Yachtisms: YACHT interview
“A band is irrelevant without an audience,” says Claire Evans, over the phone from her home in Highland Park, LA. “YACHT is whatever YACHT is when YACHT is standing in front of you.” This tends to be how Evans speaks – in perfect, epigrammatic YACHTisms that come out faster than you can make sense of them. But, she’s right. YACHT is a difficult idea to put your finger on. It could be a whole heap of different things at different times. A conceptual art movement. A digital ideas lab. A religion, even.
Usually, however, when YACHT is standing in front of you, you’d be face-to-face with Evans and her creative (and romantic) partner Jona Bechtolt, with Rob Kieswetter joining when the band’s on tour. YACHT is a band – that much is safe to say. They’ve released six studio albums of suave disco-pop with intellectual lyrical leanings – most recently I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler, in 2015. Beyond that, things get more complicated.
“Music always comes with these satellite experiences around it,” says Evans. “There’s the live show, and all the marketing materials, and the videos, and the culture of the band and the language of the band and the look of the band… All these things we can take control of and use creatively to have a larger conversation around the things we’re interested in.”
The list of things that YACHT is interested in is a long one. It includes the Internet, the mainstream media, video games, drone strikes, tobacco vaping and countless other tenants of late-stage capitalism. They’re also fascinated by the idea of spirituality in a cynical, secular, corporate world – “crowdsourced cults,” as Evans puts it. Though, that’s not to say that she and Bechtolt are against cultivating YACHT’s own cult status.
“We wrote a bible,” says Bechtolt, who’s also on the call, but tends to let Evans finish most of his points. She follows on: “We started getting emails from teens, asking us about spirituality and whether or not it was okay for them to be gay. If they were going to hell or heaven. If we were a cult and could they join. And so we laid out our personal philosophy in esoteric terms.”
“I don’t want to say we started our own religion,” she adds. “But we kind of did.”
Lesson number one from the Book of Jona and Claire: don’t believe your own hype. “It is fundamentally chauvinistic to believe that any human being is magnificent and special and unique in the face of the vastness of the cosmos,” Evans goes on. The band believes, quite seriously, in the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence – though, not in the spirit of slack-jawed UFO chasing, more from the perspective of: if humans are the highest power in the universe, then we’re all screwed. “Living with that awareness of non-specialness is actually liberating,” says Claire. “The foolish notion that we are immortal is enough to bring us down.”
They might disagree, but YACHT should be considered special (and not just because they believe in aliens). Few, if any other bands have worked as hard, and pushed as many envelopes, for so long. When Bechtolt began making music as YACHT it was 2002, and he was getting bored of the punk scene out in rural Oregon. “I wanted to make something that was experimental and electronic; vibrant and totally weird,” he says. Fast forward through several hundred gigs, supporting groups such as LCD Soundsystem and Vampire Weekend, to when Bechtolt met Evans in 2007 – from that point on the scope of the band’s ideas began to grow exponentially. Today, you can download 5 Every Day, YACHT’s events recommendations app for LA. You can read their sprawling mission statement on the teamyacht.com website (sample: “Our minds contain the universe, by the act of comprehending it”). You can even buy YACHT-designed sunglasses.
If there’s a downside to endless innovation, however, it’s that not all ideas are good ideas. Or, at least, not all ideas are received in the way you might hope. On May 9 this year the band posted on their Facebook page that they had made a sex tape, which had since been stolen, and was now available to download online. A few grainy images circulating around the Twittersphere seemed to confirm that this terrible invasion of privacy had taken place. In typical YACHT fashion, Evans and Bechtolt seized ownership of their content, and started selling the tape for $5 on the teamyacht site. Support poured in from their fans and the music press.
Except, if you tried to buy the tape the payment wouldn’t process. And those few screenshots seemed to be the only bits of the video that anyone had seen. By the time the “sex tape” was revealed to be the promo for YACHT’s single, I Wanna F**k You Till I’m Dead – and contained no actual sex – the media had begun to accuse the band of preying on people’s sympathy towards victims of revenge porn. All for a bit of extra publicity.
“As if the entire Internet isn’t marketing,” says Evans. “As if every single person on the Internet isn’t marketing themselves 24-hours a day.”
She claims that the tape was “intended as commentary around self-promotion,” and that the media coverage reached a far greater (and angrier) audience, than the band intended. “It was reported instantly, violently and partially,” she says. “A lot of things made us sad about it.”
If anything, their intention to play games with the media worked too well – as #YACHT trended on Twitter, Evans and Bechtolt received thousands of abusive Tweets, addressed to them personally. They’d won the PR battle, but at a cost. “The Internet is a beast,” reflects Claire. “It’s the collective id of humanity. Everything that’s wrong with the Internet is what’s wrong with the human race.”
Has YACHT’s creative spark been tampered by the experience? No, of course not. They’re prepping now for, “the most ambitious project we’ve done to date,” says Bechtolt. Which, “needs to be completely secret, but will include both audio and visual components.” Added to which Evans is writing a book for Penguin Random House. Its subject: the Internet.
All of which means even more hard work. Though, historically, that’s never been a problem. “We consider work not to be work but to be our lives,” concludes Bechtolt, coining a YACHTism of his own.