By Cori Burcham
The city of Seaford proclaims in its slogan to be “the perfect place to start.” Those words couldn’t be more authentic than when applied to Seaford native Trevor Young, the lead guitarist and singer in the Grammy-nominated reggae band SOJA.
Young will be walking the red carpet with his SOJA bandmates come April 3 to accept their nomination for “Best Reggae Album” for their seventh studio album Beauty in the Silence at the 64th annual Grammy Awards.
Young started out as a kid from the community of Seaford with the aspiration to find a career in music as an original musician or anything in between. After the 2022 Grammys were postponed due to the rise of COVID-19 cases, Young spoke with Delaware Independent about SOJA’s upcoming third trip to the Grammys and his own varied music career that found its beginnings in Young’s hometown.
From swimming in the Nanticoke River with friends in the summertime to living in close proximity to the beach, the 37-year-old musician, who currently lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with his wife Allie and two pets, has nothing but fond memories of his childhood in Seaford.
“I definitely have a connection to the area. I was speaking to my wife about this who moved a lot growing up and I never did. I was always in the same house,” Young says. “It’s still the same house to this day and it made me appreciate that area. There is a part of me that will always be a kid from Seaford, Delaware.”
While Young’s family home remains unchanged, the atmosphere of the town of Seaford felt very different to Young when he was growing up than it does today. Before Young had the big cities and exotic locations from SOJA’s worldwide tours to compare it to, Seaford felt like a giant place. It was a place that was busier when the town was known for its nylon plant, before DuPont departed in 2004. Apart from working at the small local business Seaford Music that is still in operation today, Young’s first honest-to-goodness attempt to break into the music industry began with Chowderfoot, the band he started in high school that continued into his college days and beyond.
After releasing two full-length albums and performing throughout the state and along the Delaware coast during its 10-year run, Chowderfoot moved out west to expand its fan base, but failed to “make it” in Austin, Texas. The group then disbanded and Young moved back home to Delaware at the age of 25, where he happened across another opportunity to pursue music.
The reggae band SOJA, whom Chowderfoot had previously opened for at a music festival in Seaford, was performing at Seacrets in Ocean City, Maryland. Approaching the band before the show, Young informed his future bandmates that he grew up working in a music shop and recommended himself for a job as a roadie or tech to work on the band’s different gear.
“After a little meeting with those guys that night, a couple of weeks later, I was on the bus, lugging cases out of the trailer,” says Young. “It was pretty fun. I got lucky I guess.”
While luck was certainly on Young’s side when he met up with SOJA at Seacrets 11 years ago, the circumstances surrounding the production of SOJA’s most recent album Beauty in the Silence didn’t seem as fortunate, given that it was mostly produced during the COVID pandemic.
According to Young, SOJA has a history of releasing their studio albums about every four years. As it so happens, SOJA’s typical timeline didn’t suffer any delays with Beauty in the Silence, which was released like clockwork in September 2021 exactly four years after the release of Poetry in Motion in October 2017. Because there are eight members who make up SOJA’s ensemble band, a big studio is essential during recording sessions, especially for drummer Ryan Berty who requires 10 microphones to capture his full set of drums. While a home studio is more feasible for a guitarist like Young or SOJA’s keyboardist Patrick O’Shea, recording remotely for the drums would’ve posed a problem had they not recorded many of the essential parts ahead of time.
“Luckily, we did the bulk of the big stuff in bigger studios before COVID and then all the little details after the fact we were able to do remotely,” Young says.
While the production of Beauty in the Silence presented Young and his SOJA bandmates with some new challenges, this particular album gave Young more opportunities to diversify his music career by further exploring production and lead vocals. While Young has his own solo record on SoundCloud, Beauty in the Silence features the first SOJA song “Things You Can’t Control” that Young sings entirely on his own without the assistance of SOJA frontman Jacob Hemphill.
When asked which he prefers, performing live or the process of producing, Young stated he would’ve answered that same question very differently six years ago by proclaiming his love for the stage outright. The energy and emotion the crowd gives back is one of the reasons Young enjoys performing live. But today producing music, either for SOJA or local musicians in the Baton Rouge area, has become something special for Young even with the challenges posed by the pandemic.
With fewer opportunities to perform live and remote work becoming more frequent, Young has grown to appreciate the on-the-go process of remote producing, which he states is like carrying a song “in your pocket.” For Young, this new normal of music production encompasses listening to a song on his wireless headphones, thinking of ways to rework a track during his daily drives in his car, or sending it off to friends for advice. It appears to offer the best of both worlds: the chance to create music individually without losing the collaborative process that comes with being a member of an eight-person band.
Young views production as a future chapter in his music career in which he can create and help others make music if there’s ever a time when he’s no longer able to tour himself.
With his own well-rounded music career as a template, Trevor Young advises young musicians in the Delaware area to approach music from multiple angles. Young attributes much of his success as a musician to his ability to keep an open mind and let the music lead him where it may, instead of strictly aspiring to become an original artist as a teenager. During his time working at Seaford music, Young taught guitar, piano and vocal lessons, played covers and acoustic gigs on the weekends, and established his own original band.
“I just knew I wanted to do music and I wasn’t sure exactly which route the music was going to take me, but I figured if I dabbled in a lot of different routes, eventually I’d find the one that worked out best for me and I’d have an understanding of all of them,” says Young.
That adaptability certainly came in handy when Young first joined SOJA as its guitar tech over a decade ago despite having a limited knowledge of the reggae genre as a whole.
Apart from an appreciation for reggae legends Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, Young admits to having a predilection for rock music with genre-blending elements of reggae when he was younger, listing Sublime and 311 amongst his earlier influences. After witnessing SOJA’s admiration for the reggae artists that came before them, Young then explored the culture and genre more in depth.
While Young used to think it took forever to travel from one end of the small town of Seaford to the other on his bicycle, he and his SOJA bandmates’ journey to the 2022 Grammy Awards has been a much longer ride. SOJA had been nominated for “Best Reggae Album” twice before Beauty in the Silence’s nomination, once in 2014 for its fifth album Amid the Noise and Haste and a second time in 2017 for its sixth album Poetry in Motion. Noting that the “third time’s a charm,” Young has high hopes that Beauty in Silence will finally earn SOJA the coveted title.
“It would mean so much,” he said when asked about the potential win. “You’re getting recognized by the music community as a whole and reggae — it’s a funny genre because it’s so big. It’s recognized worldwide. Especially in other countries, reggae music is more mainstream than it is in the U.S.”
With this in mind, reggae is a much smaller category at the Grammys in comparison to other genres. While Young mentioned that reggae music is steadily becoming more popular in America, “Best Reggae Album” is currently the only title awarded in the reggae category.
Apart from SOJA’s potential Grammy win, Young is looking forward to the music he’ll make in the future and expressed an interest in collaborating with Steel Pulse, Beauty in the Silence producer Denim, and some of the new reggae artists breaking into the industry today.
Whether or not SOJA secures the title of “Best Reggae Album” will be determined at the Grammy Awards, which will broadcast on Sunday, April 3, on CBS.