From Hagar to Haunt: The Making of Trad-Metal Champion Trevor Church | Revolver

From Hagar to Haunt: The Making of Trad-Metal Champion Trevor Church

Singer-guitarist grew up among rock royalty, and has been feverishly spreading the gospel of heavy music since
haunt_featured_credit_raymond_ahner.jpg, Raymond Ahner
Haunt, Thee Parkside, San Francisco, 2018
photograph by Raymond Ahner

"I'm gonna make a weird comparison here, but Taco Bell doesn't stop making burritos for a day, you know?" offers Haunt main man Trevor Church. "If Taco Bell isn't making burritos, what is it? It's just a building. So to me, you don't stop working everyday just because something is done. There's always more to do."

It's 2 p.m. on a Wednesday in January, and Church is not, in fact, making burritos. Instead the 38-year-old singer-guitarist is where you can usually find him: in his recording studio working on songs for his trad-metal outfit, Haunt, or his doom band, Beastmaker. The word "prolific" doesn't quite cut it when it comes to Church's musical output. Haunt have released two EPs and an album since the band's inception two years ago, with a second full-length, If Icarus Could Fly, coming this spring. Meanwhile, Beastmaker released two albums and two EPs between 2015 and 2017, followed by a mind-numbing string of 10 EPs in the last half of 2018. As such, Church has spent the last several years flipping back and forth between soaring NWOBHM-influenced metal and detuned, Pentagram-inspired doom.

Though he's released music through record labels in the past and will continue to in the future — If Icarus Could Fly will be issued in physical formats by Shadow Kingdom — Church is a big fan of self-releasing his music digitally. "I like Bandcamp because I like the idea of putting stuff out hot off the press," he says. "As soon as it's done, you can put it out. Nobody releases 40 songs in six months, but that's what I did with Beastmaker because I wanted to get them out."

It's this kind of determination that drives Church to helm two bands at once, all while working part-time as a hairdresser and preparing his new Fresno, California home for the upcoming birth of his son. "I'm gonna be a dad soon, and I wanna raise my son in the music business," he says. "It'll be nice to work from home as a professional musician. I'm putting out a lot of stuff because I wanna do this for a living."

In fact, Church was born into the music business himself. His dad, Bill Church, was the bass player for Montrose, the Seventies hard-rock band fronted by future Van Halen vocalist Sammy Hagar. Both musicians left Montrose in the mid-Seventies, and Church went on to play on no less than 11 Sammy Hagar solo albums. "I've known Sammy Hagar since I was born," Trevor says. "I don't even remember meeting him — he's just always been there."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Church's dad was very supportive of his son's childhood listening habits. "Whereas some parents probably wouldn't want their seven-year-old listening to Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath, my dad had no problem with it," he recalls. "He didn't listen to Iron Maiden — and he hates Black Sabbath — but he'd buy me their albums."

Meanwhile, Church's mom would point to news foot- age of religious zealots burning heavy-metal albums on TV — an all-too common sight in the reactionary satanic-panic frenzy of the Eighties. "She'd say, 'See, your music is Satan!' I was like, 'No, it isn't.' My mom was the one who was tough. My dad was lenient. I had Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Slayer, even N.W.A. I mean, for someone who's not even 10 to have something with explicit lyrics like that? I'm pretty sure my dad wasn't paying attention to that stuff. Meanwhile, my mom is like, 'What's going on? You let him have Eazy-E?'"

Rap and punk phases notwithstanding, Church says it was his cousin Mike that schooled him in the ways of heavy metal. "He's five years older than me, so when I was starting to get into music he was already a teenager and playing guitar," Church says. "He showed me barre chords, and that got me rolling as far as playing guitar."

Guitar-wise, Church's earliest influences were Metallica and Ozzy. "The day I learned how to play 'Crazy Train' was the greatest moment of my life at that time," he recalls. "But Metallica is the band that made me start learning guitar."

Church's dad, however, encouraged him to play a different instrument. "My dad wanted me to play drums because every band needs a drummer," he explains. "And I actually do play drums, but that's not all I do. I think he wanted me to have one thing that I could excel at, but that's not me. I'd rather be partially good at everything."

haunt_2_credit_raymond_ahner.jpg, Raymond Ahner
photograph by Raymond Ahner

Church spent years playing guitar in other people's bands before having the epiphany that eventually led to the formation of Beastmaker and Haunt. "My initial goal in music was to be a guitar player in someone else's band," he says. "And that was my role for a long time. It wasn't until I quit drinking and kind of reevaluated what I was doing in my life that I realized maybe I need to be the singer and I should learn how to write my own stuff."

That was nearly nine years ago, and Church hasn't stopped working since. "It takes a lot of energy to want to take on this huge role of being bandleader and actually become a good musician, a good songwriter, a good producer," he ventures. "I had all of that in my mind, and knew it was going to take all my time and energy. You can't party. You have to run the band. You have to build everything."

He formed Beastmaker first, taking a musical cue from one of his heroes. "I was always good at mimicking Ozzy," he says. "That's why a lot of my stuff has that Ozzy feel. Singing Black Sabbath was super easy. I remember sitting in my car and learning 'N.I.B.' I tried it, and it just happens that I could sound like him so I ran with it for years because I didn't know how else to sing."

Learning to sing and play guitar at the same time was the tricky part. "I can't belt it out like Steve Perry from Journey or hit the highest notes like Rob Halford," he says. "I'm also kinda limited to what I can do playing guitar and singing at the same time, so I had to find a balance there, too. I went from playing guitar and not singing to singing and playing guitar at the same time. It was a serious learning curve."

After writing a huge cache of songs in Beastmaker mode, Church wanted to explore another style. Enter Haunt, a four-piece to Beastmaker's three-piece, with Beastmaker bassist John Tucker on second guitar to play those NWOBHM-style guitar harmonies. Now that both bands are firmly established, Church is planning to combine the two aesthetics into something completely different.

"I wanna take the things I really love about Beastmaker and the things I really love about Haunt and merge them," he says. "It's always gonna be heavy metal — I don't see us getting out of that — but we have no boundaries. We can do whatever we feel like doing. Slow stuff, heavy stuff, maybe something epic on a 12-string. You can't stick to a formula. You have to look beyond. And that's where I'm at now."