SINCE unveiling her album, Tightrope Walker, it has been…
pretty hectic and busy for Rachael Yamagata. I speak to the U.S.-based artist about plans for new material and what we can expect. Yamagata is from Virginia but based in Woodstock, New York. She discusses the music scenes there and the artists she is influenced by; what she has planned for next year – and how her music has developed and progressed through the years.
Yamagata is in the U.K. and bringing her music to the British audiences. She played Salford last night and prepares to captivate Edinburgh tonight. If you have the chance to see the incredible American in the flesh – there is time to catch her as she makes her way through the country (hitting the Islington Assembly Hall on Tuesday).
PHOTOS: Laura Crosta
Hi, Rachael. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi, there. Very good, thanks.
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m a Woodstock, N.Y.-based artist who has been writing and performing songs for seventeen years. I began my music career in Chicago and have spent time on RCA Records, Warner Bros. Records - and now an independent artist working with Thirty Tigers.
My songs are heartache and tonic for a weary, yet inspired, soul. I love cats.
Tightrope Walker was released earlier in the year. How has the reaction been? What was it like recording the album?
Folks have been really enjoying this record...
It’s new territory for me: more blatantly optimistic, but with a darker, more radical production sense. It’s the first record I’ve truly produced and we went to town with unique sounds – drumming on metal ladders; tracking rain and Moogs, horns and strings; French spoken-word etc.
We recorded nearly everything in my house - so the vibe was very organic and experimental.
You worked with a few other artists on the record. Who was the most memorable to record with?
We created a bit of a hive among us and had many nights filled with group dinners and fires in the backyard. Many of the musicians have come out on tour with me previously - so it felt like we were on the road again.
My sound engineer, Pete Hanlon, engineered the record and is a genius with lush soundscapes; Zach Djanikian, Owen Biddle and Kevin Salem are also long-time collaborators that brought unique flavors to the album. John Alagia co-produced with me and we have a long history of working together.
I remember him fondly as wearing his winter hat and overcoat inside when our heat went out. We made it through!
Tightrope Walker followed (2011’s) Chesapeake. How do you think the two albums differ?
Chesapeake was an emotional release – a spastic celebration really of going independent. It was very collaborative with many of my previous producers involved. We holed up in a house on the Chesapeake Bay during the summer and made our own summer camp. Most songs were tracked together - and it was very in the moment.
Tightrope Walker had a bit more of a preconceived vision of mine intertwined in it. A lot of the demos I tracked had parts already mapped-out – but, mostly, I had a different idea of sonics that I wanted to integrate into each track.
Is there going to be new material coming up?
This winter I plan to do more recording. I’ve written a slew of new songs and am just wrapping up my tours to give myself time to record.
Tell me about the artists you grew up with. How influential were your parents and their tastes?
My parents introduced me to a lot of the singer-songwriters of the 1970s...
I was really drawn to a great storyteller who could paint a picture and evoke emotion with words and melody. I loved Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens; Elton John, Ricki Lee Jones and Paul Simon…in college, I sang in a band (Bumpus) and those guys introduced me to Nina Simone, Tom Waits; Sly and the Family Stone…
Later on, I would discover Jeff Buckley, Led Zeppelin and Rufus Wainwright. I think I’m influenced by artists all over the map - but it always comes back to a good story.
Virginia is where you are based. What is the scene like there? What is the music like?
I’m actually based in Woodstock, N.Y. - but I was born in VA. Woodstock is a wealth of great artists with a lot of history to the town of course. It was the home of The Band, Bob Dylan and so many others. I think the community is a great hotspot for creativity and new music.
A lot of artists recognize the magic of area - and come up and stow away to write and create.
You have Japanese and German roots. How does your heritage and background inspire your music?
I think growing up with a multitude of cultural influences opened me to the connectivity of humans across differences. I’m fascinated by what connects us through our human struggles - and how it defies any preconceived notions of how we are separate.
You are in the U.K. to do a series of gigs. What was the reason for coming here? Have you played in the country before?
Yes. I’ve done several tours of the U.K. before, but they’ve been spread out over many years. I’m trying to return as much as I can to really serve the fans here. Live performance is such a special thing - and it offers a unique connection to the audience that I love.
Do you plan on seeing sights and having a wander when you are travelling around Britain?
I hope so...
A lot of tours involve travel during the day and full schedules - but we fit in as much as we can.
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Joni Mitchell – Blue
Her melodies are so expansive that I always think there is some huge production behind her - and am mystified that it’s often only one instrument and her voice. It reminds me how much space can be filled with a great song.
Rufus Wainwright – Poses
Magical chord progressions; insane harmonies (and just) more magic (magic, magic).
Carole King – Classic
To-the-point. Concise, gorgeous simplicity.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Think out of the box. Connect. Follow your crazy ideas - and be true to yourself.
Christmas is not too far away. Do you have plans already - or will you be busy working?
Family-time, for sure.
I’ve been on the road consistently for three years straight, and it’s time…
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name any song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Ballad of the Sad Young Men – Roberta Flack
It’s insanely long - but will rip the heart to shreds (in a good way).
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