YACHT may not be from this planet. As described on the band's website, 'YACHT is a Band, Belief System, and Business conducted by Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans of Marfa, Texas and Portland, Oregon, USA. All people are welcome to become members of YACHT. Accordingly, YACHT is and always will be what YACHT is when YACHT is standing before you.' With influences ranging from the Mystery Lights of Marfa, Texas, to dogmatic spiritual practices that transcend into the punk genre, YACHT maintains a rich intelligence that blends beautifully with accessible electronic beats. Not to mention they're a favorite of LCD Soundsystem front man James Murphy and a member of his immediate family, DFA Records, which will release YACHT's new album, Shangri-La on June 21st.
YACHT has adopted the triangle as both a band logo and a spiritual symbol to define the YACHT mission. Simple in design, the triangle ranges from gay connotations to architectural advancements. Both members have the image boldly tattooed on their forearm. This is their cult, and they want us as members. Out caught up with YACHT in the midst of 100-degree heat of the Coachella Festival. Claire, with necklace of shells and rope, and Jona, in an all-black suit, discussed their personal religious convictions (or lack thereof), their definition of pop, and their devotion to living in the here and now.
Out: I am very interested in your writing process. Are all your lyrics original? Do you draw inspiration from literary motifs?
Claire L. Evans: Yes to all of the above. It is obviously mostly original but we like to put in references to things from texts or other songs that we like. We feel they are clear enough that if someone is not aware of the reference they can go on a spiritual and literary discovery through that path. That is definitely a lesser facet of our work. Our work is bits and pieces, Easter eggs if you will.
Jona Bechtolt:: We write everything together.
Claire L. Evans: With each project or record that we are doing, we commit a large part of ourselves and our energy to the project. We spend a lot of time reading books and watching movies and listening to music and learning as much as possible based on that subject. We allow it to filter through our brains and make something our own out of that. Everything is steeped in references but it is all reinterpreted and remixed. There are a lot of literary influences.
YACHT entered the music scene through the visual arts lens. Because of this, do you find that your fan base consists of other artists?
Jona Bechtolt: I don't know. I would like that to be true but I don't know if other artists like us.
Claire L. Evans: We don't want to limit ourselves to only doing music because we have always done a lot of different things. Because we are most known for making music doesn't mean that music is our number 1 priority. Part of the total experience is the definition of YACHT as multimedia. Everything we put our minds to is called YACHT. Music is an amazing way of getting through to people really quickly. I think pop music has a very deep power to draw people in and disseminate messages via cross-platform, cross-cultural, cross-global communications.
What is your definition of pop?
Claire L. Evans: I think we all see the coordination between pop and spiritual mantras.
Jona Bechtolt: Repetition has to be included in the definition for sure.
Claire L. Evans: That quality that pop music has where it can be absorbed into your brain immediately with very little effort and it can be repeated over and over again without you being consciously aware of it. That to us is an almost spiritual concept. People do mantra repetition in spiritual practice. This is the same thing. They even repeat melodic repeats in their heads over and over again to dictate their actions and change their point of view on the world. This is pop: it is repeated messages, motifs and musical melodies. We play with that. We come from the Pacific Northwest and many years of intense DIY scenes. Our ideas of pop are bit more damaged than most people. Pretty much anything is pop as long as you are not doing something un-listenable.
So while many musicians would bristle at being defined as pop, YACHT, on the other hand, believes everything is pop, including yourselves.
Claire L. Evans: There has been a real stigma against pop and I have never really understood it. A lot of the most interesting and subversive artists of our time have been pop musicians. Prince, Michael Jackson, these people were all maniacs! They pushed their own messages strongly across huge amounts of people. They had a lasting impact. It is interesting to play with that. Mainstream might be beneficial.
You utilize many symbols in your work and onscreen. Is there a subliminal aspect to them?
Jona Bechtolt: I don't think they are very subliminal. They are right out there. They are right out front.
Claire L. Evans: No comment.
When did you get your YACHT tattoos?
Claire L. Evans: We got the triangles when we committed to the idea of the triangle as a motif.
Why the triangle?
Claire L. Evans: We wanted to have a logo because there are two categories of things that we wanted to emulate: punk rock bands and religions. Punk rock bands and religions both have these qualities where people will wear a Black Flag t-shirt and that does not mean they are really into Black Flag -- it means they participate in punk and the subculture and they have certain values. The same way a Christian will wear a cross or [a Jew] will wear a Star of David around their neck -- this does not mean you go to a certain church but it instead means you participate in a value system that is much great than yourself. The commonalities between the two are very interesting to us. We wanted to find a logo that spoke to that universal quality. The triangle seemed like the obvious choice. It is very ancient and means an infinite amount of things to an infinite amount of people. It has mathematical qualities, spiritual qualities, architectural qualities, and it is even the gay rights symbol.
Jona Bechtolt: We like that the triangle can stand for everything and nothing at the same time.
