Singer/songwriter Trevor Hall has recently announced his new album, In and Through the Body, for independent release on September 25th, but we caught up with him ahead of time for a chat about where the music has taken him these days and where it will take the new album.
In In and Through The Body, you're going to hear a fascinating blend of musical ideas that push further afield than Hall's acoustic associations, alongside overarching concepts that speak to Hall's deep personal connection to India and also to what India has to say about the origin and roots of music. Not only does the new album take us to some new sonic spaces, but it took Hall to some new emotional spaces as he integrated the human element into his work more fully.
Tower's PULSE! spoke with Trevor Hall below about his upcoming album, about the process and rewards of going independent, and about how his travels and internal journey have become part of his musical journey.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Are you someone who ever visited Tower Records?
Trevor Hall: When I was 16 in LA, I was living with a friend of my dad’s, and I would take a cab, back in the days of cabs, up to Sunset Boulevard to Tower Records and I would spend hours in there just going through CDs. I would pick a cover that appealed to me, even though I didn’t know who it was. It was something I did by myself, a little ritual. So I can’t believe I’m now speaking with someone from Tower Records.
HMS: Thank you for that story. That’s wonderful. That location is probably the most beloved location.
TH: I remember one of the CDs that I picked, just because it looked cool, was John Butler Trio’s Sunrise Over Sea. Sometimes when brought stuff home and put it on the stereo, it wouldn’t always be a hit, but with that one, I went, “Whoah!” Then, about two years back, we went on tour with them, and I told him that story. It was pretty funny.
HMS: That’s so awesome. I’ve heard a lot lately about the importance of cover art to discovering music back in the day and it needs to be that way again.
I was given super-secret access to your new album, and you have teased that this album is a departure for you, trying new things and shaking things up a bit. What kind of sound traditions most appealed to you when you were younger, and how does that compare to how you’re feeling now?
TH: I think it’s different in a lot of ways and I think it’s the same in a lot of ways. In regards to the feeling that music or sound gives me, that feeling hasn’t so much changed. It may have grown in intensity, but that feeling is the same. For me, it’s a mystical, beautiful, healing space that I can only enter through music. There are different emotions that come with different songs, but the underlying root feeling is not different. That’s cool since it’s like an unchangeable space in a changing world.
On the other hand, just growing up, I would listen to anything I could get my hands on. My dad was a musician and I was exposed to his kind of music, which was The Allman Brothers, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and The Doobie Brothers, as well as Jazz. Then I got really into Reggae, and then in high school, into Hip-Hop. Then I got into Radiohead and Bjork. I didn’t really steer anything, but would go where the sound was leading me.
Now, I’ve always been more of an acoustic artist in my own music, but I’ve been so inspired by electronic and experimental music. I’ve always been scared to bring that in because my ego was attached to the idea that I was an acoustic musician. But on our last album, I started to kind of step out into that world. But in this space in my life, I don’t feel any inhibitions or boundaries. It was, “Just do it.”, which was freeing, healing, and fun. I feel like I’m still in this space. Before, I felt like I had to be a certain type of musician. But as artists, we grow and evolve, and it can be scary, but now I’m having fun. That’s the part of music that’s changed.
HMS: Thank you, that’s a great answer. Well, your fanbase have been incredibly supportive of everything you’ve wanted to do, so I think they’ll be happy with the results. I can see why you’ve felt the need to stick to these distinctions as an acoustic musician because you studied classical guitar, right? That’s something you went deep into.
TH: For sure. I would make all sorts of stuff in the comfort of my own home, but that wouldn’t leave that space. It was like my little secret or something. Anybody, whether or not you’re an artist, when you’re stepping into a different space, it’s still a little scary. You just don’t know where it will lead. We like to be comfortable as humans.
HMS: I saw that one of the new songs that’s been released, “My Own” had a longer history, so that makes sense that you have been working on things with these new sounds but just hadn’t released anything like this yet.
TH: Yeah, absolutely. I love to create all the time. I save everything. When I’m recording an album, so many songs are recorded. I don’t plan it out too much, and I want the music to kind of direct me in what it wants to reflect. There’s no plan of what’s going on the album or not until we’ve recorded all the songs.
In that process, a lot of songs get left behind and you hope they will reappear, or some are just for your own personal journey or healing. “My Own” was one of those songs that I hoped would find life, and I always remembered it and held onto it over the years. Then it just found its place. It’s such a special song to me that I’m so happy it got out there.
