Artist Interview: Trevor Davis
Recently I had to opportunity to sit down with Trevor Davis at his album release show for Bold As A Lion, his second entry in a series of three E.P.’s. Trevor Davis is a Christian artist from right here in San Diego, who has often been praised for his soulful voice and the energy that he brings to his live performances. Sitting down with Trevor, I got to speak with him about his musical career, the E.P., and a little bit about his side project, Dr. Seahorse.
When did you first realize you wanted to make music your life path and career?
Just as even a really young kid, like in first or second grade, I felt like I wanted to do it for a living. I had seen a lot of people doing it, and it looked like a lot of fun, and it was what I was doing in my bedroom… So I’ve really wanted to do it my whole life.
One thing that stood out in your bio was that you’ve had a rough past… how did that affect your lyrics and what you write about?
I would say it gives me more of a bluesier springboard, so that when I talk about something that’s good, I also talk about the other side. It builds the spectrum, really… kind of like a painting. You need dark colors as well as light colors to create that depth, and I feel like my past gives me that depth to work with, as opposed to everything being one-dimensional.
How has your upbringing affected your Christian faith?
I think it made it more tangible than theoretical… For me it was like, is God a provider? Because you get taught that God is a provider. Well when I grew up with a single mom that didn’t make anything at all really, and then I have a guy that’s paying for me to go to Horizon, and we have groceries at the front door, and somebody giving me a Christmas tree… I just see God providing again and again, and it really made God come down so to speak, instead of just being a theoretical thing.
Did you ever wish for an easier past, or are you grateful for your experiences?
Oh yeah, I mean I wish a lot of times that things had been better, but I think as I get older and build the persepective… Yeah it’s been rough, but there are a lot of people in a lot worse scenarios.
How does your faith affect your songwriting?
I think that for me, I can say things in my lyrics that are truths, that I maybe haven’t fully lived out yet, or that I haven’t been able to completely believe yet. So in my lyrics its like a lot of the time, I want to believe these things, and I’m going to claim them as if they are mine, as something that I hope to believe in, but maybe I’m not there yet. But I write the song as a daily reminder for myself, like don’t worry, you have God, He’s this, He’s that, He’s everything. So my songs help me through things, as little reminders.
Who are your musical influences, and how did you develop your own unique sound?
Well I grew up going to an all-black gospel church, so that was a strong influence there. So that music didn’t really impact me as a style, but more the emotional abandonment that they had, that I didn’t really see elsewhere, until Christian rock came about, where people were fully abandoning themselves and just losing themselves in their music. So I love gospel, I love hardcore, I love anything that’s just not conservative, not reserving itself or being polite. I think that music should just be fully vulnerable.
Are there any musical styles that you like that you want to experiment with, but haven’t yet?
I did do a side project called Dr. Seahorse, and so I’ve been experimenting more with the electric sound, whereas I’m usually acoustic. As far as something that I would like to, but not necessarily will, or I would keep it separate, is that I would like those two sounds to meet, as opposed to being two separate things.
You’ve had several notable accomplishments, one of which was being invited on to Rockstar: Supernova on CBS, but you decided not to continue. Why was that?
I was actually contacted by the show, kind of before they had their complete vision for the show. At that point, it was a contest where current artists would come to compete against each other, bringing in their original songs and showing more of who they were as an artist. So I came to the try-outs with that in mind, and I tried out and within that week they had pulled together something entirely different, which was to become the singer of an already-formed rock band, and I’ve never really seen myself as a full-on rock artist.
Did you ever think your music would take you to these places, or bring you the accomplishments you’ve earned?
I think, being a kid, it was really truly just a dream, and did I picture myself on a certain level, with the specific details? I’m not sure, but I definitely pictured doing something with it on some level, or any level I could really get. And that’s actually been a hinderance to me I think, because there are some people I know that are doing these huge stadiums, and they pictured themselves there. Kind of like basketball, where you picture the ball going in and it does. So with me, growing up and seeing artists that were local like P.O.D. and Jason Mraz… when they were local it was different, because I felt like I could really experience them on a local level and connect with them, and then they moved on and it seemed like a disconnect. When they went on MTV, it seemed to me that they became detached from really being an influence in my life. So because I never really pictured myself in that, I think that’s why I’m not on that level yet. So to answer your question, no I didn’t really see those things happening, because in my life I was so satisfied with the little stuff.
How has your relationship with God helped you through your career?
I think that might be one of the reasons, going back to your last question, that I haven’t pictured myself like that. Because is it a hope, is it a security, is it a place where I can find identity at all? No, not at all, so I don’t think I chase it as hard as other people do. My faith has kept me in the mindframe of having a perspective that is bigger than just myself. Because otherwise I think that it’s all just selfishness.
On a completely different note, you have a few cover songs that you’ve been known to throw into your sets. How do you pick those specific cover songs, and have you been working on any new ones?
As far as those things go, I think most of the covers that I do, I tend to have heard a couple other people cover them as well. It helps me to hear the song be done by someone else, because then I feel like I can do it too. I don’t like to do just a straight-up cover, because my voice can imitate people pretty well, and I tend to almost imitate them too much, so it’s not really a good cover to me, because I don’t make it my own. But when I hear someone else make it their own, then I think that I’m able to make it my own as well. So I typically do songs that I’ve heard others do.
