Originally founded by Jona Bechtolt, YACHT has semi-recently expanded its membership to include Claire L. Evans. I was able to catch up with both of them Friday afternoon to discuss what the YACHT lifestyle entails, as well as what influences it. I won’t go into too much detail here, because they say everything much better than I can, but this was definitely one of the most interesting interviews I’ve had the pleasure of conducting in a while. Here is what they had to say:
BYT: So YACHT has the band/belief system/business thing going on…what are some of the nonmusical aspects of that concept?
Jona: We consider YACHT to be a code word, or an umbrella, for everything that we do. Music is just one small part of it. Whether it’s us making food for each other or groups of people, whether it’s us writing and releasing books and pamphlets and documents, making videos, making internet projects…all of that stuff counts as YACHT for us.
BYT: Now how did you and Claire meet initially, and then how did it eventually come to be that Claire became a permanent fixture of YACHT?
Jona: Well, it was kind of a serendipitous event. The first time that I saw the Marfa mystery lights (which is the event that shaped our lives together and as a band/business/belief system) was in late 2004. And the very next day I met Claire in Los Angeles. YACHT used to be a solo project, so I was touring alone, and Claire was in a noise band at the time called Weirdo/Begeirdo playing in LA, and so we were paired together to play a small gallery show. And so I had just seen this crazy thing, travelled to Los Angeles which was like a sixteen hour drive, met Claire, and then it was interest at first sight, which blossomed to a deep friendship, and then a collaboration. So 2007 when I was making the last album, she was peppered throughout it, just singing little parts here and there. And we returned to Marfa as soon as we could, also on a tour, and we both saw the lights together and decided right then and there that we had to move to Marfa. And we had no intention of making an album or making music at all, and so when we were living in Marfa we were just there sort of to research the effects of that paranormal optical phenomenon on the town and the people in the town; how that shapes people on a day-to-day level, and really how it has shaped them in their lives. And after living there, we looked down after three months and we had an album of music. It made sense for us to just do everything together from that point on, so then Claire just became an official member.
BYT: And the transition from solo to duo…how has that been? Has it been easy?
Jona: It hasn’t been so much about going from solo to a duo. It’s been before seeing the lights and after seeing the lights.
Claire: Yeah, the mystery lights experience was something that totally rearranged our personal world views. And even though we’re both very different people and we bring different things to the project, it changed us and affected us in kind of an identical way. We had such a powerful experience because of it that it was the only solution really.
Jona: Yeah, it’s all we ever wanted to talk about, it’s all we ever wanted to think about. And everything we’ve done since has been in homage to an research of that experience.
Claire: It really affected us a lot because we’re both really net-native people. We’ve had access to computers since we were kids, and our worldview and the way that we operate and make work and live on a day-to-day basis is very much dictated by this very casual, immediate access to media and information; it defines our age. And so to see something that was totally mysterious, and to not have access to the information and to not finding answers, to not be able to debunk it right away, to not be able to google it and find out what was going on, was something that we’d never experienced before. It was just something that was authentically kind of magic, kind of mysterious. We realized that that is an experience that exists in the world still, probably to a lesser extent than it used to, but that it’s something that’s missing from a lot of the contemporary conversation about art, music and media. For probably the majority of human history, experiences like that are what dictated art, music, religion, spirituality, philosophy. Before magic turned into science and knowledge and medicine and astronomy and biology, people just thought that the world was capricious, the world had these unknowable aspects to it. People didn’t understand why or how things worked; they thought that natural phenomena were the products of angry Greek gods…
Jona: Or gods bowling or crying…
Claire: (laughs) Or the fates, you know. So that has shaped the human dialect for a long time, and I think that for the last 150-200 years it has become a lesser and lesser part of the human conversation. So we just got really excited about the fact that it does really exist, and how profound it can be, so we wanted to try and bring a little bit of that back to our world as much as we could.
BYT: That’s really cool. And so with the decision to bring Straight Gaze into the mix also…I know you guys are constantly changing, but where did that idea come from?
Jona: Well, yeah. Something with YACHT is that every six months we have to make a drastic change to the live presentation. And adding more people only made sense to us, and it’s something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time. It was just in the cards for right now, it just made a lot of sense in every way and in everyone’s schedule. We’d been considering a lot of different players, a lot of friends of ours who we have close personal relationships with that we wanted to include, and that basically share the same ideology and have the same ideas, and that on this tour we could take to the lights for them to see as well.
