Trevor Powers, the brains, voice and primary technician behind Youth Lagoon, is a small-town lad. His hometown of Boise, Idaho is not quite the bustling city where most bands plot their rise to pop prominence. Nevertheless, the place certainly has not been a creative hindrance for Powers, who dropped his excellent second album Wondrous Bughouse last year. Although Youth Lagoon’s growing success regularly thrusts Powers far from home, he thrives on the travel.
“People are never the same after they’ve been around the world. It makes me sad when people don’t want to see anything outside of themselves. It’s apathy,” he says. “I know some people that are perfectly fine if they only see the grocery store they go to weekly and their own backyard for the rest of their lives. There is so much of life they are missing out on.”
Wondrous Bughouse continues the thematic examination of mortality and one’s purpose in the large befuddling universe that Powers initiated on 2011 debut The Year Of Hibernation. Only now, thanks largely to his globetrotting experiences following the first album’s success, his exploration through these ideas has greater breadth.
“I realised I had a very short-sighted and boring viewpoint for a long time that I was sick of. So I really felt the most free I ever have writing this record. I used to have these hazy, undefined guidelines I would follow when writing and I just threw them away because they were destructive. With music, it’s how I explore and [it’s about] being comfortable in the uncomfortable. I know I’ll never have things figured out. It’s not about that at all; it’s about the search.”
It’s surely an interesting endeavour, looking for a way to be comfortable in an uncomfortable scenario. Perhaps it’s the crucial paradox that drives creative progress. “One of my priorities when writing anything,” explains Powers, “is making myself feel uncomfortable – finding this sort of place musically where it’s OK to feel strange. Because there’s nothing easy to swallow that is worth chewing and I can’t expect anyone to spend time with my music if I myself wasn’t challenged by it.”
Wondrous Bughouse has a distinguishable sonic relation to The Year Of Hibernation, but it’s a bigger-sounding record featuring expansive instrumentation and more pronounced vocals. Credit must be given to the album’s producer Ben H. Allen, whose past work includes Animal Collective and Deerhunter. However, as far as the songs and arrangements go, the record is completely Powers’ handiwork.
“I am very particular with everything I make. I obsess over it. So I really feel like it’s a responsibility to myself to make sure each piece of music fits where it needs to. And in all that is the freedom. I could never answer to other people because then it would be no different than a desk job.”
Thankfully, Powers’ attention to detail is not at all restricting. Wondrous Bughouse is a surreal metaphysical journey, which largely does away with conventional structure. His thorough-yet-unbounded approach to songwriting is making a big impact on both critics and listeners.
“Often when I write, the initial process is just getting ideas out and having them be this sort of formless goo that just oozes all over the place. Then before the goo dries, I try to shape it into something more expressive and singular. Then after it’s dried, I take my pick to it and start knocking off pieces until I find what part of the idea really matters.”
Youth Lagoon plays with Broods at Oxford Art Factory on Thursday January 30. Also appearing alongside Haim, Lorde, Jagwar Ma and more at Laneway Festival, Sydney College of the Arts on Sunday February 2.
Wondrous Bughouse is out now through Fat Possum/Shock.