Youth Lagoon on His Recent Resurgence and “Heaven Is a Junkyard” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, December 4th, 2023  

Youth Lagoon on His Recent Resurgence and “Heaven Is a Junkyard”

Finding Yourself Amidst Physical and Mental Turmoil

Jun 29, 2023 Photography by Tyler T. Williams Web Exclusive
Bookmark and Share

It’s been a long time since the last Youth Lagoon album. After a couple of albums under his real name, Trevor Powers, the Boise indie-folk artist has resuscitated the project that earned him a spotlight in the first place. In October 2021, a life-changing event brought the importance of Youth Lagoon into focus. Powers took an over-the-counter medication that nearly rendered him speechless, coating his larynx and making singing feel like a distant dream.

On Heaven Is a Junkyard, the first Youth Lagoon album since 2015, Powers sounds grateful for recovery. “My voice is gone/It used to be so strong,” he sings over plaintive piano chords in “Trapeze Artist.” Like the most adroit trapeze artists, Powers has found his footing again, unearthing the power of rest and coming back stronger than ever.

Grant Sharples (Under the Radar): How does it feel to release the first Youth Lagoon album in eight years?

Trevor Powers: It feels absolutely bizarre, but also, it’s so beyond words. Years ago, I never would have thought that my life would be in this place. I feel like I’ve surely become a different version of myself. A lot of people say that. I probably have thought that in my life before, but this is the first time that it’s actually the case. I’ve had so many situations happen in life that have taken me to this moment, and music has helped me not only stay sane throughout all of it but also stay alive throughout all of it. For quite some time, I was in a dark place.

Was there a kind of comfort and lightness when coming back to Youth Lagoon?

I want to say comfort, but it felt horrifying to be honest. When I killed off the moniker, that’s when I experienced comfort. I had always done a lot of exploring different parts of my brain, but Youth Lagoon became such a chokehold on who I was as a person because of what I was putting onto it, and the stress that I was putting on what those two words meant. After a while, I felt like one of those monkeys with cymbals. Because I kept experimenting and doing all kinds of shit under the use of that name, people wanted just one thing from me. And it turns out, it drove me fucking bananas because that’s not the way I work. It’s not the way I write. When I killed off the moniker, that was absolutely necessary for me to get to know myself and move forward because it allowed me to explore these new paths without eyes being on me. I never thought I would go back to the use of this moniker. But I ended up going through some health issues, I had all these things in life that called me at the same time. Then there was one song that I wrote, “Idaho Alien,” which was a turning point. It felt like a brand-new project.

The truest form of self-love was accepting these parts of myself that I had discarded. That’s when everything aligned, and everything started snapping into place with what this album is.

Is that newfound self-love part of what makes it feel so brand-new?

Yeah, it makes it really hard to create anything if you don’t, at the core, love yourself. I had this moment with a therapist a little over a year ago, and he asked me to name some things I loved about myself. It made me cry because I couldn’t. That was a turning point. I started getting into meditation and taking time to be alone with my thoughts and who I am as a person. The more I found my love for that person, the more creative fuel I had.

That sense of pressure of what other people wanted from you was eroding, so you were able to refocus on what you wanted from yourself.

Yeah, and it took me a handful of songs to realize, “Holy shit. I’m working on a Youth Lagoon album!” When I had that thought, there was no concept at all or care of what anyone would think of this. It has purely been something that is for me; to feed my soul. It’s to explore new parts of myself. It’s to see where I want to go. So, it’s been, honestly, a selfish endeavor. But there’s been so much healing. Now, there are so many ideas that I have that I can’t keep up.

There’s this nasty notion that musicians have to be in a dark place to make good art. But as you said, if you don’t love yourself at your core, then you’re not truly happy with what you’re making.

Totally, and I definitely am inspired by the dark times in life. I’m inspired by the things that might be hard to get through. But it’s hard for me to write when I’m in that place. Mentally, I have to at least be somewhat removed from it. Or the healing has to have started in order for me to start going down those rabbit holes. Because, if I’m feeling like absolute shit, the last thing I want to do is write.

It’s like you just can’t function.

Yeah, and it definitely depends on the kind of music that you write. But there’s that blend of having certain experiences that you have to tackle creatively in order to truly understand what it is that’s happening and move beyond it. But when you’re at the peak of it, the last thing that you want is to be creative. You just want to be alone.

