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Hello Nirvana: Trey Moore

By Shawn Murray

Photos by Shaun Llewellyn

A little over a decade ago, there wasn’t much of a lane for an artist like Trey Moore. The aughts was an era of bigger, raunchier, louder,––not to mention harder, better, faster, stronger, as well. The rap was bombastic, but rarely thoughtful. The R&B of the time was direct and rarely subtle. This may be an oversimplification of the era as a whole, but as far as the mainstream goes, debauchery and excess is what sold. Anything outside of that would have to be discovered far down on the third page of or on an under-read blog site. But then in the winter of 2011, a world-shifting mixtape found its way online.

When Nostalgia, ULTRA was released, Frank Ocean announced himself to the world as one of the defining artists of the decade and a whole new era of the mainstream was born. Some time that winter, a friend of Trey Moore’s played him “Songs for Women” from the tape on their way to school and for the first time Trey saw his path forward. “That was the first time I heard someone singing in that way over beats like that. Because you know, at that time––2011 to 2012, this was like Trey Songz and guys like that making baby-making music and doing the cry baby on the floor. And that was never really my speed, so I didn’t really identify with that. I was like ‘I wanna sing, man. I can’t do that. That’s not me.’ But hearing Nostalgia, ULTRA I was like ‘Whoa. I could do it like that, though.’”

Growing up the son of a bass player, Moore always had music in his blood, but the path to becoming a singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist was for a long time blocked by limitations created by the structure of his musical education. Moore, for a time, attended Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in New Haven, Connecticut. Though the school helped to hone his skills, its traditional syllabus and culture also exposed the limits of musicianship in the modern era. “A lot of us in the music department, our goals were to get on tour with a popping artist and become like a highly-requested session musician. And that seemed like the ceiling. You go to Berklee, you go to Juliard, and you just become that. And at the time, I thought that’s all it was. At least, it seemed like that’s all I could be. Because everyone told me that was the way to go. But once I left Co-op and got away from that kind of system and started experiencing life a little more, I realized there was so much more I wanted to be and do. And I kinda knew that there too. I was never really with the system in high school.”

After freeing himself from the rigidity of the school-to-session-musician pipeline, Moore’s creativity blossomed and the direction of his future shifted. The idea of what he could be grew from a contributing factor in an established artist’s camp, to the nucleus of his own enterprise. Throughout his late-teens, he began writing music and finding his voice. Fast forward a few years and Trey Moore is a fully-formed artist. With a recognizable sound and aesthetic and a guitar seemingly always on-hand, Moore has begun to carve out his own space not just as a Connecticut artist, but in the overall musical landscape. As a multi-hyphenate whose music is largely guitar-driven, he exists in a realm that has been largely vacated over the last fifteen years. “A lot of my music’s guitar heavy. I think I’ve been really inspired by that warm, natural-feeling indie sound”; and this is just the beginning for Moore. He taught himself to play the guitar over the last few years, picking up chords here and there in an effort to get closer to the sound he’d like to create. “I’ve pretty much been teaching myself to play through recording, really. I’ve rarely sat down and watched videos or anything like that.”

That developing comfortability with the guitar can be seen all over his latest EP Goodbye Nirvana. The six-track project shows his range as not only a guitar player, but a curator of vibes.“Those summer nights, summer afternoons chilling with the homies, you never forget those. So, I think lately I’ve been trying to create music that captures those feelings and those moments ....And also I be on my Sad Boy shit too, so just a mixture of all those things.” The music is influenced by everyone from Frank Ocean to Pharrell Williams, Prince to Blood Orange, but as much as his sound comes from the lineage of those artists, it never feels like pastiche, which Moore credits to trusting his ideas while creating. “Once you really begin to believe ‘Okay, the thing I think is dope is actually dope and I should maybe try this thing before it’s validated’...I think that’s one of the biggest things for me.’”

This is all part of the emergence of a star in the making. Take a look at his Instagram or his artist page on any of the multiple streaming platforms out, and you wouldn’t be wrong to believe you were looking at someone with the weight of a label behind him, but Trey Moore’s sound and image is all homegrown––and what’s most encouraging is it seems it’s just the beginning. “I would say I’m more intentional about what I’m creating. And I have the tools and resources to express what I feel and hear more. So a lot of the things I create now, they feel more understood than the earlier stuff when I was just messing around. You can feel and hear the intention behind it.”

While much of the output from his most recent projects has been self-produced, this largely came from the ease of creating from home. “Naturally, when you’re in your space and you get an idea and you have the tools to get that idea out, you just kinda do it.” As of late, Moore has been working with producers to craft his sound going forward. “I’ve been working with some cool ass people, man. I ain’t gonna lie. And I’ve been learning a lot from them, and they’ve made the process of recording and collaborating easier for me...I’ve never been opposed to collaborating.” He credits the success he’s had so far to his network of friends, like Connecticut photographer Dave Phoenix who shoots many of his photos. “I don’t think it always has to be someone ‘bigger’ or someone you’re paying. I think it’s important to network across to a dude from your neighborhood or your city because they might do something cool that you might need. The people around you will push you forward. I don’t even learn how to do a lot of the things I know how to do without the people around me. I think more people should tap into the resources around them.”

If “Delusional” and “Views'', his two latest singles are any indication, whatever he’s working on expands the Goodbye Nirvana sound into something even richer and more spacy, without losing any of the warmth. Also, this is not an official announcement, but a new project is on the way. In the meantime, Moore intends to pick up another instrument, write and produce for other artists, and do more live performances when the climate permits. “With the whole pandemic thing, that’s like the one element I’m missing right now is just the ability to share that with people in those moments. And hopefully as things improve, we can get back to that. I’m hoping we can do things like that and I can share the music that way. Festivals, too. I’m heavily inspired by outdoor festivals and moments like that. One of the things on my bucket list pre-COVID was to play more shows and play a festival that I really want to play. If I can be doing those things, I’m good.”

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