“My neighbours think I’m psycho.” Youth Lagoon on his writing process and putting himself out of his comfort zone for third studio album Savage Hills Ballroom, out September 25 on Fat Possum Records
“If you like London, you’ll love New York. I mean obviously they’re completely different in some ways, but they have very similar heartbeats. [New York] is so badass, you would love it. Go tomorrow! Go tomorrow!”
Before my conversation with Trevor Powers, AKA Youth Lagoon, over the phone whilst he was in his hometown of Boise, Idaho, I was prepared for quite a softly-spoken, reserved-yet-endearing character, and although the latter was definitely true of his character, Powers had such an instantly-likeable modesty, I honestly didn’t want our conversation to end.
Back in July SPIN interviewed Powers, when he spoke of the tragic loss of his close friend in the summer of 2013, whilst he was touring his second album Wondrous Bughouse. This horrific experience led Powers to bond with Ali Chant, a producer based in Bristol, who’s previously worked with Perfume Genius and Gruff Rhys, after Chant was also grieving a close friend – Nick Talbot AKA Gravenhurst.
Although this grief had been a deep and prominent part of Savage Hills Ballroom’s origin and development, I felt it was a better time than any to look forward, and I sensed during our conversation that Powers was feeling the same, “I’m the kind of person that just tries to live in the present. And I’m obsessed with the future.”
Powers is a 26 year old who, like any other musician, lives with demons, insecurities and a feeling of uneasiness. However, in Powers’ case, this uneasiness is used as a source of inspiration, and he enjoys putting himself into further unease, in order to learn and grow. As quoted on the Fat Possum website, Powers explains “I’ve never felt truly comfortable. It’s this feeling of uneasiness that follows me everywhere I go because my thoughts never shut up. It used to exhaust me, but I’ve learned discomfort is invaluable. Safety makes us numb. It’s when we find ourselves in territories we’re unfamiliar with that we can really grow.”
Powers seems to have grown up a hell of a lot since his delicately-haunting debut The Year of Hibernation, and controlling his obsessive tendencies through long runs and “using a friend’s sensory deprivation tank, where he would float on top of saltwater for at least an hour at a time”, Powers has new-found tranquility. Written over the course of a year, and with the absence of deadlines or pressure, Savage Hills Ballroom promises to be a much more approachable, thoughtful and rounded body of work. “I’ve noticed that with creativity, or really anything where you’re really trying to express yourself, if you give it a date, it just makes everything shitty…Music is a way for me to express my world view, in the way that I see other people, and things I see other people doing.”
Powers’ writing habits consisted of writing indoors for hours on end, taking long walks around Boise to clear his head, and very late-night/early-morning drives – which may have woken the neighbours up on countless occasions – “I think my neighbours think I’m psycho.”
‘The Knower’, ‘Highway Patrol Stun Gun’ and ‘Rotten Human’ are the three singles released so far from Savage Hills Ballroom. ‘Rotten Human’ is the most-recent release, exploring the unwarranted and unchallenged trust that the public have for pharmaceutical companies, and in a more general sense – society’s norms, “Our food’s diseased by altered seeds and dyes. So we take a pill and trust the doctor’s lies”.
Powers has developed a way of dealing with testing life events and turning them into inspiration through reflection: “If I’m inspired by a life event or go through something sort of traumatic, I evaluate it by taking 10 steps back, you know. And kinda looking at the bigger picture. It’s sort of me just evaluating everything.”
The true experimentation involved in the production of Wondrous Bughouse – Powers’ second LP – fulfilled the ‘second album’ cliches, in that it took Youth Lagoon down a beautiful yet overgrown path, with distortions and acid-trip-inducing layers of sound, however, it may not have catered to the indie-loving audience Powers acquired during The Year of Hibernation period. But Powers assures me that he regrets none of his artistic work: “People always ask too if there are regrets, on albums, or if I could go back to change things would I. And I would absolutely not. In life in general, there are many things I regret, but in not in my music.”
Although Savage Hills Ballroom is not quite as spontaneously-experimental as Wondrous Bughouse, Powers believes he still pushed himself musically for it: “I’m not a very technology-driven person. So I had to really put myself out of my comfort zone and learn shit that I had no idea how to do before. Lots of new programming stuff. Just really trying to make myself feel as uncomfortable as possible.”
Art isn’t about the artist, it’s really about pushing an idea forward, and seeing how other people interpret it.
Powers’ maturity shines through as he speaks of his lack of anxiety when it comes to people’s reactions about the new record: “You never know how people will interpret your work, and that’s really the beauty of art. Art isn’t about the artist, it’s really about pushing an idea forward, and seeing how other people interpret it.”
Powers tells me the last time he played London was at Islington Assembly Hall over 2 years ago, and now he is back to play the much larger venue XOYO on September 24th. Youth Lagoon will look a lot different live this time round – they have a “whole new live-band”, who are all close to Powers, two of which are friends from Boise. The band are taking rehearsals for the upcoming shows very seriously, and a mesmerising live show is definitely on the cards.
Savage Hills Ballroom is released September 25, through Fat Possum Records, and is set to be Youth Lagoon’s most complex and exciting project to date.
Live: XOYO – September 24th (Kelly Lee Owens Supports)