Trevor Powers, aka Youth Lagoon, recommends some of his studio essentials.
He just released a limited 7" single called "Football" on Fat Possum. I was about to tell you to pick up a copy, then I saw that it was sold out. You don't need a record player to listen to it though, just head over to your streaming service of choice.
Without further ado...
1. A pile of notebooks filled with terrible ideas
Every day I sit down in my studio, my only goal is to get all the bad ideas out. The more pages I fill up with trash, the closer I know I am to treasure. I have ten thousand shitty ideas hit the page way before I ever have one brilliant one. Beyond that, I’m not sure if the brilliant idea is ever intentional. It’s always something I accidentally hit with my shovel when I’m looking for something else. That’s what makes art such a miracle. We’re a fucking mess. But sometimes we dig our way into brilliance. We just have to dig. And dig. And dig. Neighbors will think you’re mad. Maybe you are. Maybe there’s no treasure in your yard. Maybe it’s at the park. Or in your neighbor’s yard. Or beneath the Chinese restaurant down the street. But it’s always somewhere. The more notebooks you have full of filth, the closer you are to fortune.
2. Books that you have no interest in reading (and some you do)
One of the best tricks I’ve learned when writing and recording music is learning how to listen passively. If I can tune my mind out of the music just enough, my subconscious can hear things my conscious self can’t. It helps to have a stack of books on my desk I’m not really reading but can flip through casually. If there’s no investment in what’s going on in the book, it helps me get to a hypnotic place where everything feels like a dream — the music starts sounding a little like it’s underwater or coming up from the bottom of an empty well. That process helps me know when I’m making the right decisions musically. Equally, I’m surrounded by books that are a part of my DNA. Books that haunt me. Books that tell me secrets. Books that are family. When I’m reading one of those, the music is off. But I like them in the room at all times because their presence alone pushes me to grow.
3. Having as little gear in the room as possible
Limitations are essential. The fewer colors you have to paint with, the greater your imagination’s ability is to grow.
4. Portable tape recorder
I’ve incorporated cassette recorders in my music since I was a kid. For years, it was the only way I made demos. Now I use them mostly as textural devices. Sometimes just wandering around the neighborhood with a portable tape recorder will give me a sound I can catapult off of and can build a song around. My ultimate love in art is whenever there’s two opposite themes that can coexist. A blend of beauty and violence…love and chaos…past and future. In sound, that would be the amalgamation of high fidelity with blown out or warped detailing. Tape recorders are a good way to capture those mangled artifacts.
5. Something caked in peanut butter
God’s greatest gift to humankind. I’m much more productive when peanut butter is around. I should unpack that in therapy.
6. A whiny animal.
I had two dogs until two weeks ago. Now I have one dog. The other died from lung cancer. I recently heard someone say when you lose someone you love, part of that love in your heart goes with them. The mammoth cavity in my chest says this is true. His name was Wilson, and he looked like one of those wire-haired terrier mutts you’d see in a kids’ adventure movie. He used to come into my studio and whine for attention. I’d lay with him for a couple minutes on the rug and give him peanut butter. Then I’d ask him to leave. What I wouldn’t give to take those words back. I want to say, “Wilson, please stay. I love you, buddy. Please don’t go.” If you have a whiny animal in your studio, please let them stay.
7. Clippings of old advertisements
I collect a lot of magazines — everything from late ‘30s Life to ‘50s and ’60s National Geographic to ‘80s Heavy Metal magazines and loads in between and after. I’m a sucker for new ones too. Modern day GQ is high art. I’d fight to the death about this. Some magazines I keep intact while others I clip out bits, especially ads, for no apparent reason other than to add a sprinkling of old-world aesthetic and clutter to my room. Recently, I took scissors to an antique digest copy of Life magazine only to find out later it was the first issue ever made.
8. Jen SX-1000
I bought this synth in 2013 after recording "Wondrous Bughouse". The studio I recorded at in Atlanta had one, and it was instant love. It’s an Italian mono-synth from the late ‘70s, and ten years ago it really wasn’t that desirable. They were really hard to find, but if you did find one, it was only a couple hundred bucks. Now the price tag’s gone up significantly. I’ve used it in some form on almost everything I’ve recorded.
9. Computer that works at least half the time
My relationship with computers is complex. I use mine a lot when it comes to manipulating sounds, but I always prefer the source material comes from something tactile. There’s an added breath and texture to the music that way. I love sounds that feel like you can reach out and touch them. Sounds that feel like home, or at least some fucked up version of home. Working out song blueprints and arrangements is also best suited to do at a computer because of how quickly I can chop an idea into a million pieces. What usually happens is, I’ll “finish” a song before realizing the 10 second chunk happening two-a-half minutes into the track is way more interesting than the rest. So I delete everything but those 10 seconds and build a whole new song out of that. Sometimes this process goes on multiple times until I’m eventually left with the most concise and effective version of that idea.
10. Frontier pistol replica
My version of a stress ball. Call me a child, but I feel like a king.
11. A shelf of movies to watch on mute
Nothing quite sparks ideas like an extraordinary movie. I have a TV in my room that’s usually playing some kind of classic noir or sci-fi or crime thriller or just something beautiful and poetic like Tarkovsky’s ‘Mirror.’ Movies I’m watching for the first time or even the first few times, I watch with my full attention and far away from the studio. I only stock movies in my studio that I’ve seen so many times I can afford to watch them on mute without confusion as to what’s going on. Having images I love flowing around me helps pull me into healthy daydreams. I always write from personal experience, but that experience stays with me even in my daydreams. So no matter how far I veer into a fictional reality or imagined existence, I’m never going to shed what makes me who I am. I think it’s that combination of daydreamed worlds and personal confessions that makes my music what it is.
Synth History Exclusive.
Photos provided by Youth Lagoon.