Hall pass: Singer-songwriter Trevor Hall appearing at Velour

Alan Sculley - Special to the Daily Herald Daily Herald | Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2011 12:04 am |

As a senior at Idyllwild Arts Academy near Los Angeles, Trevor Hall looked to have the world by the tail.

Set to graduate from the prestigious arts school, he had landed a record deal with major label Geffen Records and would soon be starting a promising music career by recording his debut album.

That's when reality got in the way. After handing in that first album, Geffen decided to shelve the project. Hall went back to the studio and recorded a second album for Geffen, only to see the label again give it a thumb's down. And this time, Hall was dropped from the Geffen roster.

For most young musicians, this setback would have represented a crushing blow -- one that in many cases would have ended a music career before it ever really started.

But Hall didn't get discouraged. He closed the book on Geffen and simply went back to writing songs, and before long self-released his 2008 album, "This is Blue."

"I thought I could sit here and be sad and just chill out, or I could just use it as fuel for the fire," Hall said, explaining his reaction to the Geffen setback in a recent phone interview. "So I just took the second option and kept moving."

Today, Hall -- appearing Monday at Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo -- expresses no bitterness over being passed over by Geffen. He doesn't even really know what the label found lacking in his two CDs.

"I didn't talk to them about it. I just kind of moved on," Hall said. "Those albums are somewhere in their catalog sitting around. But I am happy that I moved on. It was God's grace."

Perhaps Hall didn't get thrown off the rails by the Geffen experience because, by his own admission, he is a person who takes what life throws at him as it comes.

A native of South Carolina who began playing music around the age of 14, he was pleased when his parents suggested the idea of attending Idyllwild. But despite his passion for music, he wasn't making any big plans to make music a full-time endeavor.

"I think at that time I just loved music so much that I just thought this school will be great for me to expand my horizons musically," Hall said. "But I wasn't thinking about career."

He started playing some gigs around the Los Angeles area during the Idyllwild years, which created the buzz that got the attention of Geffen Records. It was only then that Hall began to see music as a career pursuit.

And when Geffen gave him the boot, Hall showed that he was serious about music by wasting little time in getting things re-started with "This is Blue."

"At that point, I hadn't had any new music out for three years," Hall said. "I really want to give the fans new music. But it's because of somebody else [Geffen] that I got held back. So when I got dropped, I was, like, 'You know what, let's just go right into the studio and let's just make an album. Let's not have anybody tell us what to do. Let's just do it and release it.' "

During this period, Hall was performing with drummer Chris Steele doing acoustic duo shows, so they recorded "This is Blue" in that format, finishing the album in just two days.

"I wasn't really expecting it to blow up, which it didn't," Hall said. "I just wanted to give the people some music to listen to, to hold them over until maybe we can get on another label and make a big album. So that album just kind of happened very spontaneously."

That big album turned out to be called simply "Trevor Hall." It was released last summer, after he signed to Vanguard Records. And it is indeed a far more ambitious album than any of Hall's previous releases. (They also include a 2006 EP, "The Rascals Have Returned," and a 2008 concert CD, "Alive & On the Road With Chris Steele.")

This time around, Hall had a full band at his disposal, and he created a 12-song disc that puts his music in a variety of settings. Drawing from chief influences of reggae, rock and folk, "Trevor Hall" has a few stripped-back, acoustic-oriented songs, such as the lilting reggae of "Who You Gonna Turn To" and the contemplative pop ballad "The Lime Tree"; a couple of songs that flesh out the acoustic reggae-rooted sound with drums and more of a rock edge, such as "31 Flavors" and "Unity" (the latter song written with his friend, Matisyahu); a pair of tuneful full-on rockers (such as "Volume" and "Sing the Song"); and a couple of songs that are something else altogether, including "Internal Heights," an easy-going rocker that uses a programmed beat and a few Middle-Eastern instrumental touches to create a multi-cultural sound, and the hip-hop/reggae accented "My Baba."

"When we came into this new album, I said I want to do something that really sounds like a live [band] or just has the band feel, like we're all playing at the same time," Hall said. "And I didn't want it to sound manufactured and stuff like this. So we tried to find a balance between that and making it accessible to all types of people."

The prominent reggae element in Hall's sound is no surprise. Reggae, Hall said, has been a favorite style of music for him since he was a kid.

"I was a surfer in my youth, and there's a lot of reggae music in surf culture," he said. "That kind of got it started. I listened to all types of music, but I always found myself coming back to reggae music."

Hall also was attracted to the spiritual element in much of reggae. Though he doesn't align himself with any specific religion, he said he felt a calling to faith as a youngster, and matters of spirituality figure strongly into his lyrics.

"It just got deeper and deeper and deeper, and then music became my way of exploring that side of [life], that spiritual world," Hall said.

Hall, though, said he doesn't push his spiritual message in concerts and prefers to let fans find their own connections to his songs, and if they inspire them to explore their own spirituality, all the better.

"I'm definitely not a preacher," Hall said. "But in the music that comes through me, there are lessons for me, lessons from my spiritual life, and I sing about how, you know, I'm exploring my own spiritual path and spiritual world. It feels natural to share that with other people because I feel like we're all on a spiritual path."

This winter and spring, Hall is doing a headlining tour, a step up after having done his share of opening-act slots since "Trevor Hall" was released. He's trying to leave some options open for his shows from night to night.

"[I'll] definitely try to play some more stuff off of the album, the new album, and I also have some newer songs that were just written recently that I want to try to integrate into the set," Hall said. "It [the live show] usually just takes on a life of its own. I try not to plan it out too much, so we'll see what happens."