Interview: Trevor Daniel On “Past Life” & Manifesting Success
One song can change your life, just ask Trevor Daniel. The 25-year-old went from relative unknown to breakout star when “Falling,” a track first released in 2018, went viral on TikTok. Streaming numbers surged and the sing-along anthem promptly started climbing the Billboard Hot 100. It would eventually peak at number 17, sell double platinum and — just this week — become the most-played song on top 40 radio. How do you follow up something like that? By releasing a critically-acclaimed debut LP, Nicotine, and releasing a duet with Selena Gomez.
That bop, the FINNEAS-produced “Past Life,” is gaining momentum at radio and racking up big numbers on YouTube thanks to a mind-bending, CGI-filled video. I recently spoke with Daniel about the breakout success of “Falling” and collaborating with Selena. The Houston, Texas native puts his meteoric rise down to hard work and, interestingly, manifesting opportunities through positive thinking. Other topics of conversation included his new album (yes, he’s already moving on), quarantine and mixing genres. Get to know Daniel a little better in our Q&A below.
Let’s start with “Falling” because that song really changed your life. Did you know it was special when you recorded it in 2018?
Yes. I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, but it did feel special in the studio. There was just a really special energy that night. Those are rare feelings sometimes. I mean a lot of songs that I make are special, but that one in particular… it felt really good.
From what I understand, the version you released is pretty close to the original demo.
It was the original demo. We didn’t even get a different mix on it. We tried to re-cut it, but it just didn’t sound as raw.
When did you start to feel momentum building behind the song?
Even on the first day of release, “Falling” did more streams than I had ever had before. I think they did nine to 13,000 streams that first day, which, looking at it now, that’s not a crazy amount for me. But at the time, that was incredible. But when I really knew that something crazy was happening was when my friend came over and told me that I should check out TikTok. I downloaded it and “Falling” was everywhere. It was insane. Then we started realizing the plays were going up, people were listening to it more.
Then we got the opportunity to hear it on the radio… now it’s doing really well on radio. There are just multiple moments with this song that really excited me. Now I just want to keep showing people what I can do, you know?
Absolutely. Is it a little strange when an older song starts taking off?
It’s weird because I was talking to friends about how long it took Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” to blow up. There was another song a few years ago that did the same. Oh, “Trap Queen!” He had that song out for two years and then it finally took off and changed his life. There were a lot of talks about that kind of situation. I was just going with the flow. I just felt if keep doing my thing, keep making music and stay consistent, then something would happen. Then “Falling” really started taking off.
My friends and I had this thing when we were in an Airbnb making the Nicotine album. We were doing this thing where we only said positive things about the music. Even if we were stressed out about something, we wouldn’t say any negative things and attract any negative energy towards the music. This is before “Falling” blew up, but then we started saying outrageous things like, “Oh, we’re going to go number one. Oh we’re going to go platinum on the album. Something on this album is going to change our lives.”
We were just having fun, then all these things started happening. Then we started testing it. We would say stuff like, “Oh, we’re going to go on a stadium tour,” and then Camila Cabello calls me and wants me to do the stadium tour. And no lie, my friend, has all of this on camera. We were walking on Hollywood Boulevard where they film Jimmy Kimmel and I turned around to the camera and said, “Within the next six months, we’re going to be asked that to go on a late night show,” and then, pre-Corona, we got asked that same night.
I need to try this manifesting thing for myself.
I’m serious. If you just truly believe it and then put the work in, obviously, it’s insane how it happens. There’s nothing in life that is trying to keep you from getting what you want. Unless someone else gets affected negatively by what you want. But if it’s not hurting anybody, in my mind there’s nothing that’s trying to keep you from achieving your goals. There are always going to be people who hate, but as long as you don’t care what they think about you and fully believe in yourself, it’s already yours.
Wow. You should be a motivational speaker! We need to talk about “Past Life.” How did you get FINNEAS to co-produce the track? He’s so hot right now.
I guess he liked the demo version of the song, and really wanted to be a part of it. Then next thing you know, I was in the studio with FINNEAS, which was absolutely insane because I’m pretty sure we recorded it during Grammy week and you know that Billie Eilish and him went on to win everything. We linked up at Chalice studio. It was the same room that I recorded “Falling” in. FINNEAS is very big on making everything in his room and I am too, typically, but Chalice is just a special place. It feels right and everything I’ve ever made there has been good.
I convinced myself there is some special compressor that my voice runs through, which is completely not true, but I’ve never had a day there when I didn’t want to make anything. So FINNEAS was in there with me and he was hyping me up. There were notes that I thought I couldn’t really hit, and I was backing up on them and I was trying to hit them differently. He’s like, “No bro, you can hit that,” and he was on the talk back button. I ended up hitting the note. After that, it was like my brain registered that I could hit the note and I never missed it again.
He was really hyping me up and it was a great experience. Then I saw him like a week later at the Spotify event, after the Grammy’s and he’s super hyped about the song being released and everything. Yes, it’s so cool.
From the moment I heard Nicotine, I really loved “Past Life.” When did you decide to make it a duet?
Even before I released the original version of “Past Life,” I thought Selena would sound so sick on it. It’s all about manifesting things, I swear bro. You can ask FINNEAS the same question. The next time you guys talk, ask him who I was talking about in the studio in January, who I wanted on the song. We were like, “Dude, we got to get Selena on the song.” We put the original version on the album because of timing, but in my mind, “Past Life” was going to be with Selena regardless.
