Although we’re not even two weeks into the year, it’s hard to be more anxiously curious about anything in music in 2020 than our favorite hyper-heady postmodern dance-punks, YACHT, being nominated for a Grammy… a twist that was more shocking than charming, but certainly both to plentiful degrees… The LA-based outfit’s seventh and latest full-length, Chain Tripping, which was released last year on DFA and recently described by the Santa Fe New Mexican as, “language poetry written by robots, reinterpreted by sculptors, and turned back into music,” is a 62nd Grammy Awards Nominee for “Best Immersive Audio Album.”
YACHT, who we’ve often noted as one of the best live acts of this century, are currently in the middle of a tour behind Chain Tripping and will be returning to the 215 to headline Johnny Brenda’s once again this Tuesday, 1/14. I recently got a chance to catch up with vocalist and 1/3rd of YACHT, Claire L. Evans, for the first time in two years. In that time she not only helped to conceive of YACHT’s latest creation, but published her latest book (She’s a journalist and science writer as well.), Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet, which received widespread critical and popular acclaim. Here’s what she had to tell me about the past two years and YACHT’s most recent experiments with robots.
Izzy Cihak: So, the last time we spoke was almost exactly two years ago. You were just about to release Broad Band and begin a press tour. The book received a ton of really amazing accolades, so I’m curious what were some of the highlights of promoting the book and the admiration it received?
Claire Evans: I was really lucky with Broad Band—the book came out just as the #MeToo movement was picking up steam, so I benefited from a long-overdue reckoning about women, power, and history. The women I profiled in the book mean so much to me, and I was so happy to be able to fold their personal histories into a much larger conversation, showing that the patterns of exclusion that led to their contributions to technology being ignored or sidelined are way bigger than just a tech problem.
Izzy: As far as YACHT is concerned, you released Chain Tripping relatively recently, which would seem to be experimental even by your standards. What were the biggest inspirations behind the album, both musical and otherwise? (I know a lot of your influences are outside the world of music.)
Claire: Chain Tripping was an experiment: we wanted to see if it was possible to make a record using AI. And not just any record—a YACHT record. It’s fairly easy at this point to make AI-generated ambient or experimental music, but we wanted to make something that would be recognizable as YACHT, something that would feel like an evolution from a known starting point, and something we could perform and mean. Ultimately, we did that by cobbling together a bunch of different approaches, picking and choosing the best of what the technology could offer and combining it with far more analog strategies for composition and arrangement. Our biggest influences making the record were the cut-up writing techniques used by Dada poets, made famous by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, and brought into the pop realms by David Bowie and Ministry. Arranging fragments together into meaningful shapes is the most human thing of all.
Izzy: And how does it feel to be nominated for a Grammy? I feel like that’s something that could easily be considered “weird” in both flattering and unflattering ways but, at the very least, is worth noting as exceptionally “interesting” for a band like YACHT.
Claire: It’s surreal. We’ve never participated in the reward economy, nor do we have the resources to campaign for Grammy votes in any traditional way. It’s flattering to be nominated and it’ll be really fun to go to the ceremony, if only to peek inside the machine for one night.
Izzy: On a related note, have you had any favorite Grammy-nominated (or Grammy-winning) works from throughout the history of the awards? I can’t confirm any of my favorites off the top of my head, but I feel like Bowie and Dylan had to have made their way there at some point.
Claire: The first thing we did when we found out we were nominated was to see how many—if any—of our musical heroes had ever won Grammys. David Bowie didn’t win any until he reached Lifetime Achievement award status, and neither Devo nor the Talking Heads have ever won a Grammy.
Izzy: You’re in the middle of a lot of touring behind Chain Tripping. I’m curious how that’s been going so far? I have to admit that it seems especially gutsy because December and January tend to be notoriously bad months for touring in the states (Although you did pack JB’s last time you were here, which was also mid-January.) Any particular highlights so far?
Claire: It’s going well, actually—we like touring during odd times. We’re not great at long-term planning, or laying out a plan for the year. We release things when they’re done and tour when we’re ready, or when we’re asked to play somewhere. This tour in particular has been interesting: we’ve been a band for a long time, long enough for people to have grown up with us, and we’re having really heavy conversations about time, change, climate change, politics, art, and technology. Ideal.
Izzy: Without giving away too much (I’ve seen some of the setlists.), what can be expected of the live experience when you return to Johnny Brenda’s?
Claire: We’re playing all of Chain Tripping—we’ve never played a full album before, old or new. It’s a much more absorbing, subtle experience than previous YACHT shows. We’re really into it. The only constant is change. It’s what keeps us alive.
Izzy: I’m pretty sure I ask you this during every interview, but I feel like it often changes over time for a lot of artists: What are your thoughts on Philly, or Philthy? Last time you were here my BFF and I relayed to you (via her knowledge and my texting) the coffee shops where Samuel Delany regularly hangs. Did anything ever come of that?
Claire: I never stalked Samuel Delany at the coffee shop—it seemed too intrusive, in the cold light of morning. I did see him read in Los Angeles not too long after that last Philly show, and it was such a pleasure. He is truly one of the great writers of the 20th/21st/10000th century.
Izzy: And we always wind up talking about cinema, so I have to ask if there’s anything that you’ve been watching a lot of lately that you’ve found to be especially inspiring, or just enjoyable (whether recent, or things you’ve revisited)?
Claire: To be completely honest, we’ve been on a fairly constant Star Trek media diet for the last few years. Jona and I have been working our way through Deep Space Nine, The Next Generation, and now Voyager. If you spend enough time in that world, you start to operate within its moral universe—there are always solutions to problems, diversity is an asset, money is an obsolete metric for worth, veganism is standard, and science and spirituality can respectfully co-exist.
Izzy: And, not to beat a dead horse, but did you finally ever get around to watching Eraserhead? (Not to lay a guilt trip, but you def promised you would by the next time you were in town.) If so, what were your first thoughts? If not, it’s still available on Kanopy and I’m guessing you have some late night and/or early morning downtime, so sharing your thoughts on Tuesday is completely acceptable, whether from the stage or at the merch booth…
Claire: Oh my god, I promised I would. I haven’t yet. It remains the only David Lynch movie I haven’t seen. We’ll try to hold a late-night hotel room screening somewhere on this tour before we get to Philly and you hold me accountable.
Izzy: Finally, what are you most excited about in 2020, after your dates in Europe wrap?
Claire: Hopefully, surviving nuclear apocalypse.