Trevor Hall Offers Insightful Commentary on a Journey ‘In and Through the Body’
There are few artists that cut through the facade with a directness so rare that it can at first raise eyebrows. Upon a close listen to the music of singer-songwriter Trevor Hall, however, it becomes clear that there is no gimmick behind this. Hall is on a journey for enlightenment that manifests in all of his music, but expresses itself through new levels on his latest album, “In and Through the Body.”
Following in a long tradition of the soul-searching troubadour musician, Hall ventured far beyond his beginnings on a small island off South Carolina, going on pilgrimages to India, immersing himself in the culture, absorbing the teachings of spiritual elders, and incorporating the sounds and spirits into his music. The Eastern elements blend into a mix of SoCal acoustic guitar fare, with a heavy influence of reggae, as it was this genre that first put Hall on his spiritual path.
In spite of its enlightened overtones, Hall’s music has, until now, always tended to look outward, seeking validation through abstraction, as is the way for many musicians. On “In and Through the Body,” however, he embraces the personal, the intimate, and everything that makes us human. He collaborates with his wife, Emory Hall, for the first time, giving certain songs a new personal dimension, and explores unanticipated emotions, daring to venture beyond the limits of the persona he has cultivated over the years. Hall spoke with Entertainment Voice about his spiritual path, his blend of musical styles, and the new directions he took on his latest record.
Your new album, “In and Through the Body” focuses on turning inward and finding meaning in human experience instead of searching for fulfilment in external amusements. How did you decide to take this direction, and how far exactly you take this philosophy?
I don’t know if it was a choice to take the direction. I think that I follow my inspirations, and don’t try to question or plan too much around it. I’ve always been interested in the path of mysticism, and Eastern mysticism, and things of this nature, and have always been influenced by those philosophies of searching within for true, everlasting joy and happiness, so it’s always been part of my life. But with this record, I’ve tended, as a songwriter and musician, to write with this abstract feel, dreamlike almost, and looking at that imagery, and trying to translate that imagery to song, and I’ve kind of always avoided my human emotions because I thought, “Oh well, these are lesser, not as worthy emotions as these high ideas that I’m chasing after,” so I tend to cut them off in a way, which wasn’t, I think, so much healthy. So this is the first record that I’ve really grounded out and really turned into all of my humanness, my emotions, and in turn, have really learned so much about myself and just the human experience. I’ve been blessed to have met so many great souls, great people that I really hold in high regard on the path, and when I reflect on all of them together, one of the common, underlying traits with all of them is that they’re all so incredibly, incredibly human, and it’s almost their humanness that makes them so divine. And that’s kind of what maybe skipped over with me reaching for all these lofty ideas, so in a sense, I feel this is my most grounded record, in that regard.
Your single, “Fire On Your House,” reveals an indignation worlds away from the serenity that your music is known for. What brought this out in you, and what specifically do you have in mind when you declare, “Fire on your house / I stand by and watch it burn?”
(Laughs). Obviously, it’s a very different song for my type of music, but I’ve always felt like I think because of the music I make, or have made, it creates a persona, and it creates a person, and I can get stuck in that person. And I did get stuck, I think, in that person — ok, I’ve got to be really happy all the time, and I have to be really peaceful and say yes to everything, I can’t get angry, this and this. I think, over time, I’m a human being, and there are so many things that have made me angry or this and that, and I’ve never written about those things because I’ve kept those inside because I was like, “Oh, I can’t write about this because of this persona.” This album is about honesty, and honesty in every aspect of my person, whether it’s joy, sadness, anger, happiness, whatever it may be. It’s about just being open and truthful in every aspect. Originally, when I wrote this song, I wasn’t intending on releasing it. It was only for kind of my own purging, in a way, but after playing it for a few people and close friends, and then eventually the producer of the album, they said, “Oh, you have to put this on. This is too honest and raw,” and I made the decision to do it.
