Why Trevor Powers Had to 'Murder' Youth Lagoon In Order To Find Himself

ISSUE 20 2018 - PRESS PHOTO
Chris Schoonover
Trevor Powers

Trevor Powers is on a sweltering walk through his neighborhood in Boise, Idaho when he calls to discuss his recently released Mulberry Violence. “It’s brutal outside,” he says, explaining that most of the trees in the area are newly planted so there’s little to no shade. But, that being said, he’s happy to be home: “It’s nice to have some time to myself -- a little bit more time to disappear,” he says.

On Sept. 26, the 29-year-old solo artist will head out on his first tour under his real name since retiring his moniker of Youth Lagoon in 2015. As Youth Lagoon, Powers put out three successful alternative albums, two of which landed on the Top Rock Albums chart. So, it came as a shock to fans when he then decided to “murder the project” for good.

“It was a filter,” he says of the name. “the kind of thing where it wasn’t ever supposed to continue.” He adds: “The name Youth Lagoon was more of a reflection, looking back on what was.” But now, after three years spent traveling and writing, the experimental artist’s new album of digitally distorted instrumentation accented by his high-ranging vocals shows a truer version of himself.

What’s it like whenever you come back home?

Most of my buddies still live here, almost everyone. That’s been a huge reason why I’m still here. There’s so much traveling that when I come back to the place I call home I really just want to sink into my pillow and relax for a bit and have space and silence to create. But then also, have people that I’ve known since I was a kid where you don’t have to have any awkward catch ups you just go get a couple whiskeys and hang out and if you’re not in the mood to talk you don’t have to. That’s Boise to me. If it wasn’t for me venturing out into the discomfort all the time, it could be destructive [to live here] because then I’m not really pushing myself -- but when I finally get back home, all I want is the other side of the spectrum.

How does it feel to be releasing music under your own name for the first time -- do you feel more exposed or vulnerable?

Absolutely. There’s nothing to hide behind. That was also equally the motivation in doing that, because this isn’t a project that I ever want to kill. Since it’s my own name, I knew that that would make it way more open ended to where no one could ever say, ‘This doesn’t sound like Trevor Powers,’ because it is me. There’s no front. I like that pressure to it, where I knew if I made this step there was no going back. It allowed for way more evolution.

What concerns did you have about changing your name?

My main fear is that people would view this as a going solo-sort of deal, when that was never the case since Youth Lagoon was always just my deal too. So really all it was was killing one entity and starting another one that was much more broad and didn’t have as many traffic cones pointing me in a specific way.

The most important thing to me is always really doing what I want to do and hoping that other people are along for the ride. But really, if they’re not, I’m still going to be going on that train whether or not they hop on or off. There has to be that self-fulfillment and self-satisfaction when I wake up every morning knowing that I’m on the train I need to be on.

The new music you’ve released is your most experimental, how did you push yourself in the studio?

A lot of it came from the actual environment that I was in. I went to record at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas, about an hour outside of El Paso in the middle of a 2,300-acre pecan orchard. And because of the setting, there was nothing else to do except work on music. It really fucks with your brain in a lot of ways. You could go for a walk in the sun or ride a bike through the orchard, but you can only do that for so long before you actually want to get back to making music. So it ended up forcing out all these ideas that I don’t think would’ve come to be [otherwise].

What influenced the sound of this album?

I’ve always been into experimental music, but especially over the last few years there’s been more and more of that, more and more of those rabbit holes I’ve been going down. Laurie Spiegel is so brilliant, and when I listen to anything that she has ever touched it instantly makes me want to start composing. The experimental realm is truly endless, and that’s why I’m so attracted to it. You can always pull from pop or things that are a little more accessible and instantaneous, and the product is always something that is at least thought provoking.

You also started your own label called Baby Halo, what led to that?

It started as soon as I finished this record, because really what it came down to was realizing how much I had already invested into the album. It was self-funded: I wrote it over the period of about two years, and when I went to Sonic Ranch and properly put everything into place, that was all self-funded; music videos were all self-funded. I was already so deep into the mindset of being financially attached to it that I didn’t feel comfortable giving it to someone in the industry who possibly would want to change something, and then also have a say in all of it. It felt a little bit icky to me, at least for this album.

What are your plans for the label moving forward?

I really haven’t though beyond [this project]. I’ve been so consumed with trying to get all the immediate things done. It would be cool to be able to do more and move forward with it in a way that encompasses more artists, but right now I have to focus on purely this album.

Why did you decide to evolve your look along with the music?

I got to know an art director named Baptiste Bernazeau online, and from the very beginning I knew he was the one I wanted to create the visual world around Mulberry Violence -- he created all the album art, packaging, posters, almost every single thing related to the visual side of the record. He is such an important part to what this album is.

All that stuff is just as important as the music, and I want it all to say the same thing. If you focus so much on what your specific craft is but you forget about the packaging and how you’re presenting it to the world, then I believe you’re missing out on at least 50 percent of the picture. This [project] was really diving full on into [the fact that] the visual side is just as important as the audio side and anything that I’m saying through the music. It makes it way more substantial, and that’s what I want.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 25 issue of Billboard.