In album form, YACHT is a peculiar but brilliant mix of speak-sing vocal chants, earwormy choruses, and unrelenting beats, often calling to mind a younger, more buoyant LCD Soundsystem. Onstage, YACHT is a force to be reckoned with, relying heavily on audience participation and a mix of live and electronic drum work to create something resembling concert as performance art, à la Talking Heads. In conversation, though, YACHT is a well-calculated, quasi-spiritual endeavor, “a band, a business, and a belief system,” as the group’s Web site states.
Founded in Portland, Oregon, in 2002, YACHT began as the solo project of now-cocreator Jona Bechtolt. After years of writing, recording, and touring, and following an inexplicable sighting in Marfa, Texas, Bechtolt met and joined forces with YACHT’s other half, Claire L. Evans.
“I was going from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles and it was the first time I saw the Marfa mystery lights, which served as inspiration for our last album,” Bechtolt recalled. “The very next day after I witnessed that paranormal phenomenon, I met Claire randomly—her noise band was playing a show with YACHT, when YACHT was just me.”
“From that point forward we became friends of friends, then friends,” said Evans, “until we actually went back to Marfa, in the far West Texas desert, and we saw the lights together. From that point forward, we realized that what we were talking about was the same thing in our individual work, and that it was redundant for us to be making anything separately because we were essentially promoting the same kinds of ideas and philosophies.”
As their debut collaboration implies, YACHT’s philosophy pulls greatly from the world of the unknown. On 2009’s See Mystery Lights the pair openly embraces the world of the indefinite (“Don’t Fight the Darkness”), encouraging fans to seek out and seek meaning in what they can’t define. As Evans puts it, “We’re both very digitally oriented, information-saturated 21st-century people, and we never thought we’d experience anything in our lives where we wouldn’t be able to, at least after some research, figure out the answer to. [Those lights are] going to continue to be a mystery in our lives, and there’s something about that that’s really compelling. That kind of relationship to the world, a relationship of awe and mystery—what it was like to be human beings for most of human history—it just really changed our perspective on things.”
Of course, all this talk of unquantifiable light sightings and pilgrimages to the desert makes YACHT sound less like a band and more like a quirky two-person cult (an accusation they’ve been hearing and dismissing for years). But when probed a bit further, the connection between the music and the worldview kind of starts to make sense.
“We sort of wear our heart on our sleeve, philosophically,” said Evans. “When Jona and I are having conversations about something or writing about something, it immediately comes out in what we do. When we made the last record, we were living out in Marfa and we developed this interest in mysticism, mythology, religion, spirituality, and secret societies—kind of all of the mysteries of the world.”
“Ritual, mantra, those things really made their way into the album,” Bechtolt continued, “and thinking about them and thinking about how they apply to pop music and how pop music already utilizes those concepts and those ideas—like, a mantra is essentially a pop hook without a chorus.”
“Pop music is a very interesting delivery platform for those kinds of ideas, and in terms of the form, it really works and really makes sense,” added Evans.
For the duo’s most recent musical endeavor, this year’s Shangri-La, their fascination with mystery and the unknown comes back into play. The record kicks off with the bouncy, funky bass and building beat structures of “Utopia,” followed by the sinister synth notes and twisted electronica of “Dystopia (The Earth Is on Fire).”
“Shangri-La we recorded in what we call the ‘Western American Utopian Triangle,’ which is Portland, Oregon; Los Angeles, California; and Marfa, Texas,” explained Bechtolt. “We chose those places because they each have deep personal and YACHT-specific history; Claire and I both grew up in Portland, and Los Angeles is where we met, and Marfa is where we decided to be working partners.”
“We’d already decided we wanted to make an album about the idea of utopia, and it’s impossible to think about utopia without thinking about place,” offered Evans. “We quickly realized that we wanted to work in the places where we’d come closest to experiencing any kind of utopian sentiment, the places where we were the happiest in our lives.”
As such, Shangri-La is a twisted, but ultimately upbeat rumination on themes of heaven, hell, and finding happiness here and now. (See the David Byrne-inspired mid-album highlight “Paradise Engineering.”) Its poppy closing track finds Evans singing lines like “If we build a utopia, will you come and stay?” It seems that as long as they’re armed with quirky dance albums like this, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
YACHT plays an all-ages show at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) on Friday, September 2, at 8 p.m. Call 965-8676 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets and info.