Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans are very recent Los Angeles transplants, living on the quiet border between Echo Park and Silver Lake. The two are the leaders of the band YACHT, an electronic rock/synth-pop outfit that extends beyond being simply a musical act and exists as a vehicle for ideological expression. Their space is very clean and very white, pops of color standing out like visual “Eureka!” moments. We sat down with them before they headed out to conquer the country and world on tour to promote their 2011 release, Shangri-La.
Jona and Claire are both Northwesterners, calling Portland home. Jona was born in Madison, Wisconsin and spent time in Seattle and DC. “My parents are both from Astoria, Oregon, a coastal town where they filmed The Goonies, Short Circuit, Kindergarten Cop, Free Willy, Benji, and scenes from The Ring,” he says, tracing his history from the East coast to Astoria, where his family moved when he was five. “My parents started running a small country gas station, like a mini-mart. My first job was stocking the candy aisle but I was eventually promoted to pumping gas, because in Oregon you have to have an attendant.”
“My older brother got into techno music so we started a techno club above the gas station. I helped him run that until he got bored of it, which is when I turned it into an indie rock club,” Jona said. “I moved to Portland–the big city–when I was thirteen because I played in a punk band with my older brother. I didn’t go to school at all: I dropped out and took the GED when I was sixteen and started touring with punk bands.”
Touring with bands brought Jona down to Los Angeles a few times, a geographic flrtation that started in his teens. “The first time I came to Los Angeles, my mind was blown. I always loved the idea of ‘Golden California.’ We came here and played a bunch of clubs and, half the time, I’d have to sit outside of the club until we played, then leave immediately because I was underage. In LA, for some reason there were a couple of clubs, like this one called Dragonfly on Sunset, which doesn’t exist anymore. I got to hang out the whole time and I was so excited to be with adults and in a club environment at thirteen or fourteen. I fell in love with LA immediately.”
“I kept coming back for tours and met Claire when YACHT was still a solo project. We were randomly paired to play this show at Ghetto Gloss, which also doesn’t exist anymore. It was by the Astro Burger on Glendale,” Jona says. Up until 2008, YACHT was a solo project. After this meeting at Ghetto Gloss, Claire was peppered into the project starting in 2007 and eventually joined the following year.
Claire was born in the United Kingdom, in Swindon, which she explains as only being known to Americans as the “Swindon Branch” in the original version of The Office. “It’s this industrial office park town in Southern England. I emigrated to the United States when I was six, first grade basically. My dad is British and my mom is French. I lived in France in between those times.”
“I grew up in Portland, Oregon until college and went to school in Los Angeles, at Occidental College in Eagle Rock,” she continued. “I met Jona when playing in a bunch of noise bands in LA in the early 2000s. That was my entry into the world of music because I never played music before that. I was a literature major and wanted to be a librarian.”
The two held a place in Portland until last October and explained that they had been meaning to move to Los Angeles for five years. “We had been talking about it forever but we were too busy,” Claire says, “Ever since we were in a band together, we’ve been on tour. When we were home, for these brief periods of time, we didn’t want to move. No one wants to move over two weeks when they are home.”
“We decided to just do it,” Jona said, “We just said ‘Fuck it.’ and we flew down here and looked at ten apartments and this was the second or third we looked at. We flew back and, within four days, we packed up all of our stuff without even getting out of our current housing situations.”
The two laugh at the same time. They are very in synch with each other, almost like twins, thinking very similarly and functioning as a package deal. “That’s the way we do things,” Claire says, “We’ll talk about something for a really long time and, when it’s time to do it, we’ll do it in a ridiculous way. We leave a lot of planning to the last minute. We’re really uptight and get worked up about stuff, like working, all the time; but, when it comes to putting things into action, it’s like a complete disregard to everything: we went back to Portland and got a U-Haul and came down. We’ve been here ever since. That’s the only way to do it.”
But, why Los Angeles? Portland seems absolutely fitting for the two and is their home: what was so appealing about Los Angeles to Jona, Claire, and YACHT? “A lot of things,” Claire begins. “It was a perfect storm of factors: I went to school here and lived here for four and a half years and have a deep, deep relationship with LA. I just loooove LA. Just being in LA makes me happy. Just driving around makes me happy. We were talking about this the other day: we drive around our neighborhood and ask ourselves, ‘We live here? What is going on!’”
