Youth Lagoon comes out of hibernation in Tel Aviv

US dreamscape rocker Trevor Powers finds his one-man musical project enhanced by new band mates.

Youth Lagoon mastermind Trevor Powers 370 (photo credit: Courtesy PR)
Youth Lagoon mastermind Trevor Powers 370
(photo credit: Courtesy PR)
For someone with the reputation of being closed and withdrawn – after all, his 2011 debut album was called The Year of Hibernation – Trevor Powers, the mastermind of one-man musical project Youth Lagoon, seems positively sociable.
“Nice to talk to you, man, I’m doin’ really good,” the 24-year-old Powers energetically piped into the phone, speaking from Phoenix, Arizona, where Youth Lagoon was performing earlier this month in the midst of a two-month tour that will bring the band to the Barbie Club in Tel Aviv on November 5.
Ostensibly an elaborate solo project of expansive but lo-fi dreamy pop in the tradition of The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, Youth Lagoon has evolved from the ideas floating around Powers’ fertile mind that resulted in Hibernation and this year’s acclaimed follow-up Wondrous Bughouse into a full-blown touring band that is apparently knocking them dead.
Reviewing a September show in Cambridge, Massachussetts, The Tufts Daily wrote: “Youth Lagoon’s stop in Cambridge this week was a sign of Powers’ growth and maturity as a songwriter, arranger and performer.
He has just begun to look outward, beyond the confines of his bedroom. The result is live orchestrations that are loud, powerful and demand to be heard... time and again, timid starts gave way to sprawling catharsis, which usually led to a final calm exhale. Between the head-bobbing waves of sound that enveloped the club, there was always time to breathe – just another reason why the performance was so successful.”
For Powers, the opportunity to hear his elaborate compositions performed in a threepiece band setting has been both stimulating and liberating.
“The shows have been going really well, and the music is that much more physical when it’s performed live,” said the Boise, Idaho native. “I’ve always loved playing live, because the creative process is so different than recording. With a record, it’s like, ‘ok, this is what I want to present to the world.’ And then when you go out play live, there are so many different interpretations and spins you can put on it.
“Each night, I try to keep the songs fresh for myself by doing things a little differently each time.”
Drummer Eric Rogers and Jake Warnak have proven to be up for the task of following the nightly excursions of Powers, who has been described as mad professor with flowing hair, hunched behind a battery of keyboards.
And Powers has, for his part, given up some of the all-encompassing control he’s held on his music until now.
“The biggest thing going into touring for this record was to find musicians I could trust and who would add something to the process, and they certainly do that,” said Powers.
“Initially I may constantly give direction – it has to be this way – but then when it changes, it’s sometimes for the better. So many times, we’ll be experimenting on stage and someone will do something that causes me to go ‘Wow – you need to do that every time from now on!’ – something moving that connect me or the audience with the song.”
If Powers’ musical philosophy seems to be to capture the elusive spiritual quality when it rears its head, his music and lyrics also attempt to get beyond the mundane into otherworldliness. The songs on The Year of Hibernation were based around the idea of psychological dysphoria, a state of mental discomfort, with Powers documenting what was inside his mind in a process he described in his biography (released by his record company Fat Possum records) as “my mind communicating with me, not the other way around... it can take me to scary places but I’ve realized those bizarre thoughts I have don’t define me.”
Wondrous Bughouse, an outdated slang term for an insane asylum, was his attempt to blend the metaphysical universe with pop music with the writer “becoming more fascinated with the human psyche and where the spiritual meets the physical world.”
“Youth Lagoon is something so personal to me because writing music is how I sort my thoughts, as well as where I transfer my fears,” Powers said in the bio. “My mental state is usually pretty sporadic... a lot of this record was influenced by a fear of mortality but embracing it at the same time... I’m not a gifted speaker, so explaining things is difficult for me. But music always makes sense.”
That explains why Powers began to write and record music solely for his own edification three years ago, writing in his Boise home and recording the songs at a friend’s nearby studio. He laughed about published reports that he recorded Hibernation in his bedroom, a misnomer that launched a thousand headlines – From Bedroom to Buzz band.
“No, it was actually a professional studio and professional engineer. Even though he was a friend of mine, I still had to pay him,” laughed Powers.
“I did it completely for myself – maybe I had these goals and hopes that I submerged because I didn’t want to be disappointed in case other people never ended up hearing it.
That’s the way I approach music in general – I have thoughts I need to express, and only hope that other people can relate to it.”
Indie label Fat Possum heard his potential and released Hibernation as is, and Powers/ Youth Lagoon indeed became a buzz band.
Two days before arriving in Israel, the band will be performing at the trendy Pitchfork Festival in Paris.
For Powers, the fact that he can tour Europe for a month and has fans even in far-flung Israel is something he’s not ready to take for granted.
“It’s so surprising and fascinating for me, and I’m thankful for it daily,” he said. “If you had told me four years ago that I would be playing in Israel and there were actually going to be people coming out to see me, I would have laughed.”