Trevor Hall's spiritual connections

By BRIAN RIVLIN, Special to the Times Union

First published: Friday, November 20, 2009

When Matisyahu performs Tuesday at Northern Lights very few people will be familiar with the act accompanying him, Trevor Hall. The L.A.-based, South Carolina-born musician is someone many may consider an up-and-coming prodigy in today's diverse music scene.
The now 22-year-old is best-known for his song "Other Ways" on the "Shrek The Third: Motion Picture Soundtrack" and the spiritual undertones of his multi-faceted music. His latest, a self-titled album, features the songs "The Lime Tree" and "Unity" performed with Matisyahu. Before Hall's performance at Northern Lights in Clifton Park, the Times Union was able to speak with him about his life, influences, tour and music.

Q: First off, how would you describe your music as I've been listening to you for a little while and it seems to be several different genres coming together?

A: Ah, you know I usually say acoustic, folk, acoustic reggae, a little bit of rock, but with a spiritual undertone.

Q: Spiritual undertones, could you go into that a little bit?

A: It just, you know, talks about spiritual things and tries to, you know, inspire people with people.

Q: How did you get started in music?

A: I got started kind of young because my father was a drummer. So music was kind of always around the house. I would play around with instruments and stuff like this, and I eventually got to the guitar and started writing my own songs. So it happened kind of young.

Q: Your a talented guitarist but why did you pick the guitar over other instruments?

A: I think the guitar was just easier to write songs to, you know, because it's the most common instrument to just sit down with and try and write a tune.

Q: You didn't want to become a drummer like your dad?

A: I did want to be a drummer. I love playing drums, and even now I love playing rhythms and I love hearing rhythms and variants. It's definitely in my blood as well.

Q: What's the earliest memory you have of playing the guitar?

A; Earliest memory? Man I don't know. I use to ride my bike down from my house to this music shop when I was a kid and just hang out there and play, you know, play guitar, play whatever, but that's probably the earliest memory I got.

Q: How supportive was your family of your musical ambitions, you know, considering you started at such an early age.

A: 100 percent supportive. They always did everything to help me explore all my different possibilities of what I wanted to play, and sent me away to school when the time was right and now they're still always there 100 percent.

Q: This school, this Idyl Wild School for the Arts, how did that impact you?

A: I was writing a lot of music and I just wanted to expand my horizons musically. I just got on the internet myself and looked up some schools, and that was one of them that popped up, and I kind of wanted to be in California just cause I'd been there a couple times before and then it just kind of happened that way. My dad and I visited the school and that was that.

Q; Did you ever wonder what your music would be like had you just played music throughout your youth without really going to that school?

A: It wouldn't have been--a lot of things happened at that school not just music. I just got inspired in so many different ways that music wouldn't be anything like it is now.

Q: Did you ever see yourself becoming a professional musician or did you expect to be something else?

A: At no time was I going I want to be a professional musician. I just loved playing music and it just kind of happened that way one thing led to another and then this thing led to that and another thing led to this and I then was like well I'm going to be doing this for a while.

Q: Never had another thought just--

A: No.

Q: Just went with the flow the whole time?

A: Yeah.

Q: What sacrifices have you made?

A: I made plenty of sacrifices. One is like leaving your family to go all the way across the country

Q: Did you ever see them?

A; Not very much, maybe once or twice a year. I mean not going to college is kind of a sacrifice in itself because your kind of taking a risk in a way and also moving into a city by yourself at 18, trying to make it work and learn all these things and now we're on the road all the time and that's another sacrifice in itself. Just kind of putting aside your bodily comforts and playing for people. But it's all in good fun.

Q; What artists influenced you while you were growing up?

A: I was really into Ben Harper in high school. I heard one album called "The Will to Live" and it really inspired me and I remember hearing it and I was like man I want to write songs like that.

Q: You performed with him once right?

A; Yeah I did.

Q: How was that considering?

