The Band YACHT on: Portlandia, True Tales of Life on Tour, and Their Amazon Studios Project

YACHTBy Ernest Jasmin

The endless driving. The run-ins with pompous tour managers. The occasional blunt trauma by the taco truck. 

The members of Los Angeles-based YACHT have experienced some ridiculous things on the road with their up-and-coming indie band. And they realized their bizarre touring lives were a TV show in the making long before they began working, in earnest, on Support, a project just picked up for development by Amazon Studios

Support is an ensemble comedy series based on their years on the road, being the lowly opening act for bands like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend and LCD Soundsystem. And recently, we caught up with the quartet — Jona Bechtolt, Claire Evans, Rob Kieswetter and Jeff Brodsky — to talk about how closely art imitates life in their new project. 

Hollywonk: On the surface, there seem to be parallels to what you’re doing now and Portlandia in that you’re cool indie musicians with roots in Portland breaking into comedy. [YACHT started in the Northwest.] Do you draw any inspiration from what Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen have been able to do with that show?

Claire: There are parallels in a sense that they’re people from our world who are making a comedy show. But I think that it’s a very different show. And although Support begins in Portland, it certainly goes off in a lot of different directions very quickly. 

Jeff: It’s funny because I was actually eating brunch yesterday in Portland, Oregon and Carrie Brownstein was [nearby.] 

I feel like yes and no to the Portlandia question in that it does skewer and take on the subject matter of young people with disposable incomes and young, educated people living in cities. But I think it tries to go a little farther in humanizing that demographic a little bit.

Rob: Also, I feel that show jumps into the absurd so quickly and so often that … stylistically it’s so different. Whereas Support kind of picks details of life that are maybe mundane and shows how they can be absurd.  

Hollywonk: Having read the treatment there seems to be a rotating fifth band member gag. Is there maybe a Spinal Tap element to the show?

Jona: We’re all deeply inspired by Spinal Tap. But I don’t think it will be as absurd as the drummer joke. … We’re pulling from real experience. [Katy Davidson, currently keyboard player for the Gossip, was YACHT’s most recent fifth member in 2011.] 

Rob: Also, that’s a really good joke. I think it’s just a happy coincidence that it happens to be a nod to Spinal Tap.

Hollywonk: So what made you want to write a show in the first place?

Claire: It’s something that we have been talking about for years. It’s kind of one of those things that’s been such a long running “meta commentary” way for us to cope with our actual touring/rock n’ roll lives that I can’t even tell you what the genesis was. 

But it became real, honestly, in the last six months.  And then the moment we realized it was real … a year’s worth of tour stories and jokes came pouring out. 

Hollywonk: So how does this work? Do all four of you write the scripts? And are you going to play the characters on the show?

Jona: We haven’t decided on casting yet. I don’t think that I could play myself. It would be too weird. But as far as writing goes, the four main characters are based on us exaggerated versions of us. It’s been really easy to write collaboratively. … We’ve been doing these through Google Docs, just having a shared document that we can all edit and collaborate together. It’s worked, surprisingly, really well. 

Rob: I don’t know how quickly first-time writers can crank out a pilot, but I feel like it happened really quickly because the story was already alive in our heads for such a long time.  

Hollywonk: There appears to be a lot of potential to change names to protect the not so innocent. What percentage of stuff in this show is based on actual crazy experiences you’ve had?

Rob: Like you said, the names have definitely been changed to protect the innocent. 

Claire: Only barely. [The female lead is “Blaire.”]

Jona: Most of the scenarios we plotted out for the first season are actual things that happened. 

Claire: Except for we didn’t kill anybody. 

Hollywonk: I was gonna ask you about that, because Jona e-mailed me about an episode, about a, biker that apparently happened in Austin. Can you elaborate?

Rob: Yeah, that was based on a real situation where we played a bunch of shows in Austin, Texas during the South by Southwest music festival and found ourselves at a food truck area. 

We came across a group of inebriated cyclists, one of which was kind of laying on the ground … with an open head wound or something, clutching her head. [Laughs] Everybody was kind of casually dealing with the situation … so we actually kicked it into high gear. 

Claire: We did rescue a cyclist, and we took her to the hospital, and Rob took her and made sure she didn’t die. Meanwhile, she was talking with our band while she was bleeding all over the interior of our van. It was definitely weird. 

Hollywonk: OK, this is maybe putting you on the spot a bit. But in the treatment there’s reference to some romantic tension in the band. Does that come from real life?

Claire: Yeah, that’s based on real life. Jona and I are a real couple. We’re not on again, off again. 

Amazon: Was there that sort of tension before you became a couple, worrying about breaking up the band?

Claire: Um, no. We were dating from the beginning of our involvement in the band. But it’s always something that has to be negotiated delicately because there is always this issue, perhaps, of allegiance to the romantic partner over allegiance to the band. And we always have to be really careful with it and not make it an issue or part of the band dynamic. … But definitely there are times where Jona and I are fighting and it’s awful for everybody. I’m sure that will become part of the show, as well, with Blaire and Sean. 

Hollywonk: From what I’ve read, each season is a “tour” where you support a bigger band. You have real life connections with LCD Soundsystem and bands like that. Are we going to see them in the show?

Jona: Hopefully, depending on scheduling and stuff like that. James [Murphy of LCD Soundsystem] has seen the mini-bible [the treament] and he loves it. So we have his full support. 

Claire: All those tour stories are based on tours we’ve been on with bands we’re still on very good terms with. And we’ve been talking about it with a lot of the bands. … I think there’s a lot of room for musicians to play alternate versions of themselves. 

Hollywonk: But at the same time, we never hear a single song and we never see the bands perform on this show. 

Jona: And we never hear their name. 

Hollywonk: So it’s definitely more about the absurdities of what happens backstage and in the tour van. 

Jona: Yeah, backstage and on the road and in convenience stores - all of that. 

Claire: Literally, every single thing you do on tour when you’re not onstage, which is, of course, 98 percent of what touring is. 

Hollywonk: Are you afraid you’ll say too much? Or maybe someone will recognize themselves as the jerk manager or something? 

Jona: This is a good opportunity for us to get back at those people. We’re really excited to point out the jerks and hopefully have them realize it’s them we’re talking about. 

Hollywonk: Aside from this, are you working on the follow up to last year’s “Shangri-La” album?

Jona: Sort of. We have a new single that’s gonna come out in December. 2012 is actually the 10-year anniversary of YACHT as a thing. We’re having a big 10th anniversary show in Los Angeles in December. So yeah, we’re just doing this tour that starts [this] week, putting out a new single and then doing a big party. And then I guess we’ll put the band on hold for a while. 

Claire: We’re gonna treat working on this TV show with the same kind of dedication we would treat working on a record. It’s gonna be our only project for as long as it takes to make it.

Ernest Jasmin is a Tacoma-based music and pop culture writer. Follow him on Twitter.