I’ll admit, when I first received an email about YACHT sometime last year, I quickly disregarded it. I mean, I myself receive an insane amount of emails about new bands and such. It wasn’t until I received a personal message to check out their album that I looked into them. I noticed that they were on DFA and that pretty much got me to load the album onto my iTunes. Having mixed up the playlist the first song I played was “Psychic City” and pretty much stopped me from working on whatever I was working on. A couple of re-listens and I fell in love with the album, no matter how odd it sounded at times. Some time last month we had a chance to catch up with Claire, one half of YACHT.
Killahbeez: Let’s start off with the obvious. Where does the name YACHT come from?
Claire: YACHT is an acronym, which stands for Young Americans Challenging High Technology. It’s named after an after-school program which used to exist in Portland, Oregon; YACHT taught a kind of double-sided, holistic approach to technology, teaching kids the fundamentals of web design and video editing while advocating an almost Unabomber-esque political agenda. The seeming contradiction in terms of this enterprise always impressed us a great deal, and we had our first understanding of the importance duality because of YACHT.
Killahbeez: Very deep for a seemingly simplistic name. So both of you came from prior bands, how did you two meet and decide to form this duo?
Claire: We met in 2004, when YACHT was still a solo project of Jona’s. At the time, I was in an outsider art band called Weirdo/Begeirdo, and our bands — an early incarnation of YACHT and the maelstrom of confetti that was Weirdo/Begeirdo — were randomly paired together to play a show together in a small gallery in Los Angeles. We found each other interesting almost immediately, but it wasn’t until 2009 YACHT became a duo. In the interim were four years of friendship, love, collaboration, and synergy. Before doing YACHT together, we made videos, performances, bands with other names which shall remain unnamed, websites, and meals. We traveled together and shared our skills with one another as much as we could: each was a resource for the other. The movement for me to join the band happened organically, without effort.
There was a catalyst, however. We came together to make the 2009-era YACHT after sharing a very powerful, supernatural experience together: the Marfa, Texas, “Mystery Lights.” We saw them first on a journey across the country, and we were completely devastated by the presence of such a profound mystery. It completely reorganized our belief system, as well as our naive understanding of the Universe. We realized that for centuries of humankind, even the most banal phenomena in the world were inscrutable mysteries, before magic became science. In this information-rich world, and for people like us who grew up with access to computers, whose entire lives have been influenced by constant access to knowledge, the mystery that the Marfa Lights represents is very powerful. It’s a perspective-changing experience. YACHT could never be the same afterwards, so we devoted ourselves to making music which reflected what we were feeling, the things we were meditating about in the presence of these Lights.
Killahbeez: So let’s talk about YACHT’s debut album, See Mystery Lights, which came out on DFA records; did you two feel any pressure on making a great record, as DFA is generally known to release nothing but greatness?
Claire: Actually, the first version of See Mystery Lights that we sent to DFA bears no resemblance to the version you have in your hands now. It was the product of months of thoughtful meditation in the desert of West Texas, in Marfa, and it was simply an eight-minute compilation of chants, or mantras, that we felt spoke to the essential ideas of our work. Some were quite atonal. DFA, to their credit, was completely willing to release this version, but we thought better of it when we considered the label’s legacy to that point. We realized that mantras on their own simply couldn’t have the effect, the lifespan, of pop songs. So we reworked all of the mantras into pop frameworks, and made a pop-dance record. In the end, we’re very proud of this subversive act, which we think falls under the traditional birthright of pop music. After all, people listen to pop songs over and over again, hundreds, maybe thousands of times in their lives, often without ever listening to the words. What better platform for the delivery of subliminal messages?
The whole DFA enterprise is heartbreakingly kind, helpful, and willing to take an active role in the music and aesthetics of their artists. That said, they never made us change a thing. We are without a doubt incredibly lucky to have them.
Killahbeez: One of your singles, “Psychic City (Voodoo City)”, is incredibly infectious and beautifully composed, in particular your vocals, which even has full grown men singing along. The song is a cover of Rich Jensen’s “Voodoo City”, how did that cover come about? And is Psychic City a particular city or more a mind frame?
Claire: Rich Jensen is an old, dear friend of ours who has been a supporter of the YACHT enterprise since its inception. He’s also something of a historical figure in the music scene of the Pacific Northwest: he worked for Sub Pop in the 1990s, he saved the label, released some of the first K Records cassette tapes. Without the tireless tinkering of people like Rich, there would be no scene in our part of the world, there would be no DIY effort, no community — no YACHT. We owe him a lot. By re-recording “Psychic City”, we brought his era of music into ours, and breathed new, different life into something that means so much to us.
We think of the psychic city as the personal utopia, whatever you want it to be. So, yes, a frame of mind.
Killahbeez: On your website I read that other artists that inspired “Psychic City” include R.Kelly and Outkast. And your song “I’m in love with a Ripper” plays off of T-Pain’s “I’m in love with a Stripper”. What other artists do you find inspires YACHT’s creative process?
Claire: Honestly, we listen to very little music. We draw more inspiration from art than we do from the music world, and there are several contemporary artists in particular that we admire, one of which is Yayoi Kusama, the Japanese sculptor and creator of immersive installations known as “mirrored rooms,” is a longtime favorite of ours. Her sense of depth and her psychedelically rapt devotion to a single, repetitive theme appeals to our ritualistic interests. After all, we see pop music, with its repetitive choruses and ability to be played over and over again, as a kind of mainstream receptacle for mantras and single-serving thematic ideas. Kusama’s dot-matrix paintings really echo that theme.
That said, we do consider ourselves to be a sieve through which thousands of ephemeral pieces of cultural detritus pass every day, and our interests change radically as we explore and develop them. Our influences range from visual art: (Yayoi) Kusama, (Olafur) Eliasson, as well as Ed Ruscha, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Italian Futurism, David Hockney, to writing, contemporary video and new media art, poetry, esotericism, and the paranormal. We recently designed and produced a giant poster of all our nonmusical influences — a kind of index — ranging from religious iconography to films and poetry. It also includes mathematical images, William Blake, magazine covers, photos of Charles Manson, punk bands, maps, and images of UFOs. The world is open to us.
Killahbeez: Wow, that’s an insanely interesting list of inspiration. So going back to the recording of See Mystery Lights in Marfa, Texas. Why Marfa and what was that experience like?
The album See Mystery Lights is named after an aforementioned paranormal, optical phenomenon of the far West Texas desert. We wrote and recorded our album over the course of two months in Marfa, Texas, precisely because of that very phenomenon, which we witnessed repeatedly together and which hugely influenced our personal ideology as well as that of YACHT. The phenomenon itself is very beautiful, but it’s the implications of it which most affected us: namely, that something completely mysterious, unknowable, and “magic” could exist in our modern world of convenience and instant access to information. We’ve both grown up with unlimited access to computers, and we have never experienced something we couldn’t immediately understand or look up. The Mystery Lights threw our whole conception of reality into a spinning vortex that still hasn’t ceased, and the album is the beginning of a long journey of discussion, theory, and ideology based on that continuing experience.
Killahbeez: What’s next for YACHT?
Claire: These are just the first steps on a long, and only partially-illuminated path. Once taken, we can never return to the comfort of home, nor can we do anything but continue to walk, first with small steps and then in leaps and bounds, until we reach the top of the mountain.