Now/It's: An Interview with Trevor James Tillery

The past couple of weeks have seen the site take a semi-break from interviews, not for lack of want, but rather the sake of sanity. Americanafest and an ensuing Pilgrimage Festival lead to a uniquely busy week with limited resources for editing transcriptions, etc. Obviously, Americanafest and Pilgrimage are limited in their genre scope, appealing to a specific aesthetic that is fast approaching caricature levels of irony when it comes to Nashville’s stereotypical culture. Luckily, there are those in and around town who operate on the fringe, working outside the city limits of the various en-vogue moments of Nashville, building and growing on their own, unfettered by whatever Rolling Stone Country or Vice muses about when it comes to Nashville. Which leads us to this week’s feature, Trevor James Tillery, an electronic artist who has witnessed many a Nashville musical trend on the fringe, creating patiently and deliberately while others dive head first into the shallows of trendiness. In the past couple of years, Tillery has substantiated a rather prolific output atypical from Nashville’s single centric system. In 2017, Tillery released Alone. Together, a truly metamorphic meditation on identity, growth, and isolationism that helped reinvigorate Nashville’s pop and electronic scene. A companion piece for the 2017 record, Resolve_EP, is set to release this Friday. Tillery shares his thoughts on the EP, the LP, his own identity, shifting perspectives in Nashville, and the state of electronic music. Consider this as an excellent palatal cleanser from Americanafest and Pilgrimage.

Now/It’s met with Trevor James Tillery at Falcon Coffee Bar in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood of Nashville.

N/I - How’s it going?

Trevor - Pretty good. How’s your morning been?

N/I - Good. Pretty low key. I’m on the tail end of doing Americanafest stuff. It’s nice to be getting out of it, just because it can be a little bit of a slog.

Trevor - That’s multiple locations, right?

N/I - It is. It’s interesting. You’ve been in Nashville for a while now, so you’ve been around enough of that scene. Americana and all that comes with it is in an unique state. If anything, it’s just a week long exercise in sociological observation.

Trevor - I was bar-tending Friday night, and I think they had something at Basement East, and some of that crowd came over there. The clientele is interesting [laughs].

N/I - It’s an older festival, as far as the crowd is concerned. But they’re some of the more ardent fan groups out there, where if they’re a huge fan of you, rather than just try and get a picture and get out, they’re going to try and talk to you for fifteen, twenty minutes. Which can be good or bad.

Trevor - Which is so not how it is here. If Jack White walked in here, everyone would more than likely just leave him alone.

N/I - Jack White to Jamie Lidell, any of these proverbial titans of their field - if any of them came in, people are more likely to do anything within their power not to acknowledge them.

Trevor - More than likely.

N/I - Anyway, how are things going with you, leading up to this release?

Trevor - I’m just working on getting that out, and I’ve already started writing the next project. So it’s going slowly, but surely.

N/I - Man… So quick sidebar - I listened to your podcast with Joseph Barrios from earlier in the year….

Trevor - Joseph’s awesome.

N/I - He’s the greatest! But in that interview, you were talking about the single format and everything that comes with it, and you made a reference about how much music you’ve been putting out recently. I can’t necessarily remember if you said you wanted to continue doing more or less of it, but it sounds to me that you’re in your most prolific mode of creative output.

Trevor - I feel like I probably contradict myself every other week when it comes to what I want to do.

N/I - I figure we all do.

Trevor - I do like putting stuff out pretty regularly, but I also like when things are a cohesive body of work. So it’s kind of a balance. You want people’s attention, but at the end of all that attention grabbing, it’s nice to have it all together under a name.

N/I - Well “era” is probably the operative word there - when you’re in a creative period, things ebb and flow….

Trevor - And you’re capping it off.

N/I - Exactly. You tie this together, and it’s complete, and good to go in the future should anyone want to listen. To that point, with this upcoming release - Resolve_EP - there’s only one “new” song. But the rest are remixes and stripped down versions of songs off your Together. Alone LP.

Trevor - That’s it. Pretty much everyone who remixed the songs are from Nashville and are friends of mine.

N/I - That’s right. I saw Grayson Proctor, Jared Foldy, Joseph.

Trevor - We’re all kind of in that world. Unfortunately, I met Joe from Body Copy after all that, because he would have been great. I just wanted to have a bunch of remixes from that last record, and then I had a b-side, for lack of a better term, that didn’t make the record that I still wanted to put out. It was that song “Inertia.” I originally wrote that acoustic, and wanted to put it out, but that record didn’t have a lot of acoustic sounds. So it’s kind of a nice companion piece to the record.

N/I - So what’s the thought process in that? You have the actual record - Together. Alone - and you’re working on it - do you go into that knowing you’re going to put out a companion piece? Or is it three or four months after the fact that you see it becoming a possibility?

Trevor - It kind of fell together by accident, really. I was going to work with this label, and we were going to put out this deluxe edition, but it didn’t work out. A lot of these labels are trying to do a lot less for the same price. They want to take a lot but not necessarily give a lot.

N/I - Was it a label services company and they just didn’t have the infrastructure?

