Perhaps the most unexpected comeback of 2023 was Youth Lagoon, the beloved defunct moniker of Boise, Idaho songwriter Trevor Powers, who first shot to prominence in 2011 following the release of the project’s debut album ‘The Year of Hibernation’.
Powers would go on to solidify his credentials as a musical powerhouse with the release of subsequent albums ‘Wondrous Bughouse’ (2013) and ‘Savage Hill Ballroom’ (2015) before ditching the moniker in favour of releasing music under his given name, with the albums ‘Mulberry Violence’ (2018) and ‘Capricorn’ (2020) finding critical acclaim.
“I was really flailing in my personal life and really my identity at my core,” says Powers, recalling his decision to end Youth Lagoon in 2015. “I felt like I was at a dead end. I had to kill it off, and I also felt really frustrated with feeling like I had been told by others whether it be consciously or subconsciously what the project should or shouldn't be, and I just got really frustrated…”
Powers’ journey back to Youth Lagoon was prompted in part by an unexpected turn of events which found the songwriter experiencing seriously unusual long-term medical problems.
An adverse reaction to an over-the-counter medicine which had been prescribed by his doctor led to the total collapse of Powers’ digestive system and left him unable to speak, relying on text messages to communicate with his friends and family.
“I had been writing Heaven is A Junkyard for a while without even thinking about it as being a Youth Lagoon record. I was just so consumed with the music and being possessed with where it was taking me,” says Powers
“And then I hit this point where I started realizing that some of the themes that I was toying with in some of the doorways I was walking through, there was a sense of familiarity to it but then at the same time all of that familiarity was almost like it was happening in another dimension if that makes sense where everything was a little bit stretched.”
“So when I decided to bring back the moniker I was probably about halfway into writing the album and it had this magic to it,” says Powers noting, “because those two words Youth Lagoon have such a foundation and history to it, when I decided to really walk into that field again, everything felt so much more malleable than it did in the past, and it also felt more fun to be able to toy with some of these ideas, some of that history of what that project is and now knowing where I can take it.”
Reflecting further on his decision he adds, “…because I have so much more of a defined identity as an individual, I know exactly what to do with the project and it's endless, it feels like something brand new. Yes, there's a history to it, but it feels brand new.”
As with all of Trevor Powers' work, there is a strong sense of inquisitive spirituality to be found within ‘Heaven Is A Junkyard’, as he tries to make sense of this mortal coil through the periscope of his upbringing in Idaho where he remains to this day.
“I had written it down and I didn't know what it meant. I'm not sure if I still know what it means but it feels true” says Powers when we enquire where the album’s title emerged from.
“There's a lot of things in my approach to music and lyrics specifically where I'm chasing this feeling of something being true, but sometimes the truest things reveal themselves to you differently on different days and on those days they mean different things.”
The phrase came to Powers after he witnessed one of his neighbour’s barns burning down.
“I was really moved by that experience because it was this field, and this whole disaster scene, but at the same time it felt so beautiful to watch, and it felt like I was in a movie,” explains Powers noting the duality of the experience.
“I had no idea what the fuck it meant, but it felt true, it felt like something with substance and day after day I kept wrestling with ‘what does this mean?’ and then it started revealing itself to me in all kinds of different ways. And at that point I knew it had to be the album title.”
However, residing in the Republican stronghold of Idaho in 2023 doesn’t leave much room for being playful with religious iconography and Powers admits that he received some initial pushback from friends and family to the album’s title, but not enough to stop him exploring his relationship with God in song.
“Spirituality is still something that's still so important to me at my core, that pursuit of God or the unknown veil, whatever you want to call it,” says Powers who is keen to note that the title is in no way derogatory.
“That phrase it's by no means spitting in the face of these traditions. If anything it's honouring it and it's playing with it in a way that I feel maintains some of that sanctity because I'm not saying that heaven is literally a junkyard. There's just a lot more to it than that, and I think if people are taking it in such a literal fashion then that's on them.”
“But that's one of those things that makes that symbolism, any kind of religious imagery so much fun to play with because those ideas already come so fully loaded that each individual is bringing something to the table because of how they were raised, and I think that in that is so much depth, and you can never run out of things to say through it especially with that being so prominent in my background, and still a huge pursuit of mine in life is figuring out and falling in love with that internal mystery.”
One of the reasons that Trevor Powers has resisted the temptation to move to New York or LA for his career is because he values the stillness of everyday life which allows him to spend more time consider and appreciate things. This is in part why he is drawn the obsolete technology of his youth.
“One of the reasons that I cling to that VHS headspace or cassette tape is that I do love that idea of there being objects that have meaning, actual objects that you can hold” he states.
“It's by no means a romanticism of the past. It's purely clinging to more so anything that will slow you down and help you be in that present moment and not take whatever experience it is for granted. Technology is one of those things that keeps running away with us. It's stealing a huge portion of our souls, and this is only the beginning, it keeps growing and growing, and by no means am I anti-tech, but I think at some point when it's taking the place of or overriding our ability to slow down and really appreciate something, and if it comes down to an object something like a VHS or even a DVD, something that you really appreciate.”
Considering the point further he adds. “I grew up through the '90s and the early 2000's when things were more of a moment and nowadays everything feels more like a vapour and it's tragic, but it doesn't have to be like that.”
Threads of spirituality and appreciation unfurl across ‘Heaven is A Junkyard’. Empathy is also a vital ingredient across the ten tracks, which draw upon fictional and real-life characters. Having survived his own issues, Trevor Powers now recognises the struggles of others like never before.
“When everything going on in your life is going according to plan or nothing is turned upside down it's so easy to take things for granted vs when you have a little bit of collapse or a lot of collapse within your life."
“It not only brings you more presence it brings you much more ability to be able to look into people's eyes and see what they are going through, and to empathise and have this extreme connective tissue between total strangers,. It makes everyone feel a little bit more like family when parts of your world are turned upside down.”
Positive or negative, these stories all lead Powers back to the safety of his Idaho community. “In my music there's so many love letters to people that I've had in my life for a longtime or even jut people that I'm just coming across in the grocery store that make an impact on me.”
“I'm always trying to soak up all of it and there’s so many different personality types that live just on my street alone. Everyone from retired carneys to 80-year-old piano teachers to toothless meth addicts, every single person has a story to tell if you're willing to listen.”
Perhaps the best example of this is the album’s stunning Idaho Alien which feels like a cross between Villagers and 'Deserter Songs' era Mercury Rev.
“That song was written from the perspective of multiple characters some fact and some fiction,” says Powers before noting the track’s importance on the album as a whole and him as an artist. “That song was really a breakthrough for me in terms of when I'm writing from the prospective of other characters."
“I realised that it gives me more ability in a way to be personal, because I can have something come from someone else in terms of a lyric, and then if I follow that lyric up with something that comes directly from me it makes it hit that much harder, it makes the arrow a little bit sharper, so that song for me was a huge, huge breakthrough.”
Youth Lagoon play The Button Factory tomorrow (November 16th) Tickets €26.90 on sale here.