“There’s just so much stimuli. Everything is always different,” she continues. “There’s a sense of chaos that I love. There’s a sense of fucked up-edness that I really love, how everything that is beautiful is ruined in some way: every beautiful boulevard has a bunch of garbage. There’s always a variable of chaos and ugliness and sprawl and unpredictability and darkness that I really like. Portland is just beautiful. It’s beautiful and everyone is really nice. There isn’t much anguish or fear or complexity: it’s a pretty straightforward life. As an artist and as a person, I like this kind of conflict. I like being able to go out into crowds and not feel like I am going to run into someone I know, necessarily. I like the anonymity of the big city. It’s an inspiring mess that I find interesting. Also, the weather is amazing.”
“The weather is a totally huge factor,” Jona tags on. “We both grew up in Oregon and never lived anywhere else in our lives.” “We’re both used to turning off our happiness modules for four months of the year,” Claire says, Jona adding on: “For more than four months–six months of the year! That part is huge.”
“I also like the idea of being able to instantly execute projects and ideas in a way that we haven’t been able to do before,” Jona says. “That’s just because there are so many resources here. It’s the small things, like those white columns.” Jona points to two white columns that frame their fireplace. “We bought those for this random one-off show with just the two of us. Being able to sketch something out and being able to find a store that has every single weird little niche thing that you want is incredible.”
“We are inside the means of production,” Claire says. “That neon sign: we just had it made at some place near Atwater Village.” The two start to build an excitedness, this giddy sharing of everything they have been able to do while living in Los Angeles.”
“Like these posters!” Jona says, getting up to grab one of them, which reads, “IF I CAN’T GO TO HEAVEN LET ME GO TO LA.” He continues: “These are letterpressed by Colby Print. Letterpressing in Portland is expensive: it’s a niche craft. Here, it’s an industry, and it’s more affordable than we ever could have imagined. We are the kind of people who try to execute our ideas as quickly as possible. We are Internet children so we are used to that instant feedback. In Portland, we could do some things–but it was either a little more expensive or would take more time and we’d get discouraged. Here we can make things incredibly quickly. And we are always making things.”
“We can make anything,” Claire says. “We consider YACHT to be anything that we call it. We make a lot of books and records and special objects. We are in the middle of a secret project…” She stops herself.
“Can I talk about it?” she asks.
“Sure,” Jona answers, placing a casual hand on his knee.
“We’re making a perfume. All of the arcana of manufacturing it like the bottle and going to factories Downtown that make different sizes of bottles is really fascinating to us.”
“We made cassette tapes, too, which we are really excited about,” Jona says.
“In a way, coming from a DIY culture in the Northwest has always influenced the way we work,” Claire continues. “We don’t hand off projects for other people to execute. We are fascinated with figuring out how things are made, either professionally or really in the world–not by a couple of punk kids. Investigating the means of production to make beautiful things helps us fool the world.”
This new sense of being creators of anything in town is something they love–but is not why they moved here: it is something that had been in their heads for a long time, a need to get back to a place that they find magic in. “When I left Los Angeles, we started talking about splitting our time,” Claire said. “We always talked about it being a part of our lives. Life takes over and then years fly by.”
“It’s been cool throwing ourselves into being Angelenos,” Claire says. “We go back [to Portland] but we don’t need to keep a place since both of our families and our friends are there: we can easily find a place to stay. And it does feel like home. We just went back recently and it was like, ‘Oh, Portland!’ It’s very familiar. But LA is our new feeling of home, which is always a good feeling.”
Bringing the city to their music, they haven’t really gotten a chance to work here yet as they are “in a phase of creating objects and things that communicate the ideas from the last record to the people that they come across.” Hence, the posters, the cassette tapes, and the perfume: various devices of ideological communication and expression.
“We made a third of the last record here (the other two thirds split between Portland and Marfa), which is funny because it was before we lived here. I wonder how it will manifest itself on a new record,” Claire says. Jona interrupts: “It will manifest itself by us trying to make it on KDay.”
