Interview with YACHT

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I’m a bit late getting this, but here’s playlist from the February 11th show.

  • Gigi, The Marquee
  • Vivian Girls, He’s Gone
  • Best Coast, When I’m With You
  • Sonny & the Sunsets, Heart of Sadness
  • The Fresh & Onlys, Second One to Know
  • YACHT interview
  • Beach House, Silver Soul

Podcast is here! Here’s a transcript of the interview (big, big thank you to Camilla for this!):

Jonah: Things are going well. We’ve been at home for longer than we’ve been at home in maybe two or three years, so it’s pretty surreal and it’s been really nice.

Duncan: You guys have been touring forever it seems.

J: yes, yeah.

D: You went all over the place in 2009… you were in how many continents… four?

Claire: I don’t know… more than that. Let’s just say that, more than that. I think we were in 17 countries last year. Is that what we came up with?

J: something like that, I can’t remember the exact specs, but it was a lot.

D: So, coming up next you guys are going to be playing a show in Portland, and then you’re going to be doing a tour of Western Canada.

J Yeah even before that we’re flying out for one college show in upstate New York.

D: oh wow. Cool. Why western Canada? Why did you want to do a tour through there?

J: we wanted to come to Canada for a long time and it hasn’t happened for us. It just made perfect sense. We have been asking our agent to bring us to Canada for a long time and finally people asked us, and we have a policy of saying, “yes” to doing shows so… Yeah we’re huge fans of Canada. It’s just been the earliest we could come up.

C: But it’s totally been long overdue.

D: Yeah definitely. You guys do know you’re coming during the Olympics here?

J: Yeah that part is strange for us.

C: That was maybe not the wisest scheduling. Although, it might be kind of exciting to be in Vancouver during all the Olympic madness, make us feel like a big exciting moment in time that we’re a part of.

D: It will be a little ray of sunshine for all the Vancouverites I think cause a lot of us are feeling kinda bummed out about all the craziness that’s going to be happen.

J: Yeah, I can imagine, but we are going for the gold. Let’s make that perfectly clear, we are going for the gold.

D: (laughs) Good. Awesome.

C: I’m going for silver to be honest.

D: Um, and you guys have added some members for this part of the tour?

J: Yes we have, for the full North American tour yes.

D: So tell me about the Straight Gaze, who are they and what’s up with that?

J: They are close friends of ours. Actually, we have some sad news one of our members was just recently diagnosed with mono and spinal meningitis at the same time. Yeah. Luckily he’s okay. He’s doing well. But we don’t know if he’ll be able to tour with us now. So, aside from him, that’s D. Reuben Snyder, who is part of this amazing performance collective called Rob Walmart um, and we have bobby birdman who’s been a friend for a very long time, he’s an amazing musician and he has a new album called “new moods” which is also one of our favourite records of 2009. And then, Jeffrey Brodsky who has a band called Jeffrey Jerusalem who makes wigged out dance music that’s really great. So yeah, they’re close friends that we’ve been fans of their own music’s and wanted to incorporate them into yacht and see what would happen see what would play up. Every six months or so, we get crazy and we have to change yacht in some major way. And past changes and revisions have been adding Claire, making all kinds of performance rules like never touching the computer or only touching computer or touching audience members or invading personal space using power point, focusing a lot on video at the show, and interacting with people. Yeah, we have to make major changes or else we go nuts.

D: and for those of yacht fans who are familiar with you as a solo artist or with Claire, what will it look like with more people on stage? Have you set any rules for what it’s going to look like this on tour?

J: yeah, we got rules that I don’t think we want to (tell)

D: you don’t want to spill the beans

C: we can know that it’s going to look very elegant

J: there will be an air of elegance on stage

C: there’ll be an elegant mood. There’ll be an elegant tone.

J: I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a chandelier with real candles but imagine that.

C: there’s going to be a lot of like scented candles and roses, sort of like an mtv unplugged style. Yeah like, a draped curtain in the background with an old wooden chair that Jonah will be sitting in.

J: soft lighting.

C: one nice glass of champagne

D: Nice.

C: table, long stemmed glass

D: there’s a local band opening for you guys, Fine Mist. It’s Megan and Jay who are maybe some old friends of yours

J: Yes they are, we’re excited to see them. We haven’t seen them in a while.

