Words by:
Photography: Tyler T Williams

There was never meant to be a fourth Youth Lagoon album. When Trevor Powers cast off the alias in 2016, he was done with the project, feeling suffocated by the weight of external expectation.

“I felt like people were treating me like I was one of those monkey toys who can only crash the cymbals,” the 34-year-old recalls over Zoom from his home in Boise, Idaho. “Everyone got so stuck on this one thing that I created. So I just had to burn the house down in order to fully wash my hands of it.”

That “one thing” was The Year of Hibernation. An intimate exploration of anxiety – self-funded with money originally set aside for counselling – Powers’ first record as Youth Lagoon was one of 2011’s most acclaimed debuts. Today, it’s rightly viewed as something of a cult classic, cocooning stories of psychological dysphoria in sweetly soporific dream-pop.

Powers ploughed forward following its release, broadening his creative horizons with the more expansive Wondrous Bughouse in 2013 and the increasingly electronic-tinged Savage Hills Ballroom two years later. But while both records were well received, for Powers there was a sense listeners were clinging on to an increasingly fictitious version of himself. Today, he compares the relief he felt after playing his final Youth Lagoon show in 2016 to a “chokehold being removed”, leaving him free to “make music in a way that felt relatively risk-free”.


Liberated, Powers released two albums in two years: 2018’s sonically abrasive Mulberry Violence, followed by the even more experimental Capricorn, a largely instrumental collection interpolating field recordings. He remained creatively fulfilled by the new arrangement, until his life was turned upside down by illness in 2021.

Troubled by a suspected stomach ulcer, Powers started taking over-the-counter medication on the advice of his doctor, only for it to wreak havoc on his digestive system. “This geyser of acid was coming up and soaking my larynx and pharynx,” he shudders. “Two days in, my eyes started doing this thing where they got inflamed and my vision was like a broken television set. By day 11 or 12, everything collapsed completely.”

“I always used to think that I could only create from a place of torment or that i wasn’t inspired by things that are happy in my life. I realised that’s a myth”

With specialists struggling to diagnose the problem, Powers’ health deteriorated rapidly. Unable to eat, he lost 30lbs. For two months he couldn’t speak at all, and for a further six was only able to talk intermittently. And as his physical health spiralled, so did his mental health. “I had never been in a worse place psychologically,” he admits. “My body felt like a prison. It’s actually really hard for me to even talk about what I’ve gone through and not have a physical reaction. It’s really a form of PTSD now, because what I went through was so incredibly traumatic.”

Confined to his bed and unable to write, Powers found his whole identity called into question. “For a long time, I had seen myself as only this one thing – it was very binary. But after really being in [these feelings] for a while, wondering if I would ever get better, I realised that I didn’t have to fear the situation. This devastating illness has changed my perspective and not only shaped my creative process, but the way that I look at myself in the mirror. It has completely demolished who I was and rebuilt me into someone that I can be proud of.”


Now “around 80 percent healed”, reviving Youth Lagoon has been an integral part of Powers’ recovery. “For the first time in my life, I wasn’t worrying about the future or obsessing over the past, and knew who I was in the present,” he explains. “I found that my frustration really wasn’t with other people – it was with myself. The only reason that I had felt stuck [as Youth Lagoon] was because I was allowing myself to be stuck. So I realised that reclaiming that moniker was the truest expression of self-love there could be.”

Comeback album, Heaven Is a Junkyard, is the sound of Powers reclaiming his voice, both literally and figuratively. Recorded in the space of six weeks in 2022 with Rodaidh McDonald (Kelsey Lu, King Krule, Kanye West), its songs actually started taking shape as far back as 2019. Back then, Powers had no idea where they might fit in his catalogue.

Laying the foundations for Sufjan-esque Mercury, he recalls feeling there was “a grander vision to it”, but it was only when “everything was turned upside down that I realised just what I was looking at”. The finished version communicates that sense of vulnerability, its eddying piano, plaintive cello and creaking, clockwork-style percussion carrying Powers’ wounded vocal. The Sling is starker still, a haunted piano ballad that proves the album’s emotional fulcrum and furnishes the collection with its title. “Heaven is a junkyard/ And it’s my home,” he sighs at the song’s climax, delivering a line that came to him after witnessing a neighbour’s house burning down. But rather than being purely voyeuristic, Powers counts himself as part of that chaos.

“It’s not a fishbowl effect because so much of my immediate existence is watching all of this unfold,” he explains. “There’s a lot of beautiful destruction here [in Idaho], because of this heaviness that people carry. The reason I say that it’s beautiful is because when I have conversations with these people you can read stories in their eyes, even if they don’t say anything. That’s something that people who haven’t gone through anything in life, or haven’t seen tragedy, or haven’t seen addiction, don’t have. With heaviness comes wisdom.”


In this respect, Heaven Is a Junkyard is a beautifully bittersweet love letter to Boise, as much as it is a powerful record about pain and recovery. With a newfound resolve to embrace each moment, Powers looked to his immediate surroundings for lyrical inspiration, fleshing out his vignettes with a parade of local characters, from cops and addicts to kids leaving for war. If in scope his vision frequently feels filmic, it’s no coincidence.

“I would just go on these binges of watching entire catalogues of certain filmmakers,” Powers recalls. “At the same time I was going through this hell in my personal life, and it was where those two intersected that I started finding these new forms to play with.”

Powers cites the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, Terrence Malick and Satoshi Kon as being particularly influential during this creative period. Indeed, as sweetly melodic as so much of the record is, it’s tempered by an almost all-consuming darkness, emanating from Powers’ health anxieties.

“For the first time in my life, I wasn’t worrying about the future or obsessing over the past, and knew who I was in the present”

I’m sick and I’m scared and I’m high on a trapeze,” he confesses on Trapeze Artist, before pleading, “Jesus, take my pain/ I’m ready to jump if your angel can catch me.Idaho Alien is even more candid, detailing an imagined suicide attempt in the chorus: “I don’t remember how it happened/ Blood filled up the clawfoot bath and/ I will fear no frontier.” Conversely, it’s precisely because Powers is making peace with previous traumas that he feels comfortable going to more exposed places with his songwriting.

“I always used to think that I could only create from a place of torment or that I wasn’t inspired by things that are happy in my life. And I realised that that’s actually a myth, that the healthier that your brain is, the more that you want to create and the more you actually have to say.”

In fact, he freely admits to having been emboldened by his experiences. “Where a lot of people might shy away from heavy subject matter, or these shadowy characteristics, I steer into it. Because I’ve found that the healthier that I get as a person, the more I can actually go into these caverns, write about these things, and get out unscathed.”


Listening to Heaven Is a Junkyard, Powers seems no less prone to introspection or anxiety than the twentysomething singer-songwriter who famously crafted The Year of Hibernation in his bedroom. But the difference between the two appears to be a shift in perspective and a desire to do all the emotional work necessary to progress forward, rather than remain in stasis. As a result, the new album feels like the start of a compelling new chapter, rather than the final word on Youth Lagoon.

“I see it as a brand new beginning,” he agrees. “Writing this record felt like smashing through this brick wall that I had been trying to break through for years and years and years. Because exorcising those demons and the dark places that I might go to in my mind – that’s where the freedom lies.”


Heaven Is a Junkyard is out on 9 June via Fat Possum