YACHT: We've created a signature fragrance

By Sally Hedberg

Portlandians YACHT are a group who've made it unmistakably clear that their "mission" expounds the realms of mere audible music. Moreover, the band is a belief system, pulled from an ever-changing reservoir of images, of occult natural phenomena and of a steadfast conviction to live in the moment.

Originally the solo project of Jona (rhymes with Donna) Bechtolt, in 2008 the project was rebranded as a duo with longtime collaborator Claire Evans. After one profound experience in the paranormal dustbowl of Marfa, Texas, the band surfaced with a buzzed album (See Mystery Lights) and a dynamic -- think electro-pop Tom Tom Club -- that would carry them to their highest musical potential. Slated to play Minneapolis tonight on tour for their 2011 LP Shangri-La, Gimme Noise caught up with Evans and Bechtolt to talk music, manifests, perfume and Portlandia.

Gimme Noise: 2009's See Mystery Lights was an album borne of a specific experience with the baffling "mystery lights" of Marfa, Texas. How did you approach the creation of Shangri-La after undergoing something artistically important?

Evans: See Mystery Lights we made in almost a day. We went out to Marfa without the intention of making an album. We just wanted to live there and make something inspired by the experience of the mystery lights. It ended up being an album even though it took kind of a circuitous route to get there, but it sort of wrote itself in a way. Shangri-La we recorded with much more intention. We went in with an idea beforehand. We did a lot of research and a lot of reading and writing. It was much more technical.

Was location as important for Shangri-La?

Evans: We recorded in three different places: Portland, Marfa, and Los Angeles -- all places that we consider to be the most associated with a Utopian feeling, the places we've been happiest in our lives. Since the album is supposed to be about Utopias that was the starting point, just being in the right place. We wrote everything in a pretty raw way.

Bechtolt: We took over the studio, engineering and recording for each other. No one else was there. We could do whatever we wanted which was really great and really freeing.

YACHT systematically advertises itself as a both a business and a belief system -- in addition to being a band. How has this belief system developed?

Evans: It's something that began in conversations with ourselves. It was made public with a desire for transparency, not necessarily a desire to be dogmatic or to impose a belief system on our fans and followers. It was more like: if you're interested in our music and art then maybe you'll be interested in what we think about our place in the universe. It's kind of the same message.

Much of your inspiration draws from physical objects and phenomenon. If you could collaborate with anyone in the world who wasn't a musician, who would it be and why?

Evans: It would be amazing to make a completely immersive installation with Yayoi Kusama, the Japanese artist. She makes these incredible, intimate mirror rooms. You go inside and it's the most psychedelic, out-of-body thing I've ever experienced.

Bechtolt: She makes a lot of things that are full experience, exactly the kind of thing that we ultimately aspire to with the live shows.

So you hope to pursue projects like this in the future?

Evans: Yeah, definitely. We're all about expanding what we do, expanding the boundaries of what we call YACHT. We actually just made a fragrance.

We're all dying to know the scent of YACHT...

Evans: It was interesting working with a perfumer because we don't have common language in terms of how to compose a scent in a technical way. We spoke about it in very abstract terms, of how the perfume was supposed to make people feel like. It smells like the morning after some kind of Dionysian temple ritual where the walls of the wooden temple are on fire and there are flowers smashed on the ground.

Bechtolt: It's hilarious that we have a fragrance at a merch table at all of these rock clubs.

Claire, you write the blog for the newly popular TV series Portlandia. As part of that institution and as a Portland native what are your reflections on the changing dynamic between indie and mainstream culture?

Evans: I don't entirely know. I feel like it's something that's been happening gradually around us for a really long time. People ask us all the time what it's like to be part of the Portland scene. I think it has to do with the access to an incredibly democratic popular media. It's a lot easier for culture to vote in and out what is popular much quicker.

Any chance of a YACHT cameo on the show?

Evans: No. We don't want to. It's a different thing. I love working with Portlandia because I'm able to think about the issues it raises. But I don't have to be in front of a camera.

Plans for the rest of the final year of planet Earth?

Evans: We have an ambitious plan for the future that we cannot reveal. It will involve many things. We're working on something really big.

That's a very cryptic and ambiguous response.

Evans: Yeah, that's just how we like it.

Bechtolt: another fragrance...

Evans: No. Even better.

YACHT play 7th St. Entry on Thursday, February 16 with Wiping Out Thousands and Bobby Birdman. $12 advance $14 at the door. 18+ 8:00 p.m.

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