D: and they’re a local favourites here so I think there’s lots of reasons for people to see them

J: That’s what I hear

C: That’s exciting

D: and they have an elegant mood too, they are always drinking white wine and uh, they have lots of candles on stage.

C: that’s why we chose them. As we said.

D: One thing about your tours that kind of sets you apart is your amazing tour documentation that you do, and really your website in general is exhaustive in your documentation of what you’re doing. Is there a place where that came from or what has inspired you to be so diligent with keeping up with the documentation?

J: I think it started with just having a pretty bad memory and wanting to reference it as a resource for myself so I could go back and be like, what’s that ice cream place in san Diego that I really like? And then I have that part documented that I can always reference. Um, but also, just yeah, it came out of I don’t know, sheer boredom, or really wanting to always keep up with not just playing music but doing everything else. We consider ourselves generalists.

C: We see Yacht as being kind of evolutionary entity if you will, and in the evolutionary ministry of animal and human kind, over specialization is what causes extinction. We don’t want to go extinct; we want to stay away from being overspecialized and only sort of tunnel visioning our music or our performances. Instead, we try to do all kinds of different projects, video, photography, documentation is a big part of it because it’s a way for us to flex those muscles as much as possible, but we do all kinds of stuff and as he said, connected to the world around us and allows to sort of like be a relevant piece of culture as opposed to a sort of niche thing. Also, we do so much stuff every that it’s difficult for us to keep tabs on it all, unless we perfectly archive and document it all so we can look back on it in our old years on our rocking chairs and see where we were and when.

J: I think it also came from being fans of that kind of documentation. Like the movie 1991,the year punk broke; it’s a sonic youth and nirvana tour documentary. I saw it at an early age and really really loved. I think I’ve just been trying to recreate that movie my entire life.

D: (laughs) Um, and do you do all the web design yourself and all the video editing and all that stuff?

J: Yeah we do almost everything all ourselves. We’re control freaks.

D: well it looks fantastic.

J: Thanks!

D: I wanted to ask you about your mission statement. How did that come about?

C: Well uh, there’s lots of reasons for it. Mainly it’s because we try to build as much as community as possible around Yacht and our peripheral activities. There is kind of a thin list of community with bands but it’s usually sort of based on like, I’m kind of idol worship or fan worship, uh we want our fan base and our little micro world to be much more collaborative and welcoming than that so we try to uh bolster a feeling of interactive community and uh, the ability for people to codify our belief system and our ideology and our ideas. We make a point of talking to people about our various projects as much as possible and shaping it to their ideas and needs. I think people are a little hesitant to take part in something like that unless there’s sort of a codified set of beliefs of foundation, if you will. I think it helps people understand that what they are taking part in is something that perhaps is in tune with their beliefs or has a belief system that’s real and codified if that makes sense. It’s like the Ten Commandments if you will, people like having that foundation to build on. And then it’s like, but it’s not set in stone.

J: That’s what I was going to say. We live on the Internet so it’s not set in stone. It’s a living document that can breathe and change, and that’s something we’re really excited about, especially like going to places like Canada, or to places we haven’t been often or haven’t ever been. We want to meet new people and hear new ideas and change documents based on that.

C: Yeah, but it’s important to sort of think what we think are the starting beliefs of Yacht. And then we can have conversations with people that are based on something instead of just grasping at straws.

D: The name Yacht. I’m not sure where it comes from but it seems to go against somewhat the egalitarianness of your mission statement. Yachts are elitist and bourgeois so, where did the name yacht come from and how does it sort of play against what you’re trying to achieve with your mission statement?

C: Yacht is actually an acronym.

J: It has nothing to do with luxury or the image of the boat or anything at all. It does reference that Yacht at all.

C: It’s an acronym for Young Americans Challenging High Technology.

D: Ah.

C: It’s named after the school program that Jonah used to go to.