In regards to the second part of your question, I obviously don’t wish for anybody’s house to burn down. That’s not what I’m trying to say in this song. This song is about a few instances that I had, that I tried to make things right, and it didn’t happen because of the other side, and there’s a point where I just had to surrender and just say, “Okay, you can live with this, and I can’t do anything more. I have to sit here and watch it burn.” The song also speaks to part of my own past, parts of my own life that perhaps I was truly in the wrong, and it forces me to look at those things and say, “Okay, am I being truthful in every aspect?” It asks that question as well. It kind of goes both ways, like a double-edged sword.
“Her” stands out with its chorus of “Something that we talk about but don’t show.” What is this elusive topic you are singing about and what was the idea at the core of the song?
This song was really special because it was made with my wife, It was the first song that we wrote together, and it was just a fun idea. We were just kind of bored one day, to be honest. We were like, “Oh, let’s just mess around and make a cool song.” We only had like a 45-second idea, and when we brought it to the producer, he loved the idea, and he wanted to build it out. So we finished it. It was just kind of cool that it was just born from this casual moment, but on a deeper level, the song is truly about intimacy, and I find that today, in our world, especially our younger generation, with social media and all that stuff, we’re constantly projecting our lives and putting every aspect and detail of our lives out there, and I don’t think that we value those intimate details as much. Things that are truly, truly special and truly sacred, of course we can reference them or be alert to them, but the details of those things — I don’t know if they should be shared all the time, because I think they lose a bit of power, in a way. So this is kind of alluding to the sacredness of my wife and our relationship, our union, and kind of hinting at all these little details in the verses, but then, when we get to the chorus, it’s something we can talk about, but we don’t show the intimate details.
Both “Her” and “The Old Story” find you joining forces with your wife Emory. What is the nature of these collaborations, in terms of music, lyrics, and overall concepts?
Emory’s always had such a beautiful voice, but she’s a little shy when it comes to singing, and the “Her” song was a more playful song, whereas “The Old Story” is a lot more raw, has to do with perhaps more serious things like letting things go, and fear. And a lot of it does pertain to our relationship, when we’re in tough times, when we’re really trying to battle and make it, and stay together, to be quite honest. So when I wrote the song, I played it for her, and I thought it would be really special for both of us to sing on it because this instance really had to do with the both of us, and that’s why we collaborated on “The Old Story” as well, but it’s a very new thing for us. It’s very sweet for me to be able to share these moments with the one I love.
You have taken pilgrimages to India, and the sounds of the country make their way into the instrumentals of songs like “Never Gonna Break Your Heart” and “My God.” What did you gain from your experiences there that made its way into your music and your life?
Well, India has been a huge influence, like you said, not just on my music but my life. At a young age, I had the opportunity to go over there, and I just fell in love with every aspect of it — the culture, the spirituality, the music, the people — so naturally, these things have bled into my own creations, my own music. I don’t try to think about it so much beforehand. It’s just from love. It’s just from these sounds that mean so much to me. And India — even for me just to say, “Oh, it’s such a huge part of my life” would be an understatement. It’s provided me with so many life lessons, and I’ve met so many people that I think about all the time, and to have had the opportunity to immerse myself in that culture so much has truly been such a blessing, not only on my music, but on my whole way I look at life, etc.
On your single “My Own,” you sing the chorus with an emotion that evokes sentiments of longing for someone, with pain giving rise to a motivation that can ultimately be a positive force. Expand on the specific meaning of the song, and how you sought to express it musically.
The real foundation of this song is inspired by a great Indian saint named Shri. Shardha Devi, and she really talked about this feeling about being one’s very own, in the most intimate sense, with the beloved or with a person or even an idea. It’s just to be so, so close, closer than one’s own breath. This attitude of longing is so important, and I just wanted to translate that feeling into a song, because when it’s talked about so sweetly — of being one’s very own — the pain of separation can be so, so intense, but that separation doesn’t have to be this negative thing. It can be the fuel, it can be the fire to enter the room, to get close. So it’s really just a song about that spirit of longing and wanting to be in that intimate setting, in that intimate way, with the object of one’s love.
