“We encourage and hope for acts of spontaneous emotion. Ultimately, that expression is up to the audience, but we find if you create a permissive environment, then people take risks.” – Siobhán Kane talks to Claire L. Evans ahead of YACHT‘s May 3rd Workman’s Club gig with Tieranniesaur and Catscars.
YACHT is more of a project than a band. Initially started by Jona Bechtolt (a former member of the Blow), YACHT released three records from 2004 – 2007, but in 2008 long-time collaborator Claire L. Evans committed fully to the endeavour, which has subsequently produced 2009’s freewheeling, pop-soaked, spacey electronic See Mystery Lights, and the fidgety record that was last year’s Shangri-La; the title of which is a clue to their creative impulse – to create a utopia. However, their version of utopia has imperfection as its focus, and the flaws are captured in their melding of influences that busily survey (among other things) Brian Eno, Science Fiction, Roxy Music, Outsider Art, and Brigitte Fontaine.
Their last two albums have been released on DFA Records, which makes sense, since a song like “Paradise Engineering” sounds like a more feminine LCD Soundsystem, and they are drawing from something of a complimentary palette to other DFA artists, as well as driving a path that is as book-heavy as it is beat-heavy. Siobhán Kane talks to Claire L. Evans ahead of their Dublin show.
There seemed to have been a sea-change of sorts in 2008 where more vocals were added and you very firmly joined Jona in YACHT. YACHT became a two-piece in 2008, immediately after we shared a profound paranormal experience out in the desert of far West Texas, the famous “Mystery Lights” of Marfa. We were so shaken by the experience-which for us was our first really transcendent or spiritual moment, that we knew our future work was going to be defined by our change in perspective. In an act of creative economy, we seamlessly joined forces.
That is somewhat captured on 2009’s See Mystery Lights, a document of a joyful union, and where you are obviously having so much fun collaborating – what was the process like? It was spontaneous. We were living in the desert in Texas, working, unimpeded by the outside world, and allowing our experiences to translate into a range of songs, texts, and conversations. At the end of three months, we looked down and realised we’d made an album.
Joy is something that radiates from your work. Translating that live must be of great importance to you? We feel strongly that if you do what you love, you love what you do. It’s not an intentional project, to bring joy to the live concert environment; we simply feel privileged to be able to pursue our goals and ambitions relatively unimpeded, and that translates into our presentation to the outside world. If we can encourage people, by example, to follow similar paths, then we feel we’ve accomplished something monumental.
How far is your live performance about uplifting the audience as well – providing a kind of transcendental experience? The YACHT live show is a “Temporary Autonomous Zone,” which means that for the duration of the music, we encourage people to assert themselves completely and demand creativity from the audience; we want them to define the space in a completely new way. We encourage and hope for acts of spontaneous emotion. Ultimately, that expression is up to the audience, but we find if you create a permissive environment, then people take risks.
You collaborate with very inventive people, and bring them in to an often different landscape, like Boyd Elder and Rene Daalder – how did you come into contact with them, and how have the experiences been? We met Boyd Elder while living in the far West Texas desert in 2008. He lives in Valentine, a ghost town outside of Marfa, on an old ranch dotted by beat-up Cadillacs and horses. We’re always really interested in bringing people on board who are going to produce, inevitably, something completely outside of the graphic and ideological norm of our creative climate. Boyd, being a wizened weirdo in the desert who makes holographic paintings and designs leather jackets, is never going to make something “of the moment” or informed by current design trends. He’s going to make what he makes, something outside of time. Rene Daalder is the same way; we reached out to him as fans of his very subversive, profoundly iconoclastic films and writing. He was willing to lend us his vision for a little while.
How would you describe the relationship you have with DFA Records? DFA has earned its wide international cachet by having consistently impeccable taste. Simply, everything they release is amazing, and it’s because the people who run the label are smart, curious, and willing to take risks. We still can’t believe they let us make records for them.
The name of the band is an acronym for a program I must admit I had never heard of – and when I started reading a little bit about it, it sounded fascinating but murky. I read an interview where Jona said that it was a bizarre experience, when he was part of it at 16 years old, and that it disbanded shortly after he left. YACHT – Young Americans Challenging High Technology – was a local after-school program Jona briefly attended as a young man. It taught students both to employ technology and to be wary of it. These conflicting messages have ultimately really marked our work – we’re able to use all the technological tools at our disposal to make art, while also knowing that the medium is not the message. When it comes down to it, YACHT is about communication, and we strive to communicate in every medium while also challenging the notion that technology defines us.
You also give a little time to Harlan Ellison on your website, how did you come across him, and what do you think his importance is? He is an interesting character. Ellison is an icon of the 1960s American “New Wave” of science fiction, a period in which genre writers began implementing modernist and postmodernist techniques into their writing, essentially turning science fiction into a literary craft. Harlan Ellison edited two compendiums of short stories, Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions, that came to define the New Wave. I don’t love his work-I see him as more of a traditional fabulist, storyteller, but his role is important and his character is exceptional.
You have both now moved from Portland to Los Angeles. How are you finding Los Angeles? Do you feel it is affecting the way you make your music? Jona and I both grew up in Portland, and have seen it develop from a small, rainy hamlet to a cultural capital of the United States. We have great love for our hometown, and visit often, but we didn’t want to live in the same place all our lives. Los Angeles was appealing to us for the obvious reasons-sunshine, the sea-but also because it’s a sprawling, chaotic, infrastructure, and is a damaged, highly diverse city, and we were eager to see how we could adapt to something so completely different. We’re too close now to tell exactly how it’s influenced our output, but I’m sure that when we look back a few years from now we’ll see a marked change.
You think long and hard about what you are going to read when you are on tour, that it is time for “reading and analysis” as well as performing music. What is on your reading list this time around? Jona and I are both currently reading Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” which is a fascinating neurological analysis of the creative impulse. I’m hoping to finally read Douglas Hofstader’s “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” on this tour; it seems smart to bring one giant book that will keep me engaged for two months.
You have lots of other projects on the go- can you tell me about any of them? We tend to call all our creative projects YACHT. That way, we never limit ourselves or place many boundaries around what YACHT can be – it keeps us willing to expand the project, give it longevity. If YACHT was just music, we’d get bored.
You esteem both Science and Art, believing that that they are, at their core, about searching. One of my favourite periods is the Renaissance – it seemed like Science and Art were viewed in holy terms almost, that they were beyond being compatible, and viewed as necessary to each other’s existence. There seems to be a repression of that kind of thinking at present – an obsession with technology is blinding real meaning and “searching”. What are your thoughts? Absolutely. There’s a beautiful John Keats essay called “Newton, the Man,” in which he writes that Isaac Newton “was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago.” We understand science, magic, art, and religion to all be different manifestations of the same impulse. After all, at their core, they are all seeking to answer the same questions: why are we here? What is the nature of existence? Why did something come from nothing?
We think the scientific humanists of the Renaissance understood this, and could ably use metaphor and intuition to explore an objective and impartial world. Magic was once a form of science. Astronomy was born from astrology. It’s not gone, though. Now, in science, we’ve reached a level of utter conceptual subjectivity about the nature of reality-look at theoretical physics-that often reads like the rhetoric of the ancients.
YACHT play The Workman’s Club on May 3rd with Tieranniesaur and Catscars.