Claire L. Evans and Jona Bechtolt of Portland duo Yacht are bandmates, partners and philosophical explorers. Over the course of our fifteen minute phone interview the pair discuss (at length) the presence of magic in the modern world, the beauty of natural phenomena, the similarities between science and religion and the development of their own belief system. Oh we also chat briefly about music. Normally this kind of existential banter has me reaching for the cyanide but Jona and Claire are so logical in their justifications and earnest in their convictions theirs is a cult I’d consider joining.
P: Is this Claire?
J: This is Jona and Claire.
P: Oh wow! It’s like triple team action.
J: It’s like three points of a triangle you know?
P: I’ve never done an interview like this before.
J: Oh well welcome to your new life!
P: Please be gentle. So what’s changed in the two or three years since I last saw you guys?
J: Our lives. Our lives have changed since then.
P: In what ways? Can you elaborate? Back then Jona it was just you by yourself.
J: Yeah so Yacht has expanded to two people and it will keep expanding to at least three people and by people we mean, the third being, the audience, the larger “you” so “you” being everyone. Other than that the band has completely changed. Claire and I found a very crazy, optical, paranormal phenomenon in the west Texan desert, which has inspired everything we do now from videos to writing to music to every part of our lives.
P: And what was that phenomenon?
J: It’s called the Marfa Lights. It’s a very strange thing in the middle of the desert in the middle of nowhere in far west Texas.
P: Ahh. And Claire you’ve got a science background is that right?
C: Yes that’s true. I mean I don’t have an educational science background, I didn’t go to school to do Science but I was a Science Major for several years before this incarnation of my life.
P: So can you explain the reasoning behind this phenomenon that you saw?
C: Well that’s the thing that is so great about it, is that it’s not scientific in any capacity- it doesn’t kindle that area of my brain at all because it’s purely mysterious, it’s a paranormal phenomenon. It’s something that Jona and I as sort of information hounding, computer connected people, with access to information our whole lives, have never really experienced before. We live in a world where all information can be easily accessed within moments on Google search and when we went to Texas and saw this phenomenon for the first time it completely reorganised our world view because it was something that was absolutely true and real, objectively real, but at the same time completely unexplained. It’s existed in that region since there have been people to record it and I’m sure it existed before then as well. Teams of scientists have tried to figure it out and nobody ever has and that’s kinda the appeal for us in that nobody ever will and if they do we don’t want to find out about.
P: So magic still exists in the modern world.
C: Yes that’s the idea, is that we live in a world where all the magic that used to dictate all of the workings of human society, back when all the phenomena of the natural world were thought to be magical or mystical or religious, that’s all turned into science or medicine or knowledge and information and we don’t have that feeling of mystery anymore. Now we’re sort of blase and we don’t want to be blase. We want to contain ourselves in that ancient human tradition of mystery.
P: And you both seem to have some conviction in that belief and I believe it to0 because I’ve seen and experienced stuff that can’t be explained but are there any other specific moments where you guys believed in this ethereal quality that the world has?
J: Yeah on a daily basis that happens to us, just with the kindness of strangers and I never thought that I could ever leave Oregon state let alone the USA so I’m always enamored with the luck of my life which has been really great. Like getting to go on tour is a crazy mystery we make weird stuff on our computers and then we get to go around the world and present this stuff and to me that is like mind bending and blowing.
P: Claire how did you actually join the band? Was it an organic process or did Jona kind of like sheepishly ask you to sit in?
C: No it was pretty organic I mean we had been traveling together and collaborating on all kinds of projects for years before I joined the band. In fact last time Jona was playing that show in Brisbane I was there just as a collaborator and friend, I was always coming along. I was “along” as well when we saw the mystery nights for the first time we were on tour and we decided in that moment that we had to go back to that place and make a piece of art or make something or live with this phenomenon and see what came of it and so that product ended up being a record. It wasn’t necessarily what we had intended and by virtue of making a record together we became a band. So it was kind of like dictated by the phenomenon not because of our own choices.
P: And has that band dynamic which is a really specific and to most of the musicians that I talk to, a kind of a weird dynamic, has that changed your relationship at all?
C: I think it has and it hasn’t. It’s certainly a complex relationship that we have because we’re a couple and we live together and we work together and we tour constantly- more than most bands do- so there is a certain level of hyper-intimacy that we’ve achieved that I think maybe is rare if not impossible to achieve with most people in life. We are kind of two cloven halves of one being but I don’t know because it’s hard for me to speak objectively about it because it’s such a pervasive aspect of our life and I don’t even know is weird, do you know what I mean?
P: How do you guys keep it light then? To avoid any quarrels or anything like that.
J: I don’t think we do keep it light. Sometimes we keep it very dark and real.
C: We keep it real. Our life is kind of like an experiment in a lot of ways we take challenges as they come and we’re lucky to have quite agreeable personalities, both of us, we don’t usually get in any kind of dark personal moments but we do experience the dark as much as we experience the light and we consider that to be a fair trade off.