A: It was wonderful. It was great to play with someone who influenced you.

Q: You opened up for him?

A: Yeah.

Q: And would you say he's been the most influential person you've toured with?

A: No, that was just at that time it really inspired me as a youth, and then by God's grace I've been able to play with lots of wonderful people like The Wailers; I'm a huge Bob Marley fan so to play with The Wailers was great, Ziggy Marley, Stevie Nix, and of course Matisyahu who is my good friend who is very inspiring, Michael Fonti, so it'd be hard to pick one, they've all been wonderful.

Q: Now your currently touring with Matisyahu, how did you two meet up?

A: We met at Sundance Film Festival. I was playing in a little art gallery, like an open gallery and he walked in and heard it and that was that. He said do you want to come on the road with me and I said sure.

Q; Really?

A; Yep, and now we're good friends.

Q: What's turned it into such a successful relationship?

A: You know we both sing spiritual music; we both sing music that is in praise of the most kind or talk about our spiritual struggles, and it is not the same thing as a lot of the other music that is happening. So I think we kind of clicked in that regard just because we love the Almighty.

Q: Now is he kind of in a mentor role with you?

A; Very much so, he's like a big brother

Q: What have you learned from him musically?

A: Matis is very open, and he's not afraid of trying new things and really being, you know, not afraid to put himself out there and try things that are new. I've learned that and also he is incredibly humble considering all the success he's had. I've learned a lot from him.

Q: While your on tour with him is there ever a sense that your kind of in his shadow at all or is it just like your both on the same level?

A: Never I'm in his shadow, No.

Q: You were signed by a major label when you were 19 and I'm understanding that you didn't really produce and album with them?

A: Well I did two records with them but none of them came out.

Q: None of them were released, that's what I meant. Was that a set back for you?

A: Yeah it was a set back. (laughter)

Q: But did it deter you from creating more music?

A: No it didn't deter me at all I mean as soon as I got dropped from the label we recorded two CDs and kept trying again and then made another full length album. I just took it as a lesson all in good stride and God's grace, and you know keep on moving.

Q: Keep on moving to this current tour you know. How's this tour going for you?

A: This tour is going great, you know we've been really lucky. We toured with Michael Fonti first, and then Colbie Caillat and now with Matisyahu so it's a great three different artists, it's a great bill to be on and it's been really nice.

Q: How long have you been on the road?

A: About two and a half months, got about a month to go.

Q: How's that treating you, wearing down a little bit?

A: It's a -- we've never been on the road this long consistently, but I thought I'd be burned out by this time, but by God's grace we're feeling good, we're in good spirits.

Q: How are the shows going? Are they sold out?

A: Wonderful. Yeah, most of them are sold out.

Q: I see a lot of people who haven't heard your music hear your music and are really, really impressed by it, you get a lot of good posts and good comments.

A: Yeah, it's going good, it's going good.

Q: What's the craziest thing that's happened so far?

A: (laughter) We're kind of boring.

Q: Come on now.

A: Craziest thing that's happened. My drummer said he chopped off his arm and fed it to his neighbor. That's a lie obviously. No, I don't know -- we've run out of gas, typical in the middle of nowhere. We've uh, (laughter) you know, there hasn't been anything like too crazy that really comes to mind.

Q: That's OK.

A: Yeah we're boring. I'm sorry.

Q: Your not boring man, don't worry about it. What show's been your favorite so far?

A: That's hard to say cause we've just had so many wonderful (shows). Every show is different every show has its own flavor and its own, you know, vibe. There's always something special about each show.

Q: Which has been the most memorable should I say?

A: We've done a couple great shows. We recently did a show with Michael Fonti which was in the middle of nowhere in Montana, it was just in the middle of this field and it was just gorges and we played right when the sun was going down and the people were really into it. That's probably the most memorable one from this run.

Q: Who are some of the musicians you've surrounded yourself with in this tour? I know you've toured with a couple people but how about the people who are backing you up? Your drummer for instance.

