Positivity Above All Things
Jona Bechtolt, a.k.a. YACHT, doesn't like getting pegged as one thing or another. He's a musician, a photographer, a general tech-whiz, and much more. His last album, 2007's I Believe In You. Your Magic Is Real. concerns both our human limitations and potential, our everyday life. But that's only one interpretation, and he'd prefer to keep things in the realm of subjectivity.
Jona is currently on a break from YACHT's motto of “On Tour Forever,” working on projects in a supernatural town in Texas with his friend and his girlfriend. We spoke over the phone about magic, his live shows, and his super-chill vibe. In the process, we struck upon a genius idea for a TV franchise.
So you're in Texas right now. What are you doing there?
On my last tour, these kids in Austin were like “You have to go to this place, Marfa, on your way through Texas.” They told me about this thing called the Marfa Lights, which is a supernatural phenomenon. They're not like the Northern Lights; they're completely unexplained. Basically, it's these weird lights that float around and look like they have life to them. It happens every night. We're supposed to go out tonight and see them.
This town is in the middle of nowhere. Last night, we actually had to knock on the window of a motel to get a room, and this woman -- the owner of the motel -- came out in her nightie. She seemed a little upset, but sort of happy that there was business. It's a completely weird, surreal place. I've never been to a place like this before.
Me and my friend and my girlfriend [voices in the background] -- oh well actually they just came back from Alpine, the next small town over -- hey, I'm doing a phone interview right now! Anyway, we're doing this project together that's really exciting--
Jona's girlfriend, Claire: What are you doing? Stop!
Jona: I can't tell her?
Jona: Well, soon enough then. Hopefully we're going to launch it tonight, but I can't tell you now I guess. (Note: they did launch it, and it's here.) We're out here working, both together and independently. Claire's writing for a new science show on the Sundance channel. I decided that I want to make two new records. I bought a drumset and a Kurt Cobain-y guitar and started recording. I'm thinking that one of my albums will be shorter than the other, like an EP. Albums are sort of dead anyways.
Listening to the last album, it sounds like you have a lot of faith in people to make the right decisions. Is that something that you hoped people would take away from it?
I didn't want to setup right and wrong choices, but instead leave it kind of open to interpretation for people. It's just my vibe; I'm super-positive and non-judgmental.
The song “It's Coming to Get You” is so much more negative than the rest of the album.
Well, there was something really specific that inspired that, but I probably can't talk about it in a public setting. It just came from... a personal experience... that didn't work out the way I wanted it to. The song is actually about karma; that's the “it” that's coming to get you. I felt like it was okay to let dark things out in addition to the positive things, with the positive spin of it being karmic. I wanted to focus on it being okay for bad things to happen to people if those are things that are coming back and biting them in the ass.
And it also works really well that it's a dance song. I didn't notice what it was about until a couple listens in.
Yeah, I thought that it would be more fitting if the package that the negative message came in was pretty and sweet and easy to dance to.
The theme that pervades the album is magic. What kind of magic are you talking about?
It's all different kinds of magic, open to interpretation. When the record first came out and we were fooling around with the imagery associated with it, I got really into researching magic. I watched DVDs about its history and went to some magic shops. But overall, magic as an art form these days is pretty boring.
I did find a couple little cute things, though, that I used as a “one time only” trick in a couple of my shows. There were these confetti-type things that you conceal in your hand, and when you make a gesture that's like throwing a ball, they shoot out of your hands and look like paper lightning. They were kind of expensive, though, so I only bought one set of ten. I figured it was pretty wasteful and kind of stupid. I don't want people to think “That's the guy that's all about magic!” and be stuck forever in that persona and die after a lonely life.
I run into the same problem with YACHT being the name of the band. I have to be really careful not to wear funny captain's hats or sailor uniforms or anything. I have a couple things with nautical embroidery, and I almost feel like that's pushing it. I try not to wear it too often.
But didn't you play a show on a yacht once?
It was for the release of the album. It ended up being one of the best experiences of my life, as far as shows go. People were just ready to do whatever; we weren't in the stereotypical rock show setting where I have to be worried about looking cool or think about the super-high stage and the lights. It was mellow but totally crazy. And we were on a boat on a river. I just like to do anything that gets people out of the groove of how you have to act at a show. I want to make it easier on people.
When I saw one of your shows, you came out into the audience for a bunch of songs and started a dance contest. That was a nice break as an audience member.
That's exactly what I like to do, shake things up a little. I've been playing around with a couple of ideas for shows that I want to do this year. I've been really focusing on coming up with really different kinds of tours. Nothing is solid yet, so I won't go into detail, but I'm working on making it better. I'm never satisfied with anything -- recordings, shows, anything. I never want to do things the same way twice.
Like you were saying earlier about not wanting to get stuck in one thing.
Exactly. If I'm associated with anything, I want it to be fun stuff. That's it.
Speaking of fun stuff, do you still have that penny suit from the “See A Penny, Pick It Up” video?
Actually I don't! The guy who made it does. His name's Matt McCormick; he lives in Portland. He likes to bring his friends in when he's making stuff, and he brought in this guy who's a set designer for big movies. The guy was really into the song, so he spent two days making that giant penny outfit. It had a whole wooden frame and a backpack frame attached to the wood. It was really heavy -- I think 65 pounds. It was a huge chore to do all that running around, especially because I couldn't really move my legs. I had to hop everywhere.
I thought it was funny how there are all these people walking around who are totally unfazed by you running around in this penny costume.
Well we shot it really early in the morning. I think it was on a Sunday, because there were people coming out of a church. They didn't seem to be super stoked about it.
I read that you're writing a book to be published this year; a sci-fi novel with aliens and stuff.
Wow! I have no idea what that is! You'll have to send me a link to it.
I will! But maybe there's a Doppelgänger Jona Bechtolt who's a sci-fi author...
I don't think so, but we should totally perpetuate that rumor. Say something about how I'm writing a book about the Marfa lights and aliens.
And Claire could write a TV version, and it could have crazy spin-offs like Law & Order.
Yeah, CSI: Marfa! We've got gold on our hands here. Let's do it!