By Daniel Kohn
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If, for some reason, you've been on the lookout for a lonely sounding record by a musician from Idaho, you can call off the hunt. Youth Lagoon's The Year of Hibernation captures desolation in its purest sonic form. Everything about the 2011 debut record from Boise resident Trevor Powers—his fragile, far-off vocals; the careful, melodic pitter-patter of washed-out synths; the unfinished, hollow-sounding production—screams, "All I want is a friend or two. Please." Turns out, that image is a blurry reflection of reality.
"When I was writing [Hibernation], it wasn't like I was alone the whole time. I was still doing the same the things I always do, hanging out with the same people. But [I had] that sense of mental isolation instead of physical isolation; sometimes my mind just doesn't turn off. It can kind of take me to weird places where I could be hanging out with someone, but I'm not," he says. "Even when I'm with people sometimes, I don't feel like I'm totally present. I don't know exactly what it is other than my mind moving faster or something. But I don't think I'm a lonely person."
Powers evidently has some very quixotic values when it comes to Youth Lagoon—a project whose creation came from "years of experimenting." The goal, he says, was to "try to just let the music come out the way it wants to, instead of having preformed notions on how the music should sound." As a one-man project in a world where indie pop/rock solo bedroom projects are all the rage, Powers is all about solo experimentation. "[You can] formulate music exactly how you want without anyone else there to try [and] stir the pot," he says.
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He did have some assistance on Hibernation from a friend who gave him feedback and helped with production and engineering. "I think sometimes having that tug of war with a producer figure—or someone else in the room—adds some tension [and] helps ideas become more pure," he says. Powers is deeply attached to idea of authenticity and wholly immersing yourself in your work. After Youth Lagoon gained steam online, he landed a record deal on the venerable indie Fat Possum Records; Powers then dropped out of college and quit his job to pursue his music career. Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket—or maybe, Powers is being idealistic.
Many of the songs on Hibernation are about people and days long gone. Even though he's only in his early 20s, Power recalls being 9 and 17 in two separate songs, focusing on these lyrical anecdotes as though he's analyzing key moments in a life that's almost over. When he's not being so specific about the past, its reverberations seem to linger in his lyrics. "[It's] basically all you have to relate things to, but I never romanticize the past. I don't consider myself a nostalgic artist in any way," he says. "I probably think two or three more times about the future than I do about the past. I probably think too much about the future."
This article appeared in print as "Searching for Soul: Youth Lagoon dive into solitude, idealism and nostalgia."