During last year’s Art Basel, many great bands graced us with their presence and gave us an excuse to boogie down. Amongst that crowd was a band that is no stranger to Miami, whose debut had it’s name scattered about the blogosphere and climbing charts on Pitchfork and Rolling Stone alike. That band of course, is YACHT- the electro pop love child of Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans. What began as a project solely by Bechtolt, developed into a band with concept sensibilities and a value for venturing into the unknown. With an elaborate website listing their many philosophies and beliefs, YACHT manifested itself to be a vessel for exploration beyond just singing and dancing, that is if a fan cared to explore the “cosmos” as they do. Last year they released a new album entitled Shangri-La and have found themselves back on our sandy coast to play Bardot this Saturday. We had a chat with Claire Evans and talked Extra Terrestrial Life, DFA Records, and the universe.
You mention that, “Our minds contain the universe, by the act of comprehending it”. Do you feel that this understanding begins when you make your music, or does the music act as a distributor to your comprehensions?
Claire Evans: That particular philosophical point doesn’t really manifest itself in the music we make. It’s a little too big for pop songs, the idea that all reality is entirely subjective, and that our minds, in comprehending the “real,” on a neurological level, construct it. But if we’re speaking more generally, that concept is inseparable from art. The way we see it, the creative act is essentially mystical, because it’s the practice of making something where there once was nothing. In doing it, we’re inherently asking the big question, the question that underlies both the spiritual and scientific worldview: where did we come from? By having the capacity to create, we perpetually iterate our own origin myths in endlessly personal, shifting, subjective ways.
How did your connection to DFA Records come about, and did being on the label and working with James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem) influence your music? If so, in what ways?
Claire Evans: We have actually never worked with James Murphy, in the studio or otherwise. The genius of DFA is in the freedom they give to the artists on the label; we’ve never been nudged by DFA in one direction or another. The only constant is a high level of quality, of taste. Admiration for our peers on DFA and respect for its curators is what keeps us vigilant, what motivates us to make the best albums we can.
We began our career on DFA when YACHT was asked, at the last minute, to support LCD Soundsystem on their North American Sound of Silver tour. The original supporting act, Prinzhorn Dance School, couldn’t get U.S. work visas in time. This was back when YACHT was just a one-man show of Jona’s. On a day off from that tour, we recorded “Summer Song,” a jokey homage to LCD Soundsystem, and released it for free online. A year later DFA asked to release it as a 12″ single, which they did, and ever since, we make what we make, and they have had the infinite generosity of continuing to support us.
You say that “Change is the only true constant in YACHT’s artistic output”, can you tell us how this plays into the production of your latest album, Shangri-La ?
Claire Evans: We approach every project differently. For each album, book, video, or performance, we consider the tools we have at hand and decide the best process for completing the project. Sometimes that means one condenser microphone, a laptop, and borrowed equipment in our apartment. Sometimes it means we have to go out to the desert in West Texas and work without pause for two months. For Shangri-La, an album ostensibly about utopia, we decided we needed to record in some places where we’d felt closest to utopia, in our lives. And since we’re obsessed with trinities, we chose three, which we now call the “Western American Utopian Triangle:” Marfa, Texas, Los Angeles, California, and Portland, Oregon.
We also worked in recording studios for the first time in our lives, although we used them wrong. We had no engineers–we engineered and recorded each other–and we wrote all the songs in the studio, alone, drawing from our direct experiences of the three months we spent working on the album. In that sense, Shangri-La is a document of our lives in the Triangle, our thoughts, our reading, our conversations, our community at the time, our fears, and our deep love for one another.
One of the goals listed on your website is to bring about more physicality to your output, in tangible of objects and communal places of gathering. What would those places/things be like, and how does this goal of presenting the palpable go along or conflict with your technological backbone?
Claire Evans: We use everything at our disposal–software, hardware, our bodies, our minds–to make the YACHT live show as present and physical an experience as possible for people. It’s essential in this age of false communion for people to remember the real transcendence of shared experience. Of touch.
Of course, we’re extremely concerned with technology, and being net natives is a dominant part of our identities. But we know that technology is just a tool, and digital space just a metaphor for (or a conduit to) tactile experience. That’s why we strive for more and more physical expression; after all, an object is the ultimate high-resolution file.
You seem to be more interested in being a way of life, a union, a belief system rather than being remembered as a band alone. With this dynamic, how does YACHT handle those who only wish to listen to the music, rather than delve into what YACHT really is?
Claire Evans: We really don’t care how or why people like YACHT. The important thing for us is to provide a full-spectrum experience, something that can be enriching on multiple levels, something that gives more the deeper you explore. We do it because that’s what we want out of the artists that we admire, that sense of a rabbit hole without a bottom. That said, if someone likes YACHT just because of the music, we’re fine with that. We’re grateful. It’s valid; besides, every YACHT song is a microcosm.
There is a section on your website about mantras and their effectiveness, and how we (unconsciously) allow mantras into our lives by the simple indulgence of pop music. Is there one personal defining mantra you have that you feel acts as the seed to many of YACHT’s philosophies? A mantra that the essence of YACHT can be stemmed back to?
Claire Evans: There’s no one mantra, really. Our album See Mystery Lights is structured around a set of mantras that we turned into pop hooks; short, pithy statements like “I ignore that which controls me, I control myself” and “I tell my dreams to come true.” The recordings of these original mantras are floating around online somewhere; we compiled them in the eBook re-release of our little bible, The Secret Teachings of the Mystery Lights. Even though we invented them, they’ve become shamanistic in their own way.
You’ve mentioned that it is “chauvinistic” to turn the cheek on the possibility of life in the cosmos. How do you think that this notion is translated in your music? Do you feel compelled to legitimize that possibility through your art, and if so how does one go about such a subject seemingly untouched by musicians?
Claire Evans: No. Well, we have one song about extraterrestrial life, “Beam Me Up,” but that song uses the idea of aliens as a metaphor for transcendence, or pure removal from human workaday reality–like being so exasperated with people that you long to be abducted.
For us, extraterrestrial life is a self-evident philosophical position. There’s no way life on earth is a miracle; believing that leads to all kinds of self-justifying dogmatic horrors. Even if we never find another breathing (or computing) entity in our search through the cosmos, leaving ourselves open to the possibility keeps us aware of our own relative insignificance, which in turn keeps us compassionate, curious, and honest.
See YACHT on Saturday at Bardot. Purchase tickets