[More from the Ottawa gig featuring Econoline Crush and Finger Eleven with Ross MacDonald and Karen Coughtrey. – AC]
Before the Econoline Crush / Finger Eleven concert in Ottawa, A Journal of Musical Things met Trevor Hurst in his dressing room at the Bronson Music Theatre. Trevor is passionate, not only with his music, but also about being a father and his connection to a small Dakota community in southern Manitoba.
AJOMT: In the late 90’s and early 00’s you had a great deal of success throughout North America with a string of singles that were a mix of post-grunge and industrial. Your new album seems to have a sound that carries on with a rock feel that is familiar, and yet progressing. Was that your intent when you recorded ‘When The Devil Drives’?
Trevor: “It kind of was. I’m a huge Bowie fan, and sometimes when you go to make a record I will look at people that make comments about how they make their art. One of the quotes that I saw was, David Bowie said that if you’re not somewhat uncomfortable making your art, if it’s all testing you, then you’re really not being true to yourself as an artist, because you want to push yourself. And so with me, every record has to be different. And I wanted this one to have more rock, but in some ways it’s like alternative music, having keyboards again just shoring up the emotion. But I think this time, it’s more raw. Like raw in terms of emotion and raw in terms of how we wanted to project the emotion in our sounds and in the music. It’s a little bit more like scratching, rather than just kind of giving you a gentle push.”
“Rock and roll is such an odd thing. I remember Elvis Costello saying that it’s an analogy for having sex, you’re rocking and rolling. And I feel that if you think of it that way: it’s kind of messy, it’s kind of awkward, it’s beautiful, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world, and it’s all these things embroiled in one and it’s confusing. And when you connect to it, it’s like: OH!”
AJOMT: Your most commercially successful album was ‘Devil You Know’, your new album is ‘When the Devil Drives’, and your big single is ‘Fight Like the Devil’. I’m sensing a theme. Is this about going back to your earlier success?
Trevor: “Actually ‘Fight Like The Devil’ will not be on the record. We did two songs before we went in to make the record with a different production team. We had a situation where we were on an indie label, and the indie label wasn’t going to work out. So I just put on a full stop, and then moved over here and started a whole new production, and I worked with Ian Alexander Smith on it. So as we were making it, and I was trying to explain this is where I want to go, and I was showing Ian all these different ideas and bands and things, and we got to the end of it. And then it’s one thing to produce a record, but then you need a mixer to untangle the mess that you’ve created and kind of make this thing magical. So we tried a couple of mixers… and nothing worked. And then right around Christmas time, I phoned a couple of friends and I said “I really need an artist to mix this, and it’s hard to find that, I’m thinking Jack Joseph Puig; but it’s like: come on.” And my buddy goes: “Listen. I’ll talk to him.” So we sent it to Jack, and he phoned me within two hours: “I’m in!” And here’s the other strange thing: my friend is trying to convince Jack Joseph Puig to mix our record, and Jack stops him mid-sentence and goes: “Stop, you don’t have to convince me. I know all the stuff he’s done. I know what he’s like. I met him.” And my buddy’s going: “you did?” At one point, when Sylvia Massy produced ‘The Devil You Know’ she was like: “Trevor, I’m gonna show you the music scene.” So she drove me to every studio, every producer, I mean everybody. She didn’t hold anybody back. So one night we went to Jack Joseph’s studio and we went in there and met Jack Joseph and I had a conversation with him. And I remember meeting him. I was very nervous, but I don’t remember what we talked about, but it must have left an impression because he took the gig. Twenty years later! It was amazing.”
AJOMT: You starred in the documentary ‘Flatlander’ about working as a psychiatric nurse. Did you train as a nurse before starting Econoline Crush?
