Interview: YACHT


Beyond how critical the capitalization of their name is, it is also important to understand that YACHT is not just a band, but a way of life. It is a belief system and a business. Yacht is duo Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans. Together, they refer to the Western American Utopian Triangle that consists of three important places: Portland, Los Angeles, and Marfa. So why these three places? Well, Portland, Oregon is where the band grew up, Los Angeles, California is where the band is currently living, and Marfa, Texas because they consider it their “spiritual home.” YACHT started in 2002 as Jona’s solo project, and later expanded in 2008 when Claire joined the band. YACHT has released five albums since the start with the first three albums being Jona solo, and the last two, See Mystery Lights (2009) and Shangri-La (2011) both Jona and Claire. They have toured the world alone and with bands such as LCD Soundsystem, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Hot Chip, Dirty Projectors, and many many more.

The band’s beliefs are expansive and universal that stem from one thing: creation. For example, here’s an excerpt from the band’s website that highlights creation a bit more.

“We believe that art and spirituality are inseparable; both are concerned with the creation of something from nothing, with form without antecedent. The moment of creation is a kind of spiritual high achievable by anyone willing to transmute an idea into form. Art is ontological birth. No religious culture is without an image-making culture. In more ancient religions, the making of images is the spiritual act itself.”

Unfortunately, no post will do YACHT justice as there’s so much to say about this band, but that’s okay because I have an interview I really want to share with you. YACHT played this year’s Moogfest in Asheville, NC for the first time. Technically, it should’ve been their second, but due to unforeseen circumstances and flight issues, we won’t go there. We’ll just say seeing YACHT perform was a treat! The band played New Earth in the Main Room Thursday night from 12:30am-1:30am. The crowd was hype and the dancing was nonstop. Be sure to read the review of that here.

I met with YACHT the following day in the upstairs of the media lounge. I made sure to wear my “Smiangle” inspired shirt (shoutout to my friend Nikki Perritt for knowing my style so well) to the interview. I passed on maple bacon ice cream to instead bite my nails and reread my questions beforehand. It turned out great! We discussed the Western American Utopian Triangle, their views on digital piracy, fashion, a possible new album, and more.

Radio UTD: How has Moogfest been for you guys?

Jona: It’s been great!

Claire: Yeah, we’re having a great time out here!

Radio UTD: I’m still sore from last night. You guys played a great show!

Jona: Thank you! It was a lot of fun.

Radio UTD: So, you both have referred to a Western American Utopian Triangle, that being Portland, Marfa, and LA.  Can you go into more detail about these three places, how they hold significance, and what influences these places have on YACHT?

Jona: Those three places represent past, present, and future to us. The past being Portland, OR, where the two of us grew up as kids, the present being Los Angeles where we live now and where we moved two and a half years ago, and Marfa is the future. So LA is the present for us because we live there, we work there, and we started this app as a side project totally unrelated to YACHT called 5 Every Day. It’s about the actual present. It’s just five things to do every day. There’s no archive, there’s no future. It’s just the present. And with Marfa being the future, I think it’s a place we’ll always return to. I think we’ll record there over and over again. Maybe one day we’ll have some kind of building or group there? Or maybe we’ll own land there?

Claire: Also, those are the three places we’ve been the happiest in our lives and have formed us in different ways. We met in LA, we make our music in Marfa, and we’re from Portland. Those are our little utopias. And if you draw them on the map, they make a triangle.

Radio UTD: Is that how the smiangle came about?

Claire: Yeah, let’s say so. *laughs* The smiangle emerged from Jona’s consciousness like three or four years ago. We used to use triangles a lot in all of our ethnography. We used to be more serious and austere about the triangle. We’ve talked about it in socio-spiritual religious terms that the triangle has been significant in every religious organization, secret society, and cults since the beginning of time. All of that being true, it still has all that strength, but it wasn’t very fun and that’s when the smiley face was added. Didn’t want to be so severe because humor is really important to us.

Radio UTD: I have to let you guys know I wore this shirt specifically today because it reminds me of the smiangle for sure.

Claire: Yay, it’s very smiangle-y! It really pops.

Jona: That yellow is great.

Radio UTD: What is an ultimate message for your listeners and fans when they listen to your music?

Jona: Well, one thing we say is radical self-empowerment. That you can do what you want to do if you really focus. It’s about saying no. You will say yes in life, too. But it’s about being able to say no.

Claire: Exactly. Saying no to outside influences, saying no to people that tell you you can’t do something just because of the status quo or something. Everything is possible if you really just focus your energy on it. And you know, sometimes that means you have to make sacrifices or you have to live the low overhead.

Jona: We still do!

Claire: Still do. But ultimately, if you really want to do something, we have access to many of the tools that we need more so than the generation before us. We have access to communication media that puts us in contact with the entire world simultaneously. We have access to the tools and production to make music, to write, to record, to make art with the tools that connect us to people that can help us do these things as well. We’re in a very unique position historically. And now more than ever, if you have a creative desire and you’re not fulfilling it, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough. There’s a time and place for you if you’re willing to try. Especially, if you’re willing to do it by yourself.

Radio UTD: On YACHT’s website, I was scrolling through the discography and the list of songs you can download and I found the copyright at the bottom to be really interesting. Can you guys elaborate more on your views on digital piracy?

Claire: Our philosophy is that people don’t pirate music and movies because they want to stick it the artist that they love. They pirate because they want to have access to that culture.

Jona: They want to participate in culture.

Claire: And maybe it’s not beyond their means. Maybe they can afford it, but I think any circumstance in which people are hungry for art, culture, music, and they’re consuming it on a massive scale and have a access to it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing inherently.

Jona: Also, I think piracy tends to push innovation forward because people want to use the path of least resistance. I think that’s what has happened to streaming music, which is good or bad depending on how you look at it. When something is easier then people will choose that route. Some people.

Claire: For us, the fact that people have pirated our music extensively has allowed us to go places where our music isn’t distributed. We toured in China in 2009 and we couldn’t get our record there, but there were people at our shows that knew the songs. We respect that. That to us makes a lot of sense.

Jona: For us, it’s about having a one-to-one connection with people. That’s why we love touring so much and why we try to tour as much as possible.

Claire: Because you can’t pirate a show! You can bootleg it, but you can’t pirate the experience.

Radio UTD: So Claire, this one’s for you. From where and from who do you pull inspiration from when it comes to fashion?

Claire: Well I’ve always liked punk icons like Debbie Harry’s sexiness, Annie Lennox’s androgyny, and sci-fi movies are a big thing for me, Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner. I’m always interested in speculative future fashion like however fashion is depicted in science fiction movies is always really cool.

Radio UTD: Who designed the suit that you wore last night? I was digging it!

Claire: Oh thanks! It was made for me custom by Armani Exchange. Very nice of them. It’s an IK Blue suit. It’s this color that was invented by a French painter names Yves Klein in the 50s and he like patented that color, all of his art was in that color. So it was as close to a Klein blue as we could get.

Radio UTD: I’ve got one more for you guys. With the release of “Plastic Soul,” what’s next for YACHT?

Jona: We’re going to spend an entire summer working on a new album, which we’re incredibly excited about. We kind of took last year off. We toured a ton and have a bunch a projects going on at once, but this summer is all about making an album. We’re so happy.

Claire: And it will come out as soon as the beginning of 2015 allows. We hate sitting on something once it’s made. Once it’s made, it’ll come quickly.

Radio UTD: Awesome, I can’t wait to hear it! Well thank you guys for taking the time to chat with Radio UTD.

Jona and Claire: Thank you!

Photo by Trang Nguyen