HMS: I really enjoyed it and I think it was a good choice to put out early-on. What I thought I heard were some elements of Hip-Hop and some elements of World Music, also choral music. It was a really interesting combination.
TH: It’s a feeling. Bob Marley said, “Who feels it knows it.” I’ve held onto those words so long. With “My Own”, it was pure feeling, and a lot of the album was like that. It was a good place to start. It had an acoustic element, and a little bit of the old me bridging over into some other things. I think when people hear the album, they’ll get a broad spectrum of good ideas.
HMS: It’s a big album! It’s got a lot of tracks.
TH: Yes! I was telling my manager that I’ve never been a fan of long albums, so I’ve always been against the idea, but I couldn’t leave that much behind this time. They all fit, so I said, “Why not?” That’s an example of how I’m letting go of attachments to how an album should be. But it’s funny because I’ve always been a short album kind of guy.
The first song is an intro and the last song is an outro, and some people don’t count those. But with this one we were just having so much fun. I linked up with Brad Cook, who is a huge inspiration for me, and part of the journey was creating with him. Being around him was magical. He got me into the joy of creation again and just going after every idea and giving it all you’ve got, but not in an intense way.
HMS: Sometimes you need people in your life, I think, who give you permission. Who let you do things you don’t normally do but you have an impulse to do.
TH: For sure. He’s an amazing guy and he’s become an amazing friend.
HMS: Is there anything thematic about the order of the songs?
TH: Yes, the order is super-important to me. On the days of being on a record label, it was always the same thing, putting the singles up at the front and the less popular songs behind. I always hated that. That’s not a pure intention and I would always fight against it. When I got on a more independent path, it’s such an art to create the journey from the first song to the last song.
With this album, I knew what I wanted to do for the outro when I made that. Though I don’t plan things as I’m recording, I get a feeling about songs, like, “This is an introductory kind of song.” I had a few ideas, but a lot of that happens once I have all the songs. The order kind of revealed itself.
HMS: So, you went independent a few years ago, did those changes then enable what you’ve been able to do on this album?
TH: Absolutely. The first independent release, The Fruitful Darkness, gave me a feeling of such freedom. Not that my previous situation was bad, since the boutique label I was on was wonderful at giving me my freedom, but there’s something subtly different about knowing that you’re making something. You’re putting it out, you’re paying for it.
That’s a different feeling that supports inner freedom. Musically, I started to step out. That album included a lot of struggle, but with this album it’s more about stepping into playfulness and joy. It’s not so heavy. I’m an intense thinker. [Laughs]
HMS: That’s so great. Is there anything that you would convey to people who are thinking about going independent? I know that’s a big question.
TH: That’s a great question. It was a very scary process. I wondered if I could even do it after ten years on labels. The interesting thing is that the industry has changed so much. When I started, we didn’t even have MySpace. We didn’t have Spotify or Pandora. Now we almost can’t remember the times when we didn’t have them. The way things have become with the internet and all these platforms, it has become so easy for independent musicians to put out their stuff. That didn’t make it as scary to do. If ten years ago someone had suggested that I go independent, I would have said, “Oh god, how is that even possible?”
HMS: [Laughs] A sense of dread.
TH: Yes. [Laughs] Because of these platforms, things are much easier. I would 100% support any artist being independent. While everyone’s situation is different, I think I’m just the type of artist who needs to feel that space and freedom. It’s not as intimidating as people think to make music and put it out right away. Back when I was starting out, you had to go to a studio to record an album. Nowadays, I can make music on my laptop with just one mic, and there are songs on this album that were made that way.
The more people are able to create, the better. It’s not as scary as it once was to be an independent artist. My advice would be to take the step, just do it. If you mess up, you learn so much. In that first year of going independent, I learned more than in 15 years in the industry. I think it’s a really good step to take and I would encourage it.
HMS: For some people I’ve spoken to, it seems like a natural progression, because after being in the industry for a certain amount of time, you can learn things and pick them up.
TH: Yes, it’s been a foundational journey, and everything’s happened at its right time. I’m grateful to be where I am at this stage.
HMS: I haven’t asked you any questions yet about travel and your philosophy, which is a big part of your work. When did you start traveling?
TH: I grew up in a small town, a beautiful place, where my family still lives. When I was making music so young, my parents took notice of that and wanted to support my learning. I went to a boarding school in California when I was 16, and that’s when I started to travel, and it’s really never stopped. In the summers, I’d be on tour, and that’s how it all started. International travel started a little later. My parents took me on some trips growing up, to South America and Canada. But I never dreamed over going over to Asia, and that’s when things really started to change for me.