Trevor: “No, I went back to school in 2011. I have two young boys, and now a daughter and a stepdaughter; so I have four kids. And I was very nervous about the future and how am I going to pay for things? And also, I had some curiosity about psychology after a while. So I went back to school. It was bizarre, but it was amazing, too. And when I graduated I didn’t I didn’t think I’d fit in with the local health authority, I was already having issues with a lot of their policies and behaviours. So then, unfortunately, my mother passed away from cancer and I was grieving. And I ran into a friend of mine and she said: “You know, I think I have the perfect job for you. They’re looking for somebody at Canupawakpa. And they’ve been looking for somebody for two years at this Dakota community in south-west Manitoba.” It was a pretty interesting interview, and then before I even left the community, I was driving down the gravel road, my phone rang, and they said: “Can you start tomorrow?””
“And at that time, because my mom was always telling me to cut my hair and when she died of cancer, I was like, “Well, you can’t tell me cut my hair anymore. So I’m just gonna grow it.” You know, these weird reactions, grief is strange. So I wouldn’t cut my hair. So when I went around all the temporary houses and introduced myself, I walked in with blue eyes, blonde hair down to here, male. And I go: “I’m your new nurse.” There’d be this big silence and I’d go: “I know, not what you expected. But trust me, I’m going to try real hard.” And then I’d get a couple laughs. It took me a while, but I got right into the culture. I went to sweats. And I had some experiences that changed my life. I went in there as an atheist and came away with faith in the Creator. I heard and saw things, the most beautiful things in the world, and it changed my outlook on life. The documentary is actually in its editing form right now, so it’s not out yet.”
“What I’m excited about is that it tells two stories. One, it’s not about a white person going in and having this thing. It’s about me being saved by a community. I couldn’t believe the way that they took me in, they were so kind to me. And then the second part of it is that I didn’t understand residential schools, until I started working there. And so I got the lowdown about that and also TB sanitariums. I had two or three clients that were taken from their parents at six or seven, they weren’t coughing or nothing. And they just went and were fed weird food and had to do weird things, and I think they were being tested for different stuff, who knows. But they were not sick. He didn’t get back to see his parents until he was 14. So from five to 14 he had no cultural interaction or anything. It’s crazy. It’s hard.”
“When I started working there, and they start teaching you about the culture, and they start teaching you about powwows, and the ceremonies and faith in the creator and smudging and all these things. It’s just like my head exploded because it was like: well now I get it! These people had it together. Even after all of the stuff that’s going on now and all the mess, I’m always blown away by the fact that they just are present in the moment. It changed my life.”
AJOMT: Health care professionals have never been in a greater demand, are you going to continue working as a nurse while you carry on with Econoline Crush?
Trevor: “Well when I quit the community, I quit to be a stay at home dad with my daughter. That was three years ago now, and I’ve been asked to come back a number of times. I’ve met with the chiefs of two different communities. I love the work! But I do not think that I can do the work and do the musician stuff. And when I met with the elders, they were basically saying: “You’re more valuable to our community and to our cause by going out there and sharing your stories with the world than to be here taking somebody’s temperature or changing a dressing at this point. But if you could do both, they’d love it.” But I just can’t and plus I have a very hard time doing things halfway. So I can’t go into a community and just be their nurse from nine to five and then split. I’m there till midnight sometimes, and I guess I have no boundaries, but I just think the job of being a community nurse is being a part of the family. It’s not the same as just being somebody at the hospital. There’s people that I cared for from when they were very little to now they’re five years old, six years old, or whatever. It was just that you see the growth in the families, you’re part of the family, you’re part of the recovery, you’re part of the loss. it’s hard to have boundaries.”
AJOMT: So you will continue as an ambassador of sorts.
Trevor: “Yeah, I think that’s what I’ll do. And the beautiful thing with psych-nursing, and for people who ever thought about psych-nursing, it’s not a career that is available to you here in Ontario. Unfortunately, it is from Manitoba west. And you will take different courses to become a psychiatric nurse. I’m trained right from my bachelor of science to become a psychiatric nurse. And then I also did two semesters as an instructor at University for the fundamentals of nursing. So that was pretty entertaining, having me as your prof. Can you imagine those poor kids?”
AJOMT: With the pandemic finally winding down, or becoming something we have to live with, will you be getting back to touring and writing more music?