J: When I was 12 or 13 years old in Portland Oregon, there was this after school program. I guess it’s a program yeah, and there was I think that’s where we became obsessed with duality through this, they moved the class in to two groups every day and it was really strange and it was ultimately shut down due to some administration suspicion? I don’t know how to, it’s a little vague what happened to the building and the program. It was a building called Yacht, young Americans challenging high technology, and the two groups, one would embrace technology and use technology as a tool to create, the other group would sort of hate technology, almost in a Unabomber style, they were trying to figure out ways to destroy technology, and like this productive like you know, eighth grade sort of way. Half way through the day, the two groups would switch. I think this caused a lot of emotional problems with the teenagers, including myself, um but yeah, I think that was also where I really started to be um deeply interested in mystery. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding that building and that program and the people running it, so yeah, Yacht is a reference to that.

D: Okay

C: It’s a little strange that the word itself is kind of (inaudible) because we really work hard to not have that image. But at the same time I think it’s an interesting limitation and structural, and we constantly have to overcome that our name is yacht and we have this built in duality.

D: And Anchor.

J: yeah we’re in to the fight, want to fight everything.

D: except flame wars, no flame wars.

J: that fight was okay too. I think there was that fight was ultimately productive.

D: Okay, one thing that I really liked that you did a few years ago was you released a whole bunch of your music under creative common’s license, the instrumentals. I noticed you still have a bunch of free loads on your website, what was the inspiration for making those available under creative common’s license?

J: I just thought about how I relate to music and how I want to download music and how I like hearing instrumental versions of other bands, but you know, why the hell not? I should release them.

C: Yeah, I mean we, these are kind of super Draconian enforcements that are happening on you tube, where kids are getting in trouble for using and you know like, using any kind of recorded music in the backgrounds of their youtube videos, and professionals and record labels are taking their videos and I think that is such a counterproductive way of dealing with music and talking about music and partaking in the community. We just want people to use our music for whatever purpose they want without ever having to fear that something terrible is going to happen to their creative output.

J: It’s as extreme as people will be like recording something in a café and there will be music playing in the background and like, inside a café, and a record label will take down that video clip because that music is copy written. It’s ridiculous, it’s really crazy. We don’t really feel ownership over our music once it’s out there.

C: Yeah, totally. We feel like once you make a piece of art or piece of music, and you put it out in to the world, you sort of have to relinquish any kind of authorship, or real ownership because it becomes part of the cultural world and everyone has a point of view and a perspective and everybody owns a little bit of it, and you have to let the music the way they want to use it, you can’t hold on to your music in that way because it’s isolationist.

D: Hm

J: At least we can’t.

C: Yeah, others can and should.

D: what would you say to musicians who say that they want to, they have a livelihood and they want to enforce their copyrights over their music, what would be the response that you have? Cause clearly you are you know, the authors of these works, but you are relinquishing those rights.

J: I think there’s no right way, it’s just the way we believe.

C: Musicians make their money in all different kinds of ways. Some people don’t make any money off selling records even, you know, you’re in a pre-downloading internet age and you only make money off of touring. Some people make money-selling songs to movies and commercials. Its just, you choose the way you want to commoditize your enterprise and how much you want to commoditize your enterprise. Um, it is a livelihood for us as it is for everyone else and we try to be honest about that. We call ourselves a business of friends that um, we also know that we live in a very complicated world where the rules are changing quite rapidly and we don’t want to be reactionary, we don’t want to be luddites. We don’t want to hold on to an old model that doesn’t work and risk losing our involvement with the world around us. I mean, it’s kind of inky with this generalist thing; we want to be part of the world not fighting against it.

J: We’re really lucky, we have the attitude of doing as much as we can with as little as possible so, we don’t have a budget for recording albums, we don’t use a studio, we don’t use professional instruments. We use whatever we can get off Craigslist, we have one condenser microphone that we record everything with and we use, a consumer level imac to do everything. Our overhead is really low, is zero and there’s two of us.

J: For us, our financial (?) is like a hundred dollars.

D: Right, yeah.

J: We’ve made it.

D: Um, do you uh, I noticed there’s a donation page or button on your web page, do people don ate?

J: Yes. Shockingly yes. I think that yeah just we wanted to offer people a way to contribute to the culture of the band, cause we offer a lot of stuff for free that we wanted people to be able to have the choice if they wanted to, to give us money, which is weird and funny.

C: Yeah, I mean it’s not something we count on financially; it’s always kind of funny and a point of conversation when someone actually donates. Oh this guy donated money, who’s this guy? Yeah.

