On a cold New York City night, college students cram into a club to sing, dance and, unbeknownst to them, chant the names of God. It’s a sold-out Trevor Hall show in the city that doesn’t sleep. Between Snapchats and the second round of beers, coeds sloppily shout “Om Shakti Om, Shaaaakti Om,” the title verse of a song that celebrates the Hindu deity Kali and her consort Shiva.
Several songs, a round of shots, and a few make-out sessions later, these college kids clearly sing a slightly more complicated line, “Well Neem Karoli Baba, well He taught me like a father / I’m a Ramayana soldier, fighting with His love and honor,” which proclaims Trevor’s dedication to his teacher Neem Karoli Baba and the ancient epic, The Ramayana.
A chill zips up my spine as a tiny tear forms in my eye. I can’t help but be blown away by this singer/songwriter, who so seamlessly traverses Hindu temples and club stages. My friend and I share a smile as we watch the next generation of seekers lightly step foot onto the same path.
“I haven’t consciously been like, ‘Oh I want to bridge these two worlds, I want to bring this into these places’, ” declares Hall. “The music is a devotional practice for me. It is a practice of listening and getting out of the way. It leads me where it wants to lead me, it takes me where it wants to take me, playing in bars or clubs or wherever…”
Early in his studies, music led Trevor to Idyllwild Arts Academy, a residential performing arts school outside of Los Angeles. While studying guitar he became best friends with a young man named Sam. Upon entering Sam’s dorm room, Trevor’s life was forever changed.
“There was a picture of Maharaj-ji [Neem Karoli Baba] on the wall,” Hall recalls. “I remember looking at the picture and just having this incredible feeling of being so familiar with the photo. I asked him [Sam], ‘Who is that? Is that like your grandpa or something?’ And he said, ‘He’s a saint. My brother and my dad were with Him in India.’ And I was like, ‘What is a saint? Who is he?’ Sam had Miracle of Love, the book compiled by Ram Dass. We didn’t go to sleep. We stayed up the whole night and read stories of Maharaj-ji. And that was it. That moment. That photo. Ya know ‘A moment with the beloved, the river changes course’ that’s where my river changed its course.”
At the age of 19, Trevor immersed himself in the teachings, the stories, and the sounds of Maharaj-ji. He watched every available film clip, read all of Ram Dass’ books and listened to Krishna Das’ Door of Faith on repeat. He befriended Sam’s older brother Raghu Markus, a trustee of the Love, Serve, Remember Foundation who was with Maharaj-ji in the body.
“Music started to change when Maharaj-ji found me” proclaims Hall.
When his first big record deal fell through and he couldn’t make the rent, the founder of the Laguna Beach Kali Temple offered, “Well, you’re here every day anyway, why don’t you just stay here until you get on your feet?” Trevor took her up on the offer, moved into a trailer in the garden, and then stayed for seven years. During this time, Trevor was able to dive deeper into his spiritual practice: yoga asana, chanting mantra, participating in pujas [ceremonial prayer], and more.
“I would be in the Kali Temple spending all of my days there really doing it [the spiritual work], then I would go on tour, and be in the opposite environment — the bars and the clubs and playing — and then I would come back and be in the temple. Nobody knew about this. Nobody knew that I lived in the temple. It just happened. It wasn’t like a planned thing, but it was Ma’s [Kali] grace, it was Maharaj-ji’s [Neem Karoli Baba] grace. Without even planning it, I was able to have that platform, environment, and space to practice sadhana [spiritual disciplines] and not worry about my meals, or my rent, or anything. All I had to do was just be there and serve, and bathe in Ma’s love. Definitely one of the best periods of my whole life…Ma really, really, really plugged me in.”
Trevor does not take that time, those teachings, and this endowment for granted. While constantly on tour throughout the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, Indonesia, and beyond, Trevor, or Rampriya Das as he’s known to those in his satsang [spiritual community], partakes in several daily sadhanas—also known as spiritual practices or rituals. When questioned about keeping this commitment amidst radio interviews and band rehearsals, Rampriya Das has a realist response.
“We romanticize what our spiritual life is going to be like. And we we feel, ‘Oh well if I’m not in a temple, and I’m not sitting for four hours a day then I’m not spiritual, How can I do my practice?’ and the trip that we get caught up in. Because, our practice should be: it IS every moment. Everything we see, everybody we talk to is the guru [the teacher] essentially, in the deepest sense. We are always being taught a lesson. We always have the chance to stop and take a breath. We can always chant the name of God, no matter where we are, if we’re in a bar, or we’re in nature, or anywhere. We can always keep up that repetition [of mantra, chanting]. You know baba [Maharaj-ji] said, ‘The best service you can do is to keep your mind on God.” So no matter what we’re doing, we can do that.”
Honest, autobiographical, and rich with succinct stories of the Hindu pantheon, Hall uses his songwriting skills to masterfully weave devotion into a tapestry of catchy tunes. He has become a staple of the festival and college circuits, selling out every city where he performs. So far, he has toured with bands including Steel Pulse, Jimmy Cliff, Michael Franti, Soja, Bret Dennen, and Colbie Callait. His fans wait by the stage door hoping to get a glimpse of the guitarist. Yet Hall felt most humbled by a private performance in the living room of a legend. Raghu Markus had arranged for Trevor to sing for Ram Dass in his Maui home. In this intimate concert, Trevor belted out, “Under The Blanket”– the same song the college kids crooned in New York City. The same song that speaks of the shelter of Maharaj-ji’s grace. Tears formed there too. As Trevor describes, he found himself “bawling” during the experience, feeling as though it had come full circle—as though it had all been pre-arranged.
“It just went from there—and ever since, Maharaj-ji has brought me a lot of places and just continues to be the foundation in my life…”
Through seven studio albums, three live albums and two EPs, Hall has co-created with artists such as Nahko Bear, Matisyahu, Xavier Rudd, Tubby Love and Luka Lesson. His latest album, Kala, debuted at #2 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter Chart. MTV named him an “emerging artist to watch,“ the CBS Morning Show used his song “Brand New Day“ in promotions and he has hit mainstream audiences with a song on the Shrek the Third soundtrack. September 2015 offered another auspicious moment when, for the first time, Trevor sang on the Bhakti Fest Main Stage. After captivating the crowd with personal stories and soulful songs, he hit an all-time festival high while singing the fan favorite “My Baba.” He was joined onstage by Krishna Das, who you might recall Trevor had played on repeat not too long ago. The in person and live stream audiences both howled in response to an ever-perfect “Hara Hara Hara Maha Dev” as the two bridged temples, festival stages and generations, chanting the names of God.
“So my whole spiritual path was just kinda based off my love for this one being that I guess I didn’t meet in this body in a physical sense, but was more familiar to me than many people I have met in a physical sense. I didn’t question it. I didn’t reason about it. The love was proof.”