Photo by Albert Kodagolian
Critical Questions: Yacht
One of indie rock's most fascinating acts.
When talking to Claire L. Evans and Jona Bechtolt, the couple behind the future-is-now synthpop act Yacht, it's nearly impossible to stick to the more "traditional" discussion topics of band interviews. Sure, they have a lot to say about their touring, recording, and influences, but that hardly scratches the surface of what drives the duo to make music. A self-described "Band, Business, and Belief System," Evans and Bechtolt are open books, ready and willing to dive into discussion of their vibrant, diverse interests, which usually find their way into Yacht's music anyway. Currently on tour with like-minded synthpoppers Hot Chip, the couple break down their latest endeavors and do a little digging into their past.
CM: You guys just started a tour with Hot Chip, right?
CLE:: Yeah, last night was the first date in San Francisco.
How did that go?
CLE: It was awesome. We always dreamt of going on tour with Hot Chip. I believe they're the band that's the heir to the legacy of LCD Soundsystem. The energy was great; that's a huge part of playing with them.
Do you like Hot Chip's new album?
CLE: Yeah, it's so good.
On this current mini-tour with Hot Chip, what has the setlist been like? Are you mostly favoring songs from the past two albums?
JB: We're playing a bit of a shorter set than usual, so that's fun and we have to pack it with everything that sounds fun and exciting to play. It's been mostly Shangri-La songs, and actually only one song from See Mystery Lights. We're playing a cover from a movie called, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, which is a great punk movie starring Diane Lane (it might be the first or second movie of hers) and Laura Dern, when they were very awesome and young. And they're still young and they're still awesome, but yeah. They had a fictional band called The Stains and we play a song that the fictional band played in the movie. And we're playing our latest single, "Le Goudron", which is a over of a French song that Claire grew up loving. And we're playing a new song. So it's mostly Shangri-La songs, with a couple new ones and a couple covers.
What is the one song from See Mystery Lights that you're still playing?
JB: "Psychic City (Voodoo City)." We're not playing a lot of songs from See Mystery Lights, but it's just this tour. Maybe we'll play other songs on this tour, but last night we only played "Psychic City." We try to change our set around as much as possible.
I just watched Yacht's "Day in the Life" video (streaming below). I liked the part where you were playing the show in the laser tag arena and I know you played the Beekman Beer Garden in New York City not too long ago. What are some other oddball, different sorts of shows you've played recently?
CLE: Oh my god. One of our operating principles as a band is that we always say yes to everything, as long as it's spiritually and financially possible. We've played on boats. We've played in a cave in Norway. We've played every kind of outdoor festival. We've played in some art museums and galleries. We've played on rooftops. We've played poolside. We've played in kids' basements and bedrooms. Jona played in a kid's bathroom back in the day. It's a great opportunity to push people outside their comfort zones and play in an untraditional and non-rock and roll-type venues. People don't come to those types of events with any preconceived ideas about how they're supposed to behave. That means that we can sort of push and pull in different directions and create fun, autonomous, temporary experiences that aren't bound by any kind of indie rock posturing.
Have you been working on any new material to follow up Shangri-La? Or are you just focusing on touring behind the record?
CLE: We just finished a new single called "Second Summer" that's going to come out next month. And we're doing a video for that and putting out some b-sides and different versions of the song. That's kind of the only new music thing we have in the pipeline. We're always working on different kinds of projects.
It's interesting how you're up-front about how Yacht is in some ways a business to you (your tagline being, "Band, Belief System, Business"). Could you go into more detail about how it fills this role in your lives?
CLE: We say Yacht is a band, belief system, and business because we want to be completely transparent as possible. Like, the self-evident thing is that we're a band, and the slightly less self-evident thing is that we have an ideological system that's part of who we are. The thing that isn't very often discussed is that we're also just two people trying to make a living and we are a business.
JB: Every artist has a belief system. They just don't talk about it up front.
CLE: It's really about being completely honest about what we do. I think that sometimes there's a little bit of a stigma (especially in music) about talking about making money. And we're not making money, really. At least we're trying to be clear about the fact that we're just working like anybody else. We're just trying to make a living like anybody else.
That's interesting. A lot of other acts tend to brush that to the side when it comes up.
CLE: Maybe we're too much of an open book sometimes, but we like to be transparent and we like to communicate with people.
JB: We like to make people know too, in saying that we're a business, that when people are buying our records and buying our t-shirts, that is going to us. There's no other shady entities. It's not going to a major label or some other corporation. It's going to us -- two human beings, two people that are making everything.
Do you interact with fans a lot online? Do you get a lot of questions about matters outside of music? (like personal beliefs, science, the paranormal, etc.)
