On The Road, For The Record: Trevor Powers
After taking a break from touring, and permanently breaking from his former moniker, ‘Youth Lagoon’, in 2015, Trevor Powers has returned to the road.
Kicking it off in Boise, Idaho, where he’s based, Powers has returned with a new album Mulberry Violence. When asked what to expect on this tour, he noted, “some people go into it with a sense of thinking they know what to expect, when they don’t… it’s very intense and it’s almost just as theatrical as it is musical in the way that it all plays out.” For Powers, presenting himself with his given name means a different level of vulnerability and much more rawness.
Before his show in San Francisco at The Independent, Milk chatted with the man himself as he wandered around Alamo Square. Read below for our full conversation accompanied by photos shot in Los Angeles by Yasmine Diba.
So you’re in San Francisco right now, about to play at The Independent—what are you doing now? Are you walking around the area?
Yeah, I’m in a park that’s right around the corner. I’m not sure the name of it.
It’s called Alamo Square! I used to live in San Francisco. On Divisadero, there is a really cool little market called Bi-Rite, and they have really good ice cream. So if it’s still open, you should go there.
Oh my God, that’s great to know. Thank you so much. Maybe that can be my dinner.
So when’s your show?
I think the show starts at 8:00. So we’ll be going on around 9:30 or so.
What time did you guys get into San Francisco?
We got into Oakland last night, stayed the night in Oakland, and got into San Francisco proper probably about four hours ago.
So now that it’s a few hours before you guys are going onstage—do you have any rituals or is there anything that you have to do before you perform?
I would say the only thing that comes close to that is within five minutes or ten minutes of going onstage, generally I like to have some alone time, whether it’s just sitting there, or I could be having a conversation, but I’m not going to be totally present because my mind is so preoccupied with what I’m going to be doing on stage. That’s my biggest thing; I can be around people until about five or ten minutes before, and then from that point on, I disappear into myself.
How many people are you currently traveling with on tour?
There’s four of us total; one other person on stage with met—my close friend Ukiah—an LD whose name is Nick, and then our sound engineer/ tour manager Snake.
So how are you getting around? Are you flying? Are you guys driving?
We’re driving, yeah. 15-passenger van with the gear loaded in the back. We started in Boise, which is my hometown. It was the very first show; it was actually the debut of this new project, which was really exciting to be able to do that at home. Then we hit Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, and now here.
What, if any, changes have you noticed about touring as ‘Youth Lagoon’ and now touring as Trevor?
Well, I’ve found some people go into it with a sense of thinking they know what to expect, when they don’t… starting with what the album ‘Mulberry Violence’ is and what the shows consist of it; it’s very intense and it’s almost just as theatrical as it is musical in the way that it all plays out. It’s been amazing to be able to have these conversations with people that come to the show and they are caught off guard by what this whole entity is. I was so excited to start touring for this project. Basically, when you go to a concert, you’re at the will of the artist, and what they play; so for me, playing this album, front to back, is a way of really reflecting how the sound was meant to be heard — as a single unit; it was created to be something that is played in its entirety, and to be able to do that in a live format is very thrilling.
What has been your favorite moment so far, specifically on this tour?
Favorite moment…that’s a tough question because we’ve honestly been having a lot of them. The way that everyone gets along in the van is so great. If you’re not in the mood to talk, you don’t have to talk. If you are in the mood to talk, you could sound like a total idiot and no one cares. It’s that kind of energy that I love being around, where everyone has the freedom to completely be themselves, no matter if it is stupid humor, or wherever it may be. And with us, having that makes every single long drive so much more fun because we can just fuck around.
Being able to have a comfortable silence is amongst the best things in the world.
It honestly is. It’s so underrated.
When you guys are in the van, do you have a favorite snack, or is there a song that you always listen to you, or a song that you hate as soon as it comes on the radio or Spotify?
Favorite snack overall would definitely be chips. Everyone’s always passing around a bag of chips; the flavors differ, but I would say most commonly, it’s Doritos. Those are both my strength and weakness. As far as songs go, we’ve actually been listening primarily to audiobooks and podcasts. We are coming towards the end of an audiobook called, “Dark Matter”. Have you read that book?
No. Is it about space, or am I completely off?
