Interview: Youth Lagoon Gets Weird

By Ryan Dembinsky (Ryan Demler)

With a debut album entitled The Year of Hibernation and a follow-up entitled Wondrous Bughouse, a blind assumption regarding the artistic direction for Youth Lagoon’s Trevor Powers would probably be accurate. The title, Wondrous Bughouse, certainly suggests a sojourn to the fantastical and that’s very much what happens on the new record. Similarities exist between the two albums, but Wondrous Bughouse is more experimental, more psychedelic, more demanding, and generally weirder. If The Year of Hibernation was Pixar, Wondrous Bughouse is Tim Burton.

It’s always a question of which way musicians will lean after releasing a widely acclaimed album. The Year of Hibernation was easily palatable yet sophisticated enough to avoid being deemed catchy, but what comes next? Stick with the formula? Reverse course? Thankfully, Wondrous Bughouse pushes the envelope in all the right directions. It’s well-produced; the attention to detail allows the depth to reveal itself in layers and the overall level of accessibility is tastefully reduced. It’s a more mature project that disregards immediate gratification and asks more of its listeners.

Hidden Track: Relative to the Year of Hibernation, the new album has a more psychedelic feeling to it. Were there any clever aproaches that you took in the studio to get some of those more experimental ambient sounds?

Trevor Powers: I wanted the music on this record to reflect a feeling of uneasiness. Taking sounds that are foreign but then applying them in ways that still make a bit of sense. A lot of time writing was really spent on exploring the sonics behind everything. Sometimes making music almost feels like some sort of science experiment, only it’s hard to ever feel content with it. There always seems to be more ways to tap into a certain idea. I don’t like recording in traditional ways. I like doing things I’m not necessarily comfortable with because I feel like it bleeds out through the music. It’s strange to look back at a completed work of music because your memory always seems a bit fuzzy about it. Like you concentrate so hard while you are creating that after something is created, you don’t even really know yourself how exactly it was achieved.

HT: I read about some of the stuff you did on the last album like playing the vocals aloud in your friend’s garage and then re-recording them with the reverb of the room. Was there anything interesting like that this time around?

TP: Every process varies depending on what seems appropriate. What I mean is there may be a certain direction you want to take a song, but after a while it seems like it wants to take itself a completely different way.

And when it’s telling you that, you have to listen. On this record, there were even spots where I didn’t think I would have any lyrics, and then all of a sudden I felt like they had to be there. So I would go out behind the studio for 20 minutes and write, and then go up to the mic and just sing them. A lot is based around the subconscious.  We have these minds that get so carried away with whatever is in the forefront that we forget about everything buried deep within us. And so sometimes I have to approach it in that sort of way, and then just clean things up later. Many of the sounds were made by taking a classic instrument like a guitar or piano, and then running it through equipment to see what could be done with the sonics. Taking something familiar and making it sound completely foreign. And working with Ben Allen on this record made things that much more comfortable. He is such an easy personality to explore music with. It was a very healthy process.

HT: Would you say it was more fun going into the recording process this time around knowing that people were definitely going to hear this record as opposed to last time where you made the record not really knowing what might happen?

TP: It has definitely been more interesting knowing that from now on at least some people would hear what I’m working on. But when writing or recording, I can’t even think about other people listening to it because that never does any good. After the process for this record was finished, I was really just hoping people would spend time with the record. There is a lot to listen to. But I feel like the more people are exposed to it, the more it starts to make sense. It’s interesting the ways that people interpret it.

HT: I’ve read about some of the bands you tend to reference as influences, and it seems like you must be a pretty serious music fan. Have you always been keen on digging up lesser known music?

TP: Yeah, but what is interesting to me is that even though certain artists may not have a large following, the listeners they do have are often devoted for life. Some popular artists obviously have life-timers too and especially influence mainstream art and culture. But with many artists of today, it’s like would you rather have 50 million fans who will play your songs while they are drunk at a party and who enjoy it because “it has a good beat” or 1,000 fans who not only listen to your music but study it and get lost in it? The artists that have 1,000 fans like that often seem to carry more weight on a personal level.

HT: What lyrical material are you most proud of on this album?

TP: That’s hard to say. The lyrics on Daisyphobia, are few, but really close to my heart.