Trevor Powers chats about his real life inspired songs and how writing them helped him get through a tough year
“Sadness is a blessing,” sang Lykke Li, on her superlative sophomore album, ‘Wounded Rhymes’. And indeed a look at the music charts today puts paid to the notion of pop music being a shiny, happy beast. Two of the biggest hits of the year so far have been heartbroken odes to past loves (Adele’s “Someone Like You” and Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games”). A worthy addition to the lexicon of ecstatically sad albums (see also Perfume Genius and Coma Cinema) is the debut album from Boise, Idaho native, Youth Lagoon AKA 22-year old Trevor Powers. Preceded by the viral hit, ‘July’, ‘Year of Hibernation’ is an intimate musical journal of snatched moments and conversations from Power’s past, filtered through a particularly affecting widescreen sound.
The unanimous praise for his debut has seen things accelerate for Powers (with a forthcoming European tour in February) but he’s keeping a level head: “I think an important aspect in all of it was that I never did write this album for critics. I wrote it for myself. That's the way whatever I create will always be. For me, if I ever lost that, I'd be pissing my life away.”
Dazed Digital: Can you tell us a little bit about the year of hibernation you went through that inspired the album title?
Youth Lagoon: It wasn't necessarily a physical sense of hibernating, although that occurred to a certain extent when working on these songs, but more a mental state. These songs were written while I was attending Boise State University in '10, and it was a really difficult year for me. I was going through a lot of turmoil mentally and because of that, even when I was with people, I felt a sense of isolation. Sometimes my thinking won't turn off and because of that, it takes me to strange places and I have to struggle with it to keep it from going down any rabbit holes.
I made it my goal to start writing music seriously and just let music take me where it wants to. It's strange how things happen… sometimes when we are at our weakest, there is a hand that guides us to a much better place. That was the case for me. I had been getting my education for years, which in of itself is a great thing, but had all this pressure as to what my life needed to look like and I didn't want any part of it but at the time, I had no idea how to escape it. That was my hibernation. But I'm waking up now.
DD: The album has a fuzzy, intimate, lo-fi feel – what were some of the bands you were listening to that inspired the sound of the album?
Youth Lagoon: I was listening a lot to Cocteau Twins. I found their songwriting and recording techniques extremely interesting, and just started learning there are thousands of ways to record one song. The key is finding the way that is appropriate for each one, or an album in general. I think with these groups of songs, the way they are recorded are the way they want to speak. A more modern artist I was listening to heavily, was Deerhunter. I think Bradford Cox's musical ability is astounding and definitely inspirational.
DD: Are the songs inspired by events and emotions you experienced in your real life?
Youth Lagoon: Definitely. Usually when I write, I come from a personal perspective. Even if it is a distant idea, it is still something that has been mulled over in my own brain and interpreted.
DD: How did you find taking these painfully personal songs and presenting it to a wider audience?
Youth Lagoon: It was weird at first. Music comes from a really personal place inside, and to let it boil out of you into a glass that everyone can sip out of is strange; but there's something special and intimate about writing music in secret and then sitting up on a stage and sharing it. It's exciting, and I've fallen in love with it. And to know that a recorded piece of music lives on forever is also a beautiful thing.
DD: Are you writing any new music and how are different are the songs sounding now?
Youth Lagoon: I'm always trying to write, but on the road I can't…which is difficult for me. There's too many people around and too much going on. For me, writing is a really isolated process, and in order to do so, I have to be living and spending some time at home. Since I've been back from the November tour, I've had a lot of new ideas. I can't say yet what direction these new songs are taking, but I just want to let them go where they want. I'm really excited.