Trevor Turla is a multitalented musician: a trombonist, singer, songwriter, bandleader and composer, among other things. Turla, whose first musical instrument was the bagpipes, is the founder of the soul/rock band Sulu Moon and a member of the Grand Marquis blues ensemble. At the core of everything, though, is his trombone. In this interview, Trevor Turla delves into this musical background, his creative process and the music that's inspiring him these days. Enjoy.
Describe your musical background. When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
My musical journey started with the music my parents listened to. Both my mother and my father have incredible taste in music, and the amount of it I was exposed to in my formative years has a lot to do with the reason I am the musician I am now. I started playing music at the age of 8, when I picked up bagpipes. I was lucky enough to be connected with a world class teacher (Jim Lindsay), when I started showing interest. In 6th grade I started playing trombone in the school band. Playing in band was something I always knew I wanted to do, but I didn’t know just how much I was actually going to love it. My 7th grade year my mother took me to hear the Friends University big bands, featuring Wycliffe Gordon as a guest artist. That was an incredibly important night in my decision to become a musician. Throughout the rest of my middle and high school years my interest for music grew. I fell in love with jazz and New Orleans music. Finally, I decided I would like to pursue music as a career and applied to the UMKC Conservatory. I was accepted and started studying under the legendary Bobby Watson. While studying at UMKC I started playing, learning, recording, touring, and collaborating with and from the numerous musicians in the vibrant Kansas City music scene. Shorty after moving to KC in 2014, I also started working and traveling with a company (B.A.C. Musical Instruments) that makes trombones and trumpets in the city. I graduated from UMKC in 2018 and ever since then my priority has been to continue to perform, record, and travel as much as possible.
You are multifaceted artist, a singer, trombonist, collaborator and composer, among other things. What’s your comfort zone in these different areas? What continually challenges this comfort zone?
I suppose the way I look at it, is that all of these things funnel from and into the same place. I am a “creative” that is slowly finding my way through different mediums, but they are all pulling from the same energy. On a technical level, singing is the newest to me, and that is where I still get nervous from time to time.
How do you prioritize creativity in your life? What are your biggest creative blocks and how do you move through them?
For me, being a “creative” is a way of life. I prioritize being creative by taking the time to figure out what I am hearing when I have an idea. This could be at any time. When I feel creative blocks, oftentimes my gut instinct is to try and force something out. That never seems to work. I try and remember that creative blocks come and go just like everything else, and to not get upset with myself for not having an idea in the moment.
Your newest piece of music is a trombone duet called “Busted.” Tell us about this piece. What inspired you to compose it?
Busted is a piece I recorded at Butcher Studios in New Orleans, with Dr. Reginald Chapman. Reginald is like an older brother to me, and to have him record on a piece of music that I have written is one of the biggest honors I have had in my life. The piece itself started as a solo trombone exercise that I would occasionally play in my practice routines. This evolved when I brought it to my band, Sulu Moon. Sulu Moon recorded a version that is coming out in August. It was in that difficult and somewhat “busted” recording session that I came up with the name “Busted”. I always had the idea that this piece would make a cool trombone duet and when I realized both Reginald and myself were going to be in New Orleans, and would have a bit of time to record, I jumped on the opportunity. Releasing “Busted” during the pandemic seemed appropriate.
What other music currently inspires you?
More recently I have been getting way into Sly and the Family Stone. The albums There’s A Riot Goin’ On and Fresh have been on repeat for me pretty much all of 2020. I have also been getting deeper into the world of singer-songwriters. My girlfriend, Mikala Petillo, is a phenomenal musician and has an endless wealth of knowledge from the singer-songwriter world. She has been a fantastic listening guide through the many artists in these genres.
Trevor Turla's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
Tao te Ching. I was raised with Taoism in many aspects of life. I carry many of these philosophies with me to this day.
Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings by Louis Armstrong: . Louis Armstrong is one of my biggest and earliest inspirations.
There’s A Riot Goin’ On by Sly and the Family Stone. This is a record I have had on repeat during quarantine.
Anything by Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The catalog of music from Preservation Hall Jazz Band is huge and expands generations. A great way to dive into a subsect of New Orleans music.
Anything by Miles Davis. My father is a painter and would always have post bop playing in his studio when I was young.
Anything by John Coltrane. John Coltrane was another post bop main stay in my father’s studio.