Dec.12 / 2014

This Is What It Feels Like When You Connect


One of my favourite interviews this year came at the most unexpected moment. That moment was with Trevor Guthrie. As an interviewer, my job is to connect with the person in front of me and gain trust in a matter of minutes, enough for them to tell me their story and hope I can do it some justice. Part of that includes me pushing any judgment and preconceived notions about that person aside and being as open as I can when I meet an artist. My role as a journalist is to always be ready for anything they may throw my way, but the magic usually happens when you surrender to the moment and just become completely present to what is being said.

I have a confession to make: During the late 90’s, soulDecision weren’t necessarily the kind of group I’d listen to. I was more into hip hop and R&B than immersing myself in groups of the male variety with frosted tips. But now revisiting Faded (which is appearing on Retro 30 this week) it’s a little funkier than I remembered and, I must admit, still pretty damn catchy.

When I heard that I was interviewing Trevor Guthrie (originally from soulDecision fame), I was thinking it would be a fun interview for Retro30 and not much more than that, but little did I know it would become one of my favourite interviews of the year.

I’m sure you’ve all heard Armin Van Buuren’s This Is What It Feels Like; it was all over the radio in the summer of 2013. It was everything a good dance track should be: a perfect mixture of catchy summer melodies and had immense sing-a-long value, a formula that earned Van Buuren and guest vocalist Guthrie 51 million views on YouTube and a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording. I didn’t even know it was Trevor on the track until recently, but the track definitely revived his career and changed his life (he had never even heard of Van Buuren before this collaboration). His second show back, after years of not playing shows, was the finale at an Armin Van Buuren show at Madison Square Garden, which is INSANE in itself. But when I found out where the song came from, I learned what a true miracle it actually was.

I, like many, initially thought it was a fun dance song about missing a lost lover, but when I found out it was about Trevor’s friend Robert Prem, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, my perspective on it totally changed. After his friend was diagnosed with 17 weeks to live, Trevor was inspired to write the song. Robert ended up living two and a half years and thankfully got to see some of the success and life the song had taken on. On the day I was interviewing Trevor, in the car I heard an interview with him on a radio station discussing how the song changed his life, but how he also felt guilt for its success because his dear friend was no longer with him. He had hard conversations with Robert’s wife who encouraged him that it was okay to revel in the happiness and success the song brought. Robert would want him and others to enjoy it and let it bring happiness. I decided to ask Trevor about the guilt and was totally unprepared for his response.

I am a big believer in reading a person’s energy and in that moment, when I brought it up my heart was heavy, too. I got teary eyed and watched Trevor crack for his lost friend. I immediately felt awful for bringing it up and all I wanted to do was hug Trevor. Maybe it’s not the best idea as an interviewer, but that’s all I wanted to do to someone giving me their whole heart. So I did it anyway.

Consequently, I learned something too. That moment clearly illustrated why we tell stories and make art. The fact that he was so open, honest and vulnerable inspired me. These are the moments we often run away from in everyday life, but also it’s those same moments that end up connecting us all. We are all on this wild ride called life, together. We take comfort in music, stories, art and movies to feel that we are not alone. We are all afraid and fighting ourselves in every moment; the double edged sword of happiness and heartbreak lives in us all and there is nothing more real than that. It is the glue in humanity that holds us together, to feel empathy and love, and let our stories be lessons others might not get to the opportunity to have. The interview put lots in perspective; every day is truly a gift and we can learn something from everyone if we just open our minds and hearts and listen. Trevor didn’t let Robert’s memory pass in vain, he gave his tragic passing purpose, and a life that is living on with millions of people whenever they hear the song.

Trevor wrote This Is What It Feels Like as an acoustic song and goodbye letter to his friend. It was unbeknownst to him that it was sent to Armin and I’m sure he’s thankful it did. Wherever Robert is, I can imagine he is looking down on the moment with love and joy, despite the fact he is no longer here to celebrate with us. I know I will never hear This Is What It Feels Like the same way again.

Tune into Retro 30 this Sunday at 8E/5P for more of my interview with Trevor Guthrie, where we are travelling back to 1999.

By Gaby Henderson