By Alex HudsonYouth Lagoon's 2011 debut, The Year of Hibernation, earned praise for its fragile intimacy, but songwriter Trevor Powers has achieved something much grander and more ambitious with Wondrous Bughouse. At times, the overstuffed arrangements distract from the songs, and the lengthy instrumental passages on tracks like "Attic Doctor" slow the record's momentum. Still, considering Wondrous Bughouse's glorious highlights, its successes outweigh the flaws.
Wondrous Bughouse sounds quite different from The Year of Hibernation. What inspired the new sound? Really just a lot of experimentation. I know that sounds kind of obvious. As far as what you can create sonically, it's never-ending. It's this whole world that someone could explore for thousands upon thousands of years and never come to the end. I guess I just got more wrapped up in that idea of what else you could do with it. For me, it's always about never staying stagnant in the same place.
The last one was so solitary and intimate, and this one is very much about the full band. Were you trying to distance yourself from what you had done previously? No, not at all. It was actually written in a really similar manner to the first one. That's always how I write. It's the only way I know how to write — I go off by myself. I think it's pretty common. I think it comes down to gathering your thoughts and what you really want to express. I was just kind of off the map. After The Year of Hibernation was done being toured was when the majority of this record was written, so I was kind of off the map for four months and didn't do anything but write.
How much of the sound was your vision and how much of that was Ben Allen's influence? Actually, when I first started talking to him on the phone, I had expressed my vision from the very beginning. The cool thing with Ben is, it's always him grasping the artist's vision and then trying to achieve that. I think that's the beauty of it. It wasn't the case of Ben having a different vision than me — it was him taking on my vision and then him going about it. He would try to go about it a different way than I would, so it made for this healthy tension where we had the same end goal but it was this tug of war that really good — I think, essential.
What was your original vision? When I first started talking to him on the phone, I had really expressed wanting to experiment a lot with surrealism and those ideas. I guess I've always been interested in having one foot in reality, or things that sound familiar in a sense, and one foot in something that seems completely unfamiliar, and so there's this push-pull type of thing.
That sort of tension is conveyed by the title Wondrous Bughouse. Yeah. And that title is one of those things that took a long time to come to terms with, because I obsess a lot over names — song names, album names, everything.
There are a lot of lyrics that touch on death and mortality. Why is that? My mind is always weird. It's kind of like this kind of OCD thing where I just latch on to things that are totally — what's the word for it? — things that don't make sense. I have these intrusive thoughts that come in, and it doesn't always make sense, but it can be hard for my mind to decipher what's a realistic thought or a realistic fear and what's an absurdity. I think that played a big part of it. It was just one of those things that I started obsessing with, and I would try to tune out of it. It would keep coming up.
Your perspective on Wondrous Bughouse sounds a little more grand and worldly as opposed to so confessional. That's totally accurate. When certain people first heard this, they were kind of thrown off because — it goes back to what I was saying — with me, I never stay in the same place twice. It's just what came out. There was no intention behind it where my agenda was making something that sounded like X and a Y. It was what just happened.
There are a lot of lengthy instrumental passages rather than vocal-driven structures. What led you in that direction? You can get lost in things that are hypnotic. I think there's a certain power behind repetition. If you hear something five times, a certain pattern, it might get to the point where it's like, "Okay when is this going to stop?" But then if you hear it ten times, by the end of the tenth time it sounds like something new again. If something repeats so many times, then by a certain number of times, it actually does something in your mind where it makes it sound like it's something different.
You're touring these songs with a full band. How do they translate to the stage? Really well, actually. After recording, I had these auditions — different video auditions and in-person. So I hired some people. Recording finished — as far as mixing goes and everything — in about the beginning of December. So by about the end of December, I started rehearsing a lot. Things have come together really well.
Did the players on the album have any input, or was it you directing? It was definitely me directing. It's cool because, when you hire other players to do any kind of additional musicianship, everything has a different personality. Even if a player has a certain idea of what to play, it'll come out differently based on someone's personality. It's always interesting, because you can audibly hear where different personalities come out. Even though there's certain [pre-written] parts, it sounds different because of who it is.