It's not even a real word, "wonderlight." It's a hybrid, a coinage, a merging of two separate ideas into one, new reality. For Trevor Morgan, Wonderlight represents a litany of new, dual realities. It's the culmination of a past full of hard work and good times, struggle and joy, pain and redemption...and if he's fortunate, it represents a future full of more of the same.
Trevor Morgan is one of those dichotomies only the music business can bring, a "veteran newcomer" who has been pursuing his dream for a decade, only to find other plans waiting for him along the path.
"I moved to Nashville in 1995 because I wanted to pursue my artistry. I was writing songs, I was leading worship, I was doing a lot of things, and the thought was to go to Nashville because I wanted to be a Christian music recording artist," Trevor says. "The first door that opened was in publishing, and I didn't realize it at the time, but the perception was that if you sign a publishing deal and you don't have a recording deal, well, then, you're a writer."
While gathering his foothold in the Nashville music scene, Morgan was introduced to Will Owsley, an established guitarist and songwriter who had spent time in various bands with pop superstars Ben Folds, Judson Spence, Shania Twain and Amy Grant. At this point, though, Owsley was looking to forge his own sound, and in Morgan found a songwriting partner, as well as bass player for his live band.
Morgan found that operating in the dual worlds of mainstream pop and Christian music wasn't as hard as he might have imagined. "The whole time, I'm trying to get a deal within Christian music, but I get hooked up with this guy I didn't know too much about, and all of a sudden, we're writing pop songs," Trevor says. "It didn't feel unnatural to me to be writing Christian music and still leading worship on retreats, and to also be playing bass and writing these songs that'd be on a mainstream release, playing at things like South by Southwest and in New York.
"I was doing both, and it didn't seem weird to me, but if you would've told somebody in a club that I was leading worship on a youth retreat the next weekend, they would probably have some sort of culture shock," Trevor laughs. "On the other side, if you were to tell a youth minister that I was going to Austin to play in a bar the following weekend, he'd probably do the same thing."
Morgan took away from that musical partnership a fresh change in how he approached his own songwriting. "So much of the time I was just writing for myself, and expecting everybody else to like it just because I did," Trevor says. "I learned how to write with more of a pop mentality, writing music not only for me, but also for the lady driving by in the minivan or the kid in gym right now who wants to dig some music when he gets home from school. In a lot of ways, it felt natural and easier because I had found my voice."
Morgan also found encouragement in another sideman gig, this time with Christian music newcomer Ginny Owens, who needed a bass player for the trio she was putting together to tour behind her debut release Without Condition. Through that relationship, Morgan received more than he could have bargained for: a chance to play his own material in front of growing audiences and a limitless font of encouragement from Owens herself.
"I could tell he was immensely talented the moment he began playing in rehearsal...what I didn't know at the time was the incredible depth of both his talent and his heart," Owens says. "Beyond the singing and songwriting abilities, I often witness Trevor's gifts as a true man of God and a born leader, whether he is serving people in his church family, helping take care of others on the road or standing in front of an audience sharing his heart, his God-given ability to be strong and steadfast in his faith is always evident." "Through building that relationship with Ginny," Trevor says, "I felt more encouraged than ever that I was meant to be doing my thing, that God had called me not only to play and to write, but also to share with other people what He put on my heart."
So Morgan continued to jump through the hoops of the music business game, taking every meeting he could arrange and playing in front of every decision maker who would listen. "I never had anybody say 'no,' but nobody dropped the paper on the table and said, 'Let's do it.' I think people were interested and they responded to it, but the timing was never right. They were looking for a band, they were looking for a girl group, whatever," Morgan says.
Through the ups and downs of chasing that dream, one person steadfastly refused to give up on Morgan and his music, his wife Murray. "She was the amazing thing about it all, the one person who should have been most frustrated by it all but kept me going all the time. There were so many times when I would look at her and say, 'Why do you keep supporting me in this? Nothing really positive has come of this.' But she feels, as I do, that this is what God's called us to do as a couple," Trevor says. "There were so many nights where I just wanted to give it up. I wasn't feeling rejection, but I also wasn't feeling acceptance. I was living in that gray area between the two where people were telling me I was good, but they also weren't responding by accepting me. I thought to myself sometimes, 'Somebody tell me I stink or somebody tell me I'm great.'"
That positive day came when producer Scott Parker, who was scouting for artists for the new BHT Entertainment label, was given a CD of Trevor's music by keyboardist/producer Jeff Roach. "I immediately fell in love with his voice, vision, honesty and fresh songwriting," Parker says. After a trip to see Morgan play with Owens, Parker told his boss, veteran artist manager and label head Michael Blanton, about the young Alabaman. After a couple of meetings, BHT offered Morgan the chance to be the first artist on the new label. With Parker and Roach at the helm as producers, Morgan set out to craft his debut, an album touching on all facets of the dualities of relationships, both on the physical and spiritual planes.
"I look at my life and how I live on a daily basis, and I really do live in both worlds. We will continue to live in those two worlds until we're no longer here and we're finally made perfect," Trevor says. "I think there's always going to be that struggle, and what I would never want to do is only write about the pain without also writing about the healing. I also don't want to write only about joy without touching on the fact that there's going to be some discomfort. Not that we're going to walk around moaning and beating ourselves up like Job, but there's a balance to find.
"It'd be different if we still lived in Eden and everything was perfect. There wouldn't be a need to wrestle with the evil. But the truth of the matter is that we don't, and we're all constantly struggling choosing between the things we do and the things we don't want to do."
Morgan's gritty voice meshes with a flurry of guitars, both acoustic and electric, to form the foundation of Wonderlight's 13 tracks, and the combination does wonders in conveying both the triumph and tribulation of living in this modern age. "The thing I want somebody to hear most is just that there's hope, but that doesn't necessarily mean that everything's easy," Trevor notes. "I want to make music that not only I can relate to, but also the average listener can relate to as well.
"I think that in looking at my path, I've had a lot of joy, a lot of blessings, but also a lot of tears. And I hope to convey that through each of these songs.
There's a lot of wrestling through these songs, but also a thread of redemption."
Struggle and hope. Joy and pain. Wrestling and redemption. The duality of living today, merged into one new idea. Like wonder and light. Wonderlight.