Trevor - They were trying to do a singles deal, and I was more into the idea of doing a deluxe thing. Once we got into the legal side of things, it just didn’t work out. It didn’t make sense.

N/I - Why is that? Rights?

Trevor - Rights, and they wanted a lot of the publishing rights, where I would make little to no money, and it was a one record deal, so it just didn’t make sense. So then it got me thinking, instead of doing a deluxe studio album, and then abandoning that thought, I still wanted to breath life into that last record, because it’s so easy for things once they’re out to lose their force.

N/I - A lot of times people can misconstrue the way things “work.” If you’re putting out an album, you spend a year to two years producing, writing everything. And then it’s like “Okay, I’m done with my part, and then it’s up to everyone else listen and to take it from there.” That’s where I would imagine interacting with the “gamesmanship” of things gets involved. You’ve released music under other projects, right?

Trevor - Me and my brother had a project called Brotherun from 2013 to 2016-ish. It was a minimal electronic duo sort of thing. We did that for a little while.

N/I - Was that tough? Did you play around town?

Trevor - Yeah. That was before things started happening with pop and all that in town.

N/I - I was about to say, in 2012/2013, I’m trying to think what would have been en vogue around that time.

Trevor - I’d say it was more Kings of Leon and Mumford & Sons type bands.

N/I - That’s fair.

Trevor - So we’d play shows and just didn’t get it, but we were kind of ahead of the curve in certain ways.

N/I - How was that, from a psyche standpoint? Did you get bogged down?

Trevor - I don’t know. I’ve always kind of felt like an outsider when it comes to “scenes.” Even right now, there are elements of pop in my music, but it’s still more left of center than a lot of other artists in that pop world..

N/I - Sure. Not as much pop sheen to it.

Trevor - Not quite as bubblegummy. There’s still a dark side to it. A moody element. I kind of like that - being on the fray.

N/I - I think that’s good. There’s more room to operate.

Trevor - But I do think it’s hard for press and other people to define it.

N/I - To say what it sounds like? Being in the “press,” that’s always my biggest gripe. The thought that comparing x to y is the definitive model of describing an artist seems like a disservice to the artist. I understand why people do it. There are some people who will not listen unless they’re told Trevor James Tillery sounds like artist z. It’s like “Do you like Radiohead and Caribou? That’s what this guy sound like!”

Trevor - I think with newer artists, you have to kind of do that until you’ve made your own thing.

N/I - It’s a catch-22, as far as not wanting people to only listen to you because you have this connotation or association, but at the same time, how are you going to get someone that’s never heard of you to listen to you?

Trevor - It’s a way to get your foot in the door.

N/I - Exactly.

Trevor - Going back to the Brotherun stuff - it was cool to be able to do that. I feel like we did a good job introducing people to that music that they might not otherwise have gotten into. The music was played as a duo, too. It’s electronic with two people while everyone else has a band. It threw people for a loop.

N/I - I’m sure. Since you’ve been here doing variations of electronic music in Nashville, how have you seen change as far as electronic, electronica, and on into pop?

Trevor - It’s been interesting, because I was in LA for two years from 2014 to the end of 2016. So when I came back, it had already started shifting.

N/I - When you were in LA, did you have any sense of what was happening over here?

Trevor - A little bit. Just through following friends, but I didn’t think it was the way it was until I got here. It felt like I could actually fit into this world a little bit more. There was more of a community willing to let me find my space.

N/I - Was there anyone that brought you back in?

Trevor - So my producer who did the last record….

N/I - Josh Niles?

Trevor - Josh Niles. He lives out here. And he was one of the main reasons I came back out, but I thought it was going to be a short lived venture back here. Record the record for a year, stick around for a bit and then head back out to LA. But I ended up meeting my partner here a month into that, so I’m kind of here for a while.

N/I - That’s the type of thing that can tie people down to a place. Which is fine. It’s good [laughs].

Trevor - I’m a bit of a nomad, so it’s good to stay.

N/I - I would imagine it’s nice to have an anchor for a little bit, to change the pace. Speaking of nomadic tendencies, you have been basically coast to coast and everywhere in between. How do you deal with that nomadic spirit, especially when you realize you’re laying roots down in a particular place?


Trevor - It kind of drives me nuts sometimes. In a dreamworld, you’d think touring would scratch that itch, but I try and plan trips and travel to air all that stuff out. But it is nice to be in one place for a while. I’m building a studio at home, so if I was on the road all the time, I don’t know if I’d necessarily be able to do that. And in a place like LA, it was hard to do those things, because it was so expensive. Cost of living here is a little bit less, even though it is rising. It’s a little more manageable to live as a musician. So it’s nicer after living an expensive city life.

N/I - So with the EP and these remixes - that’s one of those things, in my not being a musician or producer, that I admit my knowledge is nominal. Anything I’ve learned about that process is almost entirely from these interviews. So, when you as an electronic artist go to another electronic artist with one of your songs for a remix, do you just say “Hey, here’s this song, do you want to remix it?”

Trevor - Pretty much. At least for me, I told them there are no rules. There are these things called stems, where they can take the pieces of the songs and put them together how they please. A lot of them just wanted the vocals, which was cool, because then they’d build their own character around them. It’s cool to get other people’s take on the songs. And my hope is that if people hear the remix for the first time and they like it, they might seek out the original and dig a little deeper.

