Lost City: YACHT Uncovers LA’s Forgotten Spaces

The exodus west has long been a coveted journey, with Los Angeles often being the 75-degree objective, either for those wanting to fulfill Hollywood aspirations or escape the suffocation of their hometowns.

But LA has also become an enemy of sorts — the face of an indistinguishable culture, with no distinctive experience to connect its people. For Jona Becholt and Claire Evans, AKA YACHT, this ambiguity makes the perfect creative breeding ground for their endless stream of pursuits.

“I feel like there’s this vision of LA that people have which is kind of like an Instagram filter palm tree thing,” Claire says. Or like a villain, I suggest.  “Or like a villain, which to me is so reductive. What LA really is, is just a complicated, ambiguous place with lots of nuance and lots of different ways of experiencing the same thing. I feel like in New York, you have the ‘New York’ experience, and it’s very specific, and I think people are reiterating this fantasy of what it is when they’re there. But here there’s no real right way to be. There are varieties of ways of being and it’s always so interesting to be here and pay attention to things. I love walking in LA. I think when you walk in LA you have a front row seat to the most amazing theater in the world, but it’s just being ignored by everybody else.”

It’s clear that YACHT is not everybody else. The prolific pair has written a book together, created an app, designed a line of sunglasses and released six full-length albums. Evans is an editor and writer for Vice’s science site Motherboard, and if you do a Google search of them like the band suggests, you’ll find the list goes on. We meet them at Laurel and Hardy Park on a clear fall day, with evidence of the previous night’s heavy winds littered across the ground. The Silver Lake park is familiar territory for Evans and Becholt — they live close by and were able to get there on foot. On the west side of the park is a set of stairs that climb steeply between houses to reach the next block. These stairs — there are many that litter the hills of Silver Lake and Echo Park — are a reminder of LA’s transportation past when people needed easy access to the rail lines. They are easily missed by car, but on foot, they become an invitation to the past and a serious trek amongst the hills of LA. For YACHT, the city is full of overlooked treasures. “I think a lot of public art in LA is just ignored,” notes Claire. “The Peter Shire sculpture in Elysian Park is a great example. He’s a really important artist, and no one knows that he made that sculpture. I feel like that about all of LA, like most things are more interesting than they appear. You just kind of have to nose in and do research on the ground a bit more, but you can very easily ignore things that are super interesting.”

Because YACHT can experience LA on their own terms, (“We’re incredibly privileged in the way that we deal with driving in the city. We don’t have to commute anywhere,” says Jona), the self-proclaimed Angelenos (originally from Portland) have become some of the most active advocates for city engagement. Their most recent album, I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler, acts as a web of interaction with LA. When they announced the new album, they did so by using drone footage of an LA billboard and a month later, invited fans to print its cover using an app and a fax machine. Then, with the release of their first single, they made it available during Uber’s surge pricing. “We used Uber’s open API as a metric to determine when traffic was surging in Los Angeles, and built a web player that only streamed our video for ‘LA Plays Itself’ during those times. It was intended as an explicit critique of late-capitalist services that turn the patterns of our world into information to be sold back to us. We tried to invert it, piggybacking onto the information and adding something new. Uber’s just shorthand, really, and particularly convenient shorthand at that, because it speaks directly to what the song is about — driving around in Los Angeles and experiencing the collision of memory and media.”

While not directly related to their musical pursuits, their most recent endeavor, The Triforium Project, is yet another example of their all-encompassing philosophy in regards to urban space. “It’s on Temple and Main and it’s one of those pieces of public art where your eyes glaze over when you look at it,” Calire says with a laugh. “But it’s actually amazing.” According to Jona, “It was supposed to be the world’s first polyphoto kinetic sculpture with a laser beacon out of the center of it. It has 1500 hand-blown Italian glass covers for each one of the lights, and it’s supposed to react to people when you walk up to it.”

So how does the pair plan on restoring? “We’re working on a pretty big initiative right now to get it properly restored and retrofitted, with technologies that actually work, because that is an amazing public space that no one uses,” says Claire. “It’s right next to city hall, right next to Grant Park, right next to Olvera street, there’s a bike path — totally underused. We want to build an app so that you can send simple, programmable light music patterns to the sculpture if you’re in a certain radius of it, so it will become a place where people can program compositions.” As Jona says, “You can play the sculpture.”

With all that these Portlanders have done for the city, we ask them what it means to be an Angeleno, and what unifies its residents, if anything. Jona’s immediate answer: temperature. As even that can change dramatically from one side of the city to the other, the pair delved deeper: “It’s people that are comfortable with a certain level of cultural chaos and mixing and ambiguity and lack of boundary — cultures coexisting and laid atop of each other, and neighborhoods without clear distinctions between each other,” says Claire. “You can drive on one of the great east-west streets of LA, and the gradations between neighborhoods are so subtle. You find yourself all of the sudden in Koreatown, and you feel it, but you don’t know when that feeling started. That kind of looseness is fairly common for Los Angeles.” For Jona, “There’s every scene of people, and you can dip into each one and no one cares if you’re not a part of it — everyone’s a part of everything, all at once.”

Most Overlooked building: The Bonaventure
Claire: It’s so empty inside and there’s so much unused retail space. I just want to see people use that space. I want art galleries.
Jona: A performance space would be great.

Best View: Lake Hollywood, Elysian Park, The Bonaventure
Claire: The Hollywood sign from Lake Hollywood. I like the view from the bar at the top of the Bonaventure hotel or out the elevator at the Bonaventure.
Jona: Elysian Park views, seeing the Peter Shire sculpture below, and that string of perfectly straight palm trees.

Best LA Routes: Benton, Grant Park, Beverly, Fountain
Claire: Grant Park and Benton exits are great.
Jona: We love taking Beverly across town.
Claire: Love 3rd too. Fountain is great.

Best CA/LA Resources: Tom Explores LA, Huell Howser
Jona: A great resource is a web series called Tom Explores Los Angeles. He’s a fourth generation southern Californian, who’s made five to 10 minute videos, maybe 20 of them, all about weird spots ranging from the Triforium to a Nazi bunker.
Claire: When I first moved back to LA and when we first moved to LA together, our big education was just watching a thousand episodes of Huell Howser. He brought out the best in people; it makes me aspire to be that kind of Californian, just to be so open, and talk to everybody, and really be enthusiastic about every variety of experience a person can have.

Top 3 Favorite Travel Apps:Skype, Hipmunk, Corner
Claire & Jona: Skype for international phone calls, because we still don’t bother to get SIM cards when we travel abroad. All the various airline apps for online checkin and tickets, and Hipmunk. Hipmunk changed the game for us when it first came out, because it let us look at plane tickets on a timeline instead of just a list, and the app is awesome too. New ways of visualizing travel data is so interesting to us. We just downloaded this app called Corner that displays flights in the trippiest way. We’re always pocket checking flights.

photo by: Gigie Hall