Rocking the boat with YACHT

Perhaps sensing that the “isolate yourself in a remote cabin” approach to song-writing was played out earlier this decade by the alt-folk crowd, Portland-based electro-pop duo YACHT chose to construct their latest record somewhere entirely different. They opted instead for a desolate West Texan desert, working under the glow of a mysterious, natural light phenomenon.

“The Marfa mystery lights are an optical phenomenon that happens in the desert,” explains Claire Evans, who shares the YACHT name with the founder and creative mastermind Jona Bechtolt.

“It’s been happening since the beginning of recorded history and certainly before that. There have been teams of scientists who have examined them, but so far it’s defied explanation.

“Seeing them for the first time affected us profoundly. It’s rare for us to experience mystery, to witness something with no rational explanation, and it really changed our worldview.”

YACHT was originally just Bechtolt, who has been performing and recording under the moniker since 2003. It was only following some intense bonding in the desert with Evans, a frequent artistic collaborator, that he decided YACHT was meant to be a duo.
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“After our experience in Marfa, it was all we wanted to talk about, it was all we were thinking about, and it was all we were working on and around,” Bechtolt says.

The pair’s desert pilgrimage eventually resulted in 2009’s See Mystery Lights, a series of chants and mantras spoken and sung over an exuberant set of glitchy, dance floor-ready beats. The music press thought their transcendental odyssey was worthwhile, as reviews for the album glowed as brightly as the Marfa lights themselves. While praise for their work rolled in, YACHT embarked on a comprehensive tour, one that afforded them the opportunity to share their life-altering experience with the world.

Bechtolt has taken YACHT on tour more than once since 2003, but it always amazes him to discover that “the kids,” as he likes to call them, in far-flung cities across the globe know the words to his songs. The tour promoting See Mystery Lights took the pair to exotic locales such as Seoul and Auckland. Nevertheless, audiences came out in droves for their shows. “It’s very overwhelming and cool,” Bechtolt says with a hint of modesty in his voice.

“It really speaks to the democratizing power of the Internet. It’s not about having enough money to buy an album anymore—it’s about having access to the Internet to download whatever you want and be a part of that culture,” he explains.

Clearly, much of the band’s international success can be attributed to their incredible online presence. A quick Google search for the band reveals a Flickr photo stream with hundreds of pages of content, documenting everything from the most ecstatic moments of their live performances to the mundane details of touring (such as wi-fi passwords from the various cities they’ve visited). YACHT’s website boasts over a dozen free mp3s, including samples of the band’s work and remixes that Bechtolt has recorded over the years. And of course, the band’s Twitter feed is never lacking in fresh thoughts.

YACHT has worked tirelessly to ensure that their online community is inclusive—as Evans points out, inclusivity is an essential aspect of the band’s nature.

“We think about YACHT as being a sort of collective thing. For us, YACHT is the name for anything we get involved with, and that includes our friends, our colleagues, and anyone we’re working with,” she says.

“One of our axioms is that ‘YACHT is whatever YACHT is, whenever YACHT is standing before you.’ So when someone jumps on stage and starts dancing, they’re a part of YACHT at that moment.”

And as you’re finishing this article, you’re a part of YACHT right now.

Be a part of YACHT again! The band will perform at Wrongbar on March 4.

Poorly endowed

U of T will tame its investing style, acknowledging significant losses in its pension and endowment funds under the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation. In 2008 alone, the university lost $1.5 billion, almost 30 per cent of the fund’s total value.

In a Feb. 20 letter to faculty, staff, and alumni, U of T president David Naylor outlined investment recommendations from the report of the President’s Committee on Investments, which he received in December 2009.

“The issue is not one where we have a conspicuous failure, but rather one where, frankly, the returns are not at the level of our peers, and given that the effort is being made to use a different strategy,” Naylor told The Varsity. “The lesson seems as clear to me as snow on the ground: we need to follow a more conventional strategy.”

Naylor has largely accepted the committee’s proposals, with several caveats. UTAM president and CEO William Moriarty, appointed in 2008, will become U of T’s chief investment officer. Moriarty will be accountable directly to the president, though Naylor maintains he has no plans to “second-guess UTAM’s day-to-day decision-making.”
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Other changes proposed in the report include changes to UTAM’s governance, the creation of an expert committee, and advising and overseeing UTAM to “avoid any unhappy dips,” according to Naylor. As well, the report recommends that the university “reassess its risk and return targets.”

Moriarty echoed this sentiment. “The issue of risk appetite is really something the university needs to determine,” he said. “And if they change that, they also have to be willing to make changes in terms of the rates of return, which affect their operating budget and capital budget.”

