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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Extended Interview: Claire Evans from YACHT

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 12:03 PM

There’s a really short version of this interview in today’s paper; I talked to Claire last week when YACHT was on tour with Yo Gabba Gabba’s stage show. It was a really interesting interview, so I’m bringing you the long version! The band plays at the Rex Theater on Mon., Dec. 5.

There’s a really short version of this interview in today’s paper; I talked to Claire last week when YACHT was on tour with Yo Gabba Gabba’s stage show. It was a really interesting interview, so I’m bringing you the long version! The band plays at the Rex Theater on Mon., Dec. 5.

You guys are out with Yo Gabba Gabba right now, right?

Yes, we're currently en route to our last show on that tour.

How has that been?

It's been extremely surreal. It's been both surreal and fun and kind of terrifying. It's something that -- we have this policy of saying yes to anything that's offered to us, as long as it's not financially or spiritually prohibitive in some way. If it's possible, we'll probably do it. So when this came along, we didn't hesitate long before we said yes. We feel like that policy keeps us lean and mean and keeps us a little bit scared and on edge. Which is good, because we fear complacency. We believe that if you get too accustomed to playing a certain kind of show for a certain audience or the same set or the same style of performance again and again, you end up losing what makes you excited about what you're doing in the first place. Anything that can push us outside of our comfort zone is positive. And this definitely, definitely does. We're wheeled out on a neon riser by dancing puppets, through this video screen, and we jump out with wireless microphones and play for four minutes to 2,000 six-year-olds. Definitely not what we're used to. It's been a great experience, overcoming that fear and re-acclimating to a new environment and learning how to perform to children, which of course is very different, while still remaining true to what we do and what we believe in. I think we found a good equilibrium. It's almost bittersweet to be finishing now.

How do the kids like it?

They're good! They're so young, and they're so freaked out by what's going on. A lot of the kids are at that age where I don't think they can really determine the difference between the program they see on television and what's going on in front of them. It's the same puppets, but it's live. And it's very visually stimulating, and very loud and a lot of lights and colors. A lot of kids are just in this crazy stupor, just trying to figure out what's going on. But other kids are going bananas and jumping up and down in the aisles. They're very authentic; kids like something and they show it. If they don't, they start crying and their parents have to take them out of the room.

You guys do a lot of stuff that's off-the-wall, and involves visual art and new media art and theoretical, ideas-based stuff, but you also make music that's really fun in a simple way -- in terms of how it can be enjoyed. How do you balance and mix those parts of what you do? Do you look at fun, danceable music as an entry for people into other aspects of your art?

I think there's a little bit of truth in that. We aim to provide a full spectrum experience. As consumers of art and media and music, we love it when we're given a great breadth of material to get into. Once you like something, it's always fun going further and further down the rabbit-hole. You go from watching Twin Peaks to watching David Lynch making quinoa on Youtube or whatever. It's nice to travel with something you like. We try to provide something for all different kids of people, and provide entry points for all different levels of interest in YACHT. We don't think of any aspect being more important or more accessible or more primary than any other. We just use the name YACHT for our going name for anything we do -- that ranges from music to video to graphic design to texts to objects and installations and experiences of all kids, and we hope to expand always to different kinds of practice.

If somebody likes YACHT because it's pop music, that's wonderful, that someone's found something we do that is of value to them. And if they like YACHT because it's a philosophical point of view, that's as satisfying to us as anything else. The fact that those two things can be parallel to one another is pleasing to us. We don't have a lot of distinction in our mind between high and low interest in things; we love pop culture as much as we love philosophy, and there's meaning in anything if you put your mind to it in the right way.

Can you sum up your philosophical point of view, in a brief way?

Yeah! I mean, there's a lot of peripheral points that we consider to be part of our larger philosophy that manifests in our stances on things. We believe in free information and free software, we believe in extraterrestrial life, we believe in universal self-empowerment. But really the core philosophical thing about YACHT is just that in an indifferent and chaotic universe, no person or idea or mode of thinking has any primacy over any other. And if you understand that as being something that's exciting and self-empowering, as opposed to something that's alienating and frightening and horrifically mortal, then you can have a great enjoyment in life. We all have the power to dictate the reality we live in to as great an extent as we have the will to put in. Every person is capable of writing their own holy books if they want. We write pseudo-spiritual-philosophical tracts because -- we don't believe that our point of view is any more important than anyone else's, but we can color our world the way that we decide to , and that's something we take seriously and try to practice as much as possible.

