Interview

Youth Lagoon

Youth Lagoon

By Courtney Sanders

Wednesday 18th December, 2013 2:46PM

Trevor Powers is the solo artist behind moniker Youth Lagoon, and who released his critically-acclaimed sophomore album, Wondrous Bughouse earlier this year. The album discusses Powers' fascination with isolation and mortality and the interactivity of the two, which is the central theme of Powers' work since he released his debut album The Year of Hibernation in 2011. It is not, however, about being physically isolated or physically alive, and is instead about the internal struggle some people - Powers included - face when they attempt to connect with the world and to understand their fragile existence within it. It's heavy subject matter but - as in his songs - Powers discusses it with a kind of poetic whimsy utilized by classic novels and usually reserved for more positive subject matter. This makes Powers' perspective on this subject matter both unique and optimistic, and UnderTheRadar caught up with him to discuss the circumstances and influences that nurtured this approach.

 

You released your sophomore album, Wondrous Bughouse, earlier this year. From reading interviews with you and listening to the album, it seems to discuss mortality. Is this a fair statement? What was going on around you and what were you thinking about at the time of writing, that drew you to that subject matter?

I tend to get obsessed in an unhealthy sort of way with thoughts about time. Like how everything on earth functions in this sort of realm of things passing away. I think that's always affected what I create. I just can't turn off my mind, and those are the sort of ideas it drifts toward. Ever since I was young, I've had this sort of struggle with just wanting to have a brain I can shut off when I feel like, because I would see other people that would just kinda drift through life with no worries and smiles on their faces, while I'd be having to pull my car over because I was having a mental breakdown about things that wouldn't even make sense when I spoke them out loud. I used to struggle with a lack of confidence that would intensify that restlessness because the line would be blurred between the absurdities my mind told me, and who I really was. As I've gotten older, I now know how to use those absurdities as an aid for exploring creative territories. The idea of earthly things and people passing away is something we can't stop, and that's what interests me.

You worked with a prolific producer, Ben Allen, on Wondrous Bughouse. How did his input affect the finished record, and how did it feel to collaborate on this album when you worked in such a solitary way on your debut?

Working on the first record, actually wasn't a solitary experience either. That has been blown out of proportion via the mighty power of the Interwebs. People like the story of a loner locked away in a room recording an album by himself, but that wasn't the case. The Year of Hibernation was tracked with a friend of mine Jeremy Park who is a substantial recording engineer, we worked on the record together nearly everyday for about a month and half. I always write alone, but the recording aspect is one where I like having others there to fight with and challenge ideas and tell me I'm stupid for wanting something a certain way so that I need to explain why I'm not. So going into working with Ben, it was a change of scenery but I was watching it go by from the same sort of car I was in before. The experience with Ben brought out a different side of me though, because of his complete open-ness to do whatever we needed to do for the sake of sound. We approached it from the vein that nothing was a bad idea if it felt right the next day. Nothing was a bad idea if the song didn't think so; if the album didn't think so.

How do you think you have changed as a songwriter, and how do you think your output has changed, between your first and second albums? Was there anything in particular you wanted to avoid / do differently on Wondrous Bughouse compared to The Year of Hibernation.

My one goal is always to speak through my music in a way that is impossible through any other means. And there is always so much for me to say, that what exactly that entails is always changing. A focus I had going into Wondrous Bughouse was shifting my perception on melody and exactly what that means for communicating through music. What kind of feelings can be expressed through a more 'bent' sound that can't be through a 'straighter' sound. Everyone builds up these habits, and it especially happens when creating something. So for me, I'm always trying to fight those habits and destroy those filters that may be holding me back from being able to communicate differently through sound or music.

The Year of Hibernation arguably - having read interviews etc. - deals with themes of isolation and anxiety as they relate to your life and your existence, yeah? Can you explain this a little? Are these themes that continue to influence your work? How has the success you have garnered since the release of The Year of Hibernation affected your existence in relation to these feelings?

Yeah, those themes still influence my work and I think always will. But the isolation isn't a physical one. It's a mental one, a subconscious sense of isolation. But what a lot of people don't understand is what is going on in the mental realm can be just as real as the physical, because it all intertwines. What we dwell on we do. I'm with others constantly, friends and family, but there's still that part of you even when you're with people that feels completely alone. And it's beautiful. I consider what I've made so far to be successful purely on the basis of some people being able to latch themselves to it with a curiosity of what I'm trying to say and with a sense of everyone is in this life together.

How does living in and being part of a community as small as Boise influence your sound and thematic countenance?

I don't know, because I've always lived here. I would imagine I would be claustrophobic in a city with no open space. That's what I need. I think that's why I feel connected to Idaho. It's easy to disappear.

Are there any influences, sonically or otherwise, that are ongoing for you, in your work?

I'd say mostly water and fire. Water because it's formless and I'd die without it, and fire because it's energetic and has an outgoing spirit. Also a good meal because I'd die without it.

Are you listening to anything at the moment that you're particularly psyched on?

Etron Fou Leloublan - "Batelages", 'Pakistan Folk and Pop Instrumentals' (1966-1976), Henry Cow - "Unrest".

You're heading over to New Zealand to play Laneway Festival at the beginning of next year. What kind of live set-up do you have at the moment?

I've got a full band, and hoping someday to be able to train animals to dance. Not sure how though so I already think that's a bad idea. Playing live I always want it to be a sort of experience we have together, that unity in the crowd, like the job on stage is to help people in getting to a point where they can feel comfortable to feel something and explore their minds.

What are your future plans, throughout 2014, with the Youth Lagoon project?

After February 2014, my plan is to disappear for a while and go back into the deep and desolate writing abyss.


related gigs
Laneway Festival 2014
Mon 27th Jan, Silo Park, Auckland


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