released: 2017-06-16 )
Trevor Sensor. Biography.
It's Trevor Sensor's voice you notice first. A deep bubbling black tar pit of a sound, it is a voice with a weight of history behind it and whose unique timbre resonates far beyond the constraints of the songwriting format. It is the sound of sap oozing from a tree trunk, plumes of smoke spiralling from a forge, broken glass crunching on gravel under a solitary street-light. It's a voice that demands the listener reaches for a new vocabulary.
The twenty-three year old's debut album Andy Warhol's Dream is part of a literate folk lineage that runs from Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan through Tom Waits and onto the likes of Bon Iver, Bright Eyes and Sufjan Stevens today. It stretches into the pioneers of jazz - Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie are cited as influences too. It's an unflinching honest album with a timeless quality, transcendent in its exploration of self and sonically a collision between the classic and the forward-thinking.
Sensor was born and raised Sterling, Illinois, a city (in name only) that was founded when one Hezekiah Brink built the first log cabin there in 1834. Situated a hundred long miles west of Chicago and two hundred miles east of Des Moines, today it has a population of fifteen thousand and is formerly known as 'The Hardware Capital of the World'. Formerly. Retail and consumption is its main business now, and it is world of Walmarts and car parks, pizza joints and banks. Surrounding it on all sides is mile upon mile of flat farmland that is typical of the Midwest town. With its still-functioning drive-in (est. 1950) and conservative leanings, Sterling is a post-industrial place as American as the proverbial apple pie.
Sterling birthed Trevor Sensor. It shaped him too. For an artist whose work is intensely autobiographical, this matters. As a child he played several instruments including the euphonium, was on the very fringes of the small local hardcore punk scene, was to be found with "the crowd starting bonfires in backyards and getting high", went through a fleeting phase of emulating Cobain/Corgan in various school bands - almost a prerequisite musical rites de passage for a guitarist today - before becoming disillusioned with the lack of ambition in his band mates. Instead he ditched music for a life of academia at university in Pella, Iowa.
Here Sensor majored in English Literature and Philosophy and cites a range of diverse writers including Søren Kierkegaard, Marcel Proust, Henry Miller and Dave Eggars as key influences (not to mention the cinematic output of David Lynch and Woody Allen), all artists whose unifying factor is that they are keen documenters of themselves and their times. And this is what Sensor excels at too, debut album Andy Warhol's Dream is an authentic artefact of time and place - here, now - that could be only be made by a twenty-three year old going out into the wider world and reporting back on his findings. In doing so he has created his own self-contained world of sound. "My only ambition at that point was to do my degree, go to grad school, write novels and poetry and quietly retreat into the library for the rest of my life," he laughs.
By then Sensor had stockpiled over seventy songs, which friends persuaded him to perform with the promise of beer and pretty girls. A gig at local bar in 2015 lead him to receiving call from the manager, telling him to come back the next day to meet Dave Keuning, Pella-native and guitarist with The Killers. He was given a guitar and told to start playing. "Dave was heckling throughout: 'You've got to ditch college and move to Vegas, man!'" Trevor remembers. "I'm not one to get starstruck, so I was just thinking 'Well, that's easy for you to say...'" The Killers contact however lead to a manager, various showcases, a trip to the UK and, ultimately a deal with Jagjaguwar (Bon Iver, Dinosaur Jr, Angel Olsen, Unknown Mortal Orchestra).
Trevor Sensor's debut EP for the label 'Texas Girls and Jesus Christ', was written on a borrowed acoustic guitar that he has yet to return, and took him out into the world. 2016 saw him tour Europe, including a clutch of well-received UK summer festival appearances (Green Man, Wilderness etc), before hitting the road in the US for tours with Foy Vance and The Staves. A budding barfly observing all passing life, much of his British sojourn was spent marvelling at the joys of British pubs and a culture of all-day drinking.
And now he delivers debut Andy Warhol's Dream. Recorded to tape at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, it was produced by both Jonathan Rado of Foxygen ( producer of The Lemon Twigs, Whitney) and songwriter/producer Richard Swift (Damien Jurado, Foxygen). His backing band featured Max Kakacek, Julian Ehrlich and Malcolm Brown of Secretly Canadian signings Whitney.
The album's title refers to Warhol's prophesy of a world in thrall to twin false idols of fame and celebrity. "His '15 minutes of fame' prediction is clearly visible today" he explains. "I'm only really referencing Warhol as a vehicle for the ultimate representation of celebrity culture because of his repeated Marilyn Monroe or Elvis paintings or whatever. But now we're in a post-God society that is finding new golden calves to worship, that is moving beyond that."
'Stolen Boots' finds Sensor wandering alien European streets, encountering drag-queens and gin-drinkers while 'In Hollywood, Everyone Is Plastic' chronicles one more Midwest soul lost in the pit of sin before the dreams in 'Starborne Eyes' of retreating deep into the mountains forever. 'On Your Side' meanwhile is an anthem that is nothing less than a soothing balm for these turbulent times.
Wise beyond his years, Sensor also remarks upon the facile nature of a banal 21st century entertainment world that registers success only by social media peer approval: "I've grown up in a devalued music culture where the artist is increasingly a slave to the populace," he sighs. "But at the same time my generation is very informed about the past. So the challenge here is to make the art for myself and people like me and hope that it is original and lasting." He also speaks of a generation raised post-9/11 and Iraq, one born of high divorce rates, media overloads and internet anxiety who's coping strategy is to retreat into emotional suppression.
Yet on these eleven songs Sensor goes the other way: he doesn't so much wear his heart on his sleeve as fling it out in the darkness of the front rows that sit beyond the glare of the single blinding spotlight. This is the sound of one man's soul laid bare, facing life head on. It is an attempt to makes sense of a senseless world and all its many dizzying, dazzling flavours.
February 2017 ʇ