December 7th, 2012 | Interviews

sarah meadows

Infused with a passion for science, an eye for art, a spirit of mirth, and the gift of sound and vision, the young-looking people aboard YACHT keep sailing on into a Powerpoint sunset they built themselves, just so they could have something new and fun to sail into. But they’re about to take a brief hiatus as a band and try their hand less on the “sound” and more on the “vision” part of their equation, with a budding TV show in the works. Here, we prod them ever so gently about deep textual spiritualism, and whether their birthday gets them another day older and deeper in debt … This interview by D.M. Collins., and check our our photos of their anniversary show here!

You guys have been together for ten years as of December! But not both of you—how long have you been together in the band?
Jona Bechtolt: Claire formally joined in 2008.
So you’d been a solo artist longer than YACHT’s been a full band.
Claire L. Evans: Yeah, the full band started in 2010. And we’ll probably never go back. … Maybe we will!
Jona Bechtolt: Yeah, we’ve gone back a couple times. But we prefer to have a band with us. I think in the future we’ll have deeper collaborations with Bobby Birdman and Jeffrey Jerusalem, our band, in the writing process. We’ve never really written together before, but we will in the future. Because we’re now such great friends, and we’re working on so much other stuff together, that it just feels weird to go off on our own now.
Was Shangri-La, your most recent album, recorded with their help?
Jona Bechtolt: No, it was just us. It was the first time we really used a real recording studio, and we didn’t do it in any sort of traditional way. We just asked for the keys to the place, and engineered each other, and just played everything ourselves.
There are a lot of harmonies on that album though. You did all those yourselves?
Jona Bechtolt: We did half of them ourselves, and half with Bobby Birdman. He’s been peppered through YACHT records for the last three records—someone we’ve always loved collaborating with.
Claire L. Evans: A thing with YACHT is that we try really hard to keep it interesting for ourselves, and that often means changing entirely what it is every once in a while. If we feel we’re reaching a wall of everything we can achieve within a certain setup, we’ll change the setup entirely, and maybe the sound.
What’s something pivotal in your music that you’ll be completely changing in the future?
Claire L. Evans: Well, we’re kind of shifting gears with future projects. After this show, we’re going to take a pseudo-indefinite break to work on a TV show. We’re going to treat it like an album: take a break from our busy schedule and work on that project exclusively.
Jona Bechtolt: It’s not exclusive exclusive.
Claire L. Evans: “Exclusive-ish!” It’s a new concept I’m working on!
I guess the only release that you did on your own in 2012, as opposed to remixes and such, was a Brigitte Fontaine cover?
Claire L. Evans: Yeah, that’s the only formal release. But we have a single coming out next week!
Jona Bechtolt: We also did a cover of a Velvet Underground & Nico song, “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” for a documentary on HBO about modeling.
Ooh! You know, speaking of older influences, Gary Calamar of KCRW called you guys “2011’s Devo + Talking Heads.” And I do hear a Talking Heads influence on some of your songs, for sure. But the rectangular rhythms and synths make me think you’re more influenced by other New Wave-era bands with stronger electronic sheens, like early Human League, Berlin, and because of the tight drumming, Missing Persons. Between me and Gary, who’s less wrong?
Claire L. Evans: No one’s wrong! Everyone’s a little bit right. Our influences aren’t the normal ones people give to us. I mean, we both love the Talking Heads, obviously, and Devo. But we’re not intentionally trying to make music that sounds like that either. I mean, we both come from punk rock backgrounds. We grew up in the Northwest and grew up listening to bands like Beat Happening and Nirvana and K Records bands, and the Microphones, and Bikini Kill. For us, that’s really the founding element of the DNA of the music we want to be making.
Jona Bechtolt: Yeah, and we have five records of music, and none of the records sound alike. And I don’t know if any of the bands you just mentioned are really, like, are a soul spirit to any of the songs we’ve ever made. Of course those bands influenced us, just because we’re people who have been around during pop culture, and we’ve participated in picking through pop culture. We don’t have a stance against being influenced by things or participating. But not one of those bands are in our core DNA. So you’re both fucking wrong!
A lot of people have talked about your “scientific” approach to art and music, and I mean that literally—Claire, you actually write a science blog, and your lyrics reference cosmology and physics. But in interviews you’ve said that “belief” and the “metaphysical” are important in your music as well. Does your music have a “soul” in the spiritual sense?
Claire L. Evans: Are you asking if drum machines have no soul?
Jona Bechtolt: Don’t say that. I hate that sooo much!
