Rachael Yamagata and the Lush Imagination
The singer-songwriter's music toes the line between uplifting pop and her signature brand of stark, lyrical tunes. She’s worked with the likes of Jason Mraz, Ryan Adams and Ray Lamontagne and has a set at Clockenflap this month.
How would you describe your music to a new listener? Rufus Wainwright and Roberta Flack meet Tom Waits and Danny Elfman. Dark yet hopeful, vulnerable and stark storytelling.
What’s your songwriting process? I typically need some time away in nature to really settle in and work new songs. Sometimes I free-write prose and catch little nuggets of song lines within that to start me off. Other times I sit at the piano or with a guitar and just riff melodies on top of that. The words seem to form subconsciously—a lot of what it sounds like I’m trying to say in those initial stages become the lyrics later on.
Were you in particular relationships when you were putting together your previous albums, or are they grouped based on specific themes? I haven’t intentionally done any concept albums yet. Rather, I write my experience—anything that is inspiring to me during that period of time. Many romantic relationships have made their way into my writing, but many of my songs that register as romantic weren’t written from that standpoint. For example, “The Reason Why” is not about a past relationship, but it’s often received as a love song. I think many emotional parallels exist within all relationships and the listener has the freedom to interpret in whatever way that resonates with them.
How does your upcoming album, “Tightrope Walker,” differ from your last, “Chesapeake”? This one is less about love and heartbreak and more about overcoming one’s own internal struggles. It addresses following your dreams and the drive needed to do so. There are songs of self-acceptance, and of relishing one’s choices even if they are unconventional—taking ownership of your uniqueness. Some are almost hymnal in their direct messages of comfort to the listener, that’s quite new for me. Sonically, the record is fierce and abstract and much of it is new territory compared to previous records. I’ve played with things like electronic loops, banjo, mandolin and saxophone as well as piano and strings.
You’ve come a long way since your debut hit “Worn Me Down.” What have you learned since then? We are all such beautiful authentic beings who are more connected than we often express. I feel the passage of time more quickly now and appreciate the hilarity of life in a different way. What once had me so angst-ridden now doesn’t compare to the real tragedies we go through. I have more trust in myself—I know myself better and I keep learning as I go. I think all of these things are starting to come out through my music.
Do you have particular ways you prep for the stage? I give myself a quiet pep talk a few minutes before I go on. It’s my way of basically inviting the universe: my guides, a creative source to be with me during the show and to breathe through me as I go. I try to release my own ego and insecurities and embrace the spontaneity of the live show.
What can we expect from your set at Clockenflap? I’ll be bringing a trio and we’re all multi-instrumentalists and vocalists. We create a dynamic set that is intimate and lush. There will be dark ballads—and cool indie rock numbers as well.