Trevor: “Yes. Absolutely! As much as I can.”
(well that was a rhetorical question)
AJOMT: You are doing back-to-back sold-out shows with Finger Eleven in Toronto and Ottawa. Is this testing the water? Will you be embarking on a big tour with Finger Eleven?
Trevor: “We’re hoping so. And then last night, I was talking to Edwin briefly from I Mother Earth, and I’m thinking that we might do some shows. And then I was also talking to people from Joy Drop and I’d like to do some shows with those guys because we did back in the day. There’s a lot of our friends that are still trying to do shows, and we all want to create music. So I’m hoping that’s going to happen. The plan after these two shows (with Finger Eleven): we’re going to release a single, it’s called ‘No Quitter’. And I’m working on the lyric video, starting on Monday. So that’s the plan. We’re just gonna let the single go out and see what happens. And then the record will come out in the new year.”
AJOMT: Do you foresee any collaborations upcoming?
Trevor: “Absolutely. Well, that’s one of the exciting things too about this documentary is some of the artists on this roster are indigenous artists. It’s very important to me to get the indigenous voice on the soundtrack of this movie. So I want to try and develop, or help, or encourage, some indigenous artists with this soundtrack. And have them on the soundtrack and have them in the documentary. And then also at the same time, I’ve asked if I could work with as many new people that I’ve never worked with before. Because that’s what I think, songwriting is a craft that just is never-ending. Everybody approaches it so differently.”
“When I was working on this record, Ian wasn’t having it. And it was maddening at first because I’m like: “this is how I do it, and I’ve been very successful at doing it. So I do it like this.” And Ian: “Yeah, okay, but we do it this way here.” And you’re just like, WHAT?!? I remember working on this song, and there’s two people having an argument in the kitchen. He’s playing the music on one cell phone, and he’s holding the other cell phone recording, and he’s going: “sing your ideas, sing your ideas!” These people are arguing and talking, and it’s just madness! But it was kind of cool because I had to really concentrate and really focus. And I think that’s what his goal was, to get me out of my comfort zone and just not thinking about it. Because I really had to enunciate and project the words to get over these losers making all this noise. So I was singing the song and Ian’s like, okay. And then by the end, when he cut it all up, what we had done, and then says: “Okay, now we can sing it properly”. And then I was: “wow, that’s pretty good!” And it was just the way he made me do it. These great producers, it’s a fun thing, getting people into the right headspace to do it.”
AJOMT: What’s next? Will it include more on-camera work?
Trevor: “I don’t know if, I mean, hell I’m open to anything. My big thing, just with starting this campaign with this record, there’s a couple of things I need to honour, the commitment of those people from Canupawakpa. And then my longtime friendship with David ‘Ziggy’ Sigmund, our guitar player who passed away just in March. And so this record, I want to make sure that no one forgets what this guy brought to music, what he meant to the music scene, he had one of the bands that founded grunge music with Slow; his stage presence and energy. And he was always very encouraging of my songwriting and things, and he made me feel like I mattered. And I connected with him in a way I’ve never connected with anybody. So losing him was really difficult. I want to make sure that I always honour that guy’s memory as a fundamental part of this band. And I feel him at the show every night that we play. I truly do. I know that he’s here with us. And sometimes he’s playing some serious tricks, but he’s around.”
“So between him and the Canupawakpa community, the Dakota people, this record is my mission. And I want to make sure that I remind people how important music is to the hearts and souls of everyone, and how important culture is to the indigenous community, and how important it is that we learn about that culture. Because it is beautiful. It’s so beautiful, the family connection, the creator, and just what they stand for. If we were all Dakaota there would be no environmental problems because they don’t think like we do, they don’t hoard shit, they don’t pile shit up. They get up in the morning, the creator will provide. Well, I’m telling you, man, like once you start thinking about it, you’re like, Man, this makes a lot more sense. Plus, giving up your faith to this creator.” Here is the trailer for Trevor’s upcoming documentary ‘Flatlander’.