YACHT, a reference to an alternative school in Portland (Young Americans Challenging High Technology), was formed by Jona Bechtolt as a solo project in 2002. Nearly a decade later, YACHT has snowballed to fame, adding Claire Evans and a full band for live performances. I got the pleasure of seeing them live as SnowGlobe 2011 and then a phone interview while they were posted in Los Angeles on tour. The electronic-indie rockers are much more cerebral then I assumed, which made for poignant interview. Check out the highlights below and the full transcript here.
On YACHT being “a Band, Belief System and Business conducted by Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans”:
Jona Bechtolt: The band part is obvious, the business is being honest about what we do and the belief system.
Claire Evans: The belief system is…we call YACHT many things. YACHT is music, YACHT is design but it’s also a personal philosophy that we believe. It’s to be very clear and transparent about presenting to the world in case anybody might be interested.
It’s not like YACHT is a religion that you have to participate in on all levels to truly get. It’s just we’re people that want to be honest about everything we do, we don’t want to hide anything from people that are interested enough. If somebody is kind enough to care about YACHT then we want to give them everything that we can.
It’s as much of a personal offering to the fans as anything else. YACHT is our personal philosophy that’s laid out in a couple of places: it’s on our website, a kind of a manifestation of key points, it’s also included in every aspect of what we do and have done.[pullquote_left]It starts in my brain. Sometimes that can just be one lyric that’s just repeated in a melody or a rhythm or just one little tiny piece of music.[/pullquote_left]
On the formation of YACHT:
JB: I never saw YACHT as it is right now, I never saw into the future that it would grow into what it is. It started off as this little experiment just using a computer – solely using the computer. It’s been a really wild and great journey. I’m so happy it’s lasted this long and it can incorporate friends and people like Claire [Evans]. Claire joined in 2008 formally although she was on the 2007 record here and there. Officially she became a collaborative partner after we experienced the Mystery Lights together in Marfa, Texas.[Adding members to YACHT early on] was mostly a matter of finance, I could never afford to do anything than just [performing] by myself with a computer. I couldn’t afford buying a guitar or a guitar amp or anything else. It was mostly made up of cut-up field recordings and stuff that came from directly inside the computer like synthesizers. So – as I toured more and made money from playing shows – I would be able to actually buy equipment I could then use to record. Then take those pieces of equipment on tour. When Claire joined, it was right after we had this life-changing experience and we decided we shouldn’t do anything apart ever again. We were talking about the same thing, so we might as well shape our world to be one project. A full partnership. As we’ve just toured, and toured, and toured, we’ve been able to invite friends to come play with us until we have the band we have now.
CE: My vision for what YACHT is or what we see in YACHT is it’s not just Jona and me or just Jona or just me. We have ambitions to do things on a grand scale, by adding people and adding different parts to the project that are beyond just music. With an epic combination of thrifty and broad-minded, we make as much as possible with as little as possible. Hopefully, we make more and more things with less boundaries [while] becoming more and more of a physical thing, we engage people in a way that’s much more direct. For us, we always wanted more people to be involved, almost like a sovereign nation if you will.
On the Marfa (Texas) Mystery Lights:
CE: See Mystery Lights, the album, is named after a phenomenon that happens in the Texas desert outside of a small town [named] Marfa called the Marfa Mystery Lights. It’s been there since before there have been people, like it goes all the way back to Native American myth and old cowboy tales. It’s an old thing and one of the most inconclusive optical lights phenomenon in the world, one of a handful.
Jona experienced it alone many years ago but we saw it together in 2008 – it did a number on us. The idea that there could be something like that in America, in the world, in the lives of two people like us who are self-navigating children of the digital internet age. It’s something that there’s no explanation for, something that sort of just happens – it’s magic.
People within that part of Texas just live with it day-to-day, it’s no big deal – it’s just part of their lives. The fact that you can still live that way and be that way about something, well, it’s amazing because most art and culture and virtuality, most of the output of the human race that’s important to us comes from a time before science had all the answers. All of which are based in ideas of mystery and inability to know all the answers of what’s going on in the universe. Something that we feel is lacking in our generation’s output of artists. We’re interested in mystery just in general because of that and we’re interested in the virtual world because of that. We’re not religious people or even spiritual people but we’re just interested: what kind of effect it has on art and how art can be kind of its own virutality.
