. It's about experiencing something and sharing the experience with others—in your own voice. The word "craft" has definitely made a resurgence of sorts in the last couple of years—and I think it will continue to grow—but what it really means to my group of friends is passion.
We all have a passion for creating—whether it be blue jeans, leather goods, furniture, music, art, photography, hotels, cycles, hot rods or magazines. Like Jack Kerouac, who I draw much inspiration from, I write and document experiences, dreams and hopes of my group of friends, exploring the open road, its people, and the American dream.
Where do you find the people featured in Refueled?
I have all these creative friends, and they all do different things, and we all do different things for each other. My thing is magazines. But I never have to go very far to get ideas or something to write about because I love what all of these folks are doing. So in this circle, everyone reads Refueled to see what's going on with all of us.
Let's talk about Issue No. 11 Summer. What's inside?
One of the bigger style pieces I'm featuring is a vintage clothing company called Sam Hill. This guy doesn't own a storefront. He goes out and collects great vintage clothing—and he has a great eye—and builds little pop up shops in different locations. You have to follow him on Facebook or Twitter to see where he'll be next.
The two kids on the cover are friends of both of ours that really represent the demographic and vibes of the folks who read refueled, and I thought they would be able to convey the look that I was going for.
Where did you photograph Sam Hill?
I wanted this to have a modern cabin feel. We learned that the brand director for Austin City Limits has some property outside of town. And he was up for the shoot, so we just went for it. I hadn't seen any photos of where we were shooting—which was a bit different because I usually like to scout a location so I know what I'm getting into. But I went in totally blind and realized that this is often the way I work. I'm kind of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person. Working like that adds a certain element of spontaneity to the piece. It forces you to think on the spot and see what you can do immediately. Sometimes you can feel it when a project is planned out too much. And when it's not planned, you can feel that too.
What about the design section? Who are you featuring?
Jack Sanders has a company called Design Build Adventure. Jack's an architect and a teacher—he does a lot of things, but what I'm featuring are his two-dimensional drawings, etchings and collages. He's got a great series of what appears to be a white moon on a blue background, where he took a flour tortilla, put ink on it, and pressed it onto some blue paint. He also creates three-dimensional art in the form of fences. For the piece pictured, he gathered thousands and thousands of little twigs and poked them through a wire structure to create spheres and rolls.
Images by Gustav Schmiege, Michael A. Muller and Will Holland for Refueled