What was most different about writing Heaven Is a Junkyard versus other Youth Lagoon albums?

The biggest thing was the focus. This was the most focused I’ve ever been on music and songwriting because I was actually sitting down to write songs. The songs would start off with loose ideas of course, but I wasn’t sitting down to make noises. I wasn’t sitting down to focus on production. Every song started with me figuring it out on piano and chipping away. I had these notes, melodies, chords, and lyrics. Some of the songs started off as poems, which I would start shaping, but it was very focused out of the gate. That’s new for me because so much of my previous work, especially the two albums under my own name, is way more driven by the sonics. The songs on this album are just as important. The songs always came first. It was after the song was already present, the idea was already shaped, that I would then move on to sonics. But I didn’t get distracted by any of that; I only worried about, “Can I play this song on just piano? Does this song stand on its own, or can I write out the lyrics and put them on my desk? If the only thing that was to exist was that piece of music or the lyrics, did it still feel complete?” I did that through and through.

I know that you nearly lost your voice completely. What did that healing journey look like for you? And where does this new album fit into all that?

It was horrifying. I had a reaction to an over-the-counter medication that created what was, essentially, a geyser of acid in my stomach that kept coming up and soaking my vocal cords. I went to the ER; I saw countless doctors. But no one could even say what it was that was going on in my system. Besides guesses, no one had a concrete answer for what it was. This went on for quite some time. Because my larynx, pharynx, and vocal cords got so toasted, I had to resort to writing things down on pieces of paper. When my older brother from Seattle came into town, we would hang out and go to bookstores, and I had to text him about whatever it was we were looking at.

I felt so incredibly helpless. For the first time in my life, I truly had no control over what was happening inside of me. I’ve been such a control freak my entire life, and so much of being a control freak has to do with fear because, if you can’t control something, then fear strikes, and it takes over your system. So not being able to do anything and accept that feeling, that was when it changed something inside of me. Turning to music during that time was everything.

Losing such a central part of music-making, I can’t even fathom what that’s like. It’s what you love and what you do.

It was so scary that I’ve had to start going to a hypnotherapist to deprogram the PTSD involved in that. I knew, especially going into interviews talking about it, that it would be such a trigger because my body starts responding in these weird ways when I’m talking about this whole experience.

I couldn’t lay back, so every single night I slept in a recliner. I would start feeling chills if I would even walk past the recliner, so my body was responding to these external stimuli. I had to go to the hypnotherapist to help deprogram some of this stuff because it was such an incredibly traumatic experience. It’s good for me to talk about it now because I’m seeing that as part of my healing and as part of my acceptance of what happened. When I lost my voice, I was still working on music the whole time. There were certain days when I could make some noises or shape some lyrics, and all that. Maybe later on that night, I could talk a little bit and I was singing another line. Then the next day, I would have a couple of words I could sing. So it was all pieced together. By the time the whole album was written, I had everything demoed out. I had started to get my voice back, and I was starting to be able to sing again. The timing worked out beautifully.

You wrote a lot of the songs before that experience. Do any of these songs feel reflective of that in a light you didn’t previously notice?

There are certain lines that are directly about that. In “Trapeze Artist,” is the line, “My mouth is on fire, but nobody sees me.” I thought in real life that I was on fire, but nobody saw me. And that is obviously directly about it because most of the other lyrics are coming from a place of how I was feeling during that time. But they’re not exactly about that experience.

What do you imagine the future of Youth Lagoon looking like?

It’s hard to tell. Like I said, I’m so inspired by so many different things right now. That could take the shape of more Youth Lagoon records; it could take the shape of a different project. I don’t really know at the moment. But I do know that, as soon as I chose to open this door, there was no plan to close it. I wasn’t going into this decision lightly, and, once I opened the door, I could see so many other doors behind it. That’s what really excited me. That this album is such a cohesive idea where I knew, “Okay; if this is the only thing that I ever make again for the rest of my life, I’m okay with that.”

But with that being said, once I wrote the last song, I felt like I had nothing else left to give. I was out of words. I was out of music. It was like my whole body had exorcized all these demons, these creatures. Months later, sure enough, I started having more ideas. I have no idea what the future holds, but I do know that this is just the beginning.

Support Under the Radar on Patreon.


Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.