Trevor Powers is an over-laugher. Some might attribute it to nerves, but in the hands of the Idaho-born 22-year-old better known by the stage moniker Youth Lagoon, over-laughing becomes a device semi-consciously employed to put his fellow interlocutor at ease. Finding myself in this position and similarly prone to the gratuitous guffaw, I’m appreciative that Powers – the lo-fi musician whose 2011 debut LP The Year of Hibernation was released to high acclaim – is chortling heartily at utterances that are less than smirk-worthy. Our cachinnation transitions from complementary to mutually excitative so quickly that the enthusiastic timbre of our transaction aligns with conversations that transpire between children playing make believe and the elderly exchanging photographs of their grandchildren.
The dynamics of conversing with Powers bringing to mind such pan-generational scenarios is fitting, given Powers’ keen attunement to life’s seasons. “Youth has such an impact on the rest of your life. It is a real fork in the road that sets the stage for everything,” he says, describing the inspiration behind his stage name. “I started obsessing over how crucial the teenage years are. I thought of all these kids and teenagers swimming in the water hole of a small town, some with friends on a tyre swing. I liked that imagery”.
The importance of adolescence notwithstanding, Powers doesn’t view the past through rose-tinted glasses. “It’s not about idealising the past,” he suggests, before further musing, “I think to grow as a person, you need to examine your past and then deal with the future. If I had to rank them in order of what I want to dwell on, it would be: the present, the future and then the past. Sometimes I get too caught up in the future and I waste the present. This is one of my biggest struggles. Lately I’ve been working on focusing on the present. It is by far the most important. The past is last”. A slightly self-conscious pause follows before Powers adds, “Does that make sense?”
It makes perfect sense, actually, especially given the video Powers recently released for Montana, one of the most viscerally emotional tracks on The Year of Hibernation. “If I was to generalise, Montana is about loss,” summarises Powers. “My really good friend Tyler Williams shot the video. His interpretation of the song was so important to me because his brain is wired much more towards cinematography than mine. We met and talked about how we wanted to present the overall feeling of loss but Tyler took it to this whole other place. He deserves the credit because he thought up this whole storyline. He came over and showed me the final product in my living room and I was like, ‘Oh my god dude that is incredible!’ I was surprised and speechless. He just captured it, y’know?” Do I. With its visuals uncannily matching the affective intensity of its sound, the video for Montana poignantly, beautifully and powerfully depicts the tangible way in which – to paraphrase the psychoanalyst Hans Loewald – ancestral ghosts from the past can continue to haunt the present.
Considering the force of feeling with which Montana and other Youth Lagoon tracks are imbued, I ask Powers whether he is able to distance himself from experiencing strong emotion when he performs. “Every time I play the songs live I have to experience them again or it just comes off as fake,” he admits. Doesn’t that make performance exhausting? “Sometimes it can be draining but at the same time it’s beautiful. As soon as the music starts you’re in a different place. I see it as time travelling. You’re reliving things; you’re experiencing the future. Some of the songs even take me to places that I’ve imagined. It’s the exact way that I’m wired as a human being. It’s my element”.
Talk of time travel and exploration of imaginative realms makes being naturally wired to be in one’s element during music performance sound very appealing. Yet Powers suffers from severe anxiety – something about which he has been endearingly open in past interviews. “I think everyone has anxiety,” he elaborates. “For most people it’s about pretty normal things but for me it’s about unreal things that don’t make sense. It’s like a nightmare. You wake up and you feel like it just happened but it didn’t”. I wonder aloud how this nightmarish anxiety fits with Powers’ feeling of being in his element during music performance. “It’s funny because when I’m in my element I still struggle with anxiety but know more how to deal with it,” Powers explains, “Anxiety morphs into different forms rather than ever truly going away. I still battle with it daily but I’ve been learning more about myself; what kinds of things help, what kinds of things destroy me”.
Further opportunities for self-exploration in the near future seem likely as Powers has purposefully scheduled fewer performances for the remainder of the year so he can devote his time to writing new material. As two of these performances will involve his return to Australian soil, what does Powers enjoy most about our country? “The people are so kind,” he enthuses, “Not that there’s not kind people elsewhere but Australia has a totally different vibe than the rest of the world. There’s something about Australia that really hits home. I love it”. Given the dispositional kindness emanating from Powers, this overlap strikes me as unsurprising.
BY ANDREW GEVES
YOUTH LAGOON will play the Corner Hotel on Sunday July 29, as well as performing at the sold out Splendour in the Grass.