Q&A with virtuoso guitarist Trevor Gordon Hall - a powerful emerging voice, albeit without words to his music

"Music is truly a universal language. When I am in a setting where there is a culture and language barrier, you can tangibly feel it drop once the music starts. No translation necessary."

Trevor Gordon Hall: Reflective Sounds

The unfolding era of the music business has provided many fresh opportunities for artists to foster direct and meaningful connections with new audiences around the globe. Trevor Gordon Hall is a powerful emerging voice, albeit without words to his music, showing that combining honest heart felt compositions with precise technical virtuosity do not sideline an artist in today’s world but can launch a wider reach than ever before. With an exploding presence on streaming services like Spotify, YouTube etc, a tour calendar that has taken him all over the world, it’s safe to say that this is a new era for artists like Trevor to engage listeners from all cultures, languages, genres, and backgrounds. Rated one of the top 30 guitarists in the world under 30 years of age by Acoustic Guitar magazine, Trevor is an instrumentalist from Philadelphia whose style ranges from edgy driving rhythms to delicate melodic themes. Exploring the guitar’s full creative potential, his blending of sounds weave together textures into grand yet intimate and lyrical compositions. While leaving no physical aspect of the guitar untouched, Trevor navigates audiences through an igniting experience of music that isn’t just heard but felt. He has also had the opportunity to share the stage with some of the most trusted and legendary names in the music business prompting high praise from John Mayer, Steve Miller, Graham Nash, Steve Hackett, Will Ackerman, Pat Martino, Stanley Jordan, Phil Keaggy, Tommy Emmanuel, Andy McKee and more.

At the start of his career, Trevor caught the eye of 9 time Grammy award winning producer Joe Nicolo (James Taylor, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, etc.), who produced two of Trevor’s releases, Finding My Way and Let Your Heart Be Light, in 2008 and 2009. Then in 2010, inspired by his studies and always on the hunt for new sounds to utilize, Trevor collaborated with various builders to design an instrument combining an African finger piano (kalimba) and an acoustic guitar. The instrument combination, which Trevor calls the “Kalimbatar”, has opened up new possibilities for solo instrumental music. Compositions inspired by the pairing of the two instruments were first introduced in previous releases but fully realized in Trevor’s Candyrat Records debut Entelechy. In the next few years leading up to his 2014 album Mind Heart Fingers, Trevor redesigned and fine-tuned the Kalimbatar with the help of master luthier Sheldon Schwartz. Trevor recorded with his new instrument at Imaginary Road Studios with Grammy winning and long time hero Will Ackerman (Founder of Windham Hill Records.) Mind Heart Fingers was the result of a unique experience created between Will, Tom Eaton and Trevor, to capture a heart-felt recording honoring the guitar tradition which Windham Hill helped to launch, while looking forward to what is next for the guitar scene. Constantly working on new sounds and possibilities, Trevor released the first of an EP series entitled Kalimbatar Classics Vol.1 in 2015 featuring his arrangements of classical piano standards for the Kalimbtar. Moving from that into the electronic world in his 2016 release Late Night with Headphones Vol.1, Trevor introduced his listeners to new sounds incorporating electric guitar and electronic textures. Trevor is an artist on a mission to ride the line between being adventurous and accessible. Trevor will be in Greece (Dec. 8th - 16th) as part of "2nd Fingerstyle Invitation to Greece" with Eva Atmatzidou.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself and music from your travels around the world and local music cultures?

I feel like every place I visit pours something into me that I draw from when I am writing music. Everyone I meet influences me in one way or another as well. I love to experience other cultures and new ideas. I grew up as a sort of shy person but I find the more I travel and experience I open up more and more. The world is a beautiful place with endless inspiration all around. I love the feeling of being in the completely unfamiliar and having to just smile and take it all in.

How do you describe your sound, style, and progress? Where does your creative drive come from?

I hope that my sound is evocative and reflective. I think a lot about my life and experiences when I compose so I hope to draw listeners in and make them forget about the guitar. I love playing guitar but I just love writing songs. When I was a kid I sat at the piano in the house and picked out melodies from movies, TV shows, and songs in my head and that fascination with being able to actively translate a sound from my mind to an instrument has never left me. I feel like I am responding to something all the time. It takes work to organize time to pursue music but the drive is automatic with me.

"Our world is full of beautiful people, places and passions but they can get lost in the political torment for sure. The more we watch the news the more it makes us cynical about our fellow humans, but the more I travel the more optimistic I become. The human spirit is alive and well despite what crazy things go on and music is the celebration of that spirit!"

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Best advice I ever got was: play what you would want to hear. Helps keep me anchored from drifting off into guitar-technique-land. Nothing tops that for me except: don’t just strive to be a good musician, strive to be good. I have been fortunate enough to meet many players I have looked up to for years and in general everyone is a really kind and gentle person. I think making sure I grow as a person as I grow as a musician helps keep ego in check and stay focused on what really matters. The music!

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, workshops, and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I grew up listening to Phil Keaggy. He is the reason I started playing acoustic guitar as a kid and I recently jammed with him. It was so much fun. Earlier this year I got to play with John Mayer and Steve Miller among other greats at a Martin Guitar concert. Thrill of a lifetime! 

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Good question. I think its easy to dismiss a lot of music nowadays because we are always most attached to the music, we were exposed to in our forming years. I am sure the music I loved back in my early years caused some older than me to miss the music of their youth. I will say though I do wish popular music had more risk to it now. It seems instead of finding new artists that have their own uniqueness there can tend to be a predetermined commercial role that gets filled with a pretty face and not much creative depth. Not all the time and I admit this has always been the case in the music industry but it seems more prevalent now. But I do think there are amazing artists out there pushing new territories and I remain very optimistic about music, the art itself, even if my views on commercial music are scattered.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

It would be amazing to see a huge shift industry-wide back to developing new artists for the long term. There isn’t money in the music business like previous years and a lot of focus is only on present payout and not a long-term career. Some artists that might have some of the best potential can get burned out prematurely from having to work multiple jobs and perform, travel etc. just to pay the bills. I wish people paid for music again but I am actually pretty optimistic about the streaming era. I think there are some unique opportunities that haven’t been possible in the past, but I wish investing in promoting talent would come back again.

How started the thought of "Kalimbatar" and what are the secrets of? What touched (emotionally) you from fingerstyle?

I heard the kalimba at an African art exhibit and it stopped me dead in my tracks. Gave me the chills and I immediately tried to find one so I could start playing it. I found a small one from a catalog and it was too quiet so I stuck it on my guitar to make it louder and the idea was born from there. I have been designing kalimbas for about 10 years now and really love the sound. It brings me to a place only that instrument can. Fingerstyle for me was always a sort of meeting place for many different influences and genres so bringing a kalimba into that feels very natural to me! Fingerstyle gives such freedom to explore solo music in fun new ways. I love the challenge to make moments happen with an audience as a solo performer.  Terrifying and exhilarating. The kalimba adds a whole new dimension of that for me.

How has the music influenced your views of the world? What is the impact of music to the socio-cultural implications?

Music is truly a universal language. When I am in a setting where there is a culture and language barrier, you can tangibly feel it drop once the music starts. No translation necessary. I love that and it never gets old when I experience it. I wish more things would operate like that. Our world is full of beautiful people, places and passions but they can get lost in the political torment for sure. The more we watch the news the more it makes us cynical about our fellow humans, but the more I travel the more optimistic I become. The human spirit is alive and well despite what crazy things go on and music is the celebration of that spirit!

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