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Youth Lagoon: Trevor Powers uses music to cope with his tragic past

Trevor Powers, also known by his stage name Youth Lagoon, has released his latest studio album,
Trevor Powers, also known by his stage name Youth Lagoon, has released his latest studio album, "Savage Hills Ballroom"
Courtesy of Fat Possum Records

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Trevor Powers, aka Youth Lagoon, makes music that draws just as much from classical instrumentation as it does '80s electronica.

His third album, "Savage Hills Ballroom," has just been released to positive reception. When The Frame's James Kim sat down with Powers, they talked about the variety of influences behind Youth Lagoon and the traumatic personal experiences that manifested in the songs of "Savage Hills Ballroom."

"When I was five years old," Powers says with a smile, "I remember getting really into Elvis [Presley]. My parents had these VHS tapes of some of his movies, and one of them was 'Clambake.'

"We had this old karaoke machine that I used to sing on with my brother, and there are actually pictures of me as a kid trying to look like Elvis and failing. I was six years old was when I started taking piano lessons, but don't ask me why I chose to take piano lessons to be like Elvis because that's the furthest thing from Elvis."

"As an artist," Powers continues, "what inspires me is those moments where you don't even know how to talk about something because it's so beyond words and it's beyond trying to communicate about it. So that's where music comes in."

It was those moments and those experiences that found their way into Youth Lagoon's third album. Powers says: "The biggest change for me going into this album was that one of my closest friends ended up passing away when I was on a tour in England. I got this call from my wife after the show and I was in this hotel room by myself, and she told me that our buddy Taylor had drowned in the Boise River.

It's one of those things that you can't even begin to describe how it impacts you because you see these people around you and you think they're always gonna be there. It's easy to forget how quick people disappear."

Powers continues: "I know it drastically impacted the way that I view music and view everything, but it's not something that I can pinpoint exactly how. But it was such a traumatic and impactful event that it bled into my entire life."

Powers then reveals that the song "Kerry" is about the loss of another loved one. "My uncle ran from the police his entire life. He was always in trouble with the law, but we were really close and he used to come visit me and my family in Boise.

"Every time he came," Powers recalls, "I would make him a cassette tape of my recordings. At the time, I was really into punk music, so I would make him these guitar punk songs and give him a cassette every time he came. That was our whole bonding thing.

"He ended up overdosing in 2007. It was beyond words because I think most people aren't that close to their uncles. But for me, we were extremely close. So losing him was a similar thing where it bled all over my music. So I think, going into this album, he had just been on my mind so I wanted to tell a little bit of his story."

Youth Lagoon's newest album, "Savage Hills Ballroom," is out now.

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