BYT: Speaking of tours, you guys have been all over the place…what’s maybe the most interesting or unique place you’ve visited? I know that’s probably a difficult question to answer since they all seem like they’ve been interesting, but does anything stand out in particular?
Jona: So much of China was really amazing and incredible for us. I think it’s a priority for us to go to places where we feel completely and utterly out of place, and where it’s a challenge not only for us to bring music and ideas to people but just to be in that place.
Claire: Yeah I think that it’s always really exciting for us to play places where we’ve never been before where bands don’t often go, like China, South Korea, these kind of more eccentric places that we tend to go. And it’s kind of the same thing as adding members to the band and changing all the time; there’s a kind of vulnerability that we get out of it, an element of fear that keeps us really sharp and keeps us engaged, and keeps us constantly reinventing what it’s like to do a show from different angles. It helps us to be versatile.
Jona: Yeah, it helps us to really hone in on the craft of communicating with people directly.
Claire: Yeah, absolutely. So you know, shows in China, shows in South Korea, shows in New Zealand, all these places that we’ve never been before, it’s always a really exciting opportunity for us to get to do that.
Jona: We’re consistently blown away by how many people in those places that we had never even heard of already know our music just because of the power of the internet. It’s been so awesome, so great.
BYT: Yeah and I think it’s great too that you guys put up all your videos, because you know, I think a lot of people (or at least myself) watching those…it’s something that we might not ordinarily get to experience. Like I’m not going to go to South Korea anytime soon, probably, so it’s really interesting to be able to see those places from a cool perspective.
Jona: Yeah, never in a million years did we think we’d get to go to places like that. It’s so awesome, we’ll never take it for granted, and I want to document it as much as possible just so I have that to look back on.
BYT: Now, this is always a weird question for me to ask people, but what do you guys think you’d be doing if you weren’t pursuing a musical career?
Claire: I’d be dead.
Jona: Claire would be dead, I would be mourning her death briefly, very briefly, or working in an office. I think I would be very good at fixing copiers, fax machines, any kind of general office equipment. I would be something like an IT guy, but less with computers and more with the actual machines, like copy machines, fax machines, electronic motorized staplers…that sort of stuff.
BYT: Now see, those are exactly the kind of skills that I lack, so I’m glad you think you would be good at something like that. I’d have to call you up for help.
Jona: Yeah, I don’t actually have those skills.
BYT: Not YET! But I believe you could acquire them. Anyways, Jona, I know you’re vegan…are you also vegan, Claire?
BYT: Is it difficult at all to maintain that lifestyle while you’re touring?
Claire: Not really. I mean, there’s definitely some countries where it’s a little bit more of a challenge, like Korea, Japan…countries that are heavily meat-centric. But on the whole for us it’s kind of like a passport to all of the coolest, weirdest underground cultures everywhere we go, because vegetarianism and veganism is associated with two things: 1) counterculture/hippie culture, and 2) religious culture. So if we find a vegetarian or vegan restaurant in our travels, chances are it’s either a deeper hippie spot or it’s a Buddhist or Hare Krishna restaurant, like some weird religious restaurant. And so for us it’s always a really fun and exciting thing to do to find and talk to those people and have kind of a weirder perspective on the place that we are.
Jona: Yeah, there are a lot of fringe religious movements based around eating vegetarian or vegan, and we love exploring those and learning about those. Like the Supreme Master Ching Hai, who’s now really exploding on the vegetarian restaurant front all around the world.
Claire: Yeah, she’s like a Taiwanese…
Jona: …but she’s also from Florida, so she’s like a Taiwanese Floridian.
Claire: But yeah, she started a sort of health cult slash peaceful, compassionate religious movement. And she has a huge empire of vegetarian restaurants around the world and a lot of devoted followers, so it’s always funny to go to a vegetarian restaurant in England or Eastern Europe or Brazil and find the same framed pictures of the same cult leader on the walls.
Jona: Yeah. We’re big fans.
BYT: That’s really cool. Now, do you have any big plans for the future? Or just, how about 2012? What’re you going to be doing in 2012?
Claire: Nothing, of course! There’ll be nothing left to do!
Jona: Yeah for right now our biggest plan is to save as much money as we can to build a community center or art space or whatever you want to call it in Marfa, Texas. It will be a free zone for people to come in and hang out and collaborate and do whatever they like.