Youth Lagoon Looks Inward On Savage Hills Ballroom

The songwriter debuts his “Highway Patrol Stun Gun” video and talks about refocusing for his sonically rich new full-length.

Since his 2011 debut, the Youth Lagoon sound has evolved from bedroom productions to a circus-like full-band aesthetic, and project mastermind Trevor Powers has gone from performing with one friend in tiny bars to appearing at major music festivals around the world. Two years have passed since Youth Lagoon's last album, Wondrous Bughouse, which took the Idaho-bred songwriter down a highly synthesized, psychedelic path. As evidenced by the forthcoming third full-length, Savage Hills Ballroom, out September 25th via Fat Possum, Youth Lagoon still captures Powers’ introverted nature. Now, though, the 26-year-old is more focused on internal reflection than mental distress caused by external forces.

Today, The FADER is premiering the official video for “Highway Patrol Stun Gun,” a moving track that Powers almost didn’t include on the new record. You could maybe call it a protest song, as it was partially inspired by police brutality; sounds like a riot choking the highway/ with stun guns, smoke, and sirens on display, he sings. Directed by Parisian filmmaker Kendy Ty, the clip showcases the many sides of Powers' personality through footage of him exploring the Big Apple alongside a mysterious man in a golden mask. Watch it above, and then read an interview with Powers about shifting gears to bring his oft-nostalgic Youth Lagoon project into the present.

What is the song "Highway Patrol Stun Gun" about?

TREVOR POWERS: With all the police brutality in the media, it seemed like every single day there was some element of chaos—but in different forms. It just got so bad. I feel like we live in this shitstorm now where there’s so many corrupt people in high places, people getting away with all this shit. So, I sat down and I decided to just write whatever came to my mind. Living in Idaho, it’s easy to feel isolated from all of these events, and that was sort of my way of dealing with it. There’s also elements of loss tied to [the song] as well. I lost one of my closest friends a couple years back, and that bled into everything. It was all these ideas put into a blender.

How did the music video come together?

I ended up stumbling on [Kendy Ty's] work on Vimeo about two years ago, and I reached out to him. We stayed in contact, and I knew that when the right project came along, I wanted to do it with Kendy. We had never met in person until we actually started filming the video for “Highway Patrol Stun Gun.” We flew out to New York and shot it over a period of four or five days. It was amazing getting to know someone at the same time as working with them. It was phenomenal working together; we shared a very similar vision for everything.

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For me [the concept of the video] was this idea of having this extension of yourself. We go down these life paths and we feel like we’re always alone, but we have those different aspects of our personality that are essentially grounding us; we're not quite alone, because we have our spirit. It was that idea, combined with the idea of losing someone and having them still be alive throughout your day to day—because I think that’s a very real thing. Anyone who’s experienced any sort of loss, you know you go out on a windy day you feel the wind on your skin and you feel like they’re still there.

In another interview, you said that losing your friend changed how you viewed Youth Lagoon in general. What does the project mean to you now?

I think it was more of a re-focus. Going into [my last album] Wondrous Bughouse was this amazing thing for me, because before that I approached music in an elementary sort of way. I really got into the experimentation and just making all sorts of sounds that I had never really messed around with: synthesizers, percussion, all sorts of stuff. I always see myself as someone who experiments with sounds first, all sorts of sounds, and then I’ll try to incorporate it into a song and have those songs make sense. After my close friend passed away, it brought me down to earth a little bit. I made this album very purposeful and intentional because there was so much stuff that was on my mind and that I felt like I had to say.

Listening to this album, I felt like it was kind of like waking up from a dream and facing a sense of reality.

That is a good way to put it, I do think that this record deals a lot more with reality. But at the same time, even when I’m dealing with these issues that are very heavy—a lot of the subject matter is pretty heavy—I still deal with it from the vantage point of taking ten steps back and then evaluating things. I’ve always said music is not only my way of communicating, but also my way of viewing the world and trying to understand difficult things.

How did you come up with the title for the album?

I started writing this album right after the Wondrous Bughouse cycle ended. During that time in my life I realized how much I have to work on. Everyone has things to a certain degree where you just become so comfortable with who you are as a person, but you don’t realize all the aspects that you need to change. So I really started focusing on those, trying to just make my life a little bit healthier in some ways. With that idea in mind, I would take really late-night walks, for hours sometimes. There’s some neighborhoods way beyond my own that are very gorgeous, but they feel very stale at the same time. So I’d see these nice houses that were, like, a two-hour walk from my own and it would be really late at night and it would feel very phony, [filled with] people trying to live this perfect existence. From there, I started latching on to the idea of a ballroom where things seem perfect, but it’s just an illusion. I came up with a whole world.

I remember you going on a brief Twitter hiatus last year to focus on writing. How'd that work out for you?

It was all social media, not just Twitter, and it was phenomenal. I’m gonna start doing that every single time I write. The online world is such an abyss that's sometimes fun, but it can also very quickly become an addiction. I think technology is so vital to our world now that it’s easy to get sucked into the bad part of it as well.

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Your music hints at this longing for an escape, and I know for a lot of artists, making music is an escape. Since this is your job now, is it still an escape for you to make music? What do you do when you need to escape from that?

I’ve never been asked that, actually. I think music is always somewhat of an escape, but at the same time it’s also my way of dealing with reality. Whenever I have a rough day or I’m going through shit in my life that I really want to either approach head on, or sort of try to avoid it for a bit, I always turn to music. Even though it’s my life now, it hasn’t taken away any of the amazing qualities. If anything, it’s only enhanced them.

Youth Lagoon Looks Inward On Savage Hills Ballroom