How do you reconcile being part of a culture that involves hacking and remixing and free software, but at the same time being artists who have to make a living? You refer to YACHT as, among other things, a business.

Well -- that all comes from the same place as seeking transparency in what we do and how we present ourselves. Yes, there's a conflict between advocating free information and charging $15.99 or whatever for a CD, but it doesn't have to be. First of all, we give a lot for free -- we give almost everything for free. The only thing that really costs money is the concert. You can download our album for free; we don't try to stop anyone from doing that. In fact, we seed our own torrents from our home computers. For us, once you've made something and put it out into the world, there's a measure of having to let go that you have to have. It doesn't belong to you anymore; it belongs to the larger neuosphere or popular culture and creative culture, and if people are consuming it, it's successful, regardless of whether or not we make money. That said, we have to make money. And we manage to make money, but not because we're leaning hard into the capitalist aspect of our band, but because we've scaled our lives to where we can live on less. We don't have a mortgage, we don't have dependents, we live fairly shoestring, day-to-day existence. Which is fine for us -- if you are willing to restructure your priorities and comfort in life, you can live on what you love if you work at it, and if you find a way. For people to give us money -- they do it because they like us and they want to participate in the culture and the want us to continue to do what we do. And there are people who are wililng to pay money for that, and we're deeply grateful for that. We never want to deny the fact that we are a business. When we say that we're a band, business and belief system, it's honest. I think a lot of people have this idea, which I think is kind of a condescending idea, artists who say 'Because you're an artist, you shouldn't ever speak of money, or you shouldn't ever think about your wage or your well-being or your stability, because that's somehow beneath the artist's ken. But we have to live like anybody else. And we can do what we can do to be as much of a trade and a craft as a lifestyle choice.

You recently collaborated on a book that the Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon published.

Yeah! It was a project that was spearheaded by a woman who I'd not met but who I'd been in contact with over the years, Andrea Grover, she's an independent curator, she used to run a microcinema called the Aurora Picture Show and Jona played a media arts festival there in years past and kept in touch over the years. I've been a science writer for as long as I've been doing YACHT, longer actually, that's my other creative, intellectual outlet, writing popular science journalism. So I guess she'd been following that and she reached out to me. She'd been doing a Warhol scholarship at the Studio for Creative Inquiry and was working leading up to the point when we started working on the book, about intersections between art and technology and science. In the '60s there was a lot of industrial-slash-academic support for those sorts of interdisciplinary projects. And she was looking at what happened to that movement, and how it's changed, and she came up on the model of the book sprint -- she wanted to do some sort of documentation of the project. She wanted to implement it with some people she thought would be functional collaborators, so she reached out to me, this woman Regine Debatty, a French-born Italian-living new media arts blogger, a CMU proffesor, Pablo Garcia -- a conceptualist architect, he's partly responsible for the Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh. And got a handful of research associates, and we did it in conjunction with the Miller Gallery at CMU. We worked on the book seven days non-stop every day, nine to nine probably, 12-hour days, and managed to go from a rough outline and Andrea's research to a finished, 190-page book about this exact moment in time, a very topical and hopefully timely and useful resource for artists and curators and people who are interested in art-science-technology collaboration and connections and creative projects that are interesting. It's like a Yellow Pages, if you will, of projects and artists.

It was great; I'd never been to Pittsburgh before and I have a very deep, weird, near-psychedelic fondness for Pittsburgh now because of it, because it was a really engaging, stimulating, fascinating intellectual time. I loved being at CMU; people are such amazing weirdos there. I was really blown away by a lot of the people and institutions I came across in Pittsburgh. I think the Waffle Shop is such a cool thing, and every city in America should have something like it. And the center for post-natural history, Rich Pell -- I just feel like people are doing amazing shit in Pittsburgh, it was very exciting. I'm not trying to butter you up. I've been looking forward to this show for a long time.

When was the last YACHT show in Pittsburgh?

It's the first since I've been in the band -- Jona played in Pittsburgh in 2006. But this iteration of YACHT has never come close.

What can you tell us about what's in store for the show?

YACHT shows are ever-changing based on the whims of Jona and me; I cannot give you -- not because I'm trying to be coy, but I really cannot tell you exactly what it's going to be like by the time that date rolls around. I can tell you that there will be five people on stage; there will be a visual element that is really immersive, interactive visual elements that will engage the audience and perhaps push them to the limits of their comfort; there will be physical contact if I have anything to do with it; there'll be a lot of laying-on of hands and a lot of both physical, tactile and invisible instrumentation going on. And we have a band we really like, Extreme Animals, playing with us.

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