BYT Interviews: YACHT (2018)
Megan | Jan 12, 2018 | 12:00PM |

YACHT will be rolling through several cities of interest to ye olde BYT fam starting TONIGHT at Chicago’s Schubas, and continuing next week at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday 1.16 and DC’s Rock & Roll Hotel on Friday 1.19, all in celebration of their latest release, Strawberry Moon! In advance of the gigs, and eight long years since our first interview, I caught up with Claire L. Evans over the phone to talk about YACHT’s involvement with the Triforium Project, her forthcoming book, an up-to-date assessment of her and Jona’s feelings about the Marfa Lights and MORE! So internet-eavesdrop on the full conversation below, grab tickets to any/all shows that apply to your geographical location, and grab a copy of the EP for your listening enjoyment! HERE WE GO:

I’ve had “Look Alive” on repeat for…basically forever since it came out. So thank you for that! Was there any sort of conversation surrounding the strategy of creating an EP with Strawberry Moon, as opposed to a full-length? And what was the spark that got the ball rolling on this particular body of songs?

It was the same as anything we do; we start with a kernel of something, and then it builds and builds. We had the name first (we really wanted to make something called Strawberry Moon; we love that combination of words), and I think it was the summer of 2016 that there was a Strawberry Moon, which is an astronomical phenomenon. It’s one of those astronomical phenomena that the internet is always trying to get you to tweet about, or you log into Facebook and it’s like, “Hey! What do YOU think about the eclipse?!” It’s like this strange, forced, collective conversation that these platforms create for us, and for some reason we perceived that really strongly with the Strawberry Moon; it was like this thing that we never even saw, and I don’t think very many people did see, because it’s such a subtle effect (the moon is just slightly pinker), and you’re lucky if you can even see the sky a lot of the time. So it was a very abstract thing, but we loved this idea of this kind of social media driven strangeness around something so distant and so abstract as the moon. I think that’s where it started. Not to say that any of the songs are about that, but just that feeling was something that was interesting to us.

Absolutely. It is bizarre to sort of look around every once in a while and take stock of what our relationship is to the internet and social media; when I was growing up, all of these things were very much on the horizon, and now that we’ve realized them, it’s just incredibly strange to see how people are using these tools for good, but also for evil. 

Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, what a time to be alive. That’s a thing everyone’s always saying over and over again, but does it really mean anything apart from feeling like the right thing to say?

Exactly. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said it the past year. Actually, another song of yours I’ve had on repeat (at least since the Inauguration) is “Utopia/Dystopia”. (It feels very appropriate for the current political climate.)

Yeah, it’s funny, we have these songs that are kind of apocalyptic, and all of these songs were sort of written in a certain state of mind. We played a show on the night of the Inauguration, and it was the first time we’d played some of these songs in the new reality, and it felt so weird. Kind of prophetic, in a way, but also like, “Oh, no! We didn’t mean this!” You know? But there it is. And then you have to live with yesterday’s imagination of what the worst possible scenario could be, and then realize that the world is even worse than that. And yet somehow still liveable, you know? That’s the craziest thing, is the constant balance between everything seemingly falling apart and everything still somehow holding together.

And I guess that’s been the level of privilege for a lot of Americans, is not having to face that reality of “life goes on” in the face of disaster up until this point.

I guess it depends. That may not be true if you’re a DACA family, but yeah, things do seem to carry on as usual, and yet we know things are falling apart. And that’s a strange existence to have; to have this intellectual understanding that the world is in chaos, the country is in chaos, and you get to look out the window and the street looks the same as yesterday. And I think that’s the thing that the internet gives to us. In a sense, the world has always been full of suffering and chaos, we just haven’t been able to see it all at once. And that’s where we’re at right now.

Yeah, a blessing and a curse for sure.

[Laughs] It’s a rainy day in Los Angeles, and I’m going full dark.

[Laughs] Speaking of full dark, I was watching that interview you guys did with that Adobe Creative Cloud guy, and I kept being like, “Where do I know him from?” But then they panned to a Twin Peaks poster behind you, and I was like, “OH! Because he looks exactly like Demon Bob!” I mean, I’m sure that must be a running joke with them or something, but it was such an AHA! moment for me.