The two laugh. “We’ll definitely make happier records,” Jona says, starting to speak to the what the city brings them emotionally. “I always thought I couldn’t live here, that I wasn’t able to: I always saw it as too big or that I wouldn’t be able to afford it. Growing up, we were also raised to see Californians as evil people because they would come to Oregon and buy all the nice real estate.”
“It’s a running joke for all Oregonians,” Jona adds. “I never thought I would be able to live here. I never thought I would get to live here.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of how I felt about it,” Claire continues. “Even when I went to school here, I never really thought I would get to live in LA. It didn’t seem like I deserved it: it was either too cool or too good. A large part of moving here is giving yourself the gift of designing your own geographical identity anytime. You don’t have to feel like you don’t deserve something. LA is just good: it makes me feel good. It makes me feel creative and empowered and happy–I don’t feel like I have to deny myself that pleasure, living in the Northwest, pining to be in California.”
“I have this theory that if everyone in the world was allowed to live wherever they had wanted to live overnight that a large portion of the country and the world would try to come to California,” Claire theorizes. “It has this mythical appeal. People just feel that they can’t go there because it isn’t really real or because it isn’t designed for real people to live in: they see it as a myth making factory. But, it’s a place, where a lot of people live. There’s no reason to separate yourself from that place because you think its a dream.”
“Remember like two months ago where there was that guy shooting at cars in Hollywood?” she asks. “I remember reading when that was happening that people there didn’t think it was real because they thought it was a movie. Even people there, getting shot at by some dude on the street, thought it wasn’t real. That thought is so pervasive, that feeling of disconnection with reality and the possibility that something around you is not entirely real, is a part of a way of living here. I find that fantastic, even though that situation is scary. There is this really cool blur between fiction and reality.”
“But that’s localized,” Jona responds. “Outsiders don’t feel like that.”
Jona and Claire love Los Angeles and find that it is not the superficial place that it gets a bad rap for being. If anything, they–like many Angelenos–can pinpoint the source of that idea to specific areas and industries in town, places that that can be considered the the city’s embarrassing, drunk, plastic surgeried, aging mid-life-crisis aunt. “I experience natural beauty and awesome food and creative, warm people and funny visual scenes on a daily basis,” Claire says of her experience here. “I don’t feel that culture of superficiality at all. I have friends who work ‘in the industry’ and stuff and talk about that kind of LA–but it always seems like a weird made up thing to me.”
If the two of them were not here, they would still be in Portland. “Portland is the only other city in America that I could find myself living in aside from Marfa, Texas,” Claire says. “Maybe even Marfa over Portland.” Jona nods, agreeing, the two starting a discussion on their love of Marfa. You can tell that like their smiling triangle mascot, Los Angeles is the top of a geographic love triangle drawn from here to Portland to Marfa, the three subjects of their latest single, “Shangri-La.”
Jona and Claire have a lot more that they want to do in YACHT and in Los Angeles–but they are not planners. “I never do the five or ten year future plan in my head,” Jona says.
“I don’t either,” Claire adds. “The thing is that I never thought that this would be my life at all. I thought I was going to be a teacher or a writer. I had always just taken opportunities as they came, which has lead me here–and I will continue to do that.”
“We are both very present minded,” Jona says.
“We always say that YACHT is increasing our physicality because it was just Jona and now it is Jona and me and we always try to envelop as many as people as possible and expand what it means to be this band as much as we can,” Claire says. “We don’t want to be just a band: we want to be artists who do things outside of the normal purview of a typical musician. We will always expand that.”
“I don’t see any limit on what that means. I’d love to make films, I’d love to open a store. I have a fantasy of opening a store in the next few years, to sell art and make installations. There’s nothing that we don’t want to do. Whether or not the universe is ready to accept it and propel us along in some positive narrative way–I don’t know.”
“I’d like to still be in LA. I love the idea of being an old Angeleno,” Claire says.
“‘I’ve been here since 2012,’” Jona jokes, in an old man warble.
“I want that to have some cachet one day,” Claire states: “I will be here until it burns down.”
“No doubt,” Jona affirms.
For more on Jona and Claire and YACHT, check out their website, Like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter. YACHT will be touring through North America and Europe through May, the dates you can find here. You can pick up their products–including the posters, cassette tape, and perfume–from their online store.