HMS: What were the most surprising things to you when first traveling in Asia?
TH: When you grow up in a certain way, you think that’s the way. When you don’t feel at home in that culture, it’s really confusing. I think going to India the first time, at 20 years old, was like just literally having your mind destroyed, in a way, with all your conceptions shattered, but then feeling at home for the first time. It was just like, “Holy shit. I didn’t know this feeling was here. And that I’d find it here, all the way around the world.”
I think that was what really resonated with me the most. And once you taste that honey, you don’t want anything else except that sweetness, so I dove into all things India, in terms of culture and spirituality. Then it just consumed me. I’m so thankful for it.
HMS: Do you feel that you need to go back there a lot, or it just more something that’s with you now, wherever you happen to be?
TH: In the early days, I went every year. Then I would go in the winter and that was my thing that I just needed and I’d look forward to all year while touring. I felt that I was able to go there and get my batteries recharged. In my early days, I needed to go. Then around 2013, I had some health issues, and I didn’t go as frequently, but it was okay. I realized that the feeling had moved into being inside me and going there wasn’t as much a necessity. Of course, I want to go all the time, but now it’s a little more relaxed.
HMS: I’m kind of glad to hear that given restrictions on travel right now.
TH: Yes, I’ve never had this much time at home, ever. The freedom of not being on the road, and cooking breakfast every morning, has been really amazing.
HMS: I’ve heard that from a number of people, that’s it been great not to be on the road right now in some ways.
TH: It’s been a good eye-opener about the pace of life.
HMS: Our motto at Tower Records, which you might remember, is “No Music, No Life” and it’s also written “Know Music, Know Life”. Which of those speaks to you more?
TH: Oh, man. They both feel so beautiful. It makes me emotional thinking about it, to be honest. My teacher in India has a devotional path through music and poetry, and I would study with him a lot when I’d go over there. And he’s an incredible musician. He looked at me one time and said, “The songs are my real house.” It just moved me so deeply.
It’s kind of like what I said before when you asked what had changed for me. That space hasn’t changed. It feels like a room you can enter into. There’s actually a song on the new album about that called, “We In a Different Room”. It’s like that’s your real home. Without it, there is no life. Not to be heavy or sappy, but if I didn’t have music in my life, I feel like I’d be dead.
HMS: That’s not heavy or sappy. You should read all the answers we get to this question!
TH: It’s interesting because in India they think that everything came from vibrations and that is definitely what I gravitate towards most regarding ideas of creation. We all came from sound, and an original vibration. The thing I think is special with music is that it goes beyond borders and boundaries that we’ve set within our mind, like language and culture.
The songs come from one vibration and go back to it. And when we are listening to music, it’s reminding us of a deeper thing, of our true come. So it reveals to us our true self, at least that’s my experience. That’s why I love music so much, it reminds you of who you are. In India it’s the “universal sound” or the “one sound”.
HMS: Thank you for sharing all that. The pattern you were talking about, of things coming from one vibration and going back to it, reminds me of how individual songs are like little universes that go through a complete cycle.
TH: Yes, I love that. I also think of each of my albums that way, as a total cycle, but they all come from the same place. It’s beautiful to witness the cycle, and there’s a constant hum from where it comes from. That’s what I’ve always been taught. My teachers say that if you know that, you know everything.
HMS: Is there anything you’d like to say to readers to introduce them to the new album?
TH: This is the first time I’ve talked about the new album. As an artist I’ve always received songs about abstract things. One of the reasons that I love music so much is that I can enter any world, and sometimes I’d write about things that I couldn’t explain in words but were a feeling. I would tend to push away human emotions because I thought they weren’t as worthy as these abstract states. But this album is called In and Through The Body.
It’s about entering that space through our human selves and human emotions. I’ve been blessed to meet so many amazing people in my life, and one characteristic that sticks out is that they are so incredibly human, and it’s that humanness that makes them so divine. That’s what’s really different about this album is working through my own human emotions. We have to cultivate them in a real and positive way. It’s a journey of exploration, and growth, and playfulness, and joy.
HMS: Thank you, that’s a great welcome message.
Beautiful interview Trevor. Excited to hear the new sounds. Thanks for the reminder of the oneness and to keep it human. ✌🏻