Trevor Hall, who recently came to Salt Lake City on the Soulshine tour, sat down with us, eager to discuss his Eastern spiritual philosophy, the writing process for his music and his new, deeply personal album, Chapter of the Forest.
When did you first become interested in music?
"My dad was a drummer; music was kind of always around. He had a big old record collection, and I just remember being a kid and pulling out a record. If it had a cool cover on it, I’d put it on the machine and listen to it. We had a piano in our living room. It was just kind of always there.
"From fifth grade on, I couldn’t decide what instrument I would play. I would go and get a horn, then I didn’t want to play the horn anymore. My mom would take me back to the music store and I’d get a bass, and then I didn’t want to play that anymore. I think my excitement and fascination with music is that I just wanted to feel it. There was no point where I was like, 'This is what I’m going to do with my life!' It was part of my blood."
Your music is deeply spiritual, and specifically directed towards Eastern spirituality. How would you explain the relationship between your music and your spiritual beliefs?
"The music is the spiritual, really. For me, there’s Trevor and there’s God, and in between there’s song. The in-between is my way of talking and also my way of listening. Music was my way of opening that door between me and the Great Spirit, and listening to what He or She had to say to me. Song has always provided guidance. If I was ever upset or sad, I would write a sad song. At first it would start out sad, but then it would turn the curve and become this positive song. I’ve always thought that that’s the Eternal Teacher kind of speaking to me and guiding me out of this thing."
It’s the only time when time just stops. I’m not really thinking about anything. It just is. It’s a powerful thing, you know. I was thinking about this the other day. If you have a [musical] note, is that note and American or Spanish note? It’s neither. Is that note a Christian note or a Muslim note? It’s neither. Is that a female note or is that note a male note? Neither one. Sound is extremely mystical. And I don’t even know what it does, but it does something for me to feel a certain way so I feel just a little bit closer to that Eternal One. That’s why I play music. It’s the connectivity.
Growing up in South Carolina, how did you first discover Eastern spirituality?
"Well, in South Carolina it didn’t really happen yet. I remember growing up, when I was a young kid I really liked karate movies. Not so much because of the karate, but because they showed this cool place in the jungle, and there were these monks, and there were these guys practicing this ancient art. As a kid, I was so into that. I kind of see that as, like, that’s karma for my love for India. It didn’t really happen in South Carolina. The food wasn’t there. I was really hungry, but that type of food wasn’t there.
"It happened when I went to boarding school in California for music. I had a teacher there who taught comparative religion. He influenced me there, and also a friend of mine [had a] father who was with this saint in India. I spent the night in his dorm room one night and he had a picture of this saint on the wall. Immediately, it was like a slug to the chest. It was like, 'I know that person.'"
So later, you pursued that desire by actually going to India?
"Yeah, the first time in 2007. And then I just kept on going every year."
I read somewhere that when you’re not on tour you live as a monk. Is that true?
"Well, I don’t anymore. I got married. And I don’t know about a monk. I mean, I am who I am. I’m a musician, a music man. But yeah, when I wasn’t on the road, I was living in an ashram. I was following the best I could the ashram way of life for around seven years, but I haven’t taken all these crazy vows and shaved my head."
Earlier, you were talking about deity, and you said, “He or She,” like the Great Spirit. What religion would you categorize yourself as?
"People say stuff like, 'Oh, you’re a Hindu.' I don’t even know what the word ‘Hindu’ means. Everything is everything for me. You come to a lake, right? And the Christian goes to the lake and he gets the water in his hands and he calls it water. And the Hindu goes down to the lake and gets the water in his hands and calls it jal. Same water. I’m just living and loving God. If it’s pure and it’s good, I love it. I don’t like to fit into any box, I’m not in any group. When you start a group, it’s 'us vs. them.' I’m not against anybody. I’m just sitting here."
Your music, it’s been played on Shrek the Third, it’s been played on CBS. How have you managed to keep that balance between being true to yourself as a spiritual person and as a musical artist, but at the same time letting your music be accessible enough for the masses to listen, understand, and enjoy?
"It’s not a conscious decision. I don’t think that much when a song is coming out. If I think too much, it kind of ruins the whole process for me. For me, when music is really working well, my mind stops. I’m not thinking, 'I want this to be a hit song.' When I am thinking like that, I hate music. It sucks. That’s not what it is for me.
"That’s what this new album Chapter of the Forest is really focused on. I was kind of getting to that spot all the time, like, 'Music is such a job. I’ve got to get a hit song. What’s my rating? How many likes do I have?' It was just taking over my brain. And I started to get burned out. So I said, 'Whoa, we gotta stop. We gotta take a break.' And so I took a break, and Chapter of the Forest is all about me writing from my heart and trying to get back to that place in music that I love. I’m not thinking too much; the songs come and I share them.”
Learn more about Trevor, listen to his music, and purchase his album at trevorhallmusic.com.