Plug in Stereo’s Trevor Dahl Talks Songwriting, One Direction + What He’s Learned From Cody Simpson [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Even over the phone, Trevor Dahl radiates optimism.
Positivity is a running theme in Trevor's music, where is he known by the moniker Plug in Stereo. Whether he's using songwriting to find the upside in negative situations or talking about hitting the road with Cody Simpson ("A super nice guy!"), his enthusiasm is undeniably contagious.
2014 has already been a busy year for the singer, who just released his 'A Little Peace' EP and is gearing up for another tour. He chatted with PopCrush about staying positive, lessons he learned from Dashboard Confessional and the potential of collaborating with One Direction.
I was listening to ‘A Little Peace’ and both the title and the music have a really optimistic vibe. Is that something you intended?
Yeah, I try to do that a lot with music. I like to use my music and my writing as an outlet for me, so whenever I’m having a hard day or a rough time, I try to use my music and my writing as a way to give myself some optimism and look for the positive things in the negative things. I’m glad you got that vibe from that. That’s awesome.
Do you have any songs where you write them just to get out the bad vibes and put it aside so you can focus on the positive?
Whenever I write a sad song, I try to look at the good at the end of the song. That’s the way I like to do it. I might start off sad, but have some optimism in there somewhere. Sometimes I like songs that are just sad because sadness is a true emotion, so I do that sometimes. But on the EP specifically, I kept things pretty optimistic, like you said.
I definitely got that vibe in ‘To Be Wanted,’ where there’s some sadder emotion referenced, but it’s overall a very positive spin.
Yeah, I’m glad you got that because I want it to be very universal and I think that everybody wants to be loved and everybody wants to feel appreciated by everyone in their lives – people that they are close to in their lives. Everyone goes through relationship problems and friendship problems, so there’s still those sorts of things. But yeah, keep looking toward the positivity and try to look at the good things and appreciate everything you have and appreciate the people that treat you with respect and are going to love you.
Watch Plug in Stero's 'To Be Wanted' Video
One of my favorite tracks off of the EP is ‘Don’t Say Goodnight.’ Can you talk about the inspiration behind it?
That actually was a song that wasn’t too personal. Sometimes I like to write songs that are more story-based. I make up a concept in my head and I just want to write a story... It wasn’t really personal, it was just an idea in my head and I was with my two friends, Morgan Taylor Reid and Sean Douglas. Morgan started playing the piano one day and it was the first song I’d ever based around piano. I usually base all my songs on guitar, so this is the first time we did it on piano, which is a cool thing. Morgan played the piano and we just went from there and wrote a story.
I write with them pretty often. Three, no four, songs from the EP I wrote with them. I like to write a lot with them. They’re two really good friends of mine. Very, very talented producers and writers, so it’s a really good time to write with them.
How do you approach songwriting differently if you’re pulling from a personal experience versus challenging yourself to create the story?
Good question. With personal things, I think I try to describe actual things that happen to me and I try to tell a very true story. When I’m making something up and I’m kind of going for it and it’s all a fake story, I can be more open-minded and be more creative with it and say things that I wouldn’t usually say or describe something that I wouldn’t necessarily come across.
In ‘Don’t Say Goodnight,’ specifically, I talk about satellite and things in space, which obviously I’ve never been to those things. With stories you make up, you can be a little more creative and a little weirder with it, which is fun. But there’s pros and cons to both, I think. With them being more personal, people can really feel the personal connection to it, but when you’re able to be creative and do something more story-like, than you can kind of be a little weirder about it and have more fun with it.
You’ve covered a lot of artists on YouTube. I just watched your Chris Brown song. How do you choose which songs to cover?
I just like to pick songs to cover than I really feel like I can make different. It’s not very fun if I’m just going to cover a song and play it like the actual song. Like the Chris Brown cover, specifically, that song’s really almost dirty, in a sense. You would hear it at a club, it’s something you dance to. I thought it was a cool thing because the lyrics are almost sweet, in a sense. If you just replace "F word" with love. I thought it was a cool idea to take this grimey, dirty song, a dance club song, into an acoustic, sweet love thing. I like to take things that might not seem like they would be acoustic and try to make it acoustic to try and have a weird dynamic with it.
Have you ever heard reactions from anyone who you’ve covered?
I don’t think so. No, I don’t think I have. We’ve got to get those guys to hear them! [Laughs.]
You wrote One Direction’s ‘Truly Madly Deeply.’ Any chance they’ll collaborate on a future record of yours?
Oh, I don’t know. The whole ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ thing happened by accident in a sense. I wrote the song and I had it around for a little while and I got an email that they wanted to use it, and I was so blown away and stoked by it. I never got to work with them directly or anything, but it would be cool to see if maybe in the future we could get a collaboration or do whatever. That would be awesome. It would be a dream come true. No talks of it yet, but thanks for bringing up the idea.
You just got off of a tour with Cody Simpson and you’ve toured with Dashboard Confessional. Is there anything you’ve been able to learn from watching them perform?
Yeah, I try to learn a lot from the people that I tour with. I just try to soak it all in and take the parts that I appreciate that I could possibly see me doing and try to improve in that aspect of live performances. Dashboard, just professionalism and musicianship. They presented that really well. Chris Carrabba and his whole band were really, really nice and very respectful to everyone who played, even the opener, so that was really cool.
Cody Simpson is a super nice guy. Me and Cody have a different style of set. You know, he dances and does things like that, and mine’s more acoustic-based and more singer-songwriter. As far as how he commands the crowd and stuff, I learned a lot from that. The way he talks to the crowd and the way he interacts is really good.
Besides other musicians, where do you look for inspiration?
Movies are a big thing. I love movies. Whenever I’m watching a movie -- almost all movies have some sort of love story or whatever -- or just any movie in general. It doesn’t have to be love-based. It’s interesting to watch movies and see things that they do or hear the things that they say and try to describe those and try to use those for songs. It’s kind of a fun thing to do.
Do you have any plans to release a full-length project?
Yes, I’ve been writing and recording a lot of songs. I constantly am writing and recording, that’s all I do. I have a bunch of songs to choose from. I just put out that EP. I wanted to make sure I put out the six that I felt were cohesive and made sense and were something that I was proud of. I want to pick another six songs and kind of finish up the album... So yeah, it’s a work in progress.
What can we expect from the tour?
It’s going to be awesome! We haven’t toured with the full band in over a year, drums and keys and all that stuff, so we’re doing that again, which I’m really, really excited for. The last couple things I’ve done have been acoustic, which is awesome because it let me go back to my roots and play acoustically again, but I’m really excited to get out with the full band and have the whole bigger set. More energy, more of an experience for the kids, too. I’m excited. It’ll be a lot of fun. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Before You Exit and one of my friends is tour managing them, so it’ll be really fun to hang out with the kids and write new songs.