Following a mid-afternoon feast in New York's Chinatown, Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans immediately begin proselytizing the gospel according to YACHT. Initially gaining attention as Khaela Maricich's collaborator with Portland’s The Blow, Bechtolt his since turned his own project into a holistic mission. The duo—Evans became a full-time member in 2008—recently released the modestly titled manifesto The Secret Teachings Of The Mystery Lights: A Handbook For Overcoming Humanity And Becoming Your Own God, which Bechtolt describes as a "primer" to their ideology. YACHT (which stands for Young Americans Challenging High Technology) stuffed a healthy dose of the same bizarro mysticism into its infectious 2009 album, See Mystery Lights, the title a reference to an unexplained, supposedly supernatural phenomenon in Marfa, Texas. The album came out on DFA Records, the label co-run by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, who also took YACHT on tour. Prior to the band's show at The Rock And Roll Hotel on Monday, Bechtolt and Evans talked with The A.V. Club about that tour, their new backing band, and their admiration for Heaven Gate's PR prowess.
The A.V. Club: This is YACHT’s first tour with its new backing band, The Straight Gaze. How has it been thus far?
Jona Bechtolt: It is going wonderfully! Epically well.
Claire L. Evans: We are really lucky. We were pretty nervous about the whole endeavor because we’ve never had to worry about the pressure points that are other people before.
JB: We’re taking a risk, but the risk has paid off. It’s been pretty great.
AVC: According to your website, the addition of The Straight Gaze is as an effort toward reinventing YACHT. Has it done that?
CLE: About every six months, we get totally overwhelmed with the project and try to change things up. We don't try to stay focused on one aspect of what we do for too long. It kind of disconnects us from the larger system, and it makes us a little redundant or prone to repetition or dulling our ideas. So for us that change is really crucial. If you change enough, you're able to feel revitalized, and you experience the vulnerability of when something new is happening that makes you afraid. But it also keeps you on your toes so that you're really focused on what you're doing.
JB: We want to feel weird and vulnerable, for sure.
CLE: That's why we like to play shows in weird places and to audiences or countries who have never seen our band before. That type of thing constantly keeps us terrified.
AVC: What prompted The Secret Teachings Of The Mystery Lights?
CLE: We’re increasingly focused on the ideology of YACHT, which encompasses all of our projects—not just music. We wanted to have a document.
JB: Something tangible.
CLE: Yeah, what we do and what we are. It's really just a primer on what YACHT is philosophically and ideologically. It’s what we believe. We wrote it when we were down in Marfa, Texas, recording See Mystery Lights. They are both about the same issues, but the record interprets those issues musically and the teachings take a different approach.
AVC: With YACHT now expanding into the written word, what comes next?
JB: One of our goals is to buy land in Marfa, create something of a community, and bring people to see the lights. We’re interested in more writing—this is a pretty short book. It's just the beginning.
CLE: I think if there is any kind of linear progression that it's toward objects that are more tangible. The next step would then be to have a place.
AVC: It seems like YACHT's music and ideology are extensions of one another rather than a balance.
JB: Yeah, one is informed by the other.
CLE: We're not dogmatic about it. We don't have any expectations…if you enjoy YACHT on a pop-dance music level and don’t want to explore the underlying thematic elements, that's fine to me. That's one valid way of enjoying the band.
JB: You can appreciate it on a pop-music level, or a production level.
CLE: We're touched that people get excited about anything that we do.
AVC: You’ve been quoted as saying that YACHT is an effort to unite an underground musical culture and an underground spiritual culture. Who are artists you feel have successfully incorporated both?
JB: Yoko Ono maybe does that.
CLE: I really admire charismatic cult leaders for having this urge to merge spirituality and entertainment.
JB: Like Charles Manson.
CLE: Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh—people who are really quite savvy and very intentional. It's not about entertainment, it's about spiritual unification. And of course a lot of these things ended terribly, just like a lot of rock 'n' roll bands end terribly. There are a lot of parallels between charismatic religious leadership and charismatic underground music leadership. It’s that kind of very intentional, punk-ish attitude towards media. The KLF, who burned 1 million pounds—that was just a beautiful gesture.
AVC: YACHT opened for LCD Soundsystem a few years back and will be joining them again on a European tour this spring. Did you find that their audience was receptive to your message?
JB: That tour with LCD Soundsystem was with just me. I got into it very last minute. It was utterly overwhelming because I had never met anyone in the band or anyone from DFA. I had just emailed back and forth to remix and be remixed. I was afraid they were going to be smarmy New York City assholes, and it turned out that everyone I have ever met involved with DFA have been total sweethearts. So that part of it was great. I was playing for the largest crowds I had ever played for, and I felt very out of place but in a different way than I thought I would. I thought that I'd be playing for a crowd filled with James Murphys. But it turned out their crowd was very strait-laced. A lot of people had never seen a performer with a computer on stage, so I already had this advantage in that anything I would do in these traditional rock places looked very outrageous. I was almost too easy at times. People thought that my walking off stage into the crowd was the most ridiculous thing they'd ever saw.
CLE: If this question is about playing for larger audiences and transmitting the message in that way, I think there is always a percentage of people who are not going to get anything out of it. But it’s just a larger control group. There's going to be the same proportion of people who are excited if we’re playing to a small crowd. We can play a show for 2,000 people, and if 15 people really get into our music, then that's exactly what we want. Those are 15 people who are going to follow us the whole time, and we're going to have a cool relationship with them and have really weird conversations after the show.
JB: I think on this tour there's been a lot more of that.
AVC: “Summer Song” was written as a tribute to DFA/LCD Soundsystem. Is James Murphy planning on returning the favor?
JB: I think so. I think there's something like that on the new record. We've been talking about it. “Summer Song” wasn't so much tribute as much as a goof on DFA.
CLE: Yeah, it was supposed to be a joke.
JB: It was just a free track we put up on our site like five minutes after it was recorded that we never intended to put it on our album or vinyl. But the response has been overwhelming.
CLE: To this day, I don't really know if DFA knows it was supposed to be a joke. But that's fine.