On the start of their songwriting process:
JB: It starts in my brain. Sometimes that can just be one lyric that’s just repeated in a melody or a rhythm or just one little tiny piece of music. The computer just helps me realize that one little thing, whatever it is, if it’s a bit of rhythm or melody or whatever and expand on that as far as I can as quickly as possible.
I totally suffer from ADD in a very deep and internet-child way so it’s been awesome to utilize the computer, to make things as quickly as possible from a fleeting idea into a fully realized song but it always starts with a bit of something. It’s never in the same place. I never always write a song with a guitar or with a keyboard or with drums or with singing, it comes from every angle, from every place.
Sometimes it comes from Claire sometimes is comes from me, from both places. We sit down together and try to go as deep as we can as quickly as possible. As soon as we’re bored, we move on to something else then revisit those things then elaborate on them.
On performing live versus recording:
JB: For us energy and performance – it’s the one time and place that we get to create totally ourselves. We’re in full control of everything that’s happening and that creates a place for us to completely lose control over that entire experience. It’s the only time we’re able to do that in our lives. All of our energy is saved up until that moment.
CE: Recording is more of a meditative process I would say. It’s definitely spread out over a longer period of time and it’s the result of much more thoughtful research and conversation and gradual instrumentation. A concert is a temporary observation, it’s totally anarchist-based. There are no boundaries or expectations on what we’re going to do whereas recording isn’t something you can throw yourself into, do, and be done with, you really have to work on it and think about. I feel like recording is perspiration and performing is inspiration.[pullquote_left]For us, we always wanted more people to be involved, almost like a sovereign nation if you will.[/pullquote_left]
On influences and their effect on YACHT’s studio albums:
JB: I think our largest influences are non-musical things like art and psychology and science.
CE: And philosophy, we do a lot of reading. We’re very tapped into the evolving dimensions of the technological landscape both in terms of hardware and software and policy. We’re always paying attention to what’s going on in technology. That’s kind of the strange and magical political gallery of the world. We’re like seas of information; we love discovering new thing or get really excited about talking with or collaborating with artists who are not bands. But it’s more interesting to us to try to drop a line between visual art and text and music, not just strictly music.
I think Shangri-La is an album that has a lot of Easter eggs. There’s a lot of references to a specific text or paintings. It was mostly just fun for us. Things engage us, we talk about them and then they trickle down into what we make. We’re people and artists and everybody is a different mix up of what is all around them.
See Mystery Lights is an album that came out of a really specific experience that Jona and I shared so it’s more visceral and mystical whereas Shangri-La came out of years of conversation and travel so it’s a bit more intellectual and researched. There was more of a deliberate point to make an album about one subject rather than one subject expressing itself through us. Shangri-La is about the idea of utopia, we started with that point. It’s more of a concept album. For us, he idea of making an album about anything is crazy, there’s a whole universe of subjects ideas and feelings to fit into twelve songs. But picking one thing, like utopia, or something abstract like mystery [or] even love and making an album about that means you can really explore. The limitations are really helpful for us, we like working within limitations and exploring every aspect of an idea until it becomes kind of universal to us. It’s not an album about utopia but what we learned about utopia, the idea behind it, what makes people aspire to utopia, which is a much larger feeling.
On the IFC television show “Portlandia”:
CE: I actually work for Portlandia, I write their blog on their website. We’re inside a little bit. But yes, we definitely enjoy it, I think the very act of sneaking a satirical television show about the most defensive city in America is brave and ultimately has worked really well. To me, it’s not really about Portland, it’s about a kind of culture that exists all over America in pockets, that’s why people can relate to it, that’s why there can be a show on national television about Portland because it’s really just about alternative culture. That’s the last phase of becoming mainstream, being on national TV. [Laughs.]