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Nearly all the musicians and singers who have their own perfumes and colognes are the heavily branded, planet-sized entities you'd expect to support such a thing: think Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Beyoncé. Recently, electro-pop duo YACHT joined this elite club. The Los Angeles-based band—whose name is actually an acronym for Young Americans Challenging High Technology, not the oceangoing vessel—released a fragrance to commemorate 2011's Shangri-La, their fifth record. Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans teamed with OLO, a perfume company in their native Portland, Oregon, to make small batches of an anointing-oil-like substance that blends together such scents as vetivert, jasmine and ylang ylang, plus the woods suam and hiba. Evans likens the smell to an LA apocalypse or "the morning after a Bacchanalian temple ritual or religious ceremony that's gone awry."
What separates YACHT's fragrance from the goods sponsored by the usual celebrity suspects is this band's perfume is an active product of their identity rather than an easy marketing tie-in. They "take a Steve Jobs-ian eye and attention to detail to every single part of the music," Bechtolt says, but they're also heavily invested in non-music-related endeavors such as an extensive manifesto they've published online, as well as PowerPoint presentations and Q&A sessions they've incorporated into concerts. "A song is one way to express an idea, but it's not the only way. If we have an idea, we want to disseminate it across all platforms, across all physical senses," Evans says. "If we could make a five-sense experience for every song, I think we would probably try to do it because it's interesting to see if we can reach people in different ways."
After starting YACHT a decade ago on his own, Bechtolt met Evans in 2004, and she officially joined him in 2008. While various personnel have been in and out of the group over the years, Evans' case is unusual. By all evidence, she's now as crucial to the band as Bechtolt, but the group's founder is still very comfortable with change. "YACHT has always been something I've tried to reinvent," he says. "One, because I'm a very impatient person, and two, because I have no attention span and I want to make something I would be interested in myself."
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To get an idea of the pair's shifting ambitions, compare the past two records. They wrote and recorded 2009's See Mystery Lights in the small town of Marfa, Texas, after being inspired by the ethereal allure of the Marfa illuminations (which is totally worth a Google). The album is a spirited, floral electronic take on weirdo psychedelic rock and herky-jerky rockabilly that somehow makes perfect sense while sounding as though it should make no sense at all. Meanwhile, Shangri-La is fascinated by the possibilities (and impossibilities) of Utopia—a lyrical theme YACHT explore in great detail while playing '80s-tinged, Pac-Man-soundtrack-style synth-punk. If you're not into the accouterments, their music alone is immensely likable, rich and smartly assembled.
Though they play music, are YACHT actually a band, a performance-art project or what? "We let each thing we do stand on its own, so of course, we do make music, but we do a ton of other things," Bechtolt says. "[People] call it whatever they want."
This article appeared in print as "Genius You Can Smell: YACHT's music demands your time, attention and all of your senses."