I mentioned Youth Lagoon at a party the other night and a girl screamed in my face. Then she started looking all swoony. The Year of Hibernation, Youth Lagoon’s debut LP, is doing that to a lot of people, apparently. Hype is common these days, but there is an actual bee behind this Youth Lagoon buzz. I think it moves something, somewhere, inside of everyone who hears it. Out of the music that I have heard personally, it’s safe to say The Year of Hibernation is a strong contender for album of the year. Trevor Powers has created a sound that will make people in the future say things like: “Just another Youth Lagoon sound.” Don’t believe me? Wait and see. And this kid is only like 22, or something. Doesn’t that make you feel useless? Trevor, the boy behind the good sound, agreed to answer some weird questions for me. I went at him with some literary-minded inquiries, because I don’t know the right questions to ask about music. He seemed to answer them anyway. At least halfway. Read the interview, get the album, and enrich your life. You bum.
VICE: I read a tweet you wrote the other day that went like this: “said a prayer in my car 7 months ago that people could hear this record, not sure how it could happen. Today the record is in stores <3” So, how’d that happen?
Trevor: Honestly, I have no idea. [laughs] The album was recorded in January of this year, and I never really expected much to happen with it. I was hoping that something would, but definitely wasn't expecting anything. When the album was finished, I started emailing some smaller blogs to see if they would post one of the tracks. I usually did that in between classes when I was studying English at Boise State University. The funny thing was, a lot of them didn't even write back. Some did post it, however, and from there things just seemed to grow really rapidly online. People started posting on their Tumblrs or whatever, and then it climbed the ladder online until it reached the larger websites. That's the beauty of the internet. Sure, there's a lot of disappointing aspects about the age of technology, such as people letting the internet rule their personalities, but it also allows everyone to have a voice and be heard.
At first I wanted to say the album sounds like it was recorded in my neighbor’s apartment if my neighbor’s walls, floor, and ceiling happened to be iron. But then I remembered this: I grew up on a river, and one time a barge was docked there for a month during the summer. Naturally, a couple of friends and I did some acid and climbed down into the bowels of it and shut the hatch above us. It’s nice that you decided to capture that sound on The Year of Hibernation. You’re probably sick of answering questions about that haunting sound though, right?
Well, a lot of people ask questions about it, and I'm never quite sure how to answer them. It's just how I pictured this record sounding. When I was writing these songs, I pictured them sounding blurry and hazy—not crystal clear. I feel like one should always let the music do what it wants. What I mean by that is, if something is forced or someone is trying so hard to sound a certain way, usually others can tell, and it doesn't sound honest in the least. But if you listen to the music—really feel it—and do whatever it is directing you to do, that is when it truly seems to speak.
You were studying English lit before this whole thing took off, right? Rather than in stanzas or whatever, your lyrics were presented to me in paragraph form, and the first thing I thought of was Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson. A few of the tracks on here could actually work pretty damn well as pieces of fiction. You ever read that book? Do you write fiction?
I have heard a lot about that book, but have yet to read it. Now I will. As far as writing fiction, I have dabbled in it. Not anything strict, but it is fun to create characters in writing and give them their own lives and personalities.
What comes first, the music or the lyrics? Just wondering, because you do a great job of making word-sounds that do not sound like sounds made for each other.
It depends. Most of the time I work on both at the same time. Often it starts with having a feeling, frustration, memory, or whatever, in my mind, and I'll sit down at a piano and try to translate that into music. I know that sounds vague but it's something that can be difficult to describe. I'll mess around with melodies and putting lyrics to them, but a lot of it is just a process. Sometimes the most difficult yet beneficial part of writing music is recognizing when pieces don't work and knowing when to throw them away.
As a newly-born star in the music world, do people offer you a lot of sex and drugs? Just checking in to make sure that still goes down. I’d hate to see anything happen to that fine tradition.
Most of that is definitely available if you want it, but choosing to indulge in it is a different story. [laughs]
This is probably my own fucked-up head, but I hear the song “Cannons” as a suicide note. Something about the lyrics “rolling up the windows” and “you will never talk me out of it” give me that impression. Do you like A Confederacy of Dunces? The guy who wrote that “rolled up his windows.” But then I read the lyrics again and I can see that it probably means just the opposite. That’s negative capability, something I find to be important yet uneasy to pull off. Or am I just way, way off on this? That happens a lot.
I wrote “Cannons” after getting into an argument with someone. That argument took me back to a different time in my life that made me remember you are only held back from accomplishing something if you let yourself be. That mentality may sound cheesy, but in this case, it was extremely applicable. That was one song in particular where I think I wrote the entire thing in about one sitting. Most of my music is never like that.
Last and most frequently asked question: What's next?
A lot of hard work. I'm going to be touring for this album a lot. I'm also constantly writing and working on different ideas. So I guess all of that blended together.
Previously - Litter