UTAM was established in 2000 by then-president Robert Pritchard as an in-house investment management body similar to those seen at Harvard and Yale. The corporation favored risky “alternative” investments with potentially higher rates of return. These investments were predominantly hedge funds (investments requiring significant oversight and thus high fees) and private equity, which typically refers to assets and investments not listed on the public stock exchange, such as start-up companies.

UTAM aggressively invested in these high-risk assets, hoping to generate the massive gains seen at U.S. schools. But the risk hasn’t paid off. U of T had to suspend its normal endowment payments to the operating budget—meaning the budget lost $62 million or five per cent of the budget. In the letter, Naylor said payouts will resume next year.

UTAM’s investment portfolio has consistently underperformed in periods of economic health. According to the December report, UTAM has consistently ranked below the 95th percentile compared to other Canadian universities, which have been more conservative in their investments.

In 2008, a painful year for all investors, U of T suffered the worst losses of any Canadian university. Aggressive U.S. schools saw similar losses in 2008, but their rates of return in economic booms have been higher.

“We have a much smaller plan [than Ivy League schools], and whether you support these types of investment strategies or not, to do them you need to be staffed and able to manage complexity, and in that respect, size does matter,” Naylor said. “A bigger plan is more likely to be able to steer investment in private equity.”

Going loopy for Cursive

Bright Eyes fans may be familiar with homegrown Omaha record label Saddle Creek. Formed in the mid-nineties, the label has shown fierce ties with its hometown and the University of Nebraska. It was there that Bright Eyes’ sometime member Mike Mogis became better friends with future Cursive member Ted Stevens.

“He lived in the dorm a couple floors below me,” recalled Stevens in an interview last week. Mogis and Stevens went on to form the band Lullaby for the Working Class.

It was also around this time that Omaha music scene mainstay Tim Kasher started punk rock band Cursive with his childhood friend Matt McGinn. Two albums later, the original Cursive split up, and Kasher moved to Oregon with his new wife. But when Kasher’s marriage fell apart and he realized it wouldn’t be so easy for him to form a new band in Oregon, he moved back to Omaha and restarted Cursive. It was then that Stevens was invited to join the group.

“I felt honoured. I always wanted to take a shot at it,” Stevens says. “I was helping with these melodic guitar leads and riffs for the band.”

“We wanted to bring back heavily conceptual albums that work together instead of tune-by-tune singles…Not like the way it is now with iTunes and file sharing. We’re fighting hard to keep albums important. We create our own little worlds.”
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The first Cursive project in which Stevens took part was Domestica, a concept album chronicling the breakdown of a young couple’s marriage.

“It blew my mind with Domestica—we became a band that was actually selling tickets—so to follow up with one that surpassed all that was crazy.” Their next album was the gothic, fairy-tale inspired The Ugly Organ, which included accompaniment from New York cellist Gretta Cohn and featured hit song “Art is Hard.”

These days, Cursive is known for their decidedly antagonistic sound: “We were all brought up Catholic in a small town in the middle of the country,” Stevens explains. “So we did share a cynicism towards religion.”

The band is often slapped with the “punk” label. But how well does Stevens think this fits? “It is naive to think you can dismantle anything. It is tempting, that passion and energy in music. We were born 10 years too late to be a punk band.”

In terms of an overriding group, Cursive is linked just as closely to the Saddle Creek community. Stevens has strong opinions about this particular connection.

“Originally, [Saddle Creek] was designed to be a communal thing that we all shared a part of. Those were naive dreams. Bright Eyes was the first band to sell lots of records, and that was when it became obvious that each musician had to work on their own thing. We needed a CEO to run major operations. It then broke off from the community aspect.”

“The sense of community is still there, but the label, family, and bands are not the same as they once were. We have had to set up a new business model, instead of this utopian all-for-one mentality.

“The cynic in me believes that it’s not possible, once debt and revenue enter the picture. I started off as an enthusiastic spokesperson of what I wanted it to become, but now I am leveling off into a realistic position, mellowing.”

But Cursive’s decision to stick with Saddle Creek has not been out of blind loyalty. Stevens explains that they have been tempted to feel out other labels, but any transition wouldn’t be simple for the band. So their latest album, 2009’s Mama I’m Swollen, was released on their traditional label.

Many Canadian bands, including Land of Talk and Tokyo Police Club, have recently signed on to Saddle Creek and Stevens is interested in this development.

“There seems to be a lot of great music coming out of Toronto and Montreal,” he says. “A highlight of our last tour was an outdoor show we played in Montreal. I definitely want to go back there, and spend more time in Toronto.”