That’s so funny! I didn’t even think about that. Bob is the dark side, but he’s the light side, because he’s just such a lovely man. But yeah, same hairstyle!

During that interview you guys talked about the Triforium Project. How’s that going at the moment? Still full speed ahead?

It’s coming. It’s going slowly. I mean, it’s the first time we’ve ever undertaken a project that involves civic infrastructure, and with that comes a lot of bureaucracy. It’s been a really fascinating experience, because we’re having meetings with the city, meetings with the different council offices, and it’s just getting an understanding of how things actually get done in a city the size of Los Angeles. It’s super humbling, and we’re really grateful that we’ve even been able to have these meetings. But it’s proceeding! We’re working with the city, it’s just a huge project. It’s going to be years until it’s all done, because there are structural things going on, tons of development in that part of LA, so it’s reconciling what we want to do with the vision that the city has for that part of central Downtown, and trying to figure out how to make it all work, and to honor the vision of the artist as best we can with the technology we have now, which is of course way more advanced than anything he had access to in his lifetime. So it’s a lot of competing interests, but people are mostly all on board, which I think is cool. I think if you tell someone it’s the largest musical instrument in the world, and it’s been sitting dormant in Downtown LA for forty years, everyone wants that to be turned back on, because how cool is that? And just thinking about the possibilities of getting artists to create compositions for this thing, this weird medium, this 1970s utopian idea that light and music and sound and motion could coexist as a new art form called polyphonoptics. Everybody wants to make a polyphonoptic composition! So it’s just a matter of getting it done, slowly but surely.

How’s life in LA in general? You guys still feel strongly that this is the right city for YACHT?

Yeah, we’re lifers. We’ll go down with the ship. New York is an incredible place, but I don’t think I have the constitution for it. LA is right for us, and it’s a really interesting city to be in right now. It’s undergoing a lot of change (some good, some bad), but for a city that’s had a really specific identity for a really long time, all of it is being rewritten right now. Like the Golden Globes last night – the entire power structure of Hollywood is remodeling itself. The city is becoming more and more aware of the fact that it can’t be a car city anymore, so we’re trying to build denser urban environments, using public transportation more, people are getting around differently…it’s just a really rapidly changing city, and it’s cool to see. It’s one of the most interesting cultural mixes of anyplace I’ve ever been; there are so many ethnicities and cultures that coexist on top of each other in so many interesting ways. You can travel around the world for the cost of a bus ticket, and I think that’s pretty magical. I mean, that’s a thing for New York, too, but there’s just something about the way people mix in LA. Maybe it’s low-key or something, but I think it’s endlessly fascinating. There’s also really good food everywhere, which is crucial.

Absolutely! And are you guys still doing 5 Every Day?

Oh yeah. I mean, all of the independent magazines in LA are disappearing. Like LA Weekly just got bought out by a conservative media group, and they’re basically tanking, fired all the writers, and LAist and Gothamist got shut down, so at this point, we’re like, one of three indie media sources in LA, and I feel like we have a responsibility to stay online for as long as possible, and to keep pointing people towards interesting art and culture that The LA Times won’t necessarily cover.

Right. Well it’s great that you’re still keeping the fire burning there. I’m also going to use this as a segue to talk about some other publishing you’re doing, aka your book, Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet! I am SO EXCITED for it to come out in March, and I want to hear all about it.

Thanks! It’s been a massive undertaking, but the good thing about writing a book (as long as you’re not writing about something that’s super topical) is that you can take your time with it, which is cool. It’s kind of like making a record in that way. You can kind of disappear from the world for a while to put your heart and soul into something, and I think there’s real value in those sorts of deep, long-term projects, even when you feel like you’re going to lose your mind, which happened to me many times. And now that I’m done, it’s like, “Oh my god, these are the last three years of my life that I can now just hold in my hand.” It’s a weird feeling. It was a lot of research and a lot of travel, a lot of communicating with people and going deep into archives, traveling across the dusty corners of the old web using Wayback Machine and ancient online communities and spaces, trying to make sense of them both historically and in terms of our current understanding of what the internet is, which is just very different.

Was there any other overlap that you noticed in terms of your creative process or your overall thought process when it comes to making a record or writing a book?

