ROLL THE TAPE: A Casual Conversation With … Youth Lagoon

Youth Lagoon

Youth Lagoon

Photos by Aaron Richter
Interview by Andrew Parks

So we decided to take a simple but effective approach with Youth Lagoon in our new issue: Rather than grill him about the psych-pop fireworks that’re set off throughout his upcoming full-length (Wondrous Bughouse, due out March 5th through Fat Possum), we turned our tape recorder on and asked him to start talking. The hour-long conversation that followed included his thoughts on everything from why he’s a sucker for zombies to his greatest fear, the future…

self-titled: Hey man, what’s up?
How’s it going dude?

Good, you sound so much like you were expecting me to call, but not really!
I was watching Walking Dead, so I was in the zone. And then the phone rang, and I was like “Eek!”

I’m not like interrupting you in the middle of the finale am I? 
No dude! Just season two.

So you haven’t finished watching season two yet? Or are you just rewatching? 
No, I just started watching the show like maybe a few weeks ago. And so I made it through season one in a couple weeks, then started season two. But I’m always a sucker for like zombie movies. Anything violent and weird.

In that case, you must’ve liked that part of the first season, but isn’t some of the dialogue kinda corny? The second season gets intense and better, but the first season is like…not how people talk?
Yeah, no. It’s super cheesy. But that’s how those shows always are. If I start one of those seasons, I always go into it just expecting it to be dumb, and then if it’s a little above dumb, I’m like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll spend some time watching it.’

So the bar is set very low is what you’re saying. 
The dialogue is always pretty bad, but I guess I am just a sucker for zombies.

So let’s talk about zombies. Have you always been into horror movies?
I love horror movies. That’s kinda my thing. I have three brothers, and we always grew up watching old, shitty horror movies. Like, I remember when I turned 10, that was when my dad first let me watch The Omen, and then I got into The Exorcist, so me and my brothers grew up having horror movie nights. Pretty much watch whatever. So, they’ll still be nights where, if I have nothing to do, I’ll go to Red Box and find some random horror movie, and usually it’s just terrible, but I dunno, I’ve always been attracted to ’em for some reason.

Are you the middle brother or are you the youngest one? 
I’m one of the middle brothers. I have one older brother and then I have two younger. My older brother is 25, and the brother right below me is 20, and the other is 18. Every brother is two years from the next brother.

I was only asking, because I was wondering if your older brothers would watch that kind of stuff before you. 
A little bit before me, but we kind of got into it at the same time. My brother that loves horror movies just as much as I do is my younger. He is super into them. What about you?

I’ve grown to appreciate them more over time–basically since I took a class about the philosophical undertones of horror movies in college. Which sounds stupid and pretentious, but it was interesting to see how corny movies can even be trying to say something a little bit deeper.
I saw a movie last night with Robin Williams, What Dreams May Come. It’s super bizarre. I hate romantic movies, I absolutely hate them, but this movie’s done in a way where it’s all about heaven and hell. Robin Williams and his whole family dies. Him and his two kids go to heaven, and they die first, so the wife kills herself because she’s so sad that her family died, and because she committed suicide, she goes to hell. And so the whole movie is Robin Williams going through hell to find her, and drag her back through hell. So it’s super weird, and it’s super sci-fi, and it’s super cheesy, and I dunno. You can tell with movies like that they’re trying to say something, but you have no idea what they’re trying to say.

Maybe because they don’t understand how to do it very well. 
[Laughs] The budget’s not big enough and they don’t have good enough writers.

Are you more drawn toward realistic horror films or ridiculous ones, like vampire movies? 
I guess a mix of both. Like when I saw that movie The Strangers, I think it has Liv Tyler in it, it’s basically a break-in type movie where people just get killed throughout the night.

That movie was pretty fucked up. 
It was! But after I saw that I was scared to be in my house alone, so stuff like that, that’s real, is kinda freaky. But I’ve also gotten into absurd things. And like psychological movies are interesting, too. Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and things like that.

You still live in Boise right? I’m imagining you living in a place with a nice backyard but that’s kind of secluded. I wouldn’t want to be watching that kinda stuff there …Nobody would hear you scream. 
Yeah, it’s outside of downtown. I have a spacious backyard, and a lot of the time it’s just me here, and so it’s just kinda like…it can be kinda creepy here at night. But the neighborhood is kinda spread out, so it is a little bit freaky at times.

Are you in the suburbs? 
No, it’s not the suburbs. Just right outside of downtown, not in the heart of downtown. Well, yeah, I guess it would be the suburbs.

What’s another city that people could use as a reference point? What other places have you been that feel like Boise? 
Austin is pretty similar, as far as the downtown goes. I never expected it, because I have some cousins who live in Austin, and they’d always come up to Boise and they’d say ‘It kinda reminds us of Austin.’ A lot of the architecture is kind of similar, the way the city is kind of spread out.

Are there any other cities that you would ever live in? 
That’s the funny thing. If I moved, I would probably not move to more of the same. I’d move to like, somewhere different. Try to find some kind of different stroke, I guess. New York is one of my favorite cities in the world. New York, and I love Berlin, and I love Paris…Amsterdam. Your human experience varies so differently depending on where you live. So, I’ve always thought that would be interesting.

