This boat ain’t sinkin’

By Amanda Murphy

The Portland, Ore.-based group YACHT has seen a lot of changes since its start in 2002. Beginning as a solo project for Jona Bechtolt, the band then became a duet when it added Claire Evans and now has three more members with the addition of Rob Kieswetter, Jeffrey Brodsky and Katy Davidson. But the indie-disco dance band has stayed true to its artistic roots, putting out various albums, like the former “See Mystery Lights,” which won critical praise from publications such as Pitchfork.com, and their newest album “Shangri-La,” which explores the idea of a utopian world.

The Chronicle sat down with YACHT member Claire Evans to talk about its current tour, upcoming show in Chicago at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., and the importance of tackling various artistic projects.

The Chronicle: The name YACHT isn’t actually a reference to a fancy boat, but an acronym for an organization: Young Americans Challenging High Technology. How does the reference to that organization reflect your music?

Claire Evans: Well, Young Americans Challenging High Technology was an after-school program Jona [Bechtolt], my bandmate, went to when he was in high school in Portland. He doesn’t know a lot about it because it was very bizarre. It dissolved after a short amount of time. But it taught kids to use both technology and this borderline Unabomber-esque propaganda about how technology was evil. I think it was a huge influence on him, and that sort of sense of weird, mystery and binary duality is something we take very seriously and try to relate to what we do now. Challenging technology isn’t throwing Molotov cocktails at computers; it’s challenging what technology can be used for and using technology in ways it wasn’t necessarily originally designed to be used. We love using video presentation software to tape rock ‘n’ roll shows. And we love using editing software to make photographs and push the boundaries of what we can do with the tools that we have.

The Chronicle: Besides the good and bad uses of technology, what other influences do you draw upon for your music?

CE: It kind of depends on the project. We tend to decide when we’re making a project, whether it’s an album or video or series of objects, and then once we’ve determined we’re going to set time aside for that option, we try to look at the world as one giant information pot that we can choose from. So our last album, “Shangri-La,” we decided it would be about utopias, because that made sense to us at the time. And then we researched utopias and only thought about utopia. We read a number of articles on the subject, opened up our minds to having those discussions with people about what utopia means. It became a big part of our practice.

And we love to research and build a library of subjects we’re interested in. When we made “See Mystery Lights,” we were into ritual esotericism, cults, secret societies, magic and those sorts of things. And that’s how we tend to work. We choose a subject and we work through it until we’ve exhausted it. We like to have as much information on our side as possible, and then whatever we make will be kind of a natural dissolution of what that information did for us in our minds over the time we were researching.

The Chronicle: So you guys do creative projects other than music?

CE: Oh, yeah. YACHT is really the name that we use for everything that we do. And obviously, music is what we’re known most for. But we do everything involved with the band. We make our own videos and do our own web design, graphic design, and we do our own product design for merchandise. Every single aspect that you see that has our name on it was made by us.

We don’t want to only limit ourselves to music because we plan on doing this for a long time, and we don’t want to get sick of it. If we were only an indie rock band for forever, it could be possible that we would get sick of it or exhaust the possibilities of what it means to us. YACHT started off as a graphic design company in its very first innovation. And then it became a solo project band, then a two-person band, and now it’s a five-person band. And we only aim to expand and grow as much as possible.

The Chronicle: You guys are known for putting on a really incredible live show. What can Chicago audiences expect this time around?

CE: [Laughs] Well, we don’t know what the next thing is going to be. We try to change it as often as possible, otherwise we’ll get complacent and bored. We aim to always be a little bit terrified when we’re on stage. In fact, that’s the goal: to be as scared as possible. If you’re scared, then you’re hungry and you’re paying attention, and something real and kind of kinetic can happen. Chicago audiences can expect five human bodies on a stage, video, audio, cables, acoustic instruments, electric instruments, technological instruments that are invisible to the naked eye, a lot of physical contact and some strange interactive component that has not yet been determined.

The Chronicle: Each album you put out takes a step in a different direction, which makes more sense now that you said you focus on one aspect of the world. But your most recent one, “Shangri-La,” features a lot of songs like “Dystopia (The Earth Is on Fire)” that send really powerful messages. So besides utopia, was there anymore subject matter fueling this album?

CE: Well, when I say we start with one subject, I say it’s more like the seed. Yes, the album is supposed to be about utopia, but you can’t talk about that without talking about dystopia. So in the end, it’s a pretty broad spectrum. And “Dystopia” is a song that’s about a feeling of anxiety and fear about the contemporary environmental universe that we live in. And there are some that are about a pretty wide range of subjects like aliens, psychedelic drugs and trying to make your own paradise where you live. But it’s an album that covers the full spectrum between dystopia and utopia.

The Chronicle: If you were an animal, what would you be and why?

CE: [Laughs] Oh, man. When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a snow leopard, because I thought it was the most beautiful of all creatures. But I think that’s a little ambitious for my adult self. So perhaps some kind of blind, albino newt that lives in a cave, because that’s how I feel about the world sometimes [laughs].

YACHT will be playing an 18+ show on Dec. 6 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $14, and the show begins at 8 p.m. For more information on the band, visit TeamYacht.com.

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