Wait, they’ll be spending time here next week! Cursive plays the Phoenix on March 6.

Peeling back the layers of Robertson Davies

“This place is haunted,” muses performer K. Reed Needles. “I can take you around the theatre and point to pieces of paint and bent door handles and tell you their stories.”

Needles muses from behind a scruffy gray beard and a cragged face lined with indents of emotion. The actor and teacher worked within the bowels of Hart House Theatre as a technician, a fight choreographer, and a director starting in 1972. In 1973, Needles met and befriended esteemed Canadian author, Robertson Davies, and in 1986, Davies urged Needles to leave.

“I lived here like a mole, underground, for 10 years,” he explains, scanning the subterranean offices of Hart House Theatre with nostalgia. “Finally Professor Davies told me, ‘Reed’”—Needles begins to slip into the voice of Davies, a slurred and languid Oxford accent—“‘Hart House is a man-killer, and it has killed better men than you. So I suggest you go out and do something with your life before you become another victim.’ And after that, I left.”

Needles has just finished up a dress rehearsal with director John Krisak, where, surrounded by a simple set of office furniture and over-sized books, he pays homage to the Canadian icon, bringing Davies back to life in the one-man show Robertson Davies: The Peeled I. The show explores the life and intellectual journey of the author through a series of nine monologues and two acts and is told completely in Davies’ own words.

John Krisak, a former high school teacher and actor-turned-director scripted the show. He glances at Needles across the table and rebuts, “Davies wrote the words, I just arranged them.”

“Davies was the kind of man who, once you had a conversation with him, you never forgot it,” Needles adds. “He was majestic, charismatic, and a terror in the classroom.”

Needles and Krisak met when they acted opposite each other some 10 years ago at Stratford. But the idea for the show came from a conversation between the two in 2007. Now the duo interact with a practiced ease, having worked closely together on this show for the past three years. Both men speak of Davies with the reverent awe of retelling a myth, chronicling the auspicious history of Davies’ involvement in theatre, literature, intellectual culture, and the University of Toronto as though speaking of a fallen warrior.

“After the inception of the show, I began to read everything. I stumbled onto an essay called ‘The Peeled Eye’ by Davies, and it’s about his youth and early childhood,” Krisak explains. “He has his eyes peeled, and this is what gives him the capacity to write, because he has this kind of second sight, and I knew that we had to begin here. And then very quickly the piece began to fall into place.”

Krisak explains that the piece is both an autobiographical reflection, as well as an account of the charismatic storyteller who was once an on-campus staple at U of T.

“It’s too easy to portray Davies as a one-dimensional icon and too easy to make fun of him. Yes, some people thought of him as a pompous ass and others as a kind and caring mentor—we present Davies in a series of snapshots. Every anecdote he tells is self-deprecating in some way. The insecurities leak through, and it’s left to the audience to pass judgment on the man.”

The show, Krisak explains, is dynamic in its use of characters from Davies’ point of view. To Krisak, Davies was a true raconteur, whose proclivity towards peeled vision allowed him to enter a role as a person. Needles’ challenge is to reenact that sense of embodiment and to understand his surroundings through the Davies’ lens.

“I only know Davies through his writing,” Krisak explains. “But I overheard an interview with him on CBC one day on my way to work. Davies says to the interviewer: ‘Give me a copper coin, and I will tell you a golden tale.’ And that’s just how he was, a wonderful storyteller. It’s simply a gift.”

Needles picks up the thread: “It’s been an entire generation since Davies was seen with his mane of white hair, walking around the University of Toronto campus, telling anecdotes and challenging students to a fight, and something very important has been lost since his passing. In the end, I hope that the applause is for the man that Davies was, and I hope that we will inspire those unfamiliar with his work to begin to look into the writings and thoughts of the man.”

“I feel completely opposite,” Krisak laughs. “When the applause comes, I want it to be for us. It is a show, after all.”

Robertson Davies: The Peeled I opens at Hart House Theatre on March 3. For more information, visit

Freshly pressed: Hot Chip

Hot Chip—One Life Stand

Hot Chip have been riding a big wave since their single “Ready For The Floor” soared up the charts in 2008: they’ve been featured as musical guests on several late-night talk shows and their tours have been packed. After all this acclaim, you’d expect the crew to kick into high gear to capitalize on their success. But when Alexis Taylor hinted early on that their new album was “going to be a bit calmer,” it was actually a forewarning that the band may have lost their steam.

It’s clear that Hot Chip were aiming to experiment with several different genres on One Life Stand, but the dabbling never comes off feeling very accomplished. Songs like “We Have Love” and “Thieves In The Night” are cookie-cutter dance-synth cut-outs, and this safe approach quickly gets boring.