Claire L. Evans: I’m just kidding of course! I think Jona and I have an approach to all art-making, or to general “making”: the act of creating something out of nothing is inherently a metaphysical thing. Even if you’re making something seemingly meaningless or asinine, the fact that you’ve made an ontological burst, you’ve summoned something out of the ether that didn’t used to be there and given it a life. That’s something spiritual and metaphysical, and hearkens back to the very essence of the question, How can something come from nothing? How can human beings emerge from nothingness? It’s a very spiritual question.
Jona Bechtolt: And for us, we want to make things that we can then live inside of. Creating something out of nothing that we can then occupy, in that space, and make something that’s a temporal utopia. A place we can go, in time, together.
But a little more elaborate than a fort made from couch cushions.
Claire L. Evans: Yeah! Everything has reasons for doing things, and for us, we tend to think about it in those terms. But it doesn’t mean we’re highfalutin necessarily.
Nothing wrong with that! And in Shangri-La, you talk about creating a world to live in, with songs like “Paradise Engineering.” How much of that album was tongue-in-cheek, and how much of that was meant to be taken literally? And how much has to do with our impending environmental doom?
Claire L. Evans: Well, none of it is tongue-in-cheek necessarily.
Jona Bechtolt: Maybe “Beam Me Up” was a little tongue-in-cheek, but nothing else.
Claire L. Evans: We tend to make records that sort of walk around an idea. For us, they’re a way to explore a set of ideas that we’ve decided on beforehand. So, Shangri-La is about the idea of utopia. We made that call before we made it. And we used the album and the process of making it as an opportunity to research, fuck around, discover, explore what that meant to us. So the songs range from all the various extremes of that idea. Of course, there’s the dystopian, post-apocalyptic eco-apocalypse element to it: you can’t have a utopia without a dystopia. Then there’s these very earnest, starry-eyed, physical location-based love songs to place and time, and environments that we love, that we consider to be utopia. And then there are songs like “Beam Me Up,” which might be tongue-in-cheek but are meant to convey a sense of flippancy about the entire enterprise [Pun intended? —ed.] and wanting to just get off Spaceship Earth for a while and get another perspective. And there are songs that are almost historical, from the point of view of a Jim Jones-esque character who’s trying in earnest to create a utopia, which in the course of making the album, me and Jona realized that any attempt to build a physical utopia is inherently doomed. Because the moment you solidify and make concrete your set of ideas, at that moment you’ve made that idea impossible to evolve because you’ve set things in stone. Being able to evolve is kind of a cornerstone of remaining sane in this crazy world. Any real attempt at utopia has failed, from Jim Jones to Transcendental Meditation to utopian communities in the 19th century to the USSR. This record was an exploration of those ideas, and various levels of practicability that they have.
The 20th century was littered with failed Modernist utopias, like fascism, Nazism and Bolshevism—but while the governments that came out of those ideas were dreadful, our Modernist art movements were just as “solidified” and “set in stone” with rules yet they pumped new life into art. Do you think there’s something pure there that we’re missing in our relativistic times, when every band in every genre appreciates all other musical forms past and present? We’re missing the Futurist poets casting out Symbolism. We’re missing punk rock hating country rock and disco. Is there something we’re lacking by being so open-minded?
Claire L. Evans: I think about that a lot actually. It’s not missing—obviously cultural trends don’t come and hit the entire nation with the same blind-sided ferocity as they used to. It’s not like everybody’s into disco and then everybody’s into rock ‘n’ roll and then everybody’s into punk rock, or whatever. Some of these movements have defined generations! And maybe that isn’t going to happen as much anymore. I think the future is about this endless and intense simultaneity where everybody is going to be able to participate in every subculture as much as they want to, and adopt little elements of every different kind of art movement as much as they want to. And theoretically, on paper, that’s kind of radical and beautiful and utopian and strange that we can all participate in everything at once. But maybe that will be the defining thing about our generation. That will be the punk rock or the disco of our time. Just this strange, amniotic, technology-assisted cultural experience.
Well, if everything’s connected with everything, do we not have an enemy? Is it healthy not to have something to be opposed to?
Claire L. Evans: There’s always something to be opposed to.
Jona Bechtolt: There’s always Justin Biebers.
Claire L. Evans: There’s always Paul Ryans.
Jona Bechtolt: There’s always darkness.
Is there something in music, or politics, that YACHT is the cure to?
Claire L. Evans: Oh god, no. We’re one of several antidotes to several different poisons that all work differently on different systems. We’re the cure to our own boredom, maybe.
But if we were to extract your band from existence and you guys had not had ten glorious years of making music, surely we would have missed something!
Jona Bechtolt: That’s not for us to say.
Claire L. Evans: It’s a sweet thought, that people would be missing something. But I think culture is like an ooze that fills every crevice. And if we were taken away, something would come into the hole and fill it almost so quickly that no one would even notice.
I definitely think we’d miss your live show, which is wonderfully visual. Though your music itself isn’t comedic, there’s a smile, a sparkle, a sense of humor in the way you portray yourselves onstage and in the packaging around the music, including in interviews like this. Is that intentional, and is it intended as a juxtaposition of two different things?
Claire L. Evans: Yes, of course! Humor is an essential part of life. And we have many ideas that we believe in strongly and seriously, but we also are people who try to enjoy life and enjoy each other and enjoy communities. We love humor; we love comedy. In fact, we’re working on a comedy project right now. We always try to have a sense of levity because we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. Because nothing is important!
What’s your show going to be called? Is it going to be a series?
Claire L. Evans: It’s called Support.
Jona Bechtolt: As in opening bands. The “support.”
Claire L. Evans: We’re developing it for Amazon Studios. They’ve optioned a pilot, so we’re writing it now.
Jona Bechtolt: The four of us in the band wrote it together. It’s not like a YACHT project; it’s like the four of us, as humans, writing together.
Claire L. Evans: It’s kind of a big project. We’re going to use a couple computers with Final Draft software on them, and a bunch of Mountain Dew, and a wastepaper basket with a bunch of crumpled up papers in it. That’s what writers’ rooms look like, right?
Comedy does seem to attempt to arrive at similar truths to music, though through very different means. There’s a definite sense of kinship between stand-up comedians and musicians, especially from the comedians’ side.
Jona Bechtolt: Whose quote is it? That “all comedians want to be musicians, and all musicians want to be comedians”?
I think I said that!
Claire L. Evans: Comedians know what it’s like to go on tour for a long time and be in weird places.
Jona Bechtolt: There’s a difference between the person you are on stage and the person you are off stage.
Claire L. Evans: They play shows! It’s the same kind of triumphant and tragic, lonely life. They know what it’s like to be heckled.
You guys are big enough now that your stages are probably heckle-proof.
Claire L. Evans: We still get heckled! We get weird, passive-aggressive heckling.
Jona Bechtolt: That’s kind of my favorite part of the show. I think that comes from growing up playing in punk bands. When I was a teenager, heckling was very much part of the show. You had to know how to deal with it. Before Claire was in the band, when it was just me, when I toured with LCD Sound System, there was a lot of heckling. It was this huge band with a lot of players and a lot of instruments, and the opening act was just me with a laptop. And people fucking hated it! They loved to heckle me.
Nowadays, in less enlightened venues, have you been heckled for having women on stage with short hair who bring a bit of masculine presence with them?
Claire L. Evans: Oh yeah! Me and Jona get heckled walking down the street! We’ve been alternately called both “faggots” and “dykes.” You should read our YouTube comments! People do not know which one of us is a girl, which I think is insane! It’s strange that driving around this great nation there are still places where people just don’t know what to do with a marginally androgynous human being. They just don’t know what to do with it. And they will let you know in very clear terms that they are confused!
In Shangri-La, obviously there’s a reference to Sir Thomas More’s “Utopia,” but you also quote from folks like Tennessee Ernie Ford …
Claire L. Evans: Aaaaah! You’re the only person—
Jona Bechtolt: Ever—
Claire L. Evans: —to ever get that! Gooooood job. When we made See Mystery Lights, our album before this, when we released it to the press, we included subliminal messages in our promo copies with the idea that, A, it would differentiate the promo copy from the original album so we could tell if it had been leaked or pirated, and B, to see if subliminal messages worked. For this record, we did a similar thing, which is that we hid lines from number one pop songs from the 1950s—we took tiny fragments of lines and put one in each song. It’s like there’s a tiny Easter egg in each song.
Jona Bechtolt: It’s unfortunate that you’re telling him this, because it’s supposed to be a secret, and he’s the first one—
Claire L. Evans: I know! It’s his reward!
What kind of surprises can we expect from your big ten-year anniversary show on the 8th? Sounds like it’s the last time we’ll see you for a while.
Claire L. Evans: It’s a big special show, one that takes into account the broad history of YACHT. We’ll play some songs we haven’t played in a long time and some songs we’ve never played as a band. And there’ll be a big cooler of Kool-Aid that people can drink from if they decide they want to commit all the way!