In 2008, Portland musician Jona Bechtolt's bare-bones disco project, YACHT, underwent a reinvention. It all came after a supernatural experience in the small town of Marfa, Texas.
Bechtolt and collaborator Claire Evans set out to record YACHT's next album in the middle-of-nowhere home of the Marfa Mystery Lights, where visitors often report seeing orbs of light dancing on the desert horizon. The duo then issued its appropriately titled album, "See Mystery Lights," perhaps best described as mystical disco punk.
"It's almost difficult for us to talk about it, because we wrote that record during the afterglow of the experience," Evans said. "We were living out in the desert and working every day and living in an environment where people were having this kind of insane paranormal experience. ... It felt like a drug-induced dream or something."
The lingering transcendental haze has pushed YACHT toward two contrasting aesthetics: disco production and cult-esque iconography. Bechtolt and Evans now view YACHT as something bigger than a band. They have littered their website with manifestos, including a zealous text that describes the musical power of mantras through Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough."
"We see a lot of common ground between underground religious culture and underground music culture," Evans said. "The way people are fanatical about bands, the way people have a religious obsession with singers and artists they admire."
The band's name stands for Young Americans Challenging High Technology, a Portland educational program Bechtolt participated in during high school. His days there were divided between education on technology's creative potential and lectures condemning scientific advances. "Since then, I've been obsessed with the concept of duality, exploring black and white," he said. "That's carried over into everything we've done and how we present the band in both style and music."
Evans even doubles as a science writer with her blog, Universe. "I love exploring the chasm between those two cultures and trying to find places where they intersect in interesting ways," she said. "They both have a lot to tell us about our position in the universe, and that is very much what we do in YACHT."
The group will release its next full-length CD, "Shangri-La," on June 21. Their spring tour, which stops at the Triple Rock on Saturday, has been a primer for the new material.
"I think all good performance has an element of fear and vulnerability built into it," Evans said. "A comfortable performer is someone who is not baring themselves enough. We're always a little bit terrified."
Even with their celestial personas and big ideas, at least that tinge of timidity shows that YACHT are still mere mortals.