Trevor Hall: Giant steps

His musical journey, from teenage rocker to 'Shrek' contributor to Matisyahu collaborator
Jinelle Shengulette
It wouldn't be hard to believe that Trevor Hall, the reggae-influenced acoustic rocker, has been inquisitive and outspoken since birth. But the 23-year-old musician from South Carolina says he really began to explore his artistic and spiritual sides at age 16, when he left home for Idyllwild Arts Academy outside of L.A. — alone.

"Where I was coming from in South Carolina was kind of a close-minded place. So I completely flourished when I was put in this new environment ... Not everyone spoke English (at the school), but still, I could see art was just transcending those boundaries, because we all express how we feel through art ... I was having a blast," Hall says during a recent phone interview, while shopping at his local IKEA.

By his senior year, the singer/lyricist/guitarist was signed to Geffen Records, but things didn't go as planned, and none of the albums Hall recorded were released — just one EP. He was dropped from the label a few years later.

"I was definitely placed in the mouth of the giant right away," Hall says with a laugh. "Even when I was young, I really had to get on my game and look after myself, and I don't regret it. I think it was a good experience, a learning experience."

And being signed to Geffen had another benefit: It led to Hall being featured on the soundtrack for 2007's hugely successful Shrek the Third. Yet, while Hall says it was "cool" to have his song "Other Ways" included in the film, he admits that he just saw it as another stepping stone in his career, and he kept on moving. Along the way, he had the chance to tour with such artists as Ziggy Marley, Stevie Nicks, Los Lobos and Colbie Caillat. But it was a Hasidic Jewish reggae star who made the most lasting impression on Hall.

He and Matisyahu "hit it off pretty well" while touring together, Hall says, which comes through in his single "Unity," co-written by Matisyahu, and on the four songs Hall co-wrote for Matisyahu's album Light.

"We are both spiritual seekers, and we were seeking and expressing that through our music," Hall says. "And even though we maybe didn't believe in the same thing or rules or laws, we connected on that level. And when we connected on that level, it put all that other stuff in the background."

Spirituality infiltrates every aspect of Hall's music, the singer says, and that's reflected by his uplifting lyrics — which he says just "come out" of him — or going barefoot onstage because he sees it as a place of worship. And as much as Hall's music is about delving into his own spirituality, it's also about bringing people together, he says.

He considers music to be a universal language, because "whenever I travel ... I look out into the crowd and I see all different types of people — grown-ups and kids, black and white."