Kevin Mark Trail may be a name that’s largely unknown to Australian audiences, but the soulful British singer isn’t a stranger to our shores, nor our airwaves. Trail first tasted popular success back in 2002 for his vocal contributions to The Streets’ debut recordOriginal Pirate Material. In addition to global touring with The Streets, Trail has worked with innovative UK acts such as Massive Attack, Nitin Sawhney and Blak Twang.
“When I heard The Streets, what I loved about it was that it was British,” Trail says. “At the time there was nothing mainstream that was talking about our stories and our culture. That’s what I admired about The Streets and MCs like Rodney P, Blak Twang.”
Inspired by the work of these collaborators, Trail soon began to explore his own creative potential. His solo debut Just Living came out in 2005, but after finding only limited success he quickly jumped back on the road with The Streets. Mike Skinner brought the alternative hip hop outfit to an end in 2011, which prompted Trail to return to his solo pursuit. Looking to make a fresh start, he decided to get out of London and, oddly enough, spends half of his time these days in New Zealand.
“I left and came here and it’s just been busy,” he says. “I fell in love with the country and the people and met a bunch of musicians. A saxophonist called Nathan Haines, I did a track with him, and now I’ve started doing stuff with Sola Rosa. And my friend Sharlene Hector, who sings with Basement Jaxx, she loves New Zealand as well so she came over and we’re writing an album together.
“I just feel free when I’m here,” he adds. “In the UK people aren’t as open and [music is] in some ways a pretentious business there. People that I’ve met here, they do what they say and they’re actually just nice.”
As well as these promising collaborative ventures, Trail’s adopted surroundings have allowed him to get productive with his solo work. Coinciding with his current Australian headline tour, he’s just dropped his third album, The Knight.
“It’s totally different from anything I’ve ever done,” he says of the self-produced record. “It’s about waking up. The way that we live is kind of madness – this ego-driven shit and destroying our planet. We’re not sustaining ourselves and we’re living out of balance with life. I feel like there’s a lot of stuff that we’ve forgotten. The Knight touches on waking up to see the madness and that we’re all the same, deep inside.”
The electronic flavour of The Knight distinguishes it from Trail’s 2012 LP, Hope Star, which was dominated by live instrumentation. However, electronics aren’t all he’s interested in at present. Trail’s next record, The Traveller, is alreadycompleted and focuses on a reggae/soul sound.
“I work fast, I work instinctively and I work with the truth,” he explains. “Some people write fast, some people take photos well. Everyone’s got different gifts. This is mine.”
On top of letting him harness his multi-tiered prolificacy, getting away from London has let Trail relax about his music’s commercial fortunes.
“I do music wherever I go,” he says. “[Whether] it’s playing to one person or playing to thousands of people. The reality of it is, ‘Are you happy? Who are the people around you?’ and ‘Do you enjoy the music that you’re involved in?’ You could be onstage and perform to thousands of people, but how many people are you going to get to talk to? How many people are you going to inspire on some level?”