One guy could play drums in a folk band, have an art exhibition, and then perform in a laptop group all in the same night, explains 27-year-old Jonathan “Jona” Bechtolt. “I don’t know how it happens, but it’s here,” he says. “Maybe it has something to do with the shitty weather. When the weather gets bad, people go into their holes and make shit.”
Bechtolt came to Portland as a 13-year-old punk and ended up a renaissance man. In the mid-’00s, he spent time in Badger King and The Blow (with Khaela Maricich), who received much love for the unpredictable, techno-spiked indie pop they released on on K Records. In 2007, he left to focus on his eclectic solo guise, Yacht, and released I Believe in You. Your Magic Is Real (Marriage Records), an album that jumps from blue-eyed soul and electro-pop to acid techno and mutant funk. Bechtolt’s remixes further blur any solid lines, as proven by his recent version of Stereolab’s “Self-Portrait With ‘Electric Mind,’” where he shoots the U.K. band back to its ’90s space-age roots. Add in his cinematic “rock opera” for the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and an LCD Soundsystem homage, “Summer Song” (released on DFA), and any description of his aesthetic becomes a hyphenated mess.
So how might Bechtolt characterize his sound? “Mildly psychedelic, danceable, 2000-era grunge music,” he explains. Funny enough, for a recent bootleg release, he digitally exorcised samples of Kurt Cobain’s voice and Dave Grohl’s beats into a million micro-edits. In Cobain, Bechtolt (who hails from Astoria, Oregon) saw a kindred spirit who also sought refuge from a Northwestern logging town. “You can be a loser from a town like that and you can do something that you want to do,” he reflects. That outlook colored his DIY ethic, as has the open-armed nature of the Portland scene. “No one gives a shit. No one is here to get signed or anything like that,” Bechtolt says. “The whole deal is making what will be fun right now.”
Truly, a list of Bechtolt’s non-Yacht pursuits read like a resume for fun. He co-founded the Catch That Beat festival, which has brought shoegaze, punk rock, ambient, and hip-hop artists and DJs to strange locations like Skidmore Bluffs and his hometown, Astoria. He and his roomates also started Urban Honking, a network of mostly Portland-based bloggers. Though UH has received some notoriety, it was originally devised as a way to entertain Bechtolt and his roommates. “We wanted to make a primer on how to make interesting content out of nothing,” he says.
Of course, as much of a muse as rainy weather is, Bechtolt and his new first mate Claire Evans fled the last Oregon winter to work on a new full-length, See Mystery Lights, expected soon on DFA. The pair escaped to Marfa, a small West Texas town that has become well known as an artists’ refuge. (Upon arriving, they encountered The Eagles’ album cover designer, Lyle Lovett’s ex-manager, and a special effects man for Independence Day.) “They had some kind of magnetic attraction,” Bechtolt recounts. “When they try to get away from something, they go [to Marfa].”
Though he’s quick to talk about his Texas trip he’s considerably more tight-lipped about See Mystery Lights (whose title may or may not allude to the mysterious atmospheric phenomenon known as the Marfa Lights). “It’s about light and darkness and, yeah, the fight of light and darkness,” says Bechtolt. “It’s a Yacht record for sure.”
Video: "Summer Song"
Stream: "Summer Song"