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The second half isn’t much better, beginning with the awkward harmonies on “Slush” that render the song unlistenable. “Alley Cats” is the one true gem on this album, featuring great lyrics, a wide array of instruments, and effective melodies. Still, it’s not enough to save the disc.

Taylor and bandmate Joe Goddard clearly have strong voices and are capable of writing lyrics that take your mind to the clouds. Their sound is marked with a sweet finesse, but talent alone is not enough to make a great disc. It’s time for Hot Chip to start focusing more and taking more risks.—Ben Nieuwland

VV (out of five)


No apologies

Aurel Braun, a political science professor at UTM, is mired in a power struggle at a democracy advocacy group. Braun is chair of the board of directors for Rights and Democracy, a Montreal-based group that focuses on the promotion of democracy and the rule of law abroad and receives $11 million a year in federal funding. After months of internal strife, the group has come under increasing scrutiny after the death of its former president earlier this year, when all 47 staff members called for Braun’s resignation.

The federal government has nominated Gérard Latulippe as the new president of Rights and Democracy. Latulippe is an activist, former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister, and former Canadian Alliance candidate. He has proposed restrictions on Muslim immigration to Montreal.

The opposition has panned the nomination. “You don’t keep stacking it with more and more Conservative people, thinking that’s going to solve your problem,” said Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff at a press conference. Paul Dewar, the NDP foreign affairs critic, said the board remained problematic and criticized the Conservatives’ March 1 deadline for opposition parties to respond to the appointment.
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Call for resignation

Former president Rémy Beauregard died of a heart attack the day after a tumultuous board of directors meeting on Jan. 7 where two board members resigned and another was dismissed. Beauregard had reportedly clashed with Braun over a review of Beauregard’s performance as president. Beauregard was not told about the review, and obtained a copy only after filing a freedom of information request with the Privy Council Office. In an op-ed in the National Post, Braun and several other senior members said large sums of money being dispensed from the president’s discretionary funds was one of the reasons for the review.

During Beauregard’s funeral, there was a break-in at the organization’s Montreal office and two laptops were stolen, including one belonging to a media liaison, according to the Globe and Mail. After Beauregard’s death, all 47 staff members submitted a petition calling for the resignation of Braun and several other senior figures at Rights and Democracy. The letter accused board members of malicious harassment against Beauregard.

The Globe also reported that three staff members who the board had perceived as leaders of the staff revolt had been dismissed with pay shortly after and Braun instructed others not to speak to media without written approval.

In a brief interview at UTM, Braun took exception to criticisms from former board members that he had mishandled Beauregard’s performance review. He maintained that the organization’s bylaws dictated that the performance review should go directly to the Privy Council Office. According to Braun, the board offered to meet with Beauregard before and after they submitted the review, but Beauregard said he didn’t have time.

Dispute over Israel

Board members recently appointed by the Conservative government have been accused of a pro-Israel bias. At the Jan. 7 meeting, the board voted to repudiate three grants to Middle East organizations whose activities it viewed as suspect. Beauregard voted in favour of the motions. “People have to be very careful that they deal in fact not myth,” said Braun, defending his actions from what he said was unfair media coverage of the controversy. “Beauregard said ‘We made a mistake in granting these. We should have done our homework better.’”

But according to an inside source who spoke on condition of anonymity, Beauregard actually changed his vote in order to avoid what he saw as an unnecessary confrontation with Braun and the board majority, who he felt were intent on seeing the loans repudiated.

“In the case of B’Tselem [one of the groups whose funding was repudiated], we found that they were a very biased organization, they were not impartial, they were very one-sided,” Braun said. The other two organizations, al-Haq and al-Mezan, were “toxic” and had links to terrorist groups.

Sarit Michaeli, a spokesperson for B’Tselem, said that Braun’s characterization of B’Tselem is wrong and that the organization is well respected in Israel. “We were outraged to read quotes in the press in which some members of the board referred to B’Tselem as a ‘questionable’ organization and ‘Israeli in name only,’” wrote Michaeli in an email. “Assuming these statements are accurate, they reveal profound even offensive ignorance about B’Tselem’s work and its role in Israeli society.”

What now?

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon nominated Latulippe as the new president on Tuesday, calling him “the ideal candidate to return Rights and Democracy to the promotion of Canadian values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry declined to say if it was considering taking any action on the staff petition, beyond supporting a forensic audit of Rights and Democracy’s finances by a private firm hired by the board.

