The winter of 2018 was a dark one for Trevor Bahnson. The singer-songwriter’s father had died after a battle with MS, and Bahnson was adjusting to life back in Santa Fe, where he grew up. A complicated long-term relationship was ending. And, as always for Bahnson, there were daily struggles with his own health: born with cystic fibrosis, Bahnson was 33, and had spent most of his adult life assuming he might not live past 35.
“I was also living in this house where the roof kept leaking all over the place,” recalls Bahnson with a small laugh. “I remember chasing these leaks, trying to stop it from leaking on my gear. It was literally, physically dark in there, too.”
But nearly two years later, when Bahnson listens to the songs he wrote during that time, what jumps out at him is beauty: his insistence on finding, seemingly against all odds, moments of pure goodness, wonder and peace.
Time & Harmony, out Aug. 25, 2020, is a testament to that practice, and to what can happen if you don’t pay the odds any mind in the first place. It’s a time capsule that deals in endings, beginnings, and the murky spaces in between. There’s grief and heartbreak; failures of systems large and small. But there’s also beauty in the cracks in the ceiling — and in what can bloom in small moments when you stop trying to hold each one so tight.
Trevor Bahnson is a singer, songwriter and prodigiously gifted guitarist who crafts indie-folk songs with a torch for rock ‘n’ roll romantics like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. With a voice that carries wisdom beyond his years and a lyricism that draws strength from vulnerability, Bahnson makes music that sounds a bit like the desert where he was born: plaintive, powerful, with hints of mischief and mystery; it’s meant to reverberate across wild, open spaces.
Growing up in Santa Fe, Bahnson first picked up a guitar at age 10. By 14, he was obsessed with Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and had a job at a local music shop, where he tuned string instruments and casually impressed musicians three times his age with his natural ability. Bahnson started singing and writing songs at Berklee College of Music in Boston, but the rest of his musical education came from bands — like the five years he spent with Song Preservation Society, playing places like the Bowery Ballroom in New York and Voodoo Fest in New Orleans, opening for the likes of Grace Potter. He also spent two years busking in Berlin, studying how lyrics could stop an audience in their tracks.
But Time & Harmony is a step into the spotlight for Bahnson in more ways than one: it’s his first proper solo release, both a message in a bottle from one dark season and a culmination of his musical career thus far.
The EP also marks the first time Bahnson has been vocal about living with cystic fibrosis, a chronic illness for which there is no cure. Released in conjunction with Time Can’t Be Wasted, a short documentary about Bahnson — the title borrows its name from one of Bahnson’s most tender tracks — Time & Harmony finds Bahnson grappling with the task of staying present, honest and open during a period when he wasn’t sure how much time he had left.
“It might be part of having a chronic illness that you wouldn’t guess by looking at me, but I’ve just never told many people about it,” says Bahnson. “Yes, it’s part of my reality. But the beauty of the illness, for me, is that it’s made me not focus on it. It’s made me focus on what I’m doing while I’m here.”
“Time has always been difficult for me, and I’ve always been afraid of wasting it,” he says, of the record’s major themes. “But if you live your life focusing on dying, you’re not really living your life.”
On Time & Harmony, those stakes underscore each note. “This bar is full of fucking kids, you shoot for their heart like you know where it is,” sings Bahnson on “Time Can’t Be Wasted,” over spacious, emotive guitar and piano lines that let his voice take center stage. The song finds Bahnson at a bar gig, feeling like an outsider as he watches people he can’t relate to — people without health issues, people who can be relaxed and carefree on a night out — and wondering about the point of it all.
But by the track’s end, Bahnson is more assured than ever as he repeats the refrain that serves as the record’s North Star: “Keep your heart in your hand, your time can’t be wasted.”
While Time & Harmony is a solo release, Bahnson counted on dear friends to bring it to life. Recorded and mixed by veteran singer-songwriter Jono Manson, the production is warm, dynamic and intimate. Members of Oakland’s Whiskerman serve as a backing band: Graham Patzner on string instruments and piano, Will Lawrence on bass, and Dan Schwartz on drums, with additional backing vocals from Cassandra Lewis, strings from Lewis Patzner, and steel guitar from Ryan Little.
The soul and unmistakable urgency that power the record, of course, are all Bahnson. Though with the perspective of nearly two years’ time, and following a move to Southern California, Bahnson says these songs now feel more like the work of a good friend — perhaps in particular because he’s currently feeling healthy. Bahnson started on a groundbreaking new medication in January of 2020; as COVID-19 began spreading the globe, he says, he began to feel better than he had in over a decade.
Still, Bahnson’s learned not to bank on the future.
“It’s so easy to get attached to looking ahead: How do you make your dreams come true, or create the life you want? Or: I’ll do this when I feel better, in the future,” he says. “But what’s been more helpful to me is getting really real with myself about where I am now and focusing on what’s beautiful about it.”
“I don’t want to give people hope,” adds Bahnson with a laugh. “This is not ‘Oh, it’ll be fine soon.’ Fuck that. The future isn’t guaranteed for anyone.”
“What I want is to give people recognition of their power. Because one option, when you’re suffering, is to say: where you are right now, there’s beauty. The work is to see it.”