The Person and the Persona

by John W. W. Zeiser

Trevor Powers of Youth Lagoon on bedrooms, complacency, and his new album Savage Hills Ballroom
“Going into this album it was like a subconscious rebellion,” says Trevor Powers, better known as Youth Lagoon. He’s telling me this from his home in Boise, Idaho where he’s gearing up to tour for his new album, Savage Hills Ballroom, to be released September 25. He and I had been talking about the frequent use of the word “bedroom” to describe his music, and it’s clear he has heard the description one too many times, “I’ve always hated that term,” he laughs. “It’s bullshit. I feel like I’m presented as this man who has no friends, who is constantly locking myself in the back room of my house.”

It’s a lot easier to interpret creativity when it has a background or fits into an archetype. So, when you release two critically acclaimed albums from the American hinterland before turning twenty-five and don’t depart for a New York or Los Angeles, writers start to build their story.

Further fueling this vision of the recluse was the canceling of half of his tour (for second album Wondrous Bughouse) after a friend in Boise drowned tragically in a local river. He returned to Boise to attend the funeral and to reexamine what Youth Lagoon meant to him. If “The Knower,” and “Highway Patrol Stun Gun,”--the first two tracks released from his forthcoming album--are any indication, he is no recluse pining in his bedroom; he’s an artist who wants deeply to connect with the world and to confront it.

Part of this newfound outlook is a reaction to complacency, both personally and musically. “The reason I approached this album a little bit differently was really to get me out of my comfort zone,” he explains. For example, on “The Knower,” which was released as a free 7” in July, there’s a newfound urgency in the lyrics. His warbling, delicate tenor opens with “Oh, everyone wants to think that they’re not what they ate, that their body’s great.” Powers isn’t holding punches as thunderclap drums and an uplifting horn arrangement drive the song beyond the confines of the bedroom.

When I asked him how he liked being able to return to Boise, he tells me “My wife and I have a couple of dogs and we have our own domestic experience. It’s such a nice place to come back and disappear.” But, if you’re not careful, he warns,“If you don’t push yourself outside of Boise,” you can become complacent. To combat his own complacency, this winter, after writing the songs in Boise, Powers decamped to Bristol, England to record the new album with producer Ali Chant at Toybox Studios.

The South West of England is full of Romantic history; poet laureate Robert Southey was born there; and it was where Coleridge and Wordsworth published Lyrical Ballads. I asked him how he liked Bristol, his response: “It was badass,” he exclaims. “I was there in January and February of this year, and it was constantly gloomy and overcast. It made a really great mood for just being in a studio.”

Unlike Powers' previous two records, this one is being promoted as a collection of ten songs, he explains, “each song had its own life and I wasn’t really concerned with making an album per se but rather making songs.” Still, the collection works together, something he’s quite proud of: “It says exactly what it needs to say. It’s a perfect representation of everything I was trying to express.”

After having to abort his last tour, Powers is excited to get back on the road. “I love dirty bathrooms. I love airports. I love scummy hotels. Everything about it is my vibe,” he says. It’s the role he was born to play. Perhaps that is the persona that best fits the artist. Not one of seclusion, but of the wanderer who loves to be lost in the world at large but always knows when it’s time to go home.