Claire L. Evans: It plays with idea of dogma. It is dogmatic since it is a logo but it is also the most ancient and open-ended logo that we could find.
It's completely accessible. Everyone can draw a triangle!
Claire L. Evans: It's a simple shape, so that is nice as well. It has social integrity.
Were you raised a certain religion? Do you subscribe to any faith other than the YACHT faith?
Claire L. Evans: I was raised Atheist.
Jona Bechtolt: I was raised Catholic.
Claire L. Evans: It's not so much about being religious, but it is instead about creating an alternative from that culture. There is a great value in community and communal transcendence that we find interesting, but we don't want to submit ourselves into the dogmatic or ideological aspects of that. For us, music is very similar to spirituality. This is especially true with underground music where people are devoted to their favorite bands in an almost religious way. Live shows are people coming together and transcending. This is all very religious without being dogmatic.
You are signed to DFA Records. I get the sense that DFA is a true community. Are you friends with other acts on the label?
Claire L. Evans: It's totally a family.
Jona Bechtolt: I had emailed DFA out of the blue in 2005 or 2006. We were looking to contribute remixes for people that we liked, so I immediately thought of DFA and Juan MacLean specifically. I wrote to the one email address they had on their website, which was firstname.lastname@example.org. I wrote to them and told them that I would love to do a remix. They responded telling me that Juan would love to do it, but he is too busy right now but they will keep me in mind for the future. We had rough email correspondence the years after that. One day I got a call from John at DFA. DFA is a very small operation with literally like three employees. They informed me that LCD Soundsystem is going on their North American tour for their new album Sound of Silver and their support band couldn't get work visas. They asked if I could fill in for them starting tomorrow. I had never met anyone from DFA or LCD so I was really excited and nervous. They invited me to ride on their tour bus with them! I said "Yes," and it was amazing. It was a life-changing experience. Everyone who is even remotely involved with DFA is incredible and so sweet and so nice. They took us in as immediate family members. They then asked us to make a record with them and so we made a single and now the next album.
DFA is very well curated. It's a new breed of record label.
Claire L. Evans: DFA is such a small operation that they can only afford to put out a few records a year. They have to be great records or else it is a waste. We have never worked with any label where everyone on the label is a friend. We were nervous because it is such a small family. We are really lucky.
Why does Portland have such a great music scene?
Claire L. Evans: Does it?
Claire L. Evans: People always ask us about that.
Jona Bechtolt: Portland is not unique from other cities in America. There are so many cities that produce great music and Portland just has the spotlight for the next 15 minutes.
Claire L. Evans: People say that the weather is so bad in Portland that people are stuck in their basements making music all winter. But it is not the only city with terrible weather. It has the perfect storm of terrible weather, cheap rent and lots of young creative people. There is no fluoride in the water, so everyone has bad teeth.
Are you both from Portland? How are you connected to Marfa, Texas?
Jona Bechtolt: Where should we start? I guess we can say we are from Portland. Marfa, Texas, is a special place for us. We have written most of our songs there.
Tell me more about Marfa. I just got back from SXSW but didn't make it to Marfa.
Claire L. Evans: Marfa is incredible. It is in the middle of nowhere. To go there you have to really want to go there. That is probably a huge reason why it is so special. It is incredibly beautiful. The light is beautiful. The water has a small amount of lithium in it. There is a paranormal mystery that occurs in Marfa called the Marfa Mystery Lights. It breeds a general ambiance and vibe and acceptance of psychedelia.
Is it like the Aurora Borealis?
Claire L. Evans: It looks like stars are falling from the sky. It has happened there since before recorded human history. It is a Native American myth. Nobody has figured it out. There is an ambiance in Marfa that has a different tolerance for humankind. It is a beautiful and small art community. It is a perfect place to work and be separate from the world and make music. We made our last two albums there and I want to continue doing it there. It is our spiritual home.
When speaking of the band's style, why have you committed yourselves to black and white?
Jona Bechtolt: It's always been important. With our style we wanted to give people a solid understanding of our commitment to this band and this project and the idea of history.
Claire L. Evans: When we witnessed the Marfa Mystery Lights, it was an important moment for us. We realized that for the last two centuries of human existence we have been operating with an absence of mysticism. We have become rational and scientific in regard to real life. We have grown up in this world of constant information that is seeking reasons. We feel entitled in that sense.
Jona Bechtolt: Right.
Claire L. Evans: We realized that all of art and spirituality and religion for all of humankind before the Scientific Revolution had overpowering ritualistic feelings about the world. We wanted to recommit to that idea. The black and white for us shows identification. The reason we wear black and white doesn't have a why. It just is. For us, we want to become a separate entity onstage and we want people to see it as special.
Do you think you are living in the ideal decade or do you wish you lived during a different era?
Claire L. Evans: All we have is now, that has always been our philosophy.
Jona Bechtolt: We only know how to live in the now.
For info on YACHT, including upcoming tour dates, click here.