That didn’t end up happening until after the song came out. She really resonated with “Past Life” and sent this scrap vocal tape just to show that she was still interested. I was at the airport when I heard it and I was just pacing around for like an hour before our flight.
You liked her version straight away?
Yes, I did. Obviously. Selena is fantastic and everything she touches is just great. As soon as I heard it, I was just like, “This is so good.”
It works so well and I have to say of all of the quarantine videos I’ve seen this year, I think “Past Life” is the best. How did the concept come about?
Thank you, man. Thank you. It was wild. We talked about some ideas over FaceTime and then we did these long Zoom calls where we were just preparing for the song release and just going over little ideas. We didn’t really know what was going to happen with this Coronavirus, so we were trying to figure that out. [The filmmakers] sent us a picture of this truck and there are 360 cameras to take multiple pictures of you in different positions. Selena did that and then I did it. It creates a CGI character and then we just went full in with the CGI idea.
The whole team that worked on this was absolutely fantastic. They absolutely killed the video. It’s also the most low maintenance video I’ve ever done. There were a lot of selfie videos and stuff, but for the majority of the video, I was in the truck and they were just explaining how it would all work. I was trying to imagine how it would look with the CGI, but I didn’t think it would be that detailed. It was really cool.
It looks incredible. On social media you said that you’re already thinking about a new album. I feel like Nicotine only just came out.
I was just going to release a deluxe album, but then I was like, “Man, I’m trying to really get people excited about something.” I had a lot of stuff that was going to be on the deluxe, which I’ll likely still release. I just don’t really know how I’m going to do it, but with the new album… basically quarantining has bummed me out. I’m not going to lie, it feels like everything stopped. I got into this weird head space and I started having a lot of panic attacks. I had never had a panic attacks before quarantine, but I’ve had a bunch of them since.
I feel like everybody has been really stressed. It made me feel way better once I started talking to people. Because I was feeling weird, bro. My body would hurt in weird ways and my fingers would be tingly and all this stuff. I started thinking something was wrong with me. It was crazy, bro. Then I started talking to my friends, who are in music, and so many of them were talking about the same things. Turns out it’s just really high levels of anxiety and stress that make your body do that and cause panic attacks.
I was freaking out, thinking I was going to die. Knowing I’m not alone makes me feel better. Yesterday, I had a session with Kito, she’s an amazing producer. She’s definitely going to be all over the new album production-wise. She was telling me all of this before I even said it. I was like, “Dude, I have so much more to write about now, which is weird too. I haven’t really done anything in quarantine.” Then I realized I have things to write about that don’t fit the world of Nicotine.
I was just like, “Screw it. I’m going to make a whole new album.” I can really go in-depth with new creative ideas, new sounds, and I can switch things up sonically because now I’m hearing things differently than I did a few months ago when I was making Nicotine. There are just so many more ideas that I want to explore. I didn’t want to be limited with a deluxe album, because it would need to be cohesive with the rest of Nicotine. I’m really big on cohesiveness with art projects. I just want to expand on everything, so we need a whole new album.
Thank you so much, man. I’m not super worried about it drowning out Nicotine necessarily because I put out Homesick, which had Falling on it. Then, I put out another EP called Restless. I had multiple songs released. I released about 13 songs after “Falling” and “Falling” still did its thing. I feel, ultimately, that good music is going to be discovered whenever it is meant to be. Ultimately, for the sake of my sanity and excitement for my fans, I just want to make a new album.
I’m doing certain things to put pressure on myself because I realized I work better in those situations. I’m really trying to expand and push this sound to a whole new level, so when people hear Nicotine and then they hear this one, they are just going to freak out about the growth that has happened in the last few months. It’s because I’ve gotten the chance to learn from so many people. Also, I’ve been sitting at home, in my head for six months at this point. It’s an easy way to get bummed out basically.
It’s weird because every time that happens and then I figure a way out of that headspace, musically, I feel 10 times better than I was before. I think it’s because I’m in my head and trapped in my mind for so long that I’m having the opportunity where I’m not making music, but I’m able to pick through my head and things that I liked about myself and don’t really like about myself, and want to improve personally. I feel, ultimately, that just it reflects in the music.
How is it coming along?
I work in spurts. I’ll have a few months where I don’t make anything, and then there are some days that I make four songs. Sometimes, I’ll make three songs a day. It just depends. I’ve been in a really good flow and the people that I want to work with are comfortable with having sessions. We’re doing the whole swab testing to make sure everybody’s good, so we’re being responsible about it. The Zoom sessions kill me, man. I can’t deal with the wait and see.
One of the things that I really love about Nicotine is how eclectic it is. There are some songs that are really pop and then others that are alternative R&B. It’s a big mix of anything. Will you continue mixing it up in the future?
I think I’m too ADD to just do one thing. I’m just going to keep trying things and playing with sounds that I like. There’s a lot of things I want to try. I feel, eventually, I’m going to mix so many things together that inspire me that it’s just going to become its own thing, and form its own sound. I don’t feel too pressured to make it happen instantly. I feel it will just come naturally. I bounce around so much, but pop sounds really sick. I love pop. So that’s just what we end up calling it.
It was a pleasure. Congratulations on your success.
Thank you so much, man. I appreciate it.