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YACHT Talks Sci-Fi, Performing A Live Score For 'Alien' At LACMA

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Claire L. Evans of YACTH. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images)
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"We're a science-fiction band," Claire L. Evans, a member of the dance-pop band YACHT, told LAist.

The conclusion is not unwarranted. There are the obvious signs, like their 2009 album See Mystery Lights, which was in large part inspired by the mysterious "Marfa lights" that have mesmerized the fair town of Marfa, Texas for ages. And, sonically, the band is a bit of Weird Science mixed with Repo Man—bouncy, synthy, simultaneously irreverent and speaking to hard-won truths.

So YACHT is pretty sci-fi in that sense. But are they Alien sci-fi? Are they hair-bristling, pulse-racheting, hand-clammying sci-fi? This question will be addressed on March 9 when the band—which includes founding member Jona Bechtolt and Rob Kieswetter—performs a new live score for a screening of Alien, Ridley Scott's masterpiece of space noir. The event is part of LACMA's "Bring The Noise" programming. Produced by Film Independent, the series takes a film, strips out the music (while leaving in the dialogue), and invites musical acts to perform their own rendition of the score. It's a concert and a movie—a date night twofer.

In January, Seth Bogart played the inaugural show amid a screening of Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse. This time around, YACHT will be launching into the cold embrace of outer space, accompanied by chest-bursters, Ellen Ripley, and a Shakespearean actor who also moonlights as a sociopathic android. Evans and Bechtolt spoke with LAist about the upcoming show, the enduring appeal of Alien, and the legacy of cinema's most badass action hero.

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Let's start off with the obvious question: are you guys huge fans of the film? What's your relationship with the movie?

Bechtolt: Huge fan. I grew up in a video store. So I have a deep relationship with movies from the late '70s to the early '90s. And we have a relationship in history with science-fiction in our band, as well as our extracurricular activities. Claire is a science fiction editor for Motherboard, one of Vice's properties.

Evans: Science fiction as a conceptual framework, if you will, has always been a big part of YACHT's identity—our creative identity in terms of both our songwriting and our general attitude about how we use technology to make art and connect with people, as well as how we use technology to observe how truly dystopian the world is. Alien, in particular, is a movie we've always loved. We hadn't seen it in years, and when we decided to [play "Bring The Noise"], we re-watched it, and I can't tell you how powerful it is right now. That insane, beautiful, unfettered female energy—in the face of one of the most fucked up monsters imaginable—that's just really good right now for many reasons. It gives a really good framework for how you address the unspeakable and the horrifying—you can just blast it out of the pod bay doors.

I kind of favor the second one. [Evans: "You're crazy!"] And the thing is, I've watched it so many times, and I have it in my head that the second is better, but then Alien comes on TV and I'm like, "Wow, this is great. Maybe I'm wrong."

Bechtolt: I'm with you there. When I started re-watching the first one, I was like "The second one's better, right?" But then I realized that the second one is a movie, and the first one is a film.

Evans: Right. And you know it's weird, because every film in the series has been unique, and each has been directed by a well-known director who really put their own stamp on the franchise. There are running motifs, but everyone put their own twist on it, and it's kind of compelling in that way. Each film, I think, represents something true about the tendencies of that decade. The first one came during the '70s, the high point of American cinema. Whereas Aliens (the 1986 sequel) came during the blockbuster era and it's a totally different style. Plus James Cameron is very much a director of that decade. And then the David Fincher one (1992's Alien 3) had all the worst aesthetics of the music video, and there's a shorter attention span there. There's also some of that grungy bullshit thrown in.

That was such a missed opportunity with Alien 3. I wish Fincher had done it one or two films into his career. But it was his first movie.

Evans: Right! It was his first movie!

Bechtolt: It took place on a different planet.

Evans: Right, and in his defense he did the necessary work of expanding the canon and the universe of the Alien world. The first two are so claustrophobic, but the third is a little bit of Star Wars, where there's a totally different planet, and there's a whole new culture and economy, and you get the sense that the universe is vast. I'll give it that.

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Event poster designed by Matt Owen.
Of course, you can't talk about Alien without talking about the chest-burster scene. I assume that you guys have some big plans for it? Everyone's going to be waiting for that.

