Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans. Photo by Sarah Meadows.
You may have danced your ass off to a YACHT song at your favorite hipster bar. From 2007's catchy “See a Penny (Pick it Up)” to “I'm in Love with a Ripper” on last year's excellent See Mystery Lights, there's no doubt that YACHT knows how to sling a beat. (Influences: krautrock, new wave, Tom Tom Club. Label: DFA, aka cool-kid-dance-music central.)
You may have even known that the band you were listening to is called YACHT and that they're from Portland, Ore. But unless you paid close attention to the futuristic, slo-mo electro-pop—what's that they're chant-singing?—or looked at their website, or been to a live show, you might not know that YACHT is more than just a band, lower-case.
In their own words, from the manifesto on their website: “YACHT is a Band, Belief System, and Business conducted by Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans.”
YACHT—and it must always be spelled all in caps—started out as the project of Bechtolt, whose first name is pronounced “John-a.” Then, in Texas, a suggestion from a “random kid” changed everything.
“He told me I had to go see the lights,” Bechtolt says, referring to the “mystery lights” that appear in the night sky near Marfa, Texas.
“The next day I met Claire for the very first time. It felt serendipitous. Once we saw the mystery lights together, it made perfect sense that [YACHT] become something we wholly collaborate on. YACHT is a code word for everything we do, whether it's writing, music, video, Internet projects, making breakfast—our whole lives.”
“The lights look like stars that have fallen from the sky, and they're dancing on the horizon,” Evans says. “The appeal is that they're totally mysterious.”
And mystery, she believes, is something seriously lacking these days.
“We're both what you call ‘'Net natives.' We grew up with constant access to information on computers,” she adds. “We never felt like we didn't have all the answers. I think that's a cockiness that's indigenous to our generation.”
It used to be that most natural phenomena were mysterious, unknowable, Evans says. “And that's really where most of the canon of human art, spirituality and history comes from.”
Phew. To recap: Mystery lights in Marfa, serious artistic / personal bonding, life-altering spiritual experience. Sound a little over-the-top? Well, yes. But it's impossible not to get taken in by the two, who only do interviews together.
And even if they are, say, a bit youthfully overzealous—in that 20-something, I-really-earned-my-liberal-arts-degree kind of way—they make damn catchy music. Plus, they have a manifesto. Who doesn't love a manifesto?
“Touring for us isn't just playing in front of the people,” Bechtolt says. “It's about after the show: talking to people and sharing our ideas, then fleshing out the ideology and challenging it with people.”
“We put the manifesto on the website not to be dogmatic or have a specific ‘YACHT code,'” Evans adds. “But if you're going to talk about philosophical ideas, or an ideology, people like having some background material. Otherwise they see it as a marketing scheme, or an aesthetic gesture, or not wholehearted.”
That ideology, by the way, can be gleaned from YACHT's music, videos, website (teamyacht.com), and book titled The Secret Teachings of the Mystery Lights: A Handbook on Overcoming Humanity and Becoming Your Own God.
Wait. Your own god?
“The essential thesis is pretty simple. It's just about self-empowerment, really, and the fact that we live in a world that's large and indifferent to us,” Evans explains. “That shouldn't frighten or alienate us. We should simply appreciate the world for its chaos and its beauty and appreciate ourselves for being part of it. We should make our time on this Earth as valuable to others and ourselves as possible. We are all little gods within the indifferent chaos.”
And, just to clarify, in case you were wondering: YACHT is not a cult. It even says so on the website.
“The mainstream media and spiritual hegemony tend to marginalize things that are challenging or upsetting with words like ‘cult' and ‘countercultural,'” Evans says. “A lot of the most interesting ideas and spiritual happenings in the 20th century have been labeled as cults, even if there are dangerous aspects to them.”
“Also,” Bechtolt adds, “we're not telling anybody what to do, which is a big divider between us and a cult.”
YACHT won't even tell you to shake it at their flashy, visuals-laden show or force you to take part in their group meditation, where you might yell “Fuck you!” at whatever's bringing you down.
But you probably will.
YACHT plays with Bobby Birdman on Thursday, March 25, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's “TNT: On the Verge” event, at the museum's Downtown location. www.myspace.com/yacht.