Formed in Portland but now based in Los Angeles, YACHT is the moniker created by electronic musician and multimedia artist Jonathan “Jona” Bechtolt. Fellow media artist Claire Evans began to perform full-time with YACHT in 2008, and the group further expanded to include musicians Rob "Bobby Birdman" Kieswetter, Jeffrey Brodsky and Katy Davidson during their live shows.
The band’s latest full length release “Shangri-la” dropped in June 2011 on DFA Records. It was later accompanied by art pieces and even a Shangri-La fragrance. Shangri-La was the follow-up to the band’s first full-length See Mystery Lights (2009), which showcased YACHT in its current two-piece form. Jona previously released three solo albums under the YACHT name, Super Warren MMIV (2003), Mega (2005) and I Believe In You. Your Magic is Real (2007).
YACHT is more than just a band; according to the band's website, it's a belief system, “All people are welcome to become members of YACHT.” It's a tempting offer, the duo of Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans seem to be living their lives as richly and fully as anyone I've ever spoken with. YACHT was first formed by Bechtolt in 2003, though he initially gained more notoriety for his participation in a duo called The Blow. A partnership with vocalist Khaela Maicich, The Blow's much loved, utterly sweet music mixed mainstream pop styles with perfectly pitched melancholic whimsy. After the dissolution of the Blow, Bechtolt redoubled his efforts on YACHT, adding Evans as a full time member in 2008. Together, their music harnesses the infectiously fun kitsch of the B-52s and irrepressible disco-rock groove of DFA labelmates like LCD Soundsystem. It's smart, exuberant, endearing, but above all, positive in a special way that isn't easily achieved. Over the course of a long interview conducted as the self-proclaimed nomads drove from Arizona to LA, YACHT reflect those same adjectives.
Band of the Day: Question: Jona, you first got in touch with us after reading about us in a tech blog, do you guys stay pretty up to date on tech news in general?
Claire: That's the understatement of the century.
Jona: Big understatement, for sure. I'm completely plugged into all things Apple related on a daily basis and Claire is -
Claire: I'm a science and tech journalist so I do a lot, not super heavy on the gadget side of things, but am very interested in technology. I would say 60% of the conversations we have between each other and friends is tech-related.
Band of the Day: Is your writing mostly engineering and hard science based?
Claire: No, I do a lot of different stuff but I have a science blog on scienceblogs.com which is the National Geographic blog where I write about Science and Culture and Science and the Arts, larger issues about how discoveries in science can affect the way that people who are largely in the humanities and not interested in science live their lives.
Band of the Day: Has is it been interesting to watch Apple go from what was really a niche product to one of the defining technologies of the world today?
Jona: Yeah, it's deeply interesting. Crazy to go from the underground. People used to really question my taste in Apple and my usage of their products, and I had to convince people and play the evangelists to get people to switch from PCs to Macs. Now it's a completely different landscape. It's awesome, I love it.
Band of the Day: We're, of course, huge Apple fans, too, as makers of iPhone and iPad apps. It's funny how many people who aren't into huge corporations usually are such Apple fans, as they're THE biggest corporation in the world in terms of market cap!
Jona: Oh yeah, that's exactly me. I'm not a fan of big corporations in general, there isn't another big corporation that I have any emotional investment in. Steve Jobs was such a weirdo, such an acid head cool guy. If there's ever another company that had a face like that, maybe I'd consider it, but there isn't.
Band of the Day: Do you guys participate in many online communities beyond broadcast oriented ones like Twitter?
Claire: Yeah, we're lifelong early adopters. Every social network that you can imagine we've been on, ever heard of Virb?! [laughs] Yeah, Virb was great. It was the Vimeo of Facebook.
Jona: Yeah, we've also dabbled in early message boards. There's a message board that two friends of mine and I started that then developed into an online magazine and blogging community called urbanhonking.com. Me and Claire have both been on message boards since the early 2000s.
Claire: I found my first boyfriend on a message board, that's why I moved to California, actually.
Jona: Claire used to run the number two most popular Weezer fan site.
Claire: That's when I was like 13. We're both lifelong, net-native children. We feel very much empowered by being online. Where we are today is largely because of the Internet and the way it's been able to connect us both in terms of traveling, meeting people, outreach and sheer inspiration and collaboration.
Jona: We don't use social networks just to use them. We use the ones we like and avoid the ones we don't like. We don't see it as a task. “Oh, we have to update Facebook for our shows.” We use them as tools in our personal lives as well.
Band of the Day: Continuing with the technology theme, do you guys think you could create art without technology?
Jona: Definitely. We have and always will.
Claire: We like to use all the tools at our disposal. That includes our minds and our hands and physical objects that we can mold in space and time, but also since we have access to digital tools, we use those. They're incredibly effective. We've always had a Buckminster Fuller axiom of “do as much as possible with as little as possible.” We'll always find a way to make big ideas out of small things.
Band of the Day: Jona, are you at the point where you can just hear a drumbeat, for example, in your head and quickly create it through technology organically?
Jona: Definitely. That was part of the reason I started YACHT in 2002, to see if I could make my ideas materialize faster than ever through the use of technology and computers.
Band of the Day: I was looking at some of the press shots you guys did for Shangri-La, and it seems to present you in a kind of childlike state. Is maintaining a childlike outlook important for your art?
Claire: That's interesting. No one's ever said that. I've never thought about that.
Jona: Yeah, that wasn't a conscious effort, but that's cool. We definitely, almost against our will, project a childlike look to us. We're always carded wherever we go for alcohol and sometimes even rated R movies!
