Interview: Getting down to business with Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans of YACHT
YACHT members Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans have the poise of two people confident in their current path. The specifics of that path, however, are elaborate, and often esoteric: YACHT’s most recent album,2009’s See Mystery Lights, is an homage to a light phenomenon in West Texas called the Marfa Lights; the duo’s follow-up was a bible of sorts called The Secret Teachings Of The Mystery Lights: A Handbook For Overcoming Humanity And Becoming Your Own God. Bechtolt and Evans insist that YACHT is not a cult—though, if it was, they’d be the most polite cult leaders you would ever meet. Prior to tonight’s show at First Unitarian Church (and immediately after their Tiny Desk Concert at the NPR studios), Bechtolt and Evans spoke with The Key about embracing their inner businessman, inserting subliminal messages in pop music, and seeing triangles everywhere they look.
The Key:Your website claims that—in addition to being a band and belief system—YACHT is a business. And, in interviews, Jona has said that the influx of money was an exciting development for you both. So, how does all that cash fit in with the whole “Path To Utopia” message?
Claire L. Evans: It’s really important for us to be honest with everyone. To our band and to our public. Because our M.O. is to keep our communication as direct as possible. We don’t want to do the thing that a lot of bands do, which is hide the fact that you are playing music and that you get paid to play music. Not that you get paid a lot to play music; it’s less and less. The fact that it is a business is not something we want to hide. Coming from the Northwest and the DIY culture, there’s so much stigma against the idea of selling out or succeeding; we want to do what we can to negate that mentality, because it’s really destructive—and almost condescending. Because it comes from the assumption that musicians aren’t suppose to make a living or something, to be successful or stable. Which I think is just rude and unfair. We’re entitled to a living as much as anybody else.
TK: In terms of achieving commercial success, is there a line you two have set for yourselves? And, if so, have you been confronted with having to cross it yet?
Jona Bechtolt: We haven’t, yet. We haven’t been offered a McDonalds commercial, or the dairy industry or anything. We haven’t had to play a show for big tobacco or anything.
CE: I mean, I think that everything we do, we consider quite thoroughly. There are opportunities that we come across rarely, where an influx of money is possible. And that money has to be considered both in terms of what it can do for us in the future and how long it can sustain us as an organization, as a band, as an artist, and as a community—versus what damage it could possibly do to us or others. But for us, it’s mostly about “money equals sustainability.” We can do it for longer and with more production value and intensity.
JB: And not just for us but for others.
TK: The band has its hands in so many different things. So where most of the money come from? Selling albums and performing live shows?
JB: It’s mostly live shows. People don’t buy records anymore.
CE: Especially not ours.
TK: In interviews, you’ve said that pop music is the perfect place to hide a subliminal message, or to push the band’s beliefs. Is the band interested in going to those lengths to get its message across?
CE: I guess we don’t really see a distinction between any medium in terms of communicating the message. As artists we have personal thoughts, we have a personal ideology, in terms of everything we make—whether it’s music or video or text or graphic design or really anything that we lend our hands to. YACHT is something of a multimedia project, we do a lot of things other than music…For us it’s really about allowing people to be interested in our music both on a pop music level—which we totally respect and acknowledge and see as a totally valid way to be into YACHT, if you’re into YACHT—but also on any level that they want to.
TK: You’re both pretty knowledgeable about many forms of spiritually, triangles, all sorts of things. What is the research process like for the band? Books? Wikipedia? Blogs?
JB: It’s anything we can get our hands on.
CE: I think our general strategy for research is, as soon as we decide we want to make a project based on a certain idea, we open up our minds to that idea. We become aware of it. For the triangle thing, for example, once we decided to start using triangle iconography, we saw triangles everywhere. That happens when you’re paying attention to something. Same thing with the latest record, that’s coming out in the summer. It’s very much concerned with the idea of utopia, heaven on earth, that sort of mythic history of the Golden Age. Once you start thinking about that kind of thing, you just see references to it everywhere in culture. You start noticing books you never noticed before, reading those books, noticing references in those books, other books you’ve never read before. By the time a few months have passed, you have amassed an entire library of ideas as well as films and pictures.
JB: Yeah once we put our minds to an idea, the perception is totally shaped to that idea and we start picking up on all types of things from every angle. Whether it’s Internet or person-to-person, peer-to-peer conversations, like everything it’s still based in that idea.
TK: Does that inspire you to actively research or is it more just a process that happens?
CE: There are more things involved. There’s the more loose philosophical perception of that thing that happens, maybe as a consequence of the act of research, but we definitely go to the library. We get sources and we filter information through our brains as quickly and efficiently as possible.
TK: People often direct scorn at groups with strong beliefs, such as Scientology or the Catholic Church. Has the band experienced that kind of scorn, or has there been any negative backlash against its beliefs?
JB: Only from those organizations that you just mentioned.
TK: Any specific stories?
JB: Um, I don’t want to get into the details. But yeah there have been a few things that happened at shows. Stuff like that, on a very minor scale. A lot of emails. Nothing heavily conversational. Nothing that had any teeth behind it.
YACHT performs with Light Asylum and Jeffrey Jerusalem at 7:30 p.m. at First Unitarian Church; tickets to the all-ages show are $13. —Dave Simpson