Interview: Trevor Hall
I had the great pleasure of talking with the supremely chill roots/folk artist Trevor Hall in regards to his upcoming tour through the U.S., which includes opening for the John Butler Trio on Thursday, July 25, at New Belgium Brewing Co. We chatted about his musical process, his upcoming studio time, and I got to pick his brain on what life is like for him while he’s on the road. His calm demeanor and charming nature made it feel like catching up with an old friend.
Nick Gonnering: You said you were going into the studio today, and I’d love to chat with you about your musical process and how you go from start to finish with your music. What does that look like for you?
Trevor Hall: Yeah! Well, I usually do my own production in my home. I’m not an expert producer or anything, but I have my own setup and that's where I usually spark up a lot of my ideas and the original demos. Then I bring that to a producer or a studio and I record it on nicer mics later on. But for the most part, it's a lot of me in my own space.
NG: I think I saw a picture of you at your recording setup with all of these big pictures of your gurus in front of you?
TH: Yeah, I like to deck it out and make it personal.
NG: So, does your production drive your writing process, or is it the other way around? How do you start building your songs when you’re getting into that headspace?
TH: I think that it can go either way, you know? I think that it shouldn’t be restricted. With music, I try to not bring any of myself into it. I think that if the production is inspiring something to come through, great! If you have an idea before production and you add on after, that’s great, too. It’s important not to block any river that may be flowing into your creative process.
For me, a lot of the time, it can go either way. But a lot of the time, the production can come first. Then the music can create a vibration and that vibration can create a mood that can create the words. So, everything originates from the first sound or vibration.
NG: Wow! That makes sense, because on a deeper healing level, you’re working with the musical essence coming through and getting out of the way.
NG: I’ve been loving this new track with [Oakland-based Americana/electronica/world music trio] Dirtwire, “Strength in One.” How did that project come about?
TH: Well, we were going on tour together and they approached me before the tour asking if I would like to do a song for the tour. And I was like, “Absolutely!” So, they kind of opened the door and said, “If you have any ideas, we can pass them back and forth through email.”
So, back at home, I came up with the chords and progression/lyrics and sent them over a roughly produced skeleton of the song with the permission to really go to town and let me know what they came up with. So, they were really responsible for the majority of the production and the place the song went to. We just passed the song back and forth until we were all just like, “Thats it!” It was a really fun process and I really feel like collaboration like that can bring forward so many new creative energies and flavors. I love those guys!
NG: It’s cool to hear this new musical styling you’re working in. I mean, I’ve been listening to your music since it was just you and a cajon player, essentially, so to hear you step into this bigger digital element and work with this bigger sound is awesome. [Your 2017 album] The Fruitful Darkness, for example, is this true piece of art where the production is so good, the meaning is so deep, the instrumentation is so tight, and the lyrics just add on to that even more. How did you step into that with The Fruitful Darkness and where did that inspiration come from?
TH: Well, I’ve always created stuff that has a little bit of a digital element or experimental stuff, but I’ve always kept it in the vault because I felt like it may be too far outside of the box or I was really unsure about it. But when the time came to create a new album and we were creating The Fruitful Darkness, I sort of let those inhibitions go and just thought, “If you feel it, just go with it. Don’t be afraid of that.”
I’m also heavily influenced by guys like Bon Iver[‘s Justin Vernon] and James Blake, who are really pushing the envelope. So, I really wanted to push the limits with my own creative process. That was really the meditation behind and the inspiration for The Fruitful Darkness — to step out of my lane and see how far we can take it, which really inspired me to continue to take it further and see what can happen next. It was a very important album for me and I’m grateful that I was able to make it.
NG: Yeah, it was a really great breakout album for your style. Especially with your background as more of a roots artist, it’s really interesting to hear this digital influence. Do you think that inspiration is continuing into your new music?
TH: Well, I don’t really know if it’s sonically continuing. But mentally, that headspace of opening your mind and not being afraid of how far you can take something before you say, “This is it” — that mental space is really continuing into my creative process.
