- Words Malvika Padin
- Photography Cian Moore
“I get to do what I love for a living and there’s nothing better than that." We speak to "Falling" hitmaker Trevor Daniel about collaborating with Selena Gomez, his debut album 'Nicotine' and gravitating towards "anything with an infectious melody."
“I get to do what I love for a living and there’s nothing better than that,” says Houston native Trevor Daniel about his easy-going yet passionate approach songwriting. From monstrous hit single “Falling,” that enthralled listeners to the success of his recently released debut album ‘Nicotine’, there’s no denying that Daniel is a breakout popstar; climbing upwards with his unique blend of sonic influences and a constantly buzzing creative mind.
In June, Daniel took this steady rise a notch higher, releasing a reworked version of his trap-rock track “Past Life”, with none other than Selena Gomez in what’s touted as one of this year’s biggest pop collabs.
Speaking of Selena’s involvement on the track (which, by the way, was co-written by Grammy-winning songwriter and Billie Eilish collaborator FINNEAS) Daniel says “I knew she liked the song and resonated with it. Initially, Selena had recorded a lo-fi version of the track and later I was sent the final version of it. This happened while I was at the airport, and I remember pacing around because of how hyped I was.”
Adding on about the video that accompanied the collaborative track, he says, “For the “Past Life” video, the recording process was interesting because of quarantine. For the song itself, we recorded our parts separately and then we Facetimed to throw around ideas for the video. We then came together for this CGI visual, at the back of this truck that cameras at 360 degrees around you and they take all these pictures at different angles. We connected ourselves to the world of the music video in this way.”
Reflecting on this incredible opportunity to collaborate with Selena Gomez, Daniel exclaims that it’s one amazing thing checked off his bucket list. Talking about what he took away from working with one of the biggest pop stars in the world, he says, “I realised how powerful music can be and how far it can get you as an artist and how many people you can touch with it. There were so many different things I took away from this experience. Not only was working with Selena’s team and watching how efficiently they run things a valuable lesson, Selena herself is so sweet, after certain calls discussing our plans for the track, she’d text me saying “always remember that as long as you do everything with the fans in mind, you’ll always feel good about it.”’
Maybe it was the pearls of wisdom from Gomez, or maybe it was his growth as an artist, but Daniel admits that he now goes into music-making with a “whatever happens, happens” attitude. He says, “I’ve realised I make way better music when I don’t overthink things. When it’s just following whatever I hear in my head, it usually works out well. A lot of time I’ll write something and it’ll be like a poem.”
“For example, “Falling” wasn’t meant to be a song. The chorus has no rhyming words, it was a poem which I then turned into a song a year later. When I feel like I have nothing else to add to a track, even if it sounds a bit rough, I just let it go now because in the end it just adds to the song.”
With emotive lyrics and expansive musicality, the global impact of ‘Nicotine’ has been laudable, but what’s even more impressive is Daniel’s ability to focus on creating rather than letting anxious ambitions and overthinking take over.
Talking about the pressure – or lack thereof – related to his quick success, he says, “To be honest, I personally feel like the Selena collaboration just takes away pressure off me, I felt lucky to have been able to collaborate with someone so dope. But thinking about it now, even when “Falling” blew up, I didn’t feel pressured, I was just going to enjoy how I made people feel and also I get to make music every day. So regardless of whether there’s another hit, I just think I’m so fortunate to do what I do!”
Daniel doesn’t overthink, but that doesn’t mean his brain isn’t running a mile a minute. He exclaims, “I naturally find myself unable to focus on a singular sound or genre because I feel music is beautiful all over.”
This, of course, means that his sound is always changing and improving. He says, “I’m always making music and it’s always going to change because I have so much I want to show the world, even some parts of myself I haven’t realised yet.”
Speaking specifically about ‘Nicotine’, he says, “When I went into this album I had a vision for it, but I’d change my mind through the process adding in new elements I heard or wanted to try out. We had five or six versions of each song. I really wanted to lean into the pop sound because I had grown up inspired by pop, hip-hop, trance and punk-rock, I wanted to figure out to blend all these different sounds and make it sound fresh.”