Claire: People ask us how old we are and are always surprised when we tell them. We have an awareness and an awe about the world we drum into ourselves. We're always trying to be curious and keep the psychedelic floodgates open to always be surprised by things.
Jona: We're generally both very optimistic people. That, maybe, has something to do with it. That doesn't mean we aren't dark as shit. Sometimes we are.
Band of the Day: You guys tour pretty constantly. Do you feel like nomads? Has that altered your perception of home?
Jona: I've been touring since I was 13-years-old with very little breaks in between each year, so it feels like normal life to me. It's all that I know professionally, and it's all that I like to do. When I'm in one place for more than a few months, I start to feel itchy and crazy when I think about the road.
Claire: It's shocking how easily the human psyche adapts to always being on the road. You freak out and you miss home, and then you reach a second plateau when you don't feel like you ever need to be there. You get back to your house, and everything around you is dead weight. All the clothes you don't have in your suitcase, you think, “Why do I even have these? They're just taking up space.” When you get to that point, you realize you've truly cut yourself off from the normal flow of things.
Band of the Day: Do you have possessions that help ground you and give you a sense of home?
Jona: I try to be incredibly minimal, but there are some things that we like to bring with us to give us a sense of space. Scents, smells, candles, stuff like that.
Claire: The more I tour, the more I realize the value of, “Oh, I should bring a nice silk kimono with me,” even though it's completely useless, because at some point I can put it on and feel like I'm relaxing.
Band of the Day: One of your goals is to create a full sensory experience through your art. Do you guys think that the way technology splits our attention erodes people's ability to have that finite experience?
Claire: It hasn't eroded it, I think it has made people react more strongly to the sensory when it's presented to them, as it is more alien to daily life than it used to be. People are more blown away by physical contact, by a direct moment in time shared with other people. It seems more cathartic than it used to be. Like they haven't been touched in a while. I think it's more and more important.
Band of the Day: In “Shangri-La” you mention West Texas, L.A. and Oregon. Are those the frontrunners of your personal short list of heaven, or would you consider other places?
Jona: Those three places are what we consider to be our physical manifestation of utopia.
Claire: We call it the Western American Utopian Triangle.
Jona: Specifically Marfa, Texas, Portland, Oregon and L.A. Those are three places that we've recorded our last two records. We have personal ties to each of those places. We both grew up in Portland, met in L.A., and our life changed in Marfa, Texas.
Band of the Day: To me, L.A. has a lot of utopian aspects, but also a lot of crazy dystopian aspects. Does that kind of duality draw you to it?
Claire: Yeah, absolutely. We've always been interested in all kinds of dualities. By virtue of being a male-female collaborative duo that's separate, but equal, opposing forces, yin-yang, that underlies how we work and seek out in the world. L.A. is kind of the perfect manifestation of that. It's as terrible as it is wonderful, and everything that makes it wonderful is juxtaposed with all the terrible things. So much garbage and so much superficiality and poor design for infrastructure that it makes the things that are beautiful even more beautiful and more sacred.
Band of the Day: Would you consider adding a place that is more just beautiful, without the negative aspects into the shortlist?
Jona: Portland is sort of that place.
Claire: But Portland can also be a pain in the ass. Every one of those places is fantastic in a way, Marfa is fantastic but it's too isolated. You could never live there all the time. Portland is very utopian, but having that utopian environment can become oppressive. I don't think there's any such thing as a perfect place. If you're somewhere long enough and you've had the wrong types of experiences, you'll always walk away disappointed. Maybe that's because we're nomads in spirit.
Band of the Day: Do you think utopia has to be community-driven? If you're a nomad can you create your own utopia and have it with you wherever you go?
Claire: Absolutely. That's a fundamental part of the YACHT philosophy. There's no such thing as a physical utopia. Anytime anyone has ever tried to deliberately create a physical, geographic utopia, it pretty much always fails. In my research I've never found a utopian community that didn't fall apart in some way. It's remarkable. I think part of it has to do with once you isolate yourself from the rest of the world, whatever purpose, no matter how altruistic, you end up becoming myopic because of the isolation. The only kind of utopia that's real, that can exist, is one that's built with time. If you accept the fact that something can be finite while still being utopia, then you can train one temporal experience after the other, different ones throughout your life to grow with them. You can make a personal bubble of utopia. You can share sometimes with people along the way, but you can't count on them to be with you every step of the way.
Band of the Day: You guys are clearly trying to promote spirituality and open-mindedness in a positive way, but if you HAD to form a cult and were forced to be the leaders, what kind of cult would it be, and what sorts of special privileges would you enjoy as the leaders?
Jona: As much ice cream as we can eat.
Claire: I think, some kind of classic format, maybe a post-millennial cult, and we'd advocate the return of some cool intergalactic being that's going to come take us away. I think people really need to have a goal or objective in mind that's in the near future in order to motivate themselves fully to participate in a cult. A lot of love and positivity with a slight dark tinge of punishment to those who fall out of line.
Jona: We could take advantage of 2012 of the Mayan calendar. It's a good time to do that.
Claire: There's too many of those guys.
Jona: There's nothing organized, though. I'm just saying the time, right now, would be good to take advantage of that.
Claire: Communal meals. Communal yoga in the morning. Nap time. Once yearly or twice yearly, full on crazy bacchanalia where everyone does peyote and swims in the ocean or something.
Jona: Very organized.
Claire: Very monastic.
Jona: Very strict diet.
Band of the Day: Vegan diet? Just ice cream?
Jona: Vegan coconut ice cream.
Band of the Day: So basically like the activities in the Shangri-La video, right?
Claire: Yeah, that wasn't very far from the truth.
Band of the Day: Well let me know when it starts.
Jona: It already has started.