That’s a good question. Yes and no. I don’t think I have it figured out yet in terms of the best way to work. I think (like any writers or musicians) I have some inefficient working methods, which are just things that I’ve cobbled together that have worked for me in the past, but probably aren’t the best way to do things, you know? Like waiting until the last minute to write a zillion words, and then having carpal tunnel and not being good at scheduling or outlines. It all comes out okay in the end, but I’m sure there are better ways to work. I didn’t see any major differences between the book and making a record, but the time investment is very similar, and the sense of a larger structure that you have to keep in your mind all the time is very similar. Songs are like chapters that are part of a larger story. Because the book is about other people’s lives, it’s nice to kind of just lose yourself in other people’s stories every once in a while. When you make a record, no matter how you do it, it’s just a little bit narcissistic, like, “Here’s my art! Here’s what comes from the depths of my soul!” But writing a book about history, you really have to think about the context of other people’s experiences, and really talk to them to understand where they’re coming from, and try to put their stories into a larger context in terms of other people’s stories. It’s just a much more outward experience than it is an inward one. So I think that’s a nice break.

Totally. Now, I interviewed you guys about eight years ago, and during that interview I asked you both what you’d be doing if you weren’t pursuing a career in music, and you said, “I’d be dead.” [Laughs] Does that statement still hold up in 2018, slash what are your feelings about being a creative person in general these days?

Yeah, that sounds like something I’d say eight years ago. [Laughs] I think my feeling is probably still similar, but I think it’s less, “If I wasn’t a musician I’d be dead,” but if I wasn’t doing what I do now, which is a broader, stranger mix of things, I’d be dead. [Laughs] I have more things to choose from. Jona and I both have always seen YACHT as an opportunity to just do as many things as possible under one umbrella. I think we both are really attracted to the idea of a body of work, whatever that may be. You see there’s a lot of music where bands will change their sound or have a side project and rename it, or say they’re performing under a different name, because there’s this desire to compartmentalize. But for us, we want to do as much as possible in as many different genres and media as possible, and it will all be called YACHT, and you’ll have to look at it as a whole. And hopefully it will make sense as a larger body of work. [Laughs] Maybe more-so in the rear-view than in the moment, but it’s nice to have this deep well of fifteen years of stuff, some of which is music, and some of which is multimedia experiences, events, whatever it may be – all of these things are part of who we are, because they’re things that we make. And there’s something about that that we’ll probably always be attracted to. We’ll just always be YACHT forever, and never change the name.

We also talked heavily about the Marfa Lights during that conversation, because I think it was a much more recent experience for the both of you. In the last eight years, has anything emerged as an equally formative experience for you, either as a band or as an individual?

That’s a really good question. We haven’t had a deeply transformative experience in the way that the Marfa Lights were for us in those days; we were younger and more starry-eyed. But I think just growing older and more confident and comfortable with doing exactly what we want to do has just been really lovely, and a really nice thing. I think when we were younger, we were really fascinated with concepts, and making things super high-concept, and making things have their own very distinct identities. I think seeing the mystery lights, we thought, “This is our project. We’re both going to be a cult.” Or, “We’re not going to be a cult, we’re not going to tell anybody we’re a cult, but we’re definitely a cult, and we’re going to write a bible, and we’re going to talk how members of secret societies talk, and we’re going to get really into all of this very specific, counterculture, underground spiritual weirdness, and use that language and really live it.” And I think we’re less willing to go balls to the wall in that way anymore; I think we’re much more interested in just being comfortable with expressing true things about our experience, and thinking that’s enough. Because truth is ultimately more compelling than a gimmick. Maybe not to the clickbaits out there, but I think it stands the test of time as well, if not better. But we do still go to Marfa, and those mystery lights are still just as mysterious, and I think that’s a beautiful thing, too. I think one of the things that always really fascinated us about the Marfa Lights was that all the old-timers in West Texas were just so, like, “Meh,” about the existence of something so insane. Like, to live alongside something so totally, legitimately mysterious and unknown, and just be like, “Yeah, that’s a thing. We don’t care. We gotta go do our cattle ranch stuff. We don’t really care.” I think that pragmatic attitude towards the unknown is fucking awesome, and very wise, in a way. You can go insane trying to solve every problem and understand everything. So to have an awareness that there are things out there beyond our control, and just be okay with that, that’s a really groovy place to be.