Did you travel a lot with your family growing up? 
I never really traveled much when I was younger. I traveled a little bit, I went on road trips with friends to Seattle and to the Oregon Coast, and places kind of in this area. But besides that I never really traveled that much. I always wanted to. I actually always wanted to hop on a train and just take off, and so I was hoping to do that, and then music started happening. You know how sometimes people just have that travel spirit in them, that you constantly just have to go and move? That’s how I am. Luckily, I can do that through music. But if it weren’t for music, I’d probably hitchhike and go places.

You think you would have dropped out of school even if it weren’t for music? 
Yeah, for sure. The whole reason I was going to university was just because I wasn’t sure what else I should be doing. You know, I’ve been writing songs since I was young, so I’ve always wanted to do something with my music, but you know, I just didn’t know where to go with it. So I would just like, take classes because I wasn’t sure what else to do. So I wouldn’t have gotten anything out of going to university anyway. I think I would have dropped out and done some soul-searching.

Did you show an early interest in playing the piano, or did your parents enroll you in lessons simply to give you something to do? 
It was totally my choice to take piano lessons. I started piano lessons when I was 6, and stopped when I was twelve, and that’s when I taught myself guitar. I didn’t touch piano for years, and just did guitar. Then I went back to both and sort of combined them. So – write something on piano and transfer it to guitar, and that’s when I kind of started intertwining those, in my early teenage years. The cool thing with piano is that it’s so transferrable to any instrument. I could write something on piano and then pick up a guitar and learn the same thing and then transfer that to synth, and then build kind of like a world, you know.

Had the songs that appeared on your first record been around for awhile beforehand? 
It was all fresh. Year of Hibernation was written within like nine months of its recording. So it was all fresh stuff, it wasn’t anything that I pulled from when I was young. It was all fresh music. Same with the new record. Every song that I wrote was written within like an eight month span. Because that’s always how I am–I want everything to be fresh, so I don’t like pulling from old songs I’ve done.

This new album’s just as cohesive as the last, only in a completely different way. I guess you were just in a different state of mind over the last year?
With the new record I would sit down at a piano and just kind of let feelings come out of me, and then pick up a guitar and transfer some stuff into that. And then like, I have this old cassette tape recorder, so I would record different ideas at different times, then do some synth stuff over it, then figure out the vocals from there. Just layer and layer and layer. Nothing’s ever purposefully ‘concepts’. It’s kind of just whatever I’m dwelling on, and my subconscious starts to come out.

Does that subconscious ever just kind of freak you out?
If I am singing lyrics, oftentimes it’s this stream-of-conscious singing of whatever I’m feeling, and then from there I kind of go back and break it apart–really analyze what I said, things I want to expand on. Some of that is scary, just to be noticing the topics I’m really dwelling on in my subconscious, without really…if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t really think about.

This one sounds like you went through something in the last year that just sort of opened up your mind. Reading something, meeting somebody, traveling? An epiphany moment. Is that at all true? 
That’s exactly what it is! I’ve always said people change everyday, and that’s kind of how this record came to be. This evolution of who I’ve become over the past year,  because my life has rapidly changed. There’s been a lot of ways in which my mind has kind of just: my awareness has kind of broadened, especially seeing other places in the world and all that kinda stuff. Going into this record, that whole mentality just triggered a different mindset and stream of thought, and so that’s kind of…I kind of just took it there.

What about musically? Was this record like the last, where you built it mostly on your own and then brought in some musicians?
Yeah, that was exactly it. I wrote the whole record by myself, then I hired some buddies to come and do some additional musicianship. I went out to Georgia to record it. I wrote the whole record before recording started, just because I like doing all that in isolation. Then I went out to Georgia to work with [producer] Ben Allen on it. I had talked to him on the phone a few months prior, and we really hit it off. And I told him what my vision was for the record, and I sent him all the songs, and he was stoked on it. So there was kind of that connection from the very beginning.

It sounds like you had a pretty concrete idea of what you wanted it to sound like. Pardon the cliche, but it’s a total ‘headphone record’, isn’t it?
A lot of it goes back to the tape recorder stuff I was doing, and layering all these different ideas. I have this notebook; it’s kinda my go to just as far as liner notes. So I had the whole picture painted in my mind of where I wanted each thing to venture, where I wanted things to come in, and then in the studio it was really just making that come to life. Which is pretty challenging. Especially when you have so many options of different equipment. I could really use whatever I wanted. So it was challenging, but at the same time it was a huge, beautiful experience. Because then I had everything that I wanted to do.

Were you turning to the music to reflect what you were talking about, in a way? Because there’s a lot of things about the mind and stuff–it’s mind expanding in the way it sounds, but also in some of the lyrics and the things you’re dealing with. 
Yeah, that was a goal, too. I wanted to make the lyrics and the music coexist. Have like one voice, instead of me singing about X and then the music is going in the direction of Y. Having it be this kind of…I wanted it to be this coexisting thing. I really wanted it to be a combination of my songwriting with really expanding it sonically and taking it with what I’m singing about, and having it be really spoken loudly through sonic experimentation. They coexist in the same space.

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