P: Congratulations. It’s rare in this world to have something like you guys both have. What’s the craziest thing that you guys have experienced live because I’ve seen quite a few of your shows with Architecture in Helsinki what’s the craziest thing that you guys have seen or done live?
J: Well in the last year we’ve seen a lot of people sort of participate in this new culture that we’re trying to create and this new belief system that we’re just laying the foundation points of so we’ve seen people do a lot of crazy things like get Yacht tattoos, we’re seeing a lot of people dress a certain way in our shows, they’re dressing like us like some people wear all black some people wear all white some people have white button up shirts buttoned all the way up really crazy stuff like that. And for us that’s getting more and more overwhelming, people are bringing all kinds of triangle presents and triangle related objects to give to us and it’s really, really, really cool. People are connecting with us on a deeper level than just being like “Oh hey your music is awesome”. In our shows we’re getting into these really, really deep existential conversations that last for hours and that’s something that we really enjoy and we really want always to be a part of our shows; that we’re accessible, that we’re hanging out and stuff that we’re not just rolling into the show, being on stage, getting drunk and then leaving.
C: I feel like it’s sort of a bands responsibility to stand by, defend and explain their world view and their ideas. I don’t think we have the luxury to sort of release music and documents and literature and the things that we release and then tell people to just deal with it on their own and not interact with them and talk to them about it. We’re trying to create a kind of alternative culture that is a little bit more profound than the usual band culture.
J: And I think that comes partly from us not considering ourselves to be just a band, we’re more generalists than we are just musicians, we don’t want to focus on just one thing.
C: I think talking to people is one of the best parts of the whole experience. It’s what sets one show apart from another. For us, we try hard to make our performances as varied as possible with a lot of remixing, changing video, changing performance elements but in the end the feeling that is incurred during our shows is kind of a temporary autonomous political statement. It’s usually consistent, where as the conversations we have afterwards are wildly interesting and strange and often change. And we often remember a show by who we spoke to afterwards and what they had to say, “Oh you know that guy, he saw a UFO and he told us about it” or “That’s the show where somebody got really intense with us about the New World Order and we had to tell them that we weren’t a secret society.”
J: We had someone convinced that we were Mormons or that we were Scientologists there are all different kinds of wild accusations that are happening at shows and sometimes even something a little more mild than a protect but yeah, some people feel very strongly about the things that we say in songs and sometimes out of songs and books and literature and stuff like that.
P: Yeah so has that accessibility that you guys pride yourselves on, has that caused any problems?
J: No, I mean a couple of years ago, maybe three years ago I had my phone number on the Yacht website and that caused problems for a while and I had to take it off but since then everything’s been fine, everyone is really gracious and cool and just wants to talk.
P: What’s the crux of your ideology or your ethos with the project, for people that might not know too much about it?
C: Well it’s kind of an evolving thing. It’s fundamentally based in that experience that we spoke to you about earlier the idea that there can still be mystery and that we accept mystery and magic without having to necessarily find the solution or find an answer all of the time. But there is sort of a developing ideology that we’ve been focusing on, trying to write more documents. We recently finished a our first sort of, ah, book if you will, it’s smaller than a book but it’s called the “The Secret Teachings of the Mystery Lights: A Handbook for Overcoming Humanity and Becoming Your Own God” it’s still a little bit facetious but it is the fundamental thing of self empowerment, realizing that all the cultures of the world, both religious cultures and the idea behind science a lot of it is driven by the same motivation which is to understand or pay homage or become part of something larger than one’s self. The idea that a scientific diagram is the same thing as a religious drawing or a painting of a God one of our attempts as human race to encapsulate something that is ineffable or nonphysical or beyond our comprehension onto something that’s visible. Mathematics is kind of the same way we’re always trying to put our grasp into something that is larger than us and once you realize that everybody is motivated by morally the same desires then we can come to terms with the fact that we’re not all that different and that we have the power to invent our own reality, to invent our own religious books, to invent our own ideology and that we don’t have to feel dominated by the various ideology doctrines of the large religious associations or intelligence movements and so forth you can make your own ideology.
P: Are you guys going to formalize or add structure to that ideology so people can take meaning from it and use it in their own way?
J: Yes we are, yes we are definitely. Part of our goal as a band is to buy land or a structure in Texas and make a center for people to gather to work on their art or music projects and yeah, go deeper into this thing we’re building.
C: A lot of our ideology is developed through conversations with people after the shows so it’s changing and evolving as we pass through the places that we go to. We have the opportunity to sort of modify what we’re talking about in order to suit people’s needs but it is a personal thing, people can take what they want from it. We certainly don’t want to be dogmatic I think that would be counter intuitive to the purpose of the whole thing.
P: Well thank you so much, my first triangle interview was very much enjoyed so thank you.
You can catch Yacht at the following dates:
11 Dec 2009 Meredith Music Festival, Victoria
12 Dec 2009 Revolver, Melbourne, Victoria
15 Dec 2009 Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, New South Wales
16 Dec 2009 Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane, Queensland