Your music reveals considerable inspiration from both an acoustic, troubadour tradition and the sounds of reggae. Tell us a little about your interest in reggae and the way that it factors into your overall sound.
Reggae is one of the foundations of my music. It was the first music that truly inspired me, when I first heard Bob Marley and Burning Spear and Peter Tosh, all these people, because it carried such a spiritual vibration with it that I couldn’t really find anywhere else. And growing up being a solo musician — I grew up in a small town in South Carolina and didn’t really have a lot of other people to pay with — I had to learn to incorporate those elements in this kind of singer-songwriter, troubadour, acoustic fashion, but reggae has always been there since the beginning, and I think it’s largely in part not only from the sonic elements of reggae, but also the kind of spiritual vibration that comes from that type of music. That’s what was so uplifting for me, and inspiring.
“In And Through the Body” begins with the up-front immediacy of “Blue Sky Mind,” and closes with the droney, Eastern instrumentation of “Walking Through the Door.” Is there a certain progression or structure that you aimed to express fitting the songs of the new album together?
Originally, when I made “Walking Through the Door,” I thought that was going to be the intro, and then I thought, “No, this is more of a closing.” It felt like a conclusion, and I wanted people to leave with that feeling so I thought okay, we need to have some type of opening here, some type of introduction, and I wanted to just, kind of, come in right away. So I didn’t really think of them as a progression, or like two related together. It was honestly just what the album, as a whole, needed, to make it complete. So that’s kind of how it evolved.
As an artist who often explores themes of spirituality, what is your approach and overall take in dealing with current, chaotic times, and where do you see yourself headed in the near future, in terms of songwriting, performance, and life in general?
Ooh lord, the current times. I just watched the debate last night, and I was like, “Oh my god!” I just thought it was awful. It was just so much interrupting and back and forth, and honestly, I didn’t learn anything about strategies to improve the country, or views on this and that. It was just name calling and bashing, and “You did this.” I had to turn it off, honestly, after like forty minutes. I was surprised I made it that long. It was tough to watch. I just thought, “It’s 2020, and these two people are our best two options to run this country?” Ugh, it was a lot.
I think one of the big things that I’ve learned, and have been practicing my whole life is just the attitude of surrender. And surrender doesn’t mean you just roll over, but rather, just looking to a different way that things are evolving. There’s almost a little bit of a detachment that comes. Those words kind of scare us, like “detachment” and “surrender” and all these things, because I feel like we, as a people, are so obsessed with being in control, and we hold on to things so tightly because when we’re in control, it helps our ego, and this and that, but in reality, when something like this comes up, a pandemic or natural disaster, we’re reminded that we’re not in control. And that’s where the fear comes in. But I think when you are trying to practice some sort of spirituality or walking on some sort of path, you’re trying to die before you die, in a way. You’re trying to surrender before there’s a natural catastrophe. We are kind of surrendering to the way of nature and life and all these things, and that way you have this freedom. So I think that my attitude now is that it’s just another opportunity to surrender even deeper. It’s like, “Oh, I think I’ve surrendered,” and then something like this comes up. You’re like, “Oh shit, I haven’t surrendered. I’ve got to really, you know, lay it down” (laughs). So, for me, it’s just kind of an opportunity to really go deeper into one’s own self and reevaluate your whole being — what you believe in, what makes sense, the whole thing. And going forward, I just feel so blessed to have the opportunity to share music. It’s such a blessing, and I hope that it happens for as long as possible, but I never take it for granted, and I understand that it’s truly a gift to have the opportunity to share, and that’s the attitude that I want to keep, in continuing.
“In and Through the Body” releases Sept. 25 on Apple Music.