Trevor Hall calls to mind a unique hybrid of Dave Matthews, Michael Franti and Jack Johnson. But unlike those marquee artists, who seem content in their niche, Hall has consistently ventured into new sounds, pushing the boundaries of roots music with a tangible interplay between tradition and modernity.
Tracing his career trajectory, one can pinpoint his newest release, The Fruitful Darkness, as coming full circle to his brilliant (but ultimately shelved debut) The Elephants Door. The spacious songs, while still steeped in his love for Eastern Mysticism, are injected with world-infused folktronic spice, bridging the spiritual altruism of Bob Marley with the experimental piquancy of Bon Iver. “Wander”, which finds the stouthearted singer stepping into the role of Bodhisattva MC, is a pragmatic mantra for the constantly-traveling musician. Advice which is hard-earned after 15+ years of touring with Ziggy Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Matisyahu and Michael Franti.
We had a chance to sit down with Hall as he embarks on the West Coast leg of his headlining national tour, to discuss the micro to macro aspects of creating meaningful success, and how humor is often the best medicine. Be sure to check out his exclusive Boulder city guide.
How has your spiritual outlook influenced the way you operate in the industry and release music?
Sri Ramakrishna has a great saying: “be a devotee but don’t be a fool.” It’s hard to trust people that have ulterior motives, if you just go into the business blindly, you’re going to get bulldozed over. As far as a spiritual outlook goes, it doesn’t mean that you just trust everybody and everything will be ok, because it’s just spirit doing everything.
You’ve got to learn how to look deeper into people’s intentions, words, and actions while at the same time not take everything so seriously, because it’s just the world.
Do you see a direct correlation between outward success and inner work? In other words, do you feel having a large, devoted fan base somehow reflects the love you’ve cultivated internally?
I don’t think so because there are people, like celebrities that have monumental outward success, and for a lot of them, it doesn’t mean they’re happy inside. I think the word “success” is almost like an illusion of a word — it depends on everybody’s individual definition.
Some people may have a huge fan base and millions of dollars, but they have a broken home, is that success? Inward and outward success do not mirror each other, within the realm of entertainment and fame. There aren’t plenty of people that have inward and outward success, if you can name me 5 or 10, I’d be impressed. I feel like those souls are rare.
How can one guide themselves to the fruit and avoid getting lost in the darkness? What mental, emotional, spiritual tools have you discovered while navigating your own dark night of the soul?
I think each person’s path is unique to that individual, so I can’t say that my way of navigating the dark is going to be the same for the collective. That’s to me what the dark night of the soul is all about. You can’t rely on anything or anybody anymore. You can only rely on yourself, and learn through your own experience, not through books, advice, or practice. It must come from within you.
I think one of the most important tools is humor. It’s so easy to forget humor when we’re down in there and it seems absurd, to make your situation humorous— because you’re suffering. But there is such a strong medicine in humor. It sounds so cliché but just not taking yourself so seriously. Another important thing is to do nothing. Become the observer. Ram Dass has a beautiful meditation that he does, where his students repeat “I am loving awareness” and just being in that non-judgmental space — is something that really helps me.
How have your travels provided a broader vision of culture and music?
I think the answer is in the question. Naturally when you travel to different places and different lands, even if you’re not trying to, you’re going to pick up the culture.
Doing this for 15 years, I’ve been all over the place and naturally it’s expanded my vision because you see that not everybody does things the same way, everyone is expressing themselves in different ways. Yet at the same time, you do feel an underlying thread, a oneness or similarity that runs through all beings. It’s just being talked about and expressed in a different way.
What do you find humanity shares with one another across the globe? What do you find is different?
Everybody, in essence, wants the same thing no matter what. Everyone wants to be happy, everyone wants to be at peace and everybody is just trying to cope. No matter who you are, or where you come from, color, race, everybody just wants joy and peace. The difference is that everybody goes about it in their different ways, whether music, meditation, drugs— everybody is just trying. In the end, it’s all the same. We just want to be happy and free.
What has been your most memorable moment at a festival?
I think because it just happened, seeing Tom Petty right before he died. Besides him passing away or seeing a musical legend, it was one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen. That was a gift, and something I’ll never forget.