The trippy electronica found on Wondrous Bughouse takes listeners further inside Trevor Powers' head.
“Things start off so naked,” writes Trevor Powers of his psychedelic, lo-fi bedroom project Youth Lagoon in an email when asked what instrument his songs begin on. “Either guitar or piano. Both create this skeleton that longs for flesh. And from there those ideas are clothed.” Powers' use of body imagery to describe his process is appropriate; the lyrics on Youth Lagoon’s 2013 release Wondrous Bughouse evoke a similar idea. The record is a replica of where Powers’ mind was at the time and focuses on human life and morality. Youth Lagoon plays One Eyed Jacks on Saturday night.
"Bughouse" is an older term for an insane asylum, Powers says. “I got fascinated with this idea of people's minds showing them things. Like how people are deemed crazy for their minds triggering in abnormal ways, and the beautiful and terrifying things you see.” The title works well. Wondrous Bughouse is a 10-track, 50-minute long mind trip and serves as a proper follow-up to the vulnerability of Youth Lagoon’s 2011 debut The Year of Hibernation, a gentler and more delicate record that Powers’ produced after a rough breakup. His latest record has its Beatles-esque moments – take the end of “Pelican Man” for example, with its repetitious, tinkling keyboards. But there is little regard for traditional song structure. Wondrous Bughouse is a maze of twists and turns, where nothing is as it seems and new sounds fly in the face of listeners when least expected.
Creating music is a fraught process for Powers. “I can’t listen to music when I’m recording,” he says. “None at all. And I find myself never really happy with a song until one day, I just am. It’s this bizarre feeling to be so discontent with something because you want it to exist in a certain place, and it feels like it will never get there. Often it’s erasing ideas that is the most important.”
Powers says his experiments in music began when he picked up the guitar, despite his early instruction on the piano. He now labors over his sound creations to the point of frustration. “‘'The Bath' was one of the most extensive tracks because I found myself very unhappy with the structure of it,” Powers says. “I had to work on the skeleton of that song a lot. It was a frustratingly beautiful situation though, because I think it brought it to life.”
The structure of a Youth Lagoon song is labored over just as meticulously as the lyrics, a personal and important part of music-making for Powers. “In ‘Raspberry Cane,’ I say, ‘Everybody’s wanting to see him come alive/ pour the ashes into a cup, mix with wine/ here’s to sleep, drink up’,” he says. “There was this power in that line to me that was very freeing.” Still, he realized the need for a full band to take his music on the road. “I can’t think about the live aspect when working on an album because I find myself too distracted. As soon as this record was finished, I had auditions to find people who could translate it.” Youth Lagoon now operates as four-piece and features New Orleans drummer Eric Rogers of Vox and the Hound and Empress Hotel.