© 2024 WUKY
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Losing his voice gave this singer a new appreciation for God — and being alone

Trevor Powers says his mind kept drifting to the "what ifs" questions after he lost his voice.
Tyler T Williams
Trevor Powers says his mind kept drifting to the "what ifs" questions after he lost his voice.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 9-8-8, or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Trevor Powers went to the doctor in October 2021 for a minor stomach ache. He was prescribed an over-the-counter medication and expected it to clear up in a couple days. But that's not what happened.

"The word insane is such an understatement," Powers says. "Because [the medication] did this thing with my digestive system where it completely flipped everything upside down." Powers says his stomach turned into a geyser of acid, which came up as a mist and coated his vocal cords. He went to multiple specialists and no one could give him a clear answer. Eventually it became impossible to speak, let alone sing, which was devastating.

Powers is a musician who performs under the name Youth Lagoon, and his newest album Heaven Is a Junkyard chronicles this difficult season of his life. A season that gave him a deeper appreciation for his home in Boise, Idaho but also pushed him to his limit. At times he wondered if his primary instrument, his distinct and magical sounding voice, would ever come back.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trevor Powers: I had situations like my brother would come to town from Seattle to hang out and we would go to bookstores and I would have to text him when I'm standing right by him. Hanging out with friends, and even with my wife, I had a notepad that I would write things down on. There were certain days where it was worse than other days, but it was such a long period of time where I had to depend on writing things down rather than talking.

Rachel Martin: Were you afraid about the long-term consequences for your voice, or did you not let yourself go there?

Powers: No, I absolutely let myself go there. I was totally terrified. I had so many months where every day felt like a mini death. I had to accept that this was out of my control. My brain kept going to the what ifs. What if I can't speak again? What if I get throat cancer? You name it. That's the way my brain has always worked. It was such a deep, dark tunnel, the darkest I've ever been in. But after about four or five months I actually hit this healing breaking point where I had nothing to do but accept. And that was something that was new for me, that acceptance. And when that happened, I started getting to this point where it felt very spiritual.

Powers says songwriting is a sacred space for him.
/ Tyler T Williams
Tyler T Williams
Powers says songwriting is a sacred space for him.

Martin: You hear references to God throughout the album. That spiritual opening that happened in your life, what shape did it take for you?

Powers: I grew up in a very religious household, and Idaho in general is a very religious place, so I've always been surrounded by this idea of God and I would always have said that I believe in God. I would use certain terminology, but I never really knew what it meant because I hadn't had experiences myself that shaped what those words meant to me. And there's so much baggage attached to certain spiritual words, even the word God has become an incredibly loaded word for a lot of people because of trauma they might have gone through with church as children. I haven't stepped foot in a church for probably 15 years.

But I always sensed there was something there, this greater mystery that I could feel in the wind on walks and see it in the trees and all of that. And this experience with my voice, it taught me something. I used to think that God watches people suffer, but this showed me that God actually suffers with you. That was a turning point in my life and the whole album is centered around that. Also growing up in a place like Idaho there's a lot of lyrical content to pull from.

Martin: I'm a sixth generation Idahoan.

Powers: Oh, that's amazing.

Martin: I still have family there, so it's very much still home for me.

Powers: Like a lot of people, when you're young, you can't wait to get out. And so I thought when I turn 18 I'm going to get out of here. I'm going to move to another country or at least move to another state. Then what happened was I started doing music and when that started taking off I was able to start touring. When I was gone for these extended periods of time, coming home to Idaho, I saw it differently. The definition of home changed.

Martin: How so? How did it feel different?

Powers: It felt sacred. Because everything in my life started feeling so chaotic. The comfort no longer felt like a cobweb, something that I couldn't get out of. It felt like I could leave and then come back. Idaho is absolutely gorgeous, it's a stunning place, there are so many beautiful people. It's an endless wealth of inspiration for songwriting. But I still have a really complex relationship with it because sometimes people here have a hard time letting other people be themselves. And that really gets to me.

Martin: Can you explain to me the moment when your voice came back?

Powers: It came back slowly. Even when I recorded the demos there were certain days when it was way worse than other days. Some days we steered into it. "Idaho Alien" was one of those songs where we purposely recorded certain lyrics on days that I was having a hard time singing.

Healing isn't linear. That was another huge revelation because it wasn't this thing where I suddenly woke up and I had a voice. I'm still healing, my body is still bouncing back. That patience, being in the suffering for a really extended period of time, that's when it starts becoming a teacher.

Martin: Was "Idaho Alien" written before this happened?

Powers: I had a sketch, but I didn't really know what it was. I had a couple lines and some melodies but nothing was too formed yet. And when I started going through this experience with my voice, it informed that song, especially the chorus. Because it is written through the lens of a narrator, but it was actually because I was struggling at the with my body feeling like a prison.

It goes: "I don't remember how it happened. Blood filled up the clawfoot bath and I will fear no frontier."

To be honest with you, I was struggling with not killing myself and I turned to that song as a way to exercise some of those demons.

Martin: Trevor, that's really hard. Tell me how you pulled yourself out of that emotional and mental darkness.

Powers: Very slowly and carefully. Those kinds of thoughts and mental places aren't totally new for me. I think the extent of where I was at was new, but I've dealt with anxiety and depression my entire life. And to people that know me, I'm pretty open about it. That openness is really what saved me. Whether that's being open with therapists or being open with friends and family, not keeping things private, there's a lot of healing power in that. Because the moment you try to hide something that's when it turns into a beast you can't conquer.

That's why songwriting is such a sacred space for me too, because music allows me to get things out of my system that I can't any other way. And even talking about it gets to be so difficult because I'll do these things that I can only do or say through music.

Martin: Sorry I'm asking you to talk about it.

Powers: No, don't be sorry. I do have fun trying to talk about it but it also gets frustrating. What happens at the end of interviews, or even talking with friends if they're asking questions, is I get frustrated with myself. I wish so bad there was an easier way to dissect what it is, but there's not.

Martin: You talked several times about spiritual revelation through losing your voice and finding it again. What was your big lesson out of this whole thing?

Powers: Knowing that I'm not alone. For sure. I used to struggle a lot with this sense of loneliness, even when I was around people, and that's gone now. I could be on an island somewhere and I wouldn't feel alone. It took so many months of suffering and feeling like my body is a prison to start the process of acceptance of who I am as a person and learning to love myself.

Find a forest or find a bedroom where you can sit with your thoughts. Be OK with not watching TV, be OK with not talking to anyone, be OK not doing anything. Our culture is so distracted.

Martin: You're telling me to get over your loneliness you just had to learn to be OK with being alone?

Powers: That's totally it. That's how it was for me. Just be alone. Just truly be alone. And in that, I don't think that you will be alone. I think that you'll start hitting this point where you feel something else inside of you.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.