Now you’re doing a set of three E.P.’s, of which Bold As A Lion is the second one. How did you come up with the idea to split your songs up like that?
Well I came out with my second full disc, and the way it works is that the process takes a lot of time, and a lot of money. With a full disc, you’re handing the producer a workload that is really too much for anyone to bear, and that’s why it takes them so long, because they have other stuff they have to do as well. So when you hand it to that person and you want it to get done in two months, or a month, and that’s what you both agree on, but it never really gets done in that time unless you have a ton of money and can just pay a guy to just sit in the studio and that’s all he does. So with that past experience, I thought why don’t I hire a few different producers, and not ask them for too much. Just ask them for just enough, come up with a stong vision and particular sound for that record, for those songs, and then spread it out so it’s something for my fans to hear in this iPod generation, where there’s just too much to hear and take in already. They can only take in so much, so I feel like four songs is the perfect amount. Like hey, here’s a little new stuff, then a few months later, here’s some more.
Is there a different overall sound to each one, making them each unique?
Yeah, I would say so. The first one is more stripped down, back to my roots like my first album, a little more pop-sounding on some levels. Then with the one I’m doing tonight, there’s a lot of depth, sonically, lyrically… The second one is probably my favorite one, even though the third one hasn’t come out yet. I just have a feeling about this one. The producer really added a lot of musicality to the songs, which brought a lot more to it.
Where did the title, Bold As A Lion, come from?
It comes from the song “Bold As A Lion,” which goes back to when Jesus was baptised, and God says “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased,” and from that point Jesus goes out and really starts His calling, which is to go straight into the desert, and from then on basically to go to the cross… so basically once He came out of that water, He had to go out in boldness. Living out of comfort that came only from the boldness that God had put in Him. That’s all He had, and that was enough for Him to go kill himself on the cross for us. So He was bold, but he was completely dependant on the Father. And so when you look at the cover of the album, you see a baby in a lion hat, and that describes us: Extremely weak, not really able to do anything at all, but we have to be bold. So it’s this sort of contrasting picture, and the whole album has that picture to it, in every song.
As a Christian, do you have a particular verse or passage that you hold onto as a kind of “life verse”?
I would say Joshua 1:8-9, which says “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” For me, just realizing that His word, when He speaks, can give life. When he makes a covenanat, or a promise, we can put all our hope into it and know that it is true, and it’s more tangible than grabbing hold of this table right here. It’s more solid than anything else.
You lived in Washington for a while. What was your experience like there, and what prompted the move back to San Diego?
I actually went out there with the intent that I would be able to re-start a whole new career, because whenever I went out there, I would have a great time and meet so many new people, and it seemed to be so fruitful. Then I moved out there, and the people I kept meeting were the people I had already met… So my plans that I had for going out there didn’t really happen. I ended up doing more of the songwriter thing, and it was really a kind of desert, wilderness kind of season. I think that God had to really rebuild a lot of things, and I had to grow. I don’t regret at all going up there, because if I didn’t grow, I wouldn’t have anything new to say. I think some people, they write a first album that’s epic, and then they keep imitating their first album again, because they’re living some comfortable life. I had a really hard year, but it was really liberating at the same time because I gained that spectrum of heartache and liberation.
You also have a side project, Dr. Seahorse, which you mentioned earlier. What made you decide to do that?
It was actually an accidental project. I was doing some acoustic stuff, not really anything beat-oriented, and then I hired on another producer, Mark, who does the Dr. Seahorse stuff with me. So he was interested in doing a lot of electronic, beat-oriented music, and then my other producer backed out of the acoustic stuff we were working on. So me and Mark did like two songs, and they were awesome, but I didn’t know what to do with them. We worked on a few more songs, and started talking about how we would do them live, and we were still going to do it under my name, as Trevor Davis, but it was just so different and I didn’t want to throw off my fans and make them think that I was going to continue to stay electronic, and drop my acoustic stuff, because I’m still very passionate about that. So I called it Dr. Seahorse.
You just touched on this question a little bit, but is there more artistic freedom in doing a side project and not having it directly associated with your name, or the work that you’re known for?
Yeah, there’s way more freedom. Because there’s this mindset… like going back to my first record, there are certain fans of my first record, that going forward I’ll never really please them, because I’m not doing my first record again. Records come out of stories and experiences, so for them to expect me to do that is to ask me to go back in time and re-live those experiences, but now I have something different to say, so the next record is going to sound different. That’s not to say that every old fan loses me when I grow and do different things, but with the Seahorse stuff, even just the title Dr. Seahorse, it’s just so quarky, and I can really do whatever I want, and I love it.
Right now you have an E.P. online with Dr. Seahorse, and you’ll be performing at the Del Mar Fair… are there any plans for a full Dr. Seahorse album sometime soon?
Currently, no… right now the next album we’re going to work on is going to be a full-on cover album, and you’re actually the first person I’ve told about that as far as press is concerned. It’s going to be nothing but covers, and we’re going to take a bunch of songs and make then Dr. Seahorse-y.
Make sure to check out Trevor Davis this year at the Del Mar Fair, and look for his new E.P. Bold As A Lion, available now!!!