A: Yeah my drummer, his name is Chris Steele and my base player's name is Mario Pagliarulo, but we call him super Mario.

Q: Super Mario?

A: Yeah, because he's super. But I've been playing with Chris for a long time, like three years, we were doing a duo thing and then Chris and Mario played in a previous band in LA together and I needed a base player. Chris said oh I know a guy, brought Mario in. It's been really nice playing with these guys.

Q: So you going to be playing with them for a while?

A: If it is God's will.

Q: Now, do you write all your own lyrics.

A: Yes.

Q: And what's your approach to writing songs.

A: My approach to writing songs. I don't have any approach, you never know when it's going to come true. You know and if I think to much about it then it won't turn out, you know, it won't come out in a good way. Whatever I decide to come true I just try to sit back and listen and let it flow.

Q: You get writer's block a lot?

A: Uh, you know here and there, but I don't look at it as writer's block. It's just not coming through now.

Q: I've written a couple of your lyrics down. Is it OK if I read some of them and you tell me what you were thinking when you wrote them or even the first thing to pop into you head.

A: If I know. Yeah, sure.

Q: "My mama is a great dark cloud. Coming, Coming to rain down."

A: That song is a song about divine murder and sometimes when -- sometime you know like a lioness when she has her cubs she's very sweet to her cubs and she gives them milk and all this stuff. But if a predator comes around she roars and she attacks, you see the fierce side of the mother. Sometime I feel like that when evil and bad vibes or whatever you want to call it is heavy, that divine murder will come reign down heavy and the ultimate protectress. That's a song about fierce grace.

Q: Next one. "And I would lay down and die, for one glimpse of those open eyes, how am I to describe, the one who holds the Sun's Fire."

A: You know that just about giving everything, your mind, body, soul to have a vision of that beauty, whatever that is, whatever it is for that person. So for me it was the one who holds the sun fire, the one who is in the light of the sun, the light of the moon, you know the creator, to have a vision of that you have to give everything. So that's what that's about.

Q: "It took awhile for you to find me, but I was hiding in the lime tree, above the city in the rain cloud, I poked a hole and watched it drain out."

A: I wish I knew what that was about. You know a lot of people ask me what that's about and I don't know. Sometime the meaning comes later and it's just one of those songs that hasn't reveled itself yet.

Q: Will it?

A; If it is God's will.

Q: "See there is some kind of upside, but the sky has yet to tell us, and it keeps on rainin'' bricks, and we've forgotten our umbrellas."

A: Those lyrics were written by a friend of mine to that song so I don't really know what he was trying to say. It's kind of a dark song.

Q: And the last one. "You're leaving nothing for the youth, just the proof, of destruction."

A: I mean there it is right there right?

Q: Yeah, I mean it's pretty open but I just wanted to get--

A: You know I think a lot of people think it's a song about government, a song about politicians or something like this, but it's not what it's all about. It's about our generation even now, like me, even my generation. What are we leaving for the ones that will come after us. We have to remember that we have to--we are also shaping the youth as well, the ones before us. So we have to live righteously, so it will inspire the youth to live righteously.

Q: With songs like this how are you trying to respond to all the negativity in the world today?

A: I'm just trying to sing a song (laughter). I'm just trying to sing about good things, sing about my own struggle, sing about my own journey. I'm just a song writer and I don't know how to respond to a lot of stuff that's going on today; just trying to keep on being positive.

Q: Lastly, what's the next step for you after this tour?

A: I'm going on vacation and then I am coming back in January, February, March and doing our own headlining tour.

Q: When is that going to start?

A: Late January that will start.

Q: Anyone in particular you will be working with.

A; No, it's just going to be our own tour.

Trevor Hall and Matisyahu

Where: Northern Lights, Clifton Park, 1208 Route 146

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Tickets: $22 in advance; $25 at door

Contact: 371-0012; http://www.northernlightslive.com/