Well, it’s definitely, a sci-fi book. I got really lost because I kept falling asleep. I have a hard time staying awake on long drives. So what would happen is, I would be really into it, and then I fall asleep for two hours. I wake up, and have no idea what’s going on, and ask one of the others to catch me up, and then the same thing would happen again. So I ended up stopping paying attention altogether.
A good audiobook to listen to you if that’s the case is “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s just so vast that you could fall asleep and wake up and be hearing about how we evolved from apes, and then hear about how women’s birthing canals were affected by the fact that humans started walking upright. Even if you fall asleep, it’s easy to get back into it. Also, the reader for the audiobook has this really dapper British accent.
I’ll check it out. The person reading this book sounds very dry; there’s almost this forced sensuality to it. He has this way of reading these lines that aren’t even supposed to be sensual, in a whisper that comes across very creepy. It’s hilarious in an incredibly unintentional way.
It’s now going to be embedded in your dreamy nightmares.
Yeah exactly. Let’s hope that’s not the case.
Do you have a favorite moment on tour in general? Maybe a favorite venue?
Something that happened a long time ago, touring as ‘Youth Lagoon’, I got to spend some time in New Zealand. I’d always wanted to go to New Zealand, and to have the opportunity, and being with people that you love, in a spot you’ve always wanted to explore; We had a couple of days off and being able to see all these spots and get lost, get completely lost, in the middle of a place that feels like heaven, was definitely a very phenomenal experience. That’s my outlook on tour in general — you figure you’re only on stage for fifty minutes to an hour at a time, and the rest of your day is really spent trying to make the most of the locations that you’re in and the people that you’re with. Trying to capitalize on all of that is the most beautiful aspect of being on tour, because you’re doing that way more than you’re spending time on stage.
Do you end up getting recommendations from the locals? Do you go and ask people in the crowd after the show?
I’ve found that when you spend some time, whether it be on tour, or even on vacation, you have a friend group that you start building up in each area, and they introduce you to some more of their friends, and that keeps growing. From there, these natural branches grow off the tree of discovery. It happens organically without having to force it. The best things you could do in any city are usually done when you’re spending time with people you want to be spending time with.
To kind of switch gears, visuals have always been super important to you. I remember I saw you at the El Rey in 2013, and you had these large, colorful triangular posts all over the stage; it reminded me of a forest. And then in 2016, I saw you in Paris at Café de le Danse with a similar set. Whether it’s your album artwork, or your merch, or anything visual; it’s always seemed important to you. How are you involved with the visuals on this tour?
My main motivation when I’m working on anything visual is trying to find people, that I’m so into their work, that I can completely trust what they’re going to do and give them freedom. Any artist works so much better if they don’t have anyone breathing down their neck, telling them what they think that they should be doing. And so with that in mind, it’s the same with music videos, album art, posters, shirts, whatever it is. I will always have input, and I’ll always have a certain direction that I’ll try to take things. But the best thing is when you’re finding people whose work you genuinely love, so you can be more hands-off. It always turns out better when you give people more free reign to do what they do best. So that’s my main goal. In regards to the visual setup on this tour, working with Nick; he’s from Georgia, the sweetest person ever, and I met him through my sound engineer, and he’s done work for all kinds of fantastic artists. He was just like that; we could go months without talking and I knew that what he was working on was gonna translate perfectly with the music. We were touching base throughout, but my main thing was like, “Alright, cool—I just have to let Nick work and do his thing.”
I see the show as being 50 percent audio, and fifty percent visual. He built the visual—we built the audio. Being able to put it together for the first time was a very special moment.
Do you have any tips for touring? Number one tip for musicians just starting out?
My main tip would be to appreciate and be in every single moment. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening tomorrow, or what’s happening in two days, and you lose sight of where you are in that moment and who you’re with. If you can really be present, that’s when the best things happen on tour.
I feel like that’s so true with life in general. Okay, last question, what is your biggest learning experience being on tour?
That would have to do with maintaining a healthy long-distance relationship. I’ve seen this happen time and time again where someone has a significant other back home, and they smother the relationship by trying to talk or text all the time. I’ve found that state of constantly being on the phone very quickly kills whatever flame they have going on. So for me with touring, I always try to balance that out—where I’m having meaningful personal phone calls, but making sure I’m living a lot in the meantime so I actually have something worthwhile to talk about. And vice-versa. I believe a little bit of separation can be a really important and beneficial thing for a relationship.
Stay tuned to Milk for more from musicians on the road.