YACHT | Transcending Culture

YACHT sqWe don’t really have any interest in CMJ or the engines of music-industry hype mixers.



DFA recording artist YACHT chatted with PLAYBACK: stl in between their West Coast tour with Hot Chip and East Coast tour with The Presets, including a stop at Terminal 5 for CMJ 2012. YACHT—Young Americans Challenging High Technology—formed in 2002 in Portland, Oregon, as a solo experiment of Jona Bechtolt, “using technology to extend physical boundaries of communication, performance, and music.” Despite the infectious songs that YACHT makes, their band and belief system represents much more than just foot-tapping tracks and energetic shows. More than just another indie outfit from the Northwest, YACHT challenges its audience to think about society of the past, present, and future.

YACHT stands for “Young Americans Challenging High Technology.” Tell us where that came from. Why did you decide to name your band, business, and belief system after this acronym?

People tend to think the YACHT acronym means we’re neo-Luddites or are otherwise reactionaries against modernity. But we use the word “challenge” in the sense of dialogue, interplay, debate. The name means we don’t take the technological amnion of our world for granted. We don’t wallow around in it. We’re interested in using and subverting our tools, pushing computers to the limit of what they’re designed to do. We fuck around with software, create images in video software, make video and animation with PowerPoint, and otherwise try to get the most tactile and human experiences possible out of the medium.

How did you two meet?

We met by chance in 2004, when YACHT, which was Jona’s solo project at the time, was paired with my noise band, Weirdo/Begeirdo, to play a show together in Los Angeles. Evidently, we impressed one another, and began collaborating very soon thereafter.

Claire, I read that you were born in the United Kingdom and grew up in Portland, whereas Jona, you were born in Madison, Wisconsin, but spent time in Seattle and D.C. How exactly does this juxtaposition of cultures and nationalities (from your upbringing as well as your parents’) influence your music?

We may have different origin stories (and certainly very different families), but we both came of age in the DIY music and arts culture of the Pacific Northwest, and so our musical education is actually very similar. The homespun punk rock ethos that bands like Nirvana, Beat Happening, Bikini Kill, and the entire K Records roster brought to their output was what turned the lights on for both of us. Jona dropped out of high school at 13 and started touring in a punk band immediately; I spent my high school years volunteering at an all-ages club and obsessively making ’zines and mixtapes. For us, culture was always something self-published.

This is your second time doing CMJ. Anything that we can expect from your showcase?

We don’t really have any interest in CMJ or the engines of music-industry hype mixers. We’re solely committed to creating participatory experiences for and with the people who come to see us, and we’re excited to play for our friends and fans in New York.

You’ve toured with some pretty wicked artists in your time: LCD Soundsystem, Vampire Weekend, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. What has been your greatest tour experience to date? Your worst?

Every one of those tours was a profound learning experience, and an experiment in humility.

And you’ve played loads of festivals as well, in the U.S. and internationally. There is a legendary picture of you playing at Iceland Airwaves that is forever etched in my mind. What do you feel is the biggest difference between playing shows internationally versus in the States?

People always say audiences are different from one country to the next; in our experience, it’s more of a show-by-show thing. We’ve played tiny cafés in rural China, big festival stages in Western Europe, nightclubs in Brazil, kids’ basements in the U.S.A., and have always been surprised by the qualities of each individual audience. Groups of people have energies that transcend culture or language.

With the Brigitte Fontaine cover of “Le Goudron,” we learned that Claire speaks French. Can we expect more original songs and/or covers similar to “Le Goudron” in the future?

French is my first language and I’d be happy to record more music which employs it.

Shangri-La discusses the future of our civilization quite wonderfully. What do you feel is the worst thing happening to our civilization currently?

Our seemingly endemic incapacity to think beyond the tiny sphere of our personal social, religious, or cultural framework. This selfishness, combined with our leaders’ inability to acknowledge or plan for the future, will destroy the planet.

Would you rather have 5,000 people dancing to your music in a sold-out space, or five people sitting around in a flat, discussing its lyrics?

Great question. We try to design our output so that both of those extremes are equally possible. It’s scalable, and you can enter from any direction. We always say that if people want to experience YACHT from the point of view of lizard-brain club music, they are no less fans than the kids who get tattoos of our logos and send us metaphysical emails in the middle of the night. Those are both valid experiences; there is always substance to the simplest thing. We’re just happy anyone is listening.

What if heaven is exactly like L.A.?

It is.

Thoreau’s Walden or Artistotle’s Nicomachean Ethics?

I love Walden, but Thoreau’s mom was making him sandwiches the whole time. There is very little about reality, however, that the ancient philosophers didn’t figure out.

Should the world end as scheduled in 2012, what items on your bucket list are you desperate to check off?

Experiencing zero gravity, seeing the Earth from space, building a compound for the YACHT family somewhere in the West Texas desert, and being initiated as Freemasons.

You tell us in “Utopia” that “There’s nothing in the future; it’s up to us to make.” What are you making for your future? Where is YACHT in five years (should the world continue on beyond 2012…)?

To be honest, we can’t see into the future any more clearly than you. Our approach is really a continuous process of shooting in the dark; we often decide to record or produce things in the moment, without much logical or reasonable forward thinking. We also never limit ourselves to a single genre or medium. We’re always playing, punching above our weight, trying to remain terrified so that we never become complacent. However, there is a really specific and dramatic shift happening in our creative lives right now, but it’s not quite ready to see the light of day; we’ll announce it in the next couple weeks. | Kristyn Potter

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