NG: It’s awesome to see your process evolving into that, because I feel like when you put on a live show with that kind of music, the kind that you’re into and you feel inspired by, everyone can get into your same headspace because you’re having fun, which gets them to have fun and be open and everything just flows. You see some bands that just put out the same type of music over and over, and they all just seem so bored!
You mentioned that you were heavily influenced by guys like Bon Iver and James Blake, but who would you say are some of your deeply rooted influences? What would some of the genetics of your music be?
TH: I would definitely say that reggae and roots reggae were heavy influences for me. I was obsessed with that genre growing up, and I know that regardless of what I’m playing, you can still feel some of those influences. Now, in the past few years, I’ve really gotten away from that vibe, but I’ve always had my roots in reggae.
NG: That seems apparent. It’s pretty cool, too, because I feel like the main message of roots reggae music is to rise up and unify and I feel like your message borders on that — at least from the stance of a listener. What do you think the message of your music is evolving into these days?
TH: I don’t really know. I feel like it can change. I think the special thing about music is that the same song can mean so many different things to different people. Where one person can hear a song as a healing song, the same song to a different person can represent falling in love with their partner.
I think that is really the glory of music. The one vibration can inspire and be so many different vibrations for so many different people. So, I don’t really like to say, “I hope I’m giving this message,” because I don’t want to restrict all of the things that it can be. But, whatever the message is, my main intention is to always stay true to the music, and I’m always hoping that the music can inspire. Whatever it wants to inspire, inspiration is the goal because it is so powerful.
NG: Well said. I think that as a musician, you have such power and potential to affect the vibration all around you. And over time, your music becomes such a mantra for yourself. A lot of artists want to stay in this dark realm and revel in it, but if you have to play those songs over and over again, you really aren’t able to grow out of that — you just kind of swirl in it. So to hear an artist like yourself writing this inspiration into your music, it’s awesome because you are really growing with your music.
So, when you’re out on the road and in all of these different places, how do you keep yourself grounded and how do you keep yourself centered to stay in that creative place and be inspired?
TH: Well, A lot of the time, to be honest with you, I don’t. [Laughs] It’s really hard to stay centered when you’re out there moving from place to place everyday, meeting so many people and interacting with so many energies. So, a lot of the time I get knocked off and really tired, or whatever it is. I try, obviously, to stay centered, and a lot of that revolves around surrendering.
When we go out, I make this whole plan before the tour: I’m going to eat right and work out every day, and go to bed early — and then it doesn’t happen while you’re out there and you’re frustrated, which can throw you off. But if you just surrender to the way of the road and the wind and all of this, you’ll probably be more easy. And as a result, if you’re more easy and loose, you’ll probably be more centered. It becomes more of a moment-to-moment process. It is what it is and I’m just flowing, and when I’m in that space, it’s easier for me to be centered and to be here in the now.
NG: So, speaking of touring, you’ve got a lot of cities coming up here, and, obviously, you’re doing an interview for an Asheville-based site, so no need for a bias. But are there any cities you’re really stoked about playing on this tour?
TH: Well, to be honest with you, I don’t know exactly where I'm going. [Laughs] I know that we’re starting in Asheville! Not to be cliché — I always love coming to Asheville. I’ve been coming there for years, and it’s always got such a beautiful energy and vibe. So, honestly, Asheville is definitely one of the places I'm really excited to be playing. But in general, I’m just excited overall to be playing outside and playing in these outdoor amphitheatres for the majority of the tour.
NG: Is there anything else you want everyone to know before you head out on this tour or that you’re really excited for while you are on the road?
TH: I’m really just excited to be touring with John Butler. He’s always been a big influence and I’m really excited to be able to get to know him better and to learn from him and watch him play every night.
IF YOU GO
Who: John Butler Trio with Trevor Hall
When: Thursday, July 25, 6:30 p.m.
Where: New Belgium Brewing Co., 21 Craven St., newbelgium.com
Tickets: $35 general admission/$75 VIP
(Photo by Emory Hall Photography)