YACHT’s Claire L. Evans Discusses Prince, Science, and Staying Sane on the Road

Posted on Tuesday May 3rd in

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Led by Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans (and rounded out by Rob Kieswetter), the L.A. band YACHT has been mashing together a spacey, danceable mix of electronic sounds, percussion, and Evans’ breathy vocals for more than a decade. Their most recent studio album, I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler, a critique of the 21st century, arrived last fall to considerable praise. “Future finds YACHT alive in a whole new way, with the group crafting not only some of the best pop of their careers, but of 2015 as a whole,” proclaimed PopMatters. “YACHT may have thought once upon a time that the future would have been cooler, but by any metric, the future they’re in now is pretty damn excellent.” And ahead of the group’s appearance at Brooklyn Bowl on Friday night, Claire L. Evans talked to Knockdown Alley about Prince, being a writer, and what you can expect when you see YACHT play live.
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Where are you right now? And how’s it been touring with M83? As we speak: I’m in a minivan somewhere between Portland, Ore., and Missoula, Mont., in prime server farm country. Tonight is our last show with M83 after a month on the road with them, which has been a total pleasure. Their fans have welcomed our trip with confusion, then slowly warming acceptance, and finally huge enthusiasm. Every night is a journey.
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With Prince’s recent passing, I have to ask: How has he influenced you? I actually wrote a piece for WIRED about Prince’s influence on our band. Musically, of course, for his total freakiness and pure, manic genius, but for us, the most incredible thing about Prince was his work ethic and the amazing control he had over his whole public image. He really created this larger-than-life persona by working incredibly hard and taking an active and committed investment in every aspect of his work. No detail was insignificant. He managed to do that while taking big creative risks. He didn’t often make the obvious or easy choice. We strive for the same.

(Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

(Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

It’s funny that Internet searches about YACHT often pull things related to yacht rock, which is clearly not your sound at all. How would you best describe your sound to someone who’s never heard YACHT? Whenever we come home from tours abroad, customs officers, once they find out we’re a band, will ask some version of this question. There’s no more inscrutable audience than a U.S. Customs officer. Like, will they give us a harder time going through security if we say one thing over another? I usually say, “Oh, you know — dance music” or something equally vague, which feels as insincere as writing musician on forms at the DMV. I guess we’re artists who grew up in punk scenes in the Pacific Northwest and make computer music with guitars that is designed to make people dance, but we won’t feel hurt if they just want to listen to it while they’re reading Wikipedia or whatever.

What’s your favorite thing about performing in New York City? We love our New York fans. I mean, we love all our fans — they are a screwy, kind, and fiercely intelligent jumble of people about whom I honestly cannot provide enough superlatives — but we’ve got some strong representatives in New York.
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You played Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas a few weeks back, and now you’re headed our way in Brooklyn. Did you bowl? Did you eat there? And what are you looking forward to in coming to the original Brooklyn Bowl? We didn’t get a chance to bowl, but it was a real trip to play a Las Vegas venue modeled after a New York venue we’ve played in the past. It kind of felt like being on the set of a touring stage production about the Brooklyn Bowl — real simulacrum stuff. Las Vegas has that quality generally, but casinos are usually trying to reproduce things with which I’m not so immediately familiar.

It’s probably safe to say there isn’t a whole lot of overlap between lead singers and science journalism. How’d that come about for you? And how have you managed to do both so well? Oh, I think a lot of musicians are polymaths in some way — I know lots of people in bands who also code, who are secretly chemists or caregivers or designers. People contain multitudes. Anyway, that I do both well is arguable, but I’ve been a writer for much longer than I’ve been a musician. I kind of think of myself as the writer of YACHT more than the singer, if that makes sense. That goes beyond lyrics to the larger, weirder meta-narrative stuff that we’re always experimenting with. Making music and writing aren’t as mutually exclusive as you might think, either, or at least in my specific case. YACHT is very much engaged in many of the technological issues I write about — the band critiques and experiments with new platforms, makes digital things, apps, video, multimedia projects. So it’s a similar domain. I write about social histories of technology, science fiction, feminism, and the way tech changes our relationships to one another. It all feeds back into the band, and vice versa. I only have the one brain.
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And keeping with that, were you always interested in both? Did one somehow lead to the other? I was writing a science column for a newsweekly in Los Angeles when I was still in college and YACHT was Jona’s solo project, and in the years since then, I’ve always written as a side hustle. Being on tour, making records, meeting the people who we meet — it’s enabled me to have a slightly different approach to the material. And it keeps me sane on the road, frankly.

How’s playing material from I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler live each night different than playing stuff from your earlier albums? Do you think it’s received differently? Or is it just a matter of how it feels for you? We fuck around with arrangements all the time, so our old material can sometimes feel as new as the songs from I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler. That’s a truth about YACHT: We’re never really the same twice. We’ve had countless lineups over 12 years. It’s a strategy to keep us from ever becoming complacent, onstage or otherwise.

And finally, what can we expect at your show on May 6th? A seamless combination of humans and computers, explicitly engineered to engender weird feeling.
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