Included in the download of ‘Savage Hills Ballroom’, Youth Lagoon’s upcoming third album, is a note from Trevor Powers. In the piece, which reads like a poem, Powers makes such statements as “this will serve as your home”, and “everything here is made of gold”. It’s clear this album means a lot to him, and that he believes in its power to affect others.
In January, Powers arrived in moody, mid-winter Bristol to begin recording the album. He’d met producer Ali Chant (Super Furry Animals, Perfume Genius, PJ Harvey) online, and they’d been sending ideas backwards and forwards for a few months prior to Powers making the trip. It was still largely a step into the unknown though, just one he was excited to take. “I really wanted to put myself in a circumstance where I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to go to a place where I didn’t know anyone, a place that I’d never been, and go to a place with a lot of potential for me to see different aspects of my personality and have a chance to grow. I thought Bristol was a good match for that.”
‘Savage Hills Ballroom’ was written by the time Powers arrived in the UK, but he clearly doesn’t underestimate the effect his time in the country and in the studio had on the final product. “I like to leave a lot of room for songs to breathe in the studio, and then you don’t get too caught up in trying to force a song to be something that it’s not”, he says from back home in Boise, preparing for the album’s late September release and subsequent tour. “You never really know until you start tracking things what direction a song wants to go. A song has a life of its own and you have to respect that and not try to force it in any sort of direction.”
The album is a colossal listen, and by far the biggest Powers has ever sounded. It’s a collection of songs that beg to be performed live, and he is evidently itching to get going. “There’s been so much preparation and rehearsal that’s gone into this. Me and my new band have been rehearsing for three months now, and our rehearsals go for over four hours, and that’s been every other day for three months. I’m at the point now where I’m ready to start playing shows, and start kicking off the whole process. There’s way more to this show than anything I’ve done before, and it really feels like an event”, he exclaims with childlike enthusiasm. “That was my goal; I want to make it feel like a theatre piece, and something more than every other concert you go to.”
"It’s lame that people are more into a backstory than an album itself."
— Trevor Powers
‘Savage Hills Ballroom’ has been in the works since early 2014, and this July, its first piece was given to fans in the form of free 7”s being placed in record shops worldwide of the album’s first single ‘The Knower’. It was a first move that helped bring Powers back to the reality of why he does this. “I really wanted to give what was essentially the announcement of the album to actual people, and not to a website or a company. It gets so old and you get so tired of playing the game and being in the system. Record stores are the life of music, and if I’m ever wanting to buy or even discover new music, I always go into the record store that’s basically my home base in Boise, and that always makes me really want to bring it back to the people, and having it be something that’s an event, rather than just an announcement.”
This kind of outreach, communication and sense of ceremony around everything to do with this album – it really does feel like the “event” Powers refers to many times – points to something bigger being shot at than these ten pop songs.
A lot has been said about ‘Savage Hills Ballroom’ being the record where Youth Lagoon finally steps out of his isolated hole and really tries to communicate, and this irks Powers. “I feel like I haven’t truly been an internal artist, in terms of shutting myself away, since ‘The Year of Hibernation’ came out. My process was extremely different even going into ‘Wondrous Bughouse’, and I feel like that album as a whole was definitely trying to communicate too”, he says with a nostalgic itch.
“I get so tired of the way a lot of people perceive me as a freak and a loner that doesn’t hang out with anyone. It’s all bullshit. I’ve been trying to communicate through my music for a long time, but I don’t think people have been sitting up and thinking ‘oh, he’s actually trying to say something’ until this album.”
It’s a frustration that is clear, but one Powers knows he has no control over. “That stuff can’t help but affect you a little bit. You can’t necessarily put your finger on how it has done, but that’s one of the things that comes from being an artist. Your art is out of your own hands once you create it, and you have to be okay with that. You have to be alright with writing a song and releasing it to a broader audience to have people come up with their own definitions for it, perceiving you in their own, different ways, and you can’t change anything about that process.”
When speaking of the things he would like listeners to take from his art once it leaves his hands, Powers believes this is a record to be “sat down with, given time, and digested fully”. Whatever listeners might take from ‘Savage Hills Ballroom’, or think Powers was trying to say (or not say) on ‘Wondrous Bughouse’, all he wants is for the focus to be on the music.
“It’s lame that people are more into a backstory than an album itself”, he concludes, and with a backstory it looks like he’s finally shaking, all eyes are on the album.
Youth Lagoon's new album 'Savage Hills Ballroom' is out 25th September via Fat Possum.