Bluesfest hasn’t forgotten the ‘Roots’ part of the festival that was previously known as ‘Eastcoast Blues and Roots Festival’. After gaining a solid Aussie following at his 2017 Bluesfest appearance, conscious roots and folk musician Trevor Hall is back at the festival this year for two performances at Bluesfest 2019 as well as side shows in Sydney and Melbourne. Blank GC’s Pip Andreas chatted with Trevor Hall ahead of his Easter weekend appearance at the Tyagarah Tea Tree farm for the fanbase he calls the ‘Villagers’.
I came to your music through your collaboration with Xavier Rudd on ‘Mother’ (from the 2015 album ‘KALA’). Can you tell me how that collab came about?
I met Xave in the States first and when we took our first trip over to Oz maybe five or six years ago I hung out with him a bit on his land. We really just connected and became good brothers and then a little time later this song ‘Mother’ really popped through and after spending time with Xave…I always admired his connection to country and being able to read the land. So I knew when that song came through it was my dream, I really hoped that Xave could sing on this tune. He was actually on tour and said “oh yeh, I’ll do it on the tour bus”. I was like “What!”. He wrote a verse real quick and sang it, sent me the file and that was it. So I was really blessed to have him.
Nahko Bear will be at Bluesfest. Will you be getting up on stage with him?
Only if he has me! I hope he’ll want me. We’re really good friends. Usually with Nahko it’s really spontaneous. We haven’t discussed anything but I’m sure we’ll be getting up with each other.
The title of your last album ‘The Fruitful Darkness’ was taken from Roshi Joan Halifax’s book of the same name. In contemporary pop and spiritual psychology, no-one seems to talk about darkness. It’s all language like ‘Bliss’, ‘Joy’, ‘Ecstatic’, all that sort of thing. What inspired you about Roshi Joan’s book to write about darkness?
I feel one of the problems in the spiritual culture right now is this ‘spiritual bypassing’ kind of thing. “Everything’s good and we’re, like, super-calm and, like, in this blissful beautiful place all the time”. If you go to the country and spiritual places where these spiritual beliefs were born, it’s not really that way in those places. It’s like something we did somewhere along the line and I was really frustrated with that. Being a spiritual seeker myself and being on a journey, and when Joan’s book fell into my lap and I read it, it was so refreshing and so powerful to kind of use the darkness as a tool and not keep pushing it away, pushing it away, pushing it away. You know, the light and the dark are both born from the same place, and you have to go beyond both of them if we want to go to the highest plane. At that time of my life, the book was really speaking to me because I was going through a lot of different dark things in my own life and it just helped me take all of that, and instead of ignoring it and being fake and writing about whatever, it allowed me to take all that and turn it into medicine and express it and use it to help me on my journey.
That album was your first independent album and you used crowdfunding and released a few songs at a time. Is the plan from now on to release your work independently?
I don’t know. I always like to keep everything open. We don’t know what will happen. At this point in my career it seemed like the best thing to do and it was really rewarding for me after being on a label for so many years (Geffen and Vanguard). I’m not saying that being on a label was bad, it was just different. It was just a beautiful experiment for us to try something new and release something in a different way. Everything is changing especially in the music industry with the internet and streaming and all these things. It makes it easier for artists to be independent. We just wanted to adapt with the times in a way. I would love to release another album independently but we’ll just have to see how it goes.
Do you think that the whole conscious and spiritual music scene is growing in the USA and around the world?
I certainly feel it but some people may say I’m bias because I’m kind of in that scene. We only see what we want to see. I think there is this kind of growing force or collective that’s happening. All these musicians, we’re all kind of swimming in the same pool and we’re all kind of working together. It kind of naturally happened which I think is the best way for things to happen. With the times that we’re in, I think it’s important to convey a message of love and peace and oneness. When times get dark we use it as inspiration to rise and to really go deep within ourselves and say “Hey, who am I, how can I transmit these powerful energies of love and kindness through our music, art or as a person?” It’s really exciting to be in the movement. It’s humbling but I hope that it continues and gets larger and spreads to more and more people.
Will you be getting more political in your writing in the future?
I don’t know. Songwriting to me is a process of getting out of the way and letting whatever it is flow through me and not trying to put my own ego upon it. Everybody is passionate about a different thing. For me the most radically political thing I would ever want to do is to go inside myself and find out who I am and the root of my being because once that’s found, everything else kind of naturally happens outside. When that thing is illuminated inside the heart, everything outside is naturally illuminated.
You were very young when you went to live on an ashram in Laguna Beach (California) for several years.
(Laughs) I know, right? Especially coming from South Carolina! I didn’t chose anything it chose me. I grew up in a very conservative state. I never even thought about India or ashrams or anything like that. But then one day, BOOM, you have an experience with something…In India they have an expression: “A moment with the beloved, the river changes course”. And there I was, I found myself going to India every year.
Where do you go in India and what do you do there?
The purpose of going there for me is to kind of wash everything off, clear my psyche, clear my spirit, and refuel. I go to the place I love, I gather inspiration, and I come back and just try to share what I’ve been given. In the ashram, one of our teachers takes care of these orphans. He teaches them yoga, feeds them, clothes them, sends them to school. So for 15 years now we’ve been raising money for them. He’s a monk, he doesn’t earn any money.
Trevor Hall will be appearing at Bluesfest 2019 Friday 19 April and Sunday 21 April. For tickets go to bluesfest.com.au/tickets/