N/I - Is that a fear as an electronic artist? That if someone hears a remix, they’re just going to assume that’s the actual song?

Trevor - Not really. It is interesting to get them back and hear “Whoa, this is a totally different take.” It’s not a “This isn’t how I think it should have been,” or anything like that. There’s a remix for “Fire with Fire” that’s completely different than the moody ballad that my friend Kevin just totally took to this Mac DeMarco quirky….

N/I - Shoegaze feel.

Trevor - Exactly. It’s actually the only remix that’s got real drums and real bass on there. So it’s kind of just exciting.

N/I - So once it’s out, what are you hoping to do in the next year? I know you mentioned you’re already working on the next project.

Trevor - The last record was a lot of collaborating with friends and Josh, who I work with all the time, and a bit of me working at home by myself. Like I said, I’m working on a studio at home, so I’d like to get as far as I can on the project on my own, and then have someone else tie it together. So spend more time creating on my own and see how far I can take things.

N/I - That’s great. So you’re still continuing the stream of consciousness creative output.

Trevor - I think the goal would be to put out another full-length album and maybe do another companion EP, try and follow that pattern, maybe throw a single in between, but I’m definitely more of a fan of the body of work thing. I don’t know if I’d do the single a month thing again. If I did, I’d make sure the songs were done first.

N/I - Okay. So you were actually doing it month to month?

Trevor - I was writing, recording, and releasing all in the same month.

N/I - So when does that become stressful? It sounds kind of stressful in general, but at what point in the process are you like “Okay. I need to get this out?”

Trevor - Well fortunately, I lived at the studio that Josh has at his house, he has the studio in the back, so we were able to plan things and make it happen. There were definitely some times where we were getting tight. It was definitely some stressful times. Luckily, we had an idea of what the songs were going to be and all that, but I don’t think I would do it all at the same time. It was fun, and I had a few years where I didn’t put anything out, so my reaction was to do the opposite, and I think now, my reaction is to take some time and build out as much as I can.

N/I - Sometimes a backlog of stuff can be nice.

Trevor - And to gauge the reaction of how things turn out is easier, because I’m not being reactionary in turn.

N/I - That’s fair. I’d like to pick your brain about leaving Nashville and then coming back. What led you to leave that first time?

Trevor - So the first time, I had just come out as gay, so it was maybe 2013, and I was living with my brother, and I used to be heavily involved in the church world. So I just kind of felt a little trapped at the time. I felt my friend circle dissipating. No one was loudly being mean or anything, but everyone was quietly fading out.

N/I - So you learned quickly and unfortunately, the actual tenor or people’s beliefs.

Trevor - Which was unfortunate, and I also felt isolate. Plus, my brother was feeling homesick. It was his first time being far away from Phoenix, so we both decided to move back to Phoenix originally and go out to LA when we needed to, but we played some shows in LA and I fell in love with LA. Something clicked those particular times. And Phoenix was just not happening, so we moved to LA on a whim. But then the decision to come back, I saw the city changing, and met more people that vibed with me, and the city was booming. It was cool to see the LGBTQ community growing. I feel like in that matter of time, things changed. Maybe it was always there and I just couldn’t see it because I needed a break.

N/I - It’s interesting, it seems like the LGBTQ community of Nashville sort of had to move in whispers longer than it should have, but then 2015 comes around, and Nashville is a supportive city. Like Nashville, not so much Middle Tennessee, but it is progressing.

Trevor - It’s kind of like that blue beacon.

N/I - The typical blue heart of a red state scenario. I think that’s fascinating - obviously, I’m sorry your friends went silent - but it’s amazing that you’re able to see something changed and still not know what it is exactly. It’s sort of a beautiful thing

Trevor - And I think some of it was internal, and I was almost certainly making things up in my mind that I probably could have found people here eventually. But I think I just needed space, and Los Angeles was great for that. It’s such a mixing pot.

N/I - And it’s huge, too.

Trevor - A lot of great things happened out there.

N/I - So do experiences like that mix prominently into your writing? Or is it more of a mood or motif?

Trevor - It’s a little bit of both. The last record had a lot of stuff about identity and my past relationships. It was trying to find to find where I fit in with regard to that world. I’m not super effeminate but I’m also not super masculine, I find my way in between.

N/I - You’re just yourself.

Trevor - Right! But still, even in the gay community, I feel like there are cliques. When I was living in LA, I was working in West Hollywood, which is the gay capital, but I was sorting that out, sorting out a relationship, and how as a society you can be with somebody and still feel lonely. With technology, you can be with somebody staring a screen right next to them and you’re practically not together. It’s also probably the most collaborative project I’ve ever done. I did a lot of co-writes on the record, and I also wrote a lot alone. So it’s a nice balance.

N/I - Had you done a lot of co-writes before?

Trevor - Not really, no. I mostly just wrote alone. So it was cool, I wanted to grow as a writer, because I feel like that’s how you grow, is to see how people work. It was fun, so now I feel like I can take all that and see what I can do next.