J: And we like to develop real relationships with those people who donate because we feel like they’re buying in to something. We want to give them something in return.

C: that’s what buying records is about, people buy CDs in order to buy in to the culture of the band, or they buy a CD at our show so they can talk to the band. It’s not so much about owning the thing or paying for the thing, as it is being part of it. So for us the donation is kind of a shorthand for that. If people are uncomfortable being part of the culture without having a monetary exchange, then they can do that if they ant to.

D: Right, yeah.

J: We just want to explore and give all options.

D: yeah, no that’s great. Speaking of business, are you guys still running airmail?

C: Yes.

J: yes.

D: I remember when you guys first launched that it was a major logistical headache. Have you ironed out all the hiccups?

J: Since then we’ve acquired some friends who are, well we didn’t acquire these friends, we had friends who um offered to help us around everything. So that’s been really awesome, now we’re partnered with our friends.

C: Yeah, we’re pretty hands-off about it now, it sort of runs itself um, but it was not for a really long time.

J: we never meant for it to be a logistical business, we thought we would make a hundred of the things by hand and that would be the end of it, but it was yeah, everything was text, blog, computer blog covered.

D: It was huge. I remember.

J: So crazy. So overwhelming for us.

D: Yeah.

J: We never ever thought we would have to uh, get a business license or file for a patent or any of that kind of stuff before. Although we say it’s a business, it’s very shadily run.

C: Yeah, it’s pretty poorly run.

D: So, no follow-up with the ipad. No idea with merchandising.

J: we’re working on something. It’s a secret.

D: Okay, alright. You get to the patent office first. Um, so I heard you recorded this album in Marfa?

J: yes.

D: I’m going to be in Texas in March, what is Marfa like? Why did you choose Marfa to record this album?

C: Well Marfa kind of chose us, I mean we, Marfa has this phenomenon that uh, not unknown in others parts of the world, but it’s quite rare, a mystery light phenomenon that’s been happening, and it’s been going on in that part of the west Texas desert for as long as there have been people to record it and before that. It’s a paranormal optical phenomenon that happens, it’s called the Marfa mystery lights and every night, we’d go out in to the desert and see these paranormal unexplained light happenings, and it’s something that is, that we sort of discovered in our travels haphazardly across America and it profoundly spoke to us as being a very rare example of a modern mystery, because we live in an age where, you know, there isn’t much mystery left. We live in a very scientific age, where even the most tiny and incomprehensibly small working aspect of this universe has been rationalized and explained with profound mathematical theories. And where you know uh, we have access to information that would have taken our parents weeks and or decades to find, we have it at our fingertips. So, you know, us as sort of self navigating people, we never sort of experienced a real mystery, we never felt like something was both unqualifiably real and unknowable and mysterious, and so the first time we saw the lights, it uh, it really had a huge effect on us and we decided we wanted to go back to Marfa to live and to know what it was like to live with that phenomenon day to day, what it was like to live with mystery. You know, that’s how the human race lived for centuries, most of the natural phenomenon in the world were unknown, mysterious, capricious things that people had no idea what they were. People would rationalize it as being a spiritual or godly event or a fateful event, but not necessarily something that we’d ever understand. We’ve sort of lost touch with that, so it was important for us to go back and retouch with that ancient, uh, human aesthetic culture, of being like a loft little spec of dust hanging in a vast cavernous unexplained universe, you know.

D: Yeah. That was very well put.

J: We hadn’t intended on making an album of music. We just intended on living there and meeting everyone we could in the town. And finding out what their story was, and how they relate to the lights and how they feel with the lights. And later, we just found an album before us. We don’t know how it got there or how it was made but apparently we made it.

D: And Marfa has a great arts community as well.

C: Yeah, that’s the other great thing about Marfa. It has internationally recognized priceless art community, and some incredibly scientific work by some timeless and legendary American artist.

D: Um, do you guys still feel between recording the album in Marfa and being on the road and such, do you still feel, or at least Jonah, do you still feel a strong affinity with Portland?

J: Yes and no. I feel closer to Marfa almost, and I know that Marfa will be a place that we’ll return to our whole lives. I think that one of our major goals right now, as a band is to try to put up shop in Marfa, some kind of shop that will be like a community shop where people could come and gather. But I mean, all of our equipment is in Portland.

