YOUTH LAGOON RETURNS
After a seven-year hiatus, Trevor Powers touches grass with the revival of his neo-psychedelic project
WORDS BY BRONTE CRONSBERRY | BOISE | ALT.ITUDE
JUN 25, 2023 | ISSUE 12
Youth Lagoon The Sling photo by Tyler T Williams
“There was so much numbness and the more that the numbness goes away, the more I see beauty in everything” Trevor Powers
After a seven-year hiatus, Boise-based Trevor Powers has returned to Youth Lagoon with the release of Heaven Is a Junkyard. Powers moved on from the creative outlet in 2015, writing at the time that “there is nothing left to say through Youth Lagoon”. His return to the project is an insightful meditation on personal struggle and a shift in mental perspective during his hiatus. Deeply fascinated with the psychological, psychedelic, and spiritual recesses of the creative mind, Heaven is the realisation by Powers that Youth Lagoon still has much more to say.
Powers has been making music under his own name since the 2015 release of Savage Hills Ballroom — the last album released as Youth Lagoon — but in 2021 his artistic output was interrupted by a health crisis. A reaction to an over-the-counter medication caused him to temporarily lose his ability to speak, leading to a lengthy battle to reclaim his health and the ability to perform. The scorching influence of that experience lingers throughout Heaven, most notably in the track “Trapeze Artist”, and seems to underpin the shifts that led Powers to return to Youth Lagoon.
Heavily inspired by cinematic influences, the music videos that accompany Heaven provide a kaleidoscopic refraction of this album’s vision, and the latest evolution of Youth Lagoon’s aesthetic. Peppered with dramatic shots of middle-American wastelands, picturesque fields of the rural outback, and tired-looking streets, the visual landscape of the music videos both compare and contrast the album’s eclectically assembled soundscape. Desolate and parched landscapes appear throughout these videos, often traversed by Powers’s frail figure in pursuit of phantoms and memories that seem more real than the landscape. Altogether, it’s harder now to determine where Powers ends and Youth Lagoon begins, but the project nevertheless remains committed to the experimental sound and outlaw-ethos that engendered the pre-hiatus work.
Youth Lagoon - photo by Tyler T Williams
sM | In your commentary about getting over the block to writing “Prizefighter” you said there was this voice that said “Don’t make it great, make it true.” How does that reflect what you value most now in terms of creative output, and how have the last eight years pushed you in that direction?
TP ─ I see truth in music as something that is inscrutable, right? You write something down, you’re not even sure why it makes sense, but it just does. I’ve been able to find these spaces in my mind where I can access those moments, because they really are moments. I might have one thing that is true and that might be the only thing for the whole month, even with me working every day. So I have to really put in the time to get all the bad ideas out of my system so that I can find the one remnant of truth, write that down, capture it, and then move on until I can find the next thing. In truth is greatness, and so you can’t really have one without the other. But if you’re trying to just make something great, you would just be doing it for the wrong reasons; there’s a kind emptiness or this void that goes along with that. Whereas, if you just pursue truth, then you check the box of greatness without really trying.
sM | One of the things that’s striking both in the lyrics of a few songs on Heaven — and much more in the music videos that have been released — is the sprawling landscape that they’re describing. You’ve always sort of written about “far away things,” but here your gaze is returning to your immediate surroundings. What’s changed for you regarding the relationship between the internal phantom world, and the external landscape you’re exploring in this album?
TP ─ The word ‘phantom’ is so important because you sense something is there, but when you reach out your hand, you can’t feel anything physically─you feel something spiritually. That’s where my life keeps taking me, to these places where there’s─you can call it god, you can call it nature, the great unknown, the veil. But it’s all really this unified thing and no one knows what the fuck it is. Some people don’t even recognize its existence, while other people devote their whole life to chasing whatever that thing is. I’m one of those people. I sense this endless love or this wholeness, this peace, this harmony, the more that I can spend time in quiet places. So I’ve been making it a huge point in my life lately, at least once a day, sometimes twice a day, to just sit in a room. I keep talking about meditation, but just closing my eyes and being still, being away from distraction, being away from everything that we only think the world is, this physical place. But the more that I keep going inside, into this endless void, it just keeps giving me so much in return. A huge thing is this feeling of wholeness, and I don’t know if I’ll ever know what that is, but the more time I devote to that unknown territory, the more it gives my life in return.
sM | You’re going back on tour, at least under the banner of Youth Lagoon, for the first time in a long time. In the time that’s elapsed since, you’ve changed in subtle and major ways, and your fans have changed along with you. As you’re preparing to perform songs from across your entire catalog, what’s been going through your mind in terms of how lyrics that you wrote over a decade ago have changed?
TP ─ You know, it’s crazy how much I still stand by every single thing I’ve written in my past even though I might not be the same person when I sing it, but because a previous version of myself wrote it, it still holds true. I still sense this spark and this life in it. I was kind of nervous to go back to some of this older material and think, how do I wanna rework this? Or do I want to rework it? Do I want to present it exactly as is? But yeah, it was pretty wild because as soon as we got into playing this stuff, it could come out today and it still feels true.
sM | The music videos look incredible─“The Sling” in particular has a Terrence Malick-type Americana quality to it. As you were writing the songs on this album, what visual landscape were you envisioning and how did these visions translate to the shared universe of these videos?
TP ─ I always saw it in my head as I was writing because I think constantly in terms of visual imagery, and I would say I’m way more inspired by filmmakers than musicians. Don’t get me wrong, I listen to a lot of music, but with music, there’s kind of a cap on how much you can listen to something before, as a musician, you start pulling from it, you start stealing from it, and I don’t ever want that. So I can watch movies all day long and steal from them constantly because it’s a different medium. You can play with them in new ways where it’s actually not theft─you’re creating its own identity. I’ll watch so many things, and it’ll give me either emotional ammunition or just mental pictures to play with, and then I take that into my music and it instantly gives me so much to work with. I would say it’s that, combined with the scenery that I’m surrounded by on a daily basis throughout my neighbourhood. I used to only pull from things that were far away because that, to me, seemed more interesting. The more present that I became as a person, the more I realised the most exciting thing is next door or right down the street. I was like, what kind of interesting thing could I find from home? You could have a life’s worth of inspiration just on your fucking street if you only paid attention. And I was never paying attention.