Trafton: Thoughts Become Sound Waves [Interview]

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

Interview with Trafton

photos by Brielle Tumbarello, Sarah Miskin, and Noah Yager

“It happened on three different nights, and they became progressively deeper.”

Trafton, raised in New Hampshire but now based in New York, writes dark indie pop songs with a mind of their own – so much so that they have recently been materializing in his dreams. “The first time, I only remembered one line,” he tells us. “The second time, I remembered nothing except a feeling. The third dream was the most insane. I remembered this post-chorus melody that I recorded as soon as I woke up. I wish I could remember the actual songs, but they’re gone.”

“In the dreams, I am not the one writing the songs,” he continues. “They are shown to me by somebody who I either don’t know, or think is another artist or something. So they show me [a song], and in the dream I wish [it] were my song. And then I wake up and realize that the song doesn’t exist in real life. So my subconscious wrote it and then gave it to me in my sleep.”

Fascinated by cognitive and neuropsychology, including concepts such as REM cycles, he crafts music that seems to come from a subconscious place in more ways than one. He’s inexplicably drawn to a certain soundscape, each tracks’ production effortlessly conceptualized and interwoven with melodies and lyrics. The songs take shape as if they exist in some deep corner of his brain and are simply waiting to be brought to the surface. Despite being inspired by thoughtfully-crafted alternative pop, he even goes so far as to insist that he doesn’t have influences in the same way that other artists might.

“Basically I’ve been writing the same way, in the same emotional palette, since I was super young,” he explains. “I remember even when I was a kid my mom used to be like, ‘Why don’t you ever write anything happy?’ But to me, it makes me happy to write [sad] music like that. Ever since I’ve been coming up with production ideas and an overall sound vision for the music, it’s been the same. It has been the same since before I even knew who Troye Sivan was, since before I heard Pure Heroine [by Lorde], before I knew who Banks was, before I knew who Glass Animals were…”

Although now incorporating some more diverse sounds, Trafton’s affinity for music began with the piano – and always comes back to it. “When I was two or three my great-grandmother gave us her old upright piano,” he says. “Apparently when we got it I climbed up onto the bench and started pressing keys. I grew up taking classical lessons, which I did not like. I eventually quit, but all throughout and ever since it’s just been me writing and playing my own [music] on the piano. So that being said, the piano is a big influence on my sound because everything that I’ve released so far and most everything that I’m working on is all based around and started on the piano.”

Even the seeds of his interest in production started with a keyboard when he was 16. “I didn’t know what Logic was, or any of the other DAWs,” he recalls. “I didn’t know how people produced music. I thought the way to do it was to buy a really intricate keyboard that could record stuff. I remember going to Guitar Center with my dad and looking at all these really expensive keyboards that do that and then explaining to this customer service dude what I wanted. He was like, ‘Hold on, you don’t want a keyboard, you need to buy Logic’.”

Since then, Trafton has become the perfect example of a DIY artist, with an approach that’s becoming more and more common in the digital age. He taught himself production mainly on Youtube, and

watched as his songs were fleshed out in new ways. “Production for me is learning what I need to do to bring the ideas in my head into real sound waves,” he describes. “I feel like sometimes I’m really the only one who’s able to make my music sound like I want it to sound because I have such a clear vision for it.”

His most recent single “Gone”, however, was the exception. “I had very few ideas for production, which was different because normally I do have a lot of ideas when I’m writing. I had some help from one of my friends and producers who helped me brainstorm, and we tried a bunch of things. I even wanted a beat in it at one point, and then that happened and I was like, ‘Never mind, that is not the answer’. I settled on different piano layers, and then I got this ukulele from my friend and there’s some really verb-ed out ukulele strums, and then my friend played electric guitar on it. It ended up being acoustic live instruments, which I felt like fit in with the vibe of just piano. As much as I didn’t have clear production ideas for [the song], I didn’t want it to be straight-up only piano. So I think I settled sort of in between.” The track evolves with the intensity of the melody, draped in haunting clouds as his clear falsetto pierces through the atmosphere.

He’d rather keep the lyrical significance to himself, though. “I don’t think I’m ever going to come out and say what it’s about,” he admits. “I can’t say what it’s about any better without the lyrics that I wrote. It’s there. That song, I will directly say, is very sad. So there’s a lot of loss in it, there’s a lot of longing, and nostalgia, and hope, and heartbreak, and all of those things. I wrote ‘Gone’ two and a half, three years ago. I just kept coming back to it after all that time, and it felt right to make it at this point. Cause it is gone – what it’s about is gone.”

While some artists might scrap songs from years prior, time passing only strengthens Trafton’s connection to the music that he has written. In some ways, it makes it difficult when he walks the line between the past and the present. “Right now I’m working towards a larger project, most of which I wrote a bunch of years ago and it’s a big part of my life,” he reveals. “So going back into that and working on it is sort of tough because sometimes I feel really detached from it, but it’s still so meaningful. I have to at least attempt to put myself back into the feelings and those situations, and sometimes that’s hard. And sometimes I can successfully get myself back into them, and it’s like, ‘Well great, now I’m not over this thing that happened four years ago’. I have to keep myself in certain emotional experiences to finish the music.”

These emotional experiences are often closely tied to his surroundings. His video for “Gone” features poignant beach images centered around his memories at the ocean in New Hampshire, evoking a sense of nostalgia with an old film feel to it. And all of his music so far has aimed to capture the serenity of his home. After moving to NYC, though, does he think his sound be evolving as he adjusts to a different location? “I guess I don’t know yet,” he answers. “Or maybe I’m in it too much right now to know. I feel like [New York is] kind of just an extension of LA. There’s definitely a lot of pressure to make upbeat pop music with trap-y snares, which isn’t usually my cup of tea. So I feel like I have to make sure I’m always in touch with what the music is inside of me that I need to get out – not what

everybody else is making. For now, I can say that the music that I’m working on is very much still a reflection of New Hampshire, and of that calmness and space of the mountains.”

He has a drive to keep improving his music as well, particularly with a less-is-more mentality. “This is something that I’ve really been thinking about lately,” he expresses. “Somehow being able to find balance between this really huge, immersive sound that I like with a billion things going on, and then a much more minimalistic approach. I’m going to try to be a little bit wiser and more mature with my production going forward.”

This inclination towards minimalism will manifest in Trafton’s developing body of work, while he still plans to maintain a similar mood to his older music. “People will probably say it’s really sad,” he remarks. “It’s deeper than other stuff – it’s more real to me. There are also a lot of different types of songs on it, and there are a couple of different personal themes. It’s about one part of my life, and then evolving into the next part of my life, so there are a couple of different general stories going on.” He’s still considering release strategies, but it’s evident that material will be trickling out in the near future.

“People can expect this larger project to be the best thing I’ve ever done,” he asserts. “I’m really putting everything I have into it.” If the music scene is lacking in depth, reassuring melancholy, and a nearly addicting sense of loneliness, Trafton just might be the presence to fill the space.

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