[MUSIC: Interview] Youth Lagoon
Trevor Powers is an over-laugher. Some might attribute it to nerves, but in the hands of the 22-year-old, better known by the stage moniker Youth Lagoon, over-laughing becomes a semi-consciously employed device to put his fellow interlocutor at ease. Finding myself in this position (and similarly prone to the gratuitous guffaw), I’m grateful that Powers – the lo-fi musician whose atmospheric debut LP The Year Of Hibernation was released last year to high acclaim – is chortling so heartily. His over-laughing feeds mine, and the enthusiasm of our conversation rapidly builds until it reminds me of a pair of children playing make believe, or two old friends giddily exchanging photos of their grandkids.
It seems fitting that talking to Powers brings to mind a scenario at each end of the lifespan, given how keenly aware the Idaho native is of life’s seasons. “Youth has such an impact on the rest of your life. It is a real fork in the road that sets the stage for everything,” he says of the inspiration behind his stage name. “I started obsessing over how crucial the teenage years are. I thought of all these kids and teenagers swimming in the water hole of a small town, some with friends on a tire swing. I liked that imagery.”
The importance of adolescence notwithstanding, Powers doesn’t view the past through rose-tinted glasses. “It’s not about idealising the past,” he clarifies. “I think to grow as a person, you need to examine your past and then deal with the future. If I had to rank them in order of what I want to dwell on, it would be: the present, the future, and then the past. Sometimes I get too caught up in the future and I waste the present. It’s one of my biggest struggles. Lately, I’ve been working on focusing on the present; it is by far the most important. The past is last.” A self-conscious pause follows before Powers adds, “Does that make sense?”
It makes perfect sense, actually – especially when you watch the video Powers recently released for ‘Montana’, one of the most viscerally emotional tracks on The Year Of Hibernation. “If I was to generalise, ‘Montana’ is about loss,” Powers says. “My really good friend Tyler Williams shot the video. His interpretation of the song was so important to me because his brain is wired much more towards cinematography than mine. We met and talked about how we wanted to present the overall feeling of loss, but Tyler took it to this whole other place. He deserves the credit because he thought up this whole storyline. He came over and showed me the final product in my living room and I was like, ‘OH MY GOD DUDE THAT IS INCREDIBLE’.” With its visuals uncannily matching the affective intensity of its sound, the video for ‘Montana’ poignantly, beautifully and powerfully depicts the tangible way in which – to paraphrase the psychoanalyst Hans Loewald – ancestral ghosts from the past can continue to haunt the present. “I was surprised and speechless. He just captured it, y’know?”
‘Montana’ sounds like a hot contender for Powers’ favourite track on The Year Of Hibernation, so I’m surprised when he tells me that the honour of that title is instead held by ‘The Hunt’. “I remember different moments,” Powers details, somewhat cryptically. “I have this portable keyboard that I take to different places around town to work on my songs. When I was working on ‘The Hunt’ I was going to university. There was this room that was meant for music majors but I wasn’t a music major, so I would just sneak in. I would skip classes just so I could keep working on ‘The Hunt’ because I was so excited about it. I think that’s why I love the song so much; because I remember what classes I skipped, and it captures that moment.”
Considering the force of feeling with which tracks like ‘Montana’ and ‘The Hunt’ are imbued, I ask Powers whether he is able to distance himself from experiencing such strong emotions when he performs. “Every time I play the songs live I have to experience them again, or it just comes off as fake,” he answers. Doesn’t that make performance exhausting? “Sometimes it can be draining, but at the same time it’s beautiful. As soon as the music starts you’re in a different place. I see it as time travelling. You’re reliving things; you’re experiencing the future. Some of the songs even take me to places that I’ve [only] imagined.”
Talk of time travel and exploration of imaginative realms sounds appealing enough, yet Powers suffers from severe anxiety, about which he’s been endearingly open in past interviews. “I think everyone has anxiety,” he says. “For most people it’s about pretty normal things, but for me it’s about unreal things that don’t make sense. It’s like a nightmare. You wake up and you feel like it just happened, but it didn’t.” Surprisingly though, anxiety doesn’t feature in Powers’ response when I ask how his life has changed since the release of his much-hyped debut album. “I think that the biggest thing that surprised me was just how busy I would be,” he mutters. “Sometimes you know in life how busy you’re going to be with certain things, but you don’t really realise it until you start doing it. With me it was like a wake up call. As soon as touring and the whole cycle for this record started I was just like BAM! – so busy. But it was SO good. It’s like the exact way that I’m wired as a human being; everything that I love – playing music, playing shows, hotel rooms – everything. It’s my element.”
Wait, what? What happened to that nightmarish anxiety? “It’s funny, because when I’m in my element I still struggle with anxiety, but I know more how to deal with it,” Powers explains. “Anxiety morphs into different forms rather than ever truly going away. I still battle with it daily, but I’ve been learning more about myself; what kinds of things help, what kinds of things destroy me.” Further opportunities for self-exploration in the near future seem likely, with Powers purposefully scheduling fewer performances for the remainder of the year so he can devote his time to writing new material. But before then, he’s heading Down Under for Splendour In The Grass and a couple of sideshows – his second trip to our shores this year, following sold-out shows in February. So what is it about Australia that keeps bringing Powers back? “The people are so kind,” he enthuses. “Not that there’s not kind people elsewhere, but Australia has a totally different vibe than the rest of the world. There’s something about Australia that really hits home. I love it.”
What: The Year Of Hibernation is out now
With: Sures, Bearhug, Thruppence
Where: The Factory Theatre
When: Saturday July 28 (all-ages)
More: Also playing at Splendour In The Grass alongside Jack White, Bloc Party, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Shins, At The Drive-In, Hilltop Hoods, Gossip, Miike Snow, Azealia Banks, Lana Del Rey, Kimbra and loads more, from July 27-29 at Belongil Fields, Byron Bay.
Posted: July 17th, 2012 under Brag 471, Cover Feature, Music, Music - Interview, New.
Tags: Andrew Geeves, Bearhug, Splendour In The Grass, Sures, The Year Of Hibernation, Thruppence, Trevor Powers, Youth Lagoon