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Utopia/Dystopia: An Interview with YACHT’s Claire Evans

Jeremy Adams

Photo by Jona Bechtolt

Claire L. Evans is a science journalist, theorist, artist, fashionista, and the newly crowned Editor in Chief of OMNI Reboot, a revival of the popular 1980s nerd-chic magazine. She’s also one half of the indie electro-pop band YACHT (along with founder Jona Bechtolt), which hosts the DFA Records BBQ this weekend as part of Wynwood’s inaugural III Points Festival covering music, art, and technology. Evans spoke with The Rail about recording in L.A., social media identities, Carl Sagan, and the aliens inhabiting South Florida.

RAIL: YACHT’s most recent LP, Shangri-La, came out in 2011. I know both you and Jona have multiple projects going on, but can we expect a new album sometime soon?

EVANS: We’re working on new music, but it hasn’t formed into a cohesive album yet. To be honest, as self-navigating, digital-breathing weirdos who like to release work into the aether as soon as it’s finished, to be viewed, shared, and remixed by the greater public, we’re a little bit disillusioned with the “album” as a form—namely the ponderous pace of its production. Jona and I are always looking for a way to inject life into the system.

We’ve been having so much fun recently with eccentric digital releases. We just released a single called “Party at the NSA,” which is a satirical protest song about unwarranted government surveillance, and put it up ourselves online. All the profits from the single are going to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that litigates on behalf of the public interest against corporations and the NSA. It was a hugely refreshing project, to be totally in control of the presentation and distribution of the song, and to get the immediate satisfaction of the Internet. But of course, that’s a trade-off: the attention span of the web is ephemeral, and something like an album has lasting presence, still, for whatever reason.

RAIL: The band has been releasing music through DFA Records since around 2008. What has your experience at the label been like? How would you describe the environment?

EVANS: In brief, total freedom. As a label, DFA is really suited for a certain kind of artist: control-freaky independent producers for whom autonomy is crucial. We work in a Southern Californian vacuum, submit our productions to label head Jon Galkin’s terrifyingly impeccable ear, and we draw lots of inspiration from the community of DFA artists who are consistently committed to making really interesting music.

RAIL: On that note, are there any bands—both from your label and elsewhere—that you’re looking forward to checking out at III Points, or would simply recommend to audiences?

EVANS: The III Points lineup is really exciting. We’re especially looking forward to seeing our labelmates and friends—James Murphy [DFA Records’ co-founder, formerly of LCD Soundsystem] and The Juan Maclean. It’s quite rare that DFA artists get the opportunity to gather together. We’re all such autonomous operators.

RAIL: You’ve worked creatively in the music and art fields, and much of your writing deals with our ever-increasing dependence on technology (for better or worse). III Points seeks to combine these three media: music, art, and tech. Is this kind of synergy possible? Can these fields overlap and interact harmoniously? If so, where?

EVANS: Technology is just a tool. The hammer, the camera, the wheel: these were all just tools, too. How we use them is up to us. On some level, I think it’s my life’s work to find ways to leverage the power of the particular technologies dominating the landscape of modern life—which is to say networked communications, media interfaces, and software—to ask interesting questions.

Anyway, the synergy of music, art, and technology is not only possible, it’s happening everywhere all the time. It just depends on your definition of art. Bands now have to be artful in their use of technology, both in the creative process and in the more complex process of sharing and articulating their work in the public sphere. As do artists, and, as it turns out—literally everyone on the social web, managing, for better or worse, their personal brands. This is the Wild West of identity.

RAIL: What are your impressions of Miami so far, both in general and of the Wynwood Arts District in particular?

EVANS: I love Miami. There’s no other place like it. Coming from Los Angeles, it feels like an exploded, perverse, joyful, baffling sister city. When I was last in town—for the opening of my solo show, High Frontiers, at Gallery Diet in Wynwood—I couldn’t get enough of the light and shadows everywhere. There’s something about how the tropical sun hits the architecture in Miami. The shadows are insanely dimensional.

RAIL: In 2008, you created a short film about hyperspace with artist Mike Merrill called “OK TO GO,” which is a reference to Carl Sagan’s book Contact. Like Sagan, do you believe in extraterrestrial life?

EVANS: Yes, absolutely. The history of science is a series of demotions. We used to believe that we were the perfect center of the solar system; now we know we’re on the cold edge of an inconsequential galaxy, one of billions and billions, isolated by incomprehensible stretches of interstellar space from the rest of the universe. We used to believe we were made by God to rule the Earth. Now we know our life is just a consequence of squicky biological randomness. Even the self, the sense of “I” we hold onto so dearly, is a lesser fraction of the brain’s daily operations. As a rule of thumb, I believe that any sense of specialness we have, as a species, is destined to be proven wrong—and tremendously at that. Believing in extraterrestrial life isn’t a “woo-woo” thing; it’s a question of probability, humility, and awareness that the universe is far weirder than we have the tools to comprehend.

RAIL: If aliens did exist, where do you think they’d hang out in South Florida?

EVANS: Are you kidding? They’re probably already camped out at Coral Castle right now.

RAIL: Some science fiction—and contemporary art—can be decidedly bleak. But the message that often comes through in YACHT’s music, especially from songs like “Utopia,” is one of positivity and self-empowerment. With all of your knowledge of music, art, science, and technology, do you think things are looking up?

EVANS: There’s a difference between what I think intellectually and what I hope to promote creatively. It’s difficult to look at the facts, to sense the world, and come away with much optimism about even the most basic, pragmatic aspects of our future on Earth. Will we have enough water? Will the poor be taken care of? Will religion ever loosen its death grip on the delicate weirdness of human life? Will we stop plundering our own planet into oblivion? Can we ensure a basic quality of life for more than just a select few?

And yet—there’s no use in propagating cynicism through art. There will always be illuminated people, great ideas, love, music, and pockets of strangeness in the world. We should celebrate the good.

Jeremy Adams is a Midwest-born, New-England-bred freelance writer living in Miami.