Bechtolt: Yes, and that's why we're not going to tell you what we're going to do.

Evans: [laughs]

But, I mean, there are....plans, right?

Bechtolt: Certainly. The whole thing is completely overwhelming. We like the movie so much, and it's such a classic. Altering the soundtrack in anyway will alter people's memory of the movie.

Evans: I think we're deviating from [the original score] enough so that it doesn't exist in the uncanny valley of "oh it's almost like this, but it's not." We're going to take a step far enough outside of the memory of the film.

Bechtolt: Ridley Scott had wanted a synthy score for his movies but the studios would not go for it. They wanted the more traditional orchestral score.

So you're going in the more synthy direction?

Bechtolt: Yes. More analog. Kind of trance-like, synth-rhythm.

Would you say you're making something new, but with a sense of pastiche?

Bechtolt: I wouldn't say pastiche.

Evans: We've never done a film score before. We've done a lot of composing work, though.

Bechtolt: I've done, a long time ago, improvised film scores—there would be a series of Super 8 stuff we'd do. But never a formal thing like this.

Evans: If there are formal restraints that we should be emulating, we don't know them well enough to do that. Whatever we do is probably going to be a little wonky, but in the way that everything we do is a little wonky, because that's our aesthetic. As something that's completely new to us, we don't know enough to know what not to do.

That could work to your advantage, I think.

Evans: It will. And I've always been interested in artists taking on things that are beyond their scope. Because you see them challenging themselves, and you see their vulnerability.

Are there rehearsals? Or are you winging it?

Bechtolt: We're already doing a lot of rehearsing. But the result won't be canned or anything; it will be improvised, but with a plot and a plan.

Evans: We'll have movements.

Bechtolt: Yes we've pre-composed movements.

I guest the chest-burster scene gets all the attention. But there are so many other great moments in Alien. Is there a particular scene you're excited about?

Evans: We want to capture the claustrophobia, and the sense of not knowing what's going to be around the corner. And I'm excited to do a motif for when they go inside the computer: Mother. It's beautiful, and there's this white light, and it's the cleanest space in the film. I want to make sure that it's appropriately scored.

Bechtolt: It's really hard for me to pick out one moment.

Evans: Now that I'm thinking about it, one moment that was great was when they discovered that the alien's blood was acidic, and it's sort of burning through the levels of the ship. There's some really great tension there.

How did this come about? Did you choose the movie? Or were you chosen for the movie?

Evans: We chose it. We had an original choice that we couldn't do for rights reasons, actually. Alien was our second choice. We originally wanted to do the original 1973 Westworld, which we thought would be interesting because not a lot of people have seen it. But now everyone's into Westworld because of the HBO series. The film was not actually a very good movie.

Bechtolt: In fairness, the music was a large part of why it was bad. The music was terrible. We were hoping to elevate the film by playing the music differently. In the film, the music may be whimsical for no reason, when it should be much darker.

But you're perfectly happy with Alien.

Evans: Certainly. It's one of those movies that everyone loves but maybe it's been a long time since you've seen it.

What about Ripley? I feel that, for all the recognition she gets, she's still underrated as a cinema hero.

Evans: What's so cool about Ripley is that, well, she's obviously a powerful female character. She's very strong. She has the capacity to face down pure evil. But she's also a very caring and motherly person, with deep compassion for people and animals. She wants to take care of the vulnerable, and that is such a nuanced thing. I think a lot of powerful, female leads in sci-fi are just gun-toting superbabes. That's fun, but that's like saying Rambo is fun. Rambo is not a full person, and Ripley is a full person. Just the fact that she takes care of a cat—

Jonesy the cat is one of my favorite characters in the series.

Evans: Yeah. It's like, they are surrounded by death in the middle of total darkness with no hope of survival. And she is like, let's make sure the cat gets out. That is so beautiful.

Bring The Noise: Alien will take place at 7:30 pm on Thursday, March 9 at the Bing Theater at LACMA. You can purchase tickets here. It's $20 for LACMA members, and $30 for general admission. LACMA is at 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles.