It’s been four years since the release of 2011’s Shangri-La, and in that time, LA-based performance artists Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans, better known as the avant-garde band YACHT (an acronym for Young Americans Challenging Higher Technology), have been busy designing laptop sleeves, making apps, recording podcasts, writing, speaking, subverting, and even protesting the NSA.
Previously known for their bright and playful electro-pop songs, like 2009’s infectiously catchy “Psychic City,” YACHT has transformed over the years from a two-piece band making dance music into a high-concept creative entity, one that lives fluidly across many mediums, both digitally and in meatspace.
Music serves as one conduit through which YACHT distributes their message, and sure enough, their latest album, I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler, is an inspired critique on technology, inequality, police brutality, and the annoying disappointments of living in the 21st century.
YACHT’s new music video for their latest single, “I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler,” lambasts all that’s groan-worthy in trending technology today: dating apps, Oculus Rift, drones, hoverboards, Soylent, and cult-like armies of black turtleneck-clad Steve Jobsians all fall under fire. Scoring all this is a disco-house dance track driven by an infectious bass line and 70’s-style string arrangements.
We had the opportunity to ask YACHT a couple questions about the album, Los Angeles, technology, and the future.
The new record is markedly more steeped in social commentary than Shangri-La. What’s changed since then for you as a band?
Shangri-La had some things to say—it was just more coded than this record is. It was about the aspiration for utopia, which by now we’ve realized is the same thing as the imagination of the future. It’s only human to project our hopes and fears onto something external. It’s always about the present. We just want to talk about the 21st century from within the 21st century, and we’re more comfortable being literal about it now.
Some of your songs are structured around some really wonky, non-organic sounds and beats (eg. “Hologram” and “The Entertainment” ). How do you get to that sound, when you’re making music? And how do you know when to push further and when it’s “right”?
We experiment. A lot of our songs, especially on this record, have their start as much longer free-form sessions that we whittle down and down until they contain the essence of everything condensed into the length of a pop song. We also try not to be overly concerned with genre or our own previous catalogue—we make what sounds interesting to us in the moment. It changes all the time because we’re people and we’re changing all the time, like everyone else.
You recently spent the day touring LA’s forgotten futures with The Verge.
Currently, is there anywhere in LA you think captures the zeitgeist of the actual, eminent future?
The LA River. We’re fascinated by water in California. History, infrastructure, the whole nine. That we are able to live here at all is the consequence of a collective force of will. People engineered the impossible to create an arable Southern California and the city is full of monuments to that. Right now—in this moment, which is why we’re so fascinated by LA—some of them are beginning to fall apart at the seams. There’s a river under there, and it wants to come back.
Which celebrity warrants a Turing Test?
What’s scarier— earthquake or drought?
Drought is a state of being, but an earthquake is finite.
Two apps, a podcast, and Claire, you’re an editor at Motherboard. You guys are busy! How do you prioritize touring and making music in between your other creative pursuits? Our time on this blue earth is SO FINITE.
Not to be reductive, but we just never stop working. All of our pursuits are nimble/mobile, and every day we just tackle the most important thing for that day, which always changes.
Would you prefer to be immortalized physically via hologram or have your consciousness uploaded into the cloud?
We want continuous conscious experience, if possible. Being “immortalized” as a hologram or anything else is worthless if we can’t experience it firsthand. Being uploaded to the cloud, however, promises the possibility of experiencing reality as pure information, which seems interesting.
If you could pick anyone to be your Uber driver, who would it be and why?
Huell Howser. Can you imagine? He knew everything about Los Angeles. We’d just stop at every corner and talk to people.
What were your last 3 search queries? (Mine were “clancy’s crab broiler,” “sad face tote bag,” and “the orphanage”)
“vegan burger san francisco,” “how many ounces in a pound,” and “Lara Croft”
Name one eatery in LA you’re currently obsessed with.
We’re addicted to Sichuan numbing spice. We regularly trek out to Monterey Park to Image Chengdu, which is a Sichuan place that’s not as slammed as the Jonathan Gold-vetted spots.
Do you think we’re heading more toward utopia or dystopia?
The idea of straight-up “dystopia” feels like a bit of a cop out—at this point, it’s as unrealistic and cliché as some perfect future, if not more so—but we can’t imagine a future in which the human race doesn’t tip the scales for the worse to some degree.
Can you give us a sneak peak of some concepts you have brewing for any upcoming singles?
Don’t spoil your own surprises!
YACHT plays the Teragram Ballroom in DTLA this Thursday, Oct 22. Get tickets here.