Q&A: Trevor Powers Explores the Electronic Depths of Youth Lagoon
By Adam Valeiras on December 5, 2011
If bands like Modest Mouse, Radiohead, and My Bloody Valentine led the transition from grunge to indie rock, then it’s artists like TV On the Radio, Bradford Cox and, well, Radiohead again, that are doing the same—only from indie rock to electronic this time. But does that mean indie rock is dead? Not really, it’s just on a decline of sorts. Not everyone is going to stop playing guitar or banging on drum kits, but the changes are noticeable. Examples: Bon Iver’s second album, Sufjan Stevens' most recent. Even Wilco’s new album has strong electronic influences. The smaller, newer groups are further proof of this transition, and one particularly talented artist is Trevor Powers, who writes and performs under the moniker Youth Lagoon.
Powers released his first two tracks, “July” and “Montana,” only a year ago and since then, he has been on the road non-stop. In September, Youth Lagoon released its debut album, The Year of Hibernation. At its surface, the album is catchy, simple, sweet and all-around comfortable through its non-complex instrumentals, made up of electronic piano, guitar and synthesized percussion. At its core, an innocent, thought-provoked mind shares through music what it can’t in conversation. We are hearing the most intimate insights on Trevor Powers’ self, and societal, assessments. Right before catching him live in Atlanta, FILTER got a chance to talk with Powers about the band’s past, its debut and his directional plans for Youth Lagoon.
These last few months must have been pretty crazy, what with the release of your debut and extensive touring.
Trevor Powers: Yeah, definitely. Day to day, it's been moving really fast. It's hard to keep up.
What has been the most surreal moment of your music career so far? Does anything stand out in particular?
I'd have to say the first time in New York City was pretty spectacular. That was in September and it was crazy 'cause I've always wanted to go there. Just to show up and play a show there the first time and have it be really special—especially when you see so many people come out to your show.
Youth Lagoon's fast rise in popularity can be attributed, at least a little bit, to the massive amount of online hype the band has received. Do you think that, nowadays, the Internet is a pretty necessary thing for this to be achieved?
Yeah, I think in this day and age, it's something that is necessary, and it's hard to realize that because technology is advancing so much. And there are more and more aspects of the Internet that are kind of smothering. The cell phone has kind of taken the personality out of things, and everyone is chained to this second world of technology at all times. It's kind of a weird scary thing. And then at the same time, it's really cool because it gives artists, or more specifically myself, a way for a mass amount of people at one time to hear what you are working on.
Was there any moment in particular when you could tell that people had become familiar with Youth Lagoon?
Yeah. The very first song I put online was "July," and I guess when "July" ended up making it onto Pitchfork. For a guy like me—I had zero P.R., I had just found a manager right around that point—that was a big deal. But, yeah, with no P.R. and no one really pushing anything, for me to climb up the ladder and [have my music] posted on larger websites, it was really like, "Wow!," you know? It was a really humbling thing to have something you created being spread just kind of by word of mouth.
Do you feel like a lot of these media sources are accurate in their portrayal of you and your music?
I'd say, for the most part, yeah, but there are some things that kind of get twisted here and there. I always try to do interviews whenever I can so that I can speak about myself. But, for instance, I didn't actually record the record in my bedroom. I wrote all the songs that I worked on in my bedroom, but I recorded at a friend's house over Christmas break from Boise State. And it was something that I really put a lot of effort into. I didn't just like say, "Oh, let's record something in my bedroom." It was something that I really put a lot of myself into.
Does your album title, The Year of Hibernation, allude to an actual period of time spent in isolation?
It wasn't so much a physical thing as a mental thing. In 2010, I was really busy with school, I had [the Youth Lagoon project] in mind, and during my free time I'd come home and do homework... I had a job, too. I would write music when I found time. My girlfriend was working 50 hours a week, so I wasn't really seeing her. There was this whole mess of life, being caught up and busy, that it almost caused a sense of being by myself even when I was with people. It sounds weird, but I had this whole different world going on in my mind. And I was still seeing people, but I felt mentally isolated. I could be hanging out with people, but have a whole different world going on in my head. Sometimes I’d be really talkative, and sometimes really, really reserved. It's just coming to terms with that.
Now that you've been working with others—playing your solo-written songs onstage with another member—do you think you could see yourself writing new material in the future with other musicians? Or is Youth Lagoon going to stay a Trevor Powers project?
Honestly, I'm just at the beginning of things really starting to happen, and it's something that I really want to keep mine, you know? And not in a selfish way; music is the way I communicate, and at times, adding a whole band to the creative process… It can be a really good thing for some people, but music is a really intimate thing for me. I definitely see myself adding more live players and stuff, but the actual writing process is such an intimate thing, I definitely want to keep it myself.
So, looking towards the future, what do you think it's going be like, with your career shifting from writing songs that you thought no one would hear to writing songs that you know a ton of people will hear?
At first, it was kind of scary because I never expected anything from this record and it's this thing that I did for myself, you know? And so, at first it was pretty overwhelming, but knowing that eyes are on me now and people are watching, I've been working on new ideas and stuff. It's so easy to get caught up in the mindset of, "What will other people think?" That kind of thing. But, I've slowly been able to realize that the reason I started this in the first place was to make something special to me. These songs mean something to me. I've come back to that, and I've been working on new ideas for the future, zoning out everything else, and really coming back to where I was when writing this first record. But I don't think you should ever try and outdo any of your previous work. Like when I put out my next record, I, in no way, want to outdo the first. It's just the next step. It's realizing why I do this in the first place. Music means so much to me, so I have to zone out all these things that are going on around me.
So the music should change as you change, not as your fans change?
Yeah, exactly. You nailed it. Your music should never stay stagnant and the same. As a human being you're around different things, you're around different people, you're growing up—all this different type of stuff. As you change, your music will change also. And it's so easy to get caught up in the whole fake part of the music world where, so quickly, it's not even about the music anymore. Most people start listening to and writing music because the songs actually meant something to them, so it's about just trying to keep hold of that aspect. F
Youth Lagoon has tour dates scheduled for the beginning of 2012, and for more information, including where you can grab a copy of The Year of Hibernation, head over to Fat Possum.