Interview – YACHT’s Claire L. Evans
– by Shawn Conner
To begin with, though, I had no idea about Evans’ interest in SF – it was only after researching the band in preparation for this piece that I discovered her blog Space Canon, for which she has been reviewing the canon of classic science fiction novels (and on occasion anthologies). When I first became a convert to the YACHT (the name is an acronym for Young Americans Challenging High Technology) cause at last year’s Bumbershoot in Seattle, I was responding more to the joyful performance and dance-y pop tunes. The lyrics were interesting – “Psychic City” in particular caught my attention – but not something I latched onto.
So it was all the more gratifying to learn that there’s a lot more substance to the band, which most recently played Vancouver at the Electric Owl last fall, than I first gave it credit for. I would recommend checking out the YACHT website for more info about Evans’ and co-founder Jona Bechtolt’s philosophy, and also visiting Space Canon along with Evans’ other blog, Universe, in which she writes about science and technology.
Then again, I would also recommend watching as many YACHT videos as you can, buying their 2011 (and most recent) album Shangri-La, and seeing them on their Shangri-La 2012: North America Tour, which begins in Bellingham Feb 7 and comes to the Media Club in Vancouver Feb 10.
We reached Evans in L.A., where she and Bechtolt, both former Portlanders, now live.
MP3 – YACHT, “I Walked Alone” (Get a Room! remix):
Shawn Conner: You seem to have a lot of diverse interests, and I wanted to know where they branch out from – where your initial interests lay?
Claire L. Evans: I’ve always been into sci-fi. When I was a little kid I read a lot of Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. as a fan, I’ve always been interested in science fiction movies.
I studied literature in university. I wasn’t into science at all, especially in school, I was always intimidated by science. It seems like a totally different method for understanding reality, which at the time freaked me out. I didn’t like going into Biology 101 and not knowing how to write a lab report and feeling like an idiot when I considered myself kind of an intellectual. But it’s a different way of being of intellectual.
That frightened me for a long time. Then I realized, that’s fascinating, actually.
I feel like science and art, or science and literature, whatever you’d call the humanities, are just two very different but fundamentally similar approaches to the world. They’re about trying to understand the universe, and make sense of it and our place within it, and come to a place where answers can potentially arise that bring meaning to life. In a very vague way.
Scientists want to see code, and scientists I think have this really fascinating historical approach. No single scientist thinks they’re going to figure this all out, it’s just a never ending lineage where through time we get closer and closer to a solution.
Whereas artists are more individualist about it. They have less of a concern for the heritage of building towards a greater solution. Artists want to, maybe not decode everything, but they certainly want to make sense of things.
When I started thinking about it that way I realized, everything I was interested in as a kid – I mean, science fiction is a place between science and the humanities using narrative techniques to decode a technological, scientific world.
I think Jona and I both consider ourselves to be polymaths to a certain extent. We like a lot of things and are interested in a lot of things, we try to have as many skills as we can, and access what we do from as many different approaches as possible. We don’t like to shutter ourselves to just think, We’re a band so we have to have musical influences that are clearly discernible in our music, and that’s all we do.
We both draw a lot of inspiration from outside of music. Myself, from more of a, I don’t know, science fictional, sciency-y metaphysical approach to understanding the world. Jona is more interested in technology and punk rock. But I don’t think there’s any reason I should compartmentalize what I do. Everything I read and am interested in trickles down into everything else I do.
SC: This is a pretty extensive tour coming up. How will you distract and entertain yourself? Will you keep the blogs up?
CLE: I try to do everything at once. I sometimes find that reading or writing or devoting a lot of energy towards a non-YACHT-related activity can be a nice escape, but it can be difficult to get into the right state of mind. For writing, I need to be in one place in one room for a large chunk of time in order to wrap my head around something and read and research things as much as I’d like. I use tour time as more of a reading and analysis period.
SC: Have you figured out your reading list for the tour?
CLE: No not yet. I have to figure it out. I like to bring four or five books on tour, and decide I’m going to draw conclusions based on the ideas those books put into my head. It’s a big responsibility! It’s like packing your outfits, like Who am I going to be?
SC: Are there certain authors or subject matter you’re focused on at the moment?
CLE: Yes and no. I go through phases. I made this boundary, that I would try to read mostly only science fiction, because I want to become an authority on it, and the only way to do it without the availability of a brick-and-mortar institution is to read the canon. I’ve been slowly chugging through the canon for five years now, and I’m sort of up to the late ’60s, early ’70s, so there’s always that.
I’m just getting into a lot of West Coast, new-wave sci-fi, like Harlan Ellison and Norman Spinrad, people who were writing and working in Los Angeles especially in the’60s, just because I recently moved to L.A. and I like to knowing the lineage of where I live, in a literary way.
But I’ve also been reading a little bit about Zen Buddhism recently, just because I have an abstract interest in meditation and wanting to start meditating. Bu that’s a long path, and a little intimidating.
SC: I loved seeing those clips of Ellison on your Space Canon blog, he’s such a character…
CLE: I really like him as a character. He did a lot for science fiction. The Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions anthologies are really important. It’s always interesting to have a personality like that in your scene. The way he talks about being a writer, “You have to pay writers!”, and the emphasis on craft, it’s all really funny to me, because I don’t think he’s that great of a writer. He’s got amazing ideas but I’ve been reading some of his short stories recently and stylistically they’re very pulp, it’s kind of like Ray Bradbury on acid. I wouldn’t call it literary, necessarily. Sometimes I think science fiction is more about exploring things and not doing it in a super-literary way. And it’s fun trying to see past the style of people like Ellison.
Video clip – Harlan Ellison, “Pay the Writer” (from Dreams With Sharp Teeth):
SC: About the most recent YACHT record, Shangri-La… is there anything left to say about it?
CLE: [laughs] It’s not like, now that it’s been out for six months it’s irrelevant. The way Jona and I approach making records is, we make records that encapsulate our current philosophical worldview, and then we travel around on that record playing shows and talking to people until our worldview has changed and then we feel like we have to make a new one. I still feel like Shangri-La more or less stands for things we believe and think in 2012.
The thing about Shangri-La is taking Utopia as a starting point and looking at it from a lot of different angles. It’s not conclusive at all, it’s open-ended. It’s now more about refining what we meant in the first place than being dogmatic about passing a specific message. It’s still pretty nebulous though.
SC: You were wearing an interesting outfit at Bumbershoot…
CLE: I don’t know, I can’t remember… oh, it was like a weird one-piece, I think I made a joke about it looking like a sugar-glider, which is one of those little flying squirrels.
SC: Will you be bringing that one along on this tour?
CLE: Oh God no. I try to keep it fresh, otherwise I get bored. Everybody else in the band has uniforms, but choosing what I’m going to wear is one of the most fun parts of going on the road. I don’t want to limit myself too much. My limitation is a colour palette, which I think is a good limitation to have.