Braun said he supported Latulippe as the new president and that the board is primarily concerned with ensuring transparency and accountability in how the group spends taxpayer money.

Shape up or ship out

A report on the First Nations University of Canada states that the school should adopt policies that encourage transparency and become more financially accountable.

“It is pertinent that the university’s new board of governors be cleared of any perceived conflict of interest” reads the 208-page report issued last week by consultants Manely Begay and Associates, adding that the school must “establish policies and procedures ensuring full financial and governance transparency.”

In early February, FNUC lost both federal and provincial funding. Its board was dissolved. The report states that without the recommended changes, the university will not get the governmental grants it requires and will have to sell its Saskatoon campus and other assets.

Recommendations include not paying board members, clearly establishing rules for faculty, staff, and other board members involved with the school, and establishing internal definitions for fraud, malfeasance, and misappropriation.

The report also emphasizes the need for an impartial board that does not include First Nations chiefs and those with a potential conflict of interest, such as students, civil servants, or officials from other universities. It proposes that the 11 voting members of the board be made up of four elders, six technical experts, and one member outside Saskatchewan. Of the elders, there must be two men and two women representing each indigenous group found in Saskatchewan.

FNUC has been accused of financial mismanagement for some time. A Dec. 9 ruling charged former VP academics Wes Stevenson for fraud over $5,000. Former CFO Murray Westerlund issued a report in November 2009 alleging hundreds of thousands of dollars were misspent. Westerlund left the position in December and has since filed a wrongful dismissal suit.

For the time being, FNUC will be run by the University of Regina at the instruction of the provincial government of Saskatchewan. An interim board has been established as a working group discusses the future of the university.

Leaders of the Federation of the Saskatchewan Indian Nations plan to meet and discuss the report on March 8 in Saskatoon. According to federation leaders, chiefs will be asked to ratify the report so that they will be able to receive $2 million from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, which has been withheld.

“Once the chiefs ratify the report a new level of stability will be achieved,” said Chief Guy Lonechild in a news release.

News in brief

Cannabis college

Hundreds have graduated from Med Grow Cannabis College, founded in November 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.

“Medical marijuana has the potential to become probably a billion-dollar industry in Michigan,” said Nick Tennant, the school’s 24-year-old founder. Tennant said attitudes towards marijuana are changing in Detroit due to troubled financial conditions.

Michigan is one of 14 states with medical marijuana laws. The 2008 Medical Marijuana Act allows caregivers to care for up to five registered patients, at a rate of 12 plants and 70 grams (2.5 ounces) per patient.

In theory, the marijuana is intended strictly for the sick patients, such as those suffering from cancer. In practice, said lecturer and Detroit attorney Mathew Abel, “Anybody who smokes pot and doesn’t have a medical marijuana card at this point is just an idiot.”—Ryan Tuzyk


School shooting leaves two teens injured

A gunman with a hunting rifle shot at students in a Denver middle school parking lot on Wednesday, injuring two before a teacher tackled him to the ground.

Bruco Strong Eagle Eastwood, 32 years old, has been identified as the shooter. Police are unsure of Eastwood’s motives, but revealed he had an arrest record for domestic abuse, assault, and driving under the influence.

Both students survived the attack. One has been released and the other is recovering in hospital.

Math teacher David Benke, a 6-foot-5 former basketball player, was monitoring the parking lot when he heard a loud noise. Spotting the gunman, Benke pinned the shooter with the help of another teacher on the scene.

“He figured out that he wasn’t going to be able to get another round chambered before I got to him, so he dropped the gun, and then we were kind of struggling around trying to get him subdued,” said Benke.

Eastwood had a court appearance Wednesday and could face up to two counts of attempted murder.—Tim Legault

Source: BBC News

Government funding for elite athletes to disappear after Olympics

Canada’s athletics training program, Own the Podium, may become strapped for cash. The federal government has indicated that it will not chip in to fill the $11-million funding gap that will arise after the Olympic Winter Games end.

According to sports minister Gary Lunn, instead of federal support, Ottawa will appeal to Canadian companies and other donors for money. “You shouldn’t just always reach to government and say ‘Oh, it’s your problem,’” said Lunn.

Own the Podium launched in 2005 to help Canada become a top medal contender for the Vancouver Olympics. Ottawa covered half of the program’s annual $22 million operating cost. The other half came from provincial governments and corporations, most of which is expected to disappear following the end of the 2010 Olympics.

“I can honestly say that I would not have this [gold medal] in my hand without the Own the Podium program,” said Canadian ice dancer Soctt Moir, who along with his partner Tessa Virtue won a gold medal last Tuesday.—TL

Source: The Globe and Mail