TAP Exclusive Interview: YACHT

By Ace Ubas

YACHT is not merely a band. Rather, the duo of Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans call YACHT a multimedia project – a project that delves equally into music, video, and performance art.

Their concerts can be described using a wide range of adjectives. But one thing it’s not is predictable. With various video projections and different methods of crowd interaction such as question and answer segments, you never know what’s going to happen at their show.

Before their set at FYF Fest, I had a chance to sit and talk to them for an interview:

Both of you call YACHT a multimedia project. Why do you choose music to be at the forefront?

Jona Bechtolt: We don’t. We let people decide what’s at the forefront. It just happens that we’re best known for music.

Claire Evans: The thing is though, is that music is a very good way of transmitting a lot of other things. With music comes design. And with music comes music videos. And with music comes text and lyrics. All of those things are a big part of what we do. It’s an easy way to roll in. Music is a good key. Pop music and dance music, which is what we make, has this lizard-brain, mantra-esque quality. Pop songs get stuck in your head forever and ever. Sometimes if they’re good, the lyrics end up etching themselves into your brain until the day you die, and that is a very rich platform, which messages and ideas can communicate directly into people’s brains. Music is useful in that way and leads the curve for us.

The new album, Shangri-La, was recorded with a proper producer and engineer. What are the advantages and disadvantages of recording on your own?

JB: For one, we’re deep control freaks. From every single aspect of design to the music itself, we have to be in control or we sort of freak out. Being that way, we don’t actually know if there is an advantage or disadvantage because we’ve never worked any other way. We’ve only made everything on our own, by ourselves.

CE: I can’t even think of an advantage (of recording with a producer) unless it’s Rick Rubin or something. It would have to be someone that we would really have to bequeath power to because we trust their vision. Most of the time, we’re just too focused on what we want to do and what our output is, and we have the tools.

JB: That could be a disadvantage, we don’t know. Maybe we’re doing it all wrong. (laughs).

When you go into the studio, you don’t go in prepared. You record on the spot, like documenting the writing process.

JB: Definitely.

CE: It may help you think about it this way: for us, writing a song or recording a song is the same thing. In the same way a painter doesn’t go up to the canvas with a painting already in his head. I mean, you have an idea of what you want to do, but you’re not like ‘OK, a face is going to be over here.’ You do it while you’re doing it and it happens. And that’s the finished piece is the process. For us, it’s the same thing. We don’t really see any other way of making songs.

JB: And for me, it’s sort of like the same way we start e-mails. You just pop into a window and start it.

CE: (laughs)

JB: There isn’t much of a block between doing and thinking for us. We’ve learned the tools so well that we feel like we could dive right into it and start it.

That method of recording seems to be more efficient than the traditional way.

JB: It could be, yeah.

CE: It’s efficient. And it also ends up making things an authentic document of exactly where you’re at – physically, mentally, philosophically, and emotionally – at any given moment in time. The record, Shangri-La, we made over the course of four, five months in three cities in America. It comes from those places, it comes from the experiences we were having while living in those places, and the conversations we were having at that time. It’s very present.

You mentioned recording the album in three different cities. Does environment play a factor into the creative writing process?

CE: Absolutely. We recorded in Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, and Marfa, Texas, which are three places that have a lot of importance for us as people and as a band. We met in L.A. in 2004, we both grew up in Portland, and Marfa is where we became a two-person band. Those are the places where we have felt the most connected to ourselves and to the world around us; the places where we have been the happiest. We wanted to make this record about utopias essentially. We wanted to go places where utopian sentiment was close at hand for us. It comes very much from our nostalgia with and also our relationship with those cities.

You call that trio of cities the Western American Utopian Triangle. Do you ever think about expanding to the East Coast?

JB: Sure, yeah. We’ll go where ever we can.

CE: Where ever the wind blows us. We’re very west coast people. But our notion is that utopia isn’t a physical place as much as it is a temporal place. It’s like a moment in time and it doesn’t really matter where you are as long as you’re experiencing it directly with the people that you love or you’re having an experience that moves you. Even though it’s only a few seconds long, it can be utopia. I think trying to make a physical place a utopia ends up in some kind of fascist state or disconnected reality. We don’t want that. You can be anywhere and we can be anywhere. That’s our philosophy.

For the new album, you did some outside research like going into libraries, looking at paintings, and even looking at architectural blueprints. Do you ever encounter any challenges with that method?

CE: We do what works for us. I personally really like having a lot of research under my belt before I take any project on. I feel like even if you have a really clear idea of what you want to do, it helps to be informed and have an idea of context, historically, and being able to draw from a wide range of influences. It doesn’t hurt you. You can always not use those things, but it certainly helps to have them. We try to be not encyclopedic, but thorough about what we do. We pick something to write a song about or an album about or anything to base our project around, we want to cover that subject in as broad a way as possible and really get the full spectrum of the experience.

JB: But that doesn’t mean it’s complete too. Just through talking to people and putting these ideas out publicly, it has been great to learn more and more.

What’s the most enlightening thing that you discovered through your research?

JB: Just the idea that utopia doesn’t exist as a physical space.

CE: We had naïve aspirations about the idea of utopia when we were making Shangri-La. And the more we read, the more we realized that there’s just never been a successful experiment. Every utopia from Jonestown to the Soviet Union has ended in fascism, death, murder, disillusion, chaos, spiritual heartbreak – it doesn’t work. Doing that, you separate yourself from the world and from change, from difference and ideas. You end up becoming myopic and eventually going blind. That was our biggest lesson and that came from within.

Claire, you have a background in prose writing and there’s a difference between writing prose and writing lyrics. Would you consider writing a concept album?

CE: I think all records are concept records. That’s what we always say. Whether or not you intend for them to be or not, you’re coming from a very specific point of view as an artist and you’ll always be making ‘concept’ records. We don’t really want to make narrative records, which is what I think you’re asking. We don’t want to make a story, unless it’s something that makes sense to us later.

JB: At this moment, we don’t.

CE: We make conceptual records, not concept records.

There’s a visual aspect that plays a huge part in your live shows. How do you create the visual aspect? Is it during the writing process of your music or after?

CE: It mostly comes after. We change it a lot. For us, we want to make the experience of seeing our band as visually complex as possible, giving people a lot to look at. In fact, we make too much to look at. The video always changes. It’s a way for us to remain spontaneous and remain engaged in what we do. We don’t want to be doing the same show over and over again, so we change as much as possible. Videos are really an easy way to do that. We make new video all the time. We’re always adapting it and changing it on the road and at home.

JB: We’re always taking up new ideas. Just the other day, I spent a couple of hours, via Google, researching Mylar balloon manufacturers, but I struck out. Two-dollars and ten cents each?! C’mon! (laughs)

On stage, you have a black-and-white motif in your fashion. Do you strive for duality, visually?

JB: We’re kind of obsessed with duality in all forms.

CE: We’re a creative duo. Everything we make comes from two very specific points of view. We’re very different as artists and people. But we’re different in the productive way. We’re like a yin-yang: opposing but complementary forces. That kind of duality exists in all aspects of reality, nature, and life. It ports real easily to visual presentation as well.

Your live show is very engaging with the audience that affects different senses (visually, audibly). How important is it to break that barrier between performer and audience?

CE: Crucial.

JB: For us, yeah. We want to make something that we would like to enjoy. We’re not really impressed or excited by bands that stand in rehearsed poses and play rehearsed music. And there’s nothing wrong with it, that’s fine. But it’s not what we want ourselves. We’re always just trying to make something we would enjoy ourselves.

CE: We want YACHT shows to feel like a temporary autonomous zone. We want it to be a lawless environment where people feel like they can do anything. I think a lot of concert experiences are very regimented. People hold themselves a certain way and interact with each other and the band in a certain way because they think they’re supposed to or that’s the way that it’s done. But really, there’s an endless amount of possibilities. There’s no reason for there to be any kind of structure or rules to the concert experience at all. It could be totally a whole new thing where the audience can contribute as much as possible.

JB: Bring your guns to the show (laughs).

CE: Well not your guns. Bring your spiritual guns.

I saw YACHT a couple of years ago open for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the Fox Theater in Pomona, and on the video projection, you put up your house address in Portland. How was the reception to that?

JB: We were actually just talking about that 20 minutes ago. Maybe for a year straight, we had power point presentation that included our actual address and a Google map on how to get there. I think only one person ever showed up.

CE: We were on tour a lot to be fair. People maybe showed up when we were gone.

JB: Maybe they were buzzing, but we never heard it.

What’s next for the rest of the year?

CE: A lot of things are up in the air, but we’re going to try and play as many shows as possible and tour as much as possible. We’re on tour forever. We’re going make some new music videos, some new objects, some new texts, and some new kinds of performances. We’re always working.

YACHT’s latest album, Shangri-La, is out now via DFA Records. They are currently on the festival circuit, playing Treasure Island Music Fest in San Francisco, Moog Fest in Asheville, NC, and Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, TX.

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