“In terms of songwriting, I’ve had the opportunity to work with so talented writers and learned from how they do things. I’ve learnt that sometimes the simpler the writing the better it turns out.”
‘Nicotine’ was a success in every way; whether it be the themes and topics it explored, the critical and commercial reception or even social media popularity. But Daniel isn’t content to keep doing the same thing over and over again, simply because he doesn’t want to get bored of it.
With every new project, Daniel explains, his goal is to surprise both himself and the listeners. He says, “ You know how on Drake’s albums you never know what to expect? That’s what I want people to get from my music as well, I want people to constantly to be surprised and excited by it, because I never know myself what to expect going into it, I’ll have one idea when I start and it evolves into something completely different.”
Even still, he reveals a little bit about what a future Trevor Daniel might look like. “Right now, I’m exploring trancey soundscapes so I wanted to started a new project because I had these new ideas and sounds that I wanted bring into my music, but I don’t know what it will end up becoming This isn’t because I want to prove that I’m sonically diverse or anything, it’s just the way I work.”
Daniel might not want to prove his sonic diversity, but his wide range of influences are clear from his genre-bending productions. His music – as defined by Rolling Stone – “is a little bit rap, a little bit R&B, a splash of pop, and a pinch of alternative.”
While the impact of the Houston hip-hop scene on his music has been discussed before, we delve into all other forms of music he was exposed to growing up. He says, “Hip-hop was definitely one of my main influences growing up but I also listened to a lot of pop-tinged trance music. I also listened to punk rock acts like Blink-182, Green Day. So many genres and acts have influenced me in different ways.”
He adds, “Anything with an infectious melody I’d gravitate towards it, like the “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” song, like the piano on it is really beautiful if you slow it down and pay attention. Since I was a child I always found myself attracted by a melody and only then listening to the lyrics. “
On the topic of childhood, he reveals that while music had been part of his life since he was little, his passions were split with football. Despite the talent he showcased in the sport, he explains, that he was always drawn back into music.
Talking about the turning point in his life that pivoted him into the musical journey he is currently on, he recalls, “When Hurricane Harvey hit is when it hit me that I want to quit everything else and focus on music. I’d grabbed all my music equipment and thrown into a duffel bag. When my apartment flooded, pretty much everything was destroyed but there was a comfort in knowing that my music equipment was safe. It just made me realise that out of everything I owned this was the first thing I grabbed, and it’s what I wanted to be doing.”
“Doing what you dream of,” also aligns with the motto that Daniel has spoken of in other interviews; a quote that reads ‘do it __ you won’t’. Delving into why this quote motivates him, he says, “If you feel like doing something, you do it. What’s the worst thing that’ll happen? It won’t work out, that’s all. But you don’t do it, it won’t work anyway. So, do what you want to do because there’s more of a chance of failing if you don’t chase your dream rather than if you try!”
Living by this motto seems to do wonders for Daniel’s creativity and self-expression. As an artistic soul who is interested in poetry and graphic design, fashion seems to be a calling that the young star should answer soon. He affirms this, saying “I’m actually really getting into fashion these days. I have books full of fashion photography now. I’m realising that music isn’t the only form of art I can express myself through and fashion is definitely one of those outlets I’m keen on.”
All other forms of expression aside, music is of course what he loves most. This is possibly why the question about his bucket list as an artist is simultaneously the easiest and hardest to answer. However, he admits that “I want to do a world tour at some point; I want to collaborate with Dua Lipa, Drake and so many more. I could talk about what I want to do all day. More than anything else though, I just want to make music and go with the flow.”
Laid-back yet goal-oriented, Trevor Daniel describes his career with three strong words that look deeply at his past, present and future as an artist. “The first word would be ‘love’ because I love what I do. Second is ‘blessed’ because I’m lucky enough to pursue my passions. And finally ‘longevity’ because that’s what I want for the future.”
Combining his love for music, his luck of being able to live his dream and his hopes for a long career, Trevor Daniel is chart breaker, a superstar-in-the-making and most importantly a young man with a brilliantly creative, expressive heart.