C: And we both grew up here.

J: And we have a huge connection Oregon and Portland.

C: It’s hard to know, we’re kind of like temporary, autonomous zones that walk around and everywhere we go has to be virtue of the necessity of our lives, has to be home to us otherwise we would be totally addressed and alienated all the time. So Portland is home for us in a more profound way than other places but the world is kind of home to us too.

D: Is that one of the reasons, or why did you sign with DFA? You were one of the first Northwest bands.

J: Because they asked us! Back to our policy of saying, “Yes”.

D: Yeah.

J: Yeah, no, we made it, we’ve always pride ourselves in only working with record labels that we have close principle friendships with. And that started with our best friend Steven, and his label States Rights records, then our incredibly great friend Curtis and his label Marriage Records, and I’d been in e-mail touch with DFA just about remixes and remixing and nothing formal or nothing super personal, I just got a phone call from Jon Galkin of DFA who essentially runs it single-handedly and just asked me, hey, what are you doing tomorrow? Do you want to go on tour with LCD Soundsystem? And I had been a fan of, but would never admit to any of those people when I was, I was a little suspicious of them because they were fancy New Yorkers and they played on David Letterman, and I was like oh no, are they going to be like, smarmy assholes? What is this going to be like?

D: Wasn’t MIA on that tour as well?

J: No.

D: Oh that was a different one, I’m sorry.

J: It was supposed to be Prinzhorn Dance School but they weren’t granted American Visas, yeah so, I filled in at the very last minute, and it turned out that everyone even remotely involved with DFA happened to be giant sweethearts. SO yeah, after meeting Jon Galkin in person and, James, it turns out that while DFA seems like this international mega corporation or something, it works the exact same way that Marriage and States Rights records works. Just one or two people doing everything to day-to-day, and so yeah, it made sense for us and stopped being overwhelming and stopped being scary, and we said yes! I’d never, even after that tour, we were friends and it was great and everything, but I’d never expected that they want an album from us. But they asked for one and so gave it to them. That’s actually the first thing we gave them, uh, the first version of We See Mystery Lights was only 8.5 minutes long. It was ten tracks of mantras, sort of all of the songs now as they exist, sort of boiled down to their core message and, sometimes, they were atonal, sometimes they were spoken, sometimes they were melodic, but it was a very different record. After DFA agreed to put it out, we stepped back and we pondered, is this what we really want to give to the world surface, golden key vehicle of DFA< or do we want to make something that’s less beating people over the head with these mantras and words, subversive or more subliminal or something, so we started talking about writing pop songs around these core messages because pop music is such a great vehicle for disseminating messages, it’s so repetitive, and people listen to pop music a hundred times without knowing what the words are about or what they mean, even after they you know, memorized them. And, on the dance side of pop music, there’s so many mantras built in to that stuff, and it can be even more repetitive and rhythmic and whatever, so, it just made perfect sense for us to do that, and it just happened.

D: Yeah, great um, I think that’s about it. Anything else you’d like to add?

C: We’re very excited to see you Canada. Thank you for having us.

J: Is Hastings Street still scary?

D: Yeah. I mean, it’s not scary in the sense that you should worry about your personal safety when you go down there, but it’s scary just in terms of the uh, just how awful things can get for people I think, and how harrowing it is. I would be much more scared of Granville street, which is where all the bars are that uh, let fistfights break out and stuff. Hastings will leave you alone, you just um, there’s a lot of pain and uh, yeah. But then the Olympics are coming and I don’t know what kind of white washing is going to be happening, they might uh be locking everyone up.

C: I guess we’ll find out.

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2 Responses to “Interview with YACHT”

  1. leila Says:

    i think it’s kinda shady that they have a donation link on their website. i’m sure they’re not exactly starving and considering what’s happening in the world right now, shouldn’t they encourage people donate to people that might actually need it? rather than a self-described successful “business?” sorry, but can’t help but think this after hearing about chile

  2. duncan Says:

    I disagree. I don’t think they’re profiting much from it, and they do make a lot of their music available on the site. I see it as a less structured but similar model to the one used by Radiohead for “In Rainbows.” Nonetheless, I appreciate your comments! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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