CLE: Those are more like exclusively the kinds of questions we get, honestly. We're very much available on essentially every social network and over e-mail. We try to communicate as much as possible with our fans, mostly because we're interested in what they have to say. The whole Yacht experience is a an evolving dialogue that is totally open to participation. We also talk a lot with fans in real life, before and after shows. We get a lot of questions from people to clarify our belief system. We get questions with people asking for very simple advice about their lives. Spiritual questions- kind of weird, nit-picky spiritual questions like, "Do you believe in angels?" "Do you believe in heaven and hell?" "Is it okay to listen to Yacht if you're Christian?" (We get) a lot of young kids asking those types of questions. It's an honor to be able to be in dialogue with people about such personal aspects of their physical and spiritual lives. We always try to emphasize that we're not necessarily a spiritual thing; we're just interested. We're curious about the world and every different kind of way of believing in the universe. We like to know what other people think. It's quite simple, really. We like to have as much conversation as possible.
Claire, I've heard that you have a background in journalism and are really interested in science and science fiction. Have you read or written anything interesting lately on these topics?
CLE: I'm always focusing a lot on science fiction because it's one of my big joys. I'm super into William Gibson right now. I went to go see him in a bookstore in L.A. a couple weeks ago. He's one of the great minds of our age and it was very humbling (to see) someone talk with such grace about who we are and what the future looks like. It was very inspiring.
Yacht's merch tends to be pretty interesting -- lately you've been into the smiley-face triangle and the "Shangri-LA" logo. Who typically designs your merch and how did you come up with these two designs?
CLE: Jona does all the graphic design, actually.
JB: Yeah, just about everything we use comes from the two of us. We're really hands-on in every single part of Yacht. We've worked with a select handful of people to help us with certain things, like print design and packing of merch. But pretty much everything else we do, just the two of us ourselves.
Do you have a background in graphic design?
JB: No, I don't have a background in anything at all. I was a high school dropout that started in punk bands when I was 12 years old. Yeah, I just taught myself as much as I can. I'm just trying to learn and keep myself open to new fields of communication, design, and all that kind of stuff. I'm deeply obsessed with graphic design and I love doing all the designs that we do.
Do you do any graphic design outside of the band?
JB: I used to. I used to be a freelance web designer before Yacht started taking off. I have a community of blogs. I have a couple friends and I started a blogging community pretty much before blogging was anything in 2001. It's called the Urban Honking and I do some design for that. Pretty much, I just focus on Yacht 24 hours a day. That's where most of my time goes to. But every once in a while. I'll do different kinds of print, posters, and web design for close friends. There's really not much time to do anything else.
Outside of the t-shirts, I was interested in a lot of the other items for sale on your website. Like, where did you get the inspiration for the Shangri-La perfume?
JB: I've actually been a huge fan of this local perfumer in Portland called OLO. The owner's name is Heather Sielaff and I've been wearing her smells for three or four years. As far as making stuff for Yacht, we wanted to increase physicality; we wanted to branch out into aspects other than music. Being a fan of hers, we just wrote her a cold email: "Would you ever want to do a perfume with us? Can we make something together?" It was amazingly fun: it was really interesting to make something that we have no future in and have no shared language. We had to just send stories and pictures of things for inspiration for her and just go back and forth until we came up with a pretty vast image that we wanted to try to convey through a smell. We're really happy about being able to make something like that. A lot of people assume that because we made a perfume, it's like this commercial venture, that we have some some sort of big perfume factory we're working in, that you can buy it at a Macy's or a Nordstrom's. But it's just an independent music-related, very small (venture). We only made about 500 bottles of it. A single person brought everything together and we did all the design for the label and attached the labels ourselves. It's just like how we do everything else: a very "mom and pop" collaboration.
Do you have any other ideas for items that haven't happened yet?
JB: Well, who knows what'll happen in the future, but we have a million and one ideas for every kind of device and experience. With some things, we're fortunate to have someone help us do it, but there's a million other ideas that we can't afford or don't know how to do yet. We'll try to execute them in the future for sure. We're always playing around with different ways to interact with the human body and directly communicate with our friends and fans.
You guys did a cover of Weezer's "Holiday" a few years back.
CLE: Oh wow, that's a deep cut!
And I know you used to run a Weezer fansite.
CLE: Yeah, when I was a teenager. It was the #2 most popular Weezer fansite on the web. I was actually just talking to somebody last night at a show. I got into the Weezer album Pinkerton as a teenager around the same time this all came into existence and popular consciousness. I just typed in "Weezer" and there were all these other things: "I feel Weezer may be like the Pixies. I feel Weezer may be like the Replacements. I feel like Weezer may be like all this other amazing stuff." And that's how I became as big a fan of music- this unbelievable conduit. So I guess I should be grateful for Weezer. I was a totally obsessive teen fan.
Yeah, I can relate. What do you guys think of Weezer these days?
CLE: I can't. I'm sorry. I got deeply into Weezer during a period of time between Pinkerton and the "Green Album" and it was so profoundly emotionally formative. I remember I skipped school the day the "Green Album" came out and went and bought the CD and listened to it, like, right next to my locker. I could never overestimate how important Pinkerton was to me, and for a lot of other people, I'm sure.
I think that progression is pretty typical for a lot of people around our age.
CLE: I think so, too. Somehow I feel if they were still making Pinkerton, I would be sad for them. You know? Like, that was such a tortured album and I'm happy that they've managed to have families and have fun as adults, and be more emotionally stable. It's fine; they're just doing their thing.
|A Day in the Life: Yacht|