Art pop band YACHT is more than just another synthesisers and laptop-aided electronic group. Core duo Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans (with Rob and Jeffrey as their touring members) are artistically-inclined and in the case of Claire, even scientifically as well. Their last album Shangri-La (2011) was a spasm of electro funk with jittery bass lines, erratic beats, soaring piano riffs, potent guitar leads, and anodyne vocals singing Utopian ideals, the sort of music you wouldn’t find too out of place in Portland’s arts-meet-music DIY scene. But they are never too hoity-toity nor exorbitantly artful – YACHT is a pop band after all. Recently JUICE had the chance of having a lengthy discussion with Jona and Claire right before they performed at Laundry last month. Our conversation traipsed all manners of topics, from YACHT as a multimedia project, to the importance of arts in education, to science in relation to culture and arts, and finally to the increasingly literary role television is playing today, we had that rare glimpse of actual insight that has mostly eluded us with other acts.
“[Science] is very much relevant to the world that we live in and art is about the world as well. We should be sharing ideas, not separating them.” – Claire
YACHT is something like a multimedia project, you have books, a TV show coming out, and all that stuff. Is it more of an all-encompassing artistic project than a musical one to you guys?
Jona I think it’s primarily a musical project but we don’t limit ourselves by just making music, the 2 of us are very ADD. We like doing as many things as possible. We get bored very quickly, so if we’re doing music only, I think we would be too bored. So music, writing books, design, internet projects, web video… yeah, everything.
Claire We like to say that YACHT is the name that we give to everything that we do together, that way it’s like an insurance for our future – we won’t run out things to do.
It’s more of like the whole of pop culture than one specific thing?
C Yeah. I mean, it’s just whatever we’re interested in. We’re people and we’ve been doing this for a long time. Everybody needs to be stimulated in new ways or otherwise we’d become complacent, tired, and bored of our own work. So by allowing ourselves the possibility to try new things and still call it YACHT, then that way we can be interested in what we do for the rest of our lives instead of thinking like “Oh, I’m tired of this band. I don’t like this kind of music anymore,” or whatever.
J Yeah, that being said, we’re still focused on primarily making music and obviously we’re best known for making music.
Speaking of pop culture, we know that Claire has a science blog in which you attempt to reconcile science with culture. Why is it that those 2 seem to be usually mutually exclusive?
C I think that, I don’t know if it’s true for the entire world, but at least in the West there’s this idea that science is like completely removed from reality; it’s something that can only be practised by intellectuals who are trained to do it and it’s kind of misunderstood in a lot of ways. In America especially, there’s almost like a fear of science – a fear of that kind of knowledge because it seems too remote. There’s something like a culture in the States that goes like “We can only like the things that we can understand and we can’t understand science.” But really, science is like anything else, it’s like religion, it’s like art, it’s a way on understanding the world, trying to ask questions about the world and it happens to have a long historical legacy and it’s dealing with some of the most interesting questions that we have right now. We live in the world that we’re discovering the nature of reality and matter, where we are in the universe, how to communicate with each other, cross great distances. These are all scientific questions, we live in the scientific age and it’s important for people who are artists or people who are otherwise not associated with science to be paying attentions to those questions, it’s very much relevant to the world that we live in and art is about the world as well. We should be sharing ideas, not separating them.
If we were to log onto your website, there’s sort of like a manifesto there. Can you explain how did that come about?
C The think is anyone who makes music and art have ideas on why we they do it, why it’s important to them, and why other people should be paying attention to it. Those ideas can be very simple. In the case of rock’n’roll, they want to meet girls or something, but everybody has ideas. It just happens to put them out there for people to see and understand because at least for us, as fans of other music we always want to know what motivates people and what our favourite bands and musicians are interested in and what they believe. That’s the way we are, we like to know everything about the people that we like and we like to have that available for other people if they feel that way about us. It’s a little bit weird I think, you don’t have to pay attention to it if you don’t want to. If you just want to listen to dance music then you can do that without having to read the manifesto, it doesn’t take away from anything.
This is for Jona, we read that you were home schooled…
J Yeah, kind of. I dropped out in high school and I started playing in punk bands when I was 13 years old. I chose the punk style instead of the school style (laughs).
Is that why YACHT is very DIY, growing up you’re basically self-taught, are we right?
J I’m sure that has a lot to do with it. We both grew up in the Pacific Northwest of America and there’s a scene in that part of the world where everyone feels like they have to be a part of the DIY spirit if you’re making independent music, so that definitely shaped the 2 of us into who we are now. Record labels like K Records or Kill Rock Stars, all of these labels were fundamental to how we navigate the world and how we try to do everything ourselves.
Speaking of schools, over here in Malaysia the education system is very rigid. It’s heavily exam-based, and there’s not much to speak of when it comes to arts and music in the syllabus. Do you think that school is not doing much in shaping the younger generation – artistically and knowledge-wise?
J It’s hard to speak for all of the Americans, it’s a personal experience.
C I think education is the most important thing that a person can do in general but I think that school can be very toxic, especially the way that school is structured in the West. We’re taught from a very young age that there are certain things that we can and cannot do, there’s often religious, ideological, historical inaccuracy or revision that happens, especially in American history. We don’t teach our children what happened to the Native Americans, we don’t teach our children a lot of things about the role of the imperialist qualities of our nation abroad. We strive for creativity a lot, and there’s not a lot of arts education especially in public schools. I certainly didn’t have [that]. It’s always the first thing to go, whenever the school is facing a budget cut, things like art and music are always the first things that’s the first to go, which is terrifying because I think arts and music are like air and water. Everybody has the right to be creative, it’s really important and it allows you to be intelligent in a different way that is probably not often taught.