January 29, 2010
For Trevor Hall, setbacks don't have to be show stoppers
Reggae-influenced rocker didn't give up after a major label dropped him

Reggae-influenced rocker didn't give up after a major label dropped him
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. He made two albums for Geffen - even landing a song on the "Shrek the Third" soundtrack - only to see the CDs shelved by the label. Then he got dropped from its 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 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. "So I just took the second option and kept moving."

Perhaps Hall didn't get thrown off the rails 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.

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

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."

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 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 several reggae-rooted songs that range from stripped-back ballads to songs with more muscle; a couple of tuneful full-on rockers and even a song that melds electronic rhythms with rootsy rock ("Internal Heights").

The prominent reggae element in Hall's sound is no surprise. Reggae, Hall said, has been a favorite style of music 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, 22, was also 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 said he doesn't push his spiritual message in concerts and prefers to let fans find their own connections to his songs.

This winter, Hall is doing the biggest headlining tour of his career, and with more time on stage, he'll be able to share more of his music than on recent tours opening for Matisyahu, Michael Franti and Spearhead and Colbie Caillat. He's touring in a trio format with Steele and bassist Mario Pagliarulo.

"We're going to 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."