Rachael Yamagata | Lost, in Love

rachel_sm.jpg"I would give up music to be on Lost. I don’t care which character."







You may have heard bits and pieces from her 2004 debut album, Happenstance, dropped in primetime dramas and a few girlie films. Now she’s touring her two-part sophomore album, Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Heart. As a whole, it charts a journey of doomed love in a somewhat linear fashion. The first point on the line is realization: the toxic relationship has to end. Both sides have been holding tightly to a crumbling, sharp ledge. It was a bad idea and both parties are guilty for prolonging it. The last point is where the situation has ended, regrets waft, and surliness stews. Wisdom and humor save our heroine from earning a mid-’90s Alanis stamp.

I caught Rachael Yamagata while she was gunning it from an emergency room in Philadelphia to Carnegie Hall. The REM tribute show was fast approaching. Unfortunately, her drummer had a fever and a painful growth on his elbow, causing the six-hour hospital detour. I thought it might be nice to take her mind off of it.


Tell me about the two halves that make up your second album.

There are two very distinct sounds that formed—complementary, but different vibes. When I was playing my old sequences, I fell in love with this double-disc coinciding, side a, side b record idea. Elephants is very personal and introspective; it almost sounds like a film score. It’s secret and everything’s very intense, much like a solo experience. By the time that you evolve into the second disc [Teeth Sinking Into Heart], it’s coming from a gutsier, grittier, more confident perspective. Musically, the songs are very power driven, harsher, and have a live sound. It’s about reclaiming your identity from a healthy place. I like the idea of presenting them separately, as opposed to trying to interject one stage into the other. It didn’t come about until the end process of the record. I didn’t think that’s how it would be, but it worked out nicely.

You went to Northwestern University for theater and I imagine that made an impact on your performance style. Tell me about some commentary that’s been made about your live shows and stage presence. What do you think?

The sets are dynamic and the live shows have always been a long suit. As far as stage presence goes, I’ve gotten everything from Janis Joplin to Jeff Buckley. A bit of comedy comes out, as well, to alleviate some of the slit-the-wrist mentality of these songs. Some people have compared me to Ingrid Michaelson. I don’t know. What do you think? I guess it’s kind of me, who knows? Drunk, maybe? And I’m not a depressive, morose figure onstage. The show is very lively. If you want a fun night out that might break your heart, you should come calling.

Which songs in your live set create the most energy and best audience response? Which ones do you like to share?

In terms of the new record, "Sunday Afternoon" is lush with the string and guitar solos. It’s a crazy kind of epic experience. "Faster" is a really fun live song to play because people get into it immediately. It has this great kind of stomping rhythmic thing going on. "Elephants" has been really good, too. I play it with the band and sing it a cappella; it really hushes the room in a beautiful way. Everyone knows "Worn Me Down" from radio play, but my favorites from Happenstance are "Be Be Your Love" and "The Reason Why."

Give me some background on the song, "Faster."

I wrote that years ago with a friend, Paul Durham, from Black Lab. It’s a really interesting song that didn’t fit my first record. He really inspired me to look for that sassy, strong point of view in the song relationship writing. Paul also wanted me to explore this husky rock side to my voice. It was foreshadowing what I would discover later on. It’s a defiant attitude of, "I’m more than you ever gave me credit for. I’m more than what you saw me as and when I have to leave, you’re going to realize it. I’m moving on and you’re not."

Tell me the story behind the song, "Sidedish Friend." It’s addictive.

"Sidedish Friend" is very tongue-in-cheek. I think it’s pretty common for people to have been on both sides. I’m almost repeating phrases that have essentially been expressed to me through actions. It’s not being directly involved with someone, but you can’t let go emotionally. It causes such turmoil. I’ve been on both sides of it. I’m guilty of falling in love with two people at the same time. It’s complicated. At the end of the day, it sells everybody short. It’s a time of my youth and hopefully it never comes up again.

Are you currently in an absorption or a creative period? Are you writing new material while on the road?

I spent nine months writing and reflecting after two very intense years of touring [Happenstance] and getting caught in that whole big excitement. Your schedule is no longer your own and your personal life goes all over the place. You’re traveling, so you don’t have a sense of a home base. I think I had this mixture of not having time in the day to process all that was happening on so many levels. When I sat down to write, all this stuff came pouring out, including all of these things that I’d gone through, the highs and lows, and this tremendous loneliness coupled with always being around people. Also, I had intense relationship things come up that I had to process, but hadn’t time to. Certainly, if a relationship is all consuming for me, it’s a great motivator to sit down and ask, "What’s going on with this?"

Are there any new songs in your head waiting to be born? Perhaps a third album?

It’s been a couple of months now, but it was such a long period of time in between the two records. It was really two years of drawn-out red tape business. My brain kind of switched over to this mode of, "How do I give these songs their due and get them out there?" Something in me as a writer got put on hold because I wanted to still be in love with the songs enough to tour them. I was also in such a time of life when I wasn’t doing what I wanted, which was travel and perform. There’s nothing more frustrating than being a writer and not having an outlet. Something in me just shut down. It’s only now that I’m really traveling again, feeling alive, seeing new things, and getting new inspiration. I definitely have more stuff to come up with.

I hear that you’re a Lost fanatic and want to be a character on the show. How about Rachael: the cool musician who finds a guitar in a Dharma bunker, confidante to Kate, and sidedish friend to Sawyer?

Oh my God, I would give up music to be on Lost. I don’t care which character. I’ll even be an Other. I was watching it this morning on my iPod in the emergency room. Please let me wash up onshore and play. They can have publishing rights, I don’t care. Just put me on that show. | Lauren  Beckerle




Rachael Yamagata’s 2009 U.S. Spring Tour

03.13 | Stone Pony, Asbury Park
03.14 | Ramshead, Annapolis
03.16 | Exit/In, Nashville
03.18 | Newport Music Hall, Columbus
03.19 | Hard Rock Café, Louisville
03.20 | Bogart’s, Cincinnati
03.21 | Vogue Theatre, Indianapolis
03.23 | Park West, Chicago
03.24 | Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee
03.25 | The Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
03.27 | Larimer Lounge, Denver
03.28 | Avalon Theater, Salt Lake City
03.30 | Doug Fir Lounge, Portland
03.31 | Crocodile Café, Seattle
04.02 | Slim’s, San Francisco
04.04 | Troubadour, Hollywood
04.06 | House of Blues, San Diego
04.09-10 | City Winery, New York

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