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article imageRachael Yamagata recounts her journey to musical independence Special

By Earl Dittman     Nov 11, 2015 in Entertainment
Rachael Yamagata breaks the mold of the singer/songwriter stereotype and the DIY indie-artist model. The woman behind a litany of "troubadour of heartbreak" songs talks about her new album, learning the music biz, love and her anger over injustice.
The undeniably talented, wonderfully charming and stunningly gorgeous Rachael Yamagata is not your ordinary singer/songwriter. Indeed, she has released numerous albums, had record label deals and has toured the world numerous times playing to out venues concerts. But in every possible way, she personifies the DIY-indie artist attitude by spending the past four years depending on her own instincts, in lieu of a manager.
"These past years have been crazy and exhilarating," Yamagata says of her time without representation. "I’ve just recently started working with a manager after a four year run of doing it on my own. I wouldn’t suggest it for everyone, but I’ve learned an incredible amount about the business and my needs as an artist and a company. The industry used to hold all the keys of success that are sometimes irrelevant now. You can push through the masses without the funding, radio, sales, traditional marketing plan and so forth. You have to get superbly creative without those assets, but it can be done and that opens the world up to indie artists in terms of sustaining a career in music.
"The power balance has shifted and the empowerment that comes with taking the reigns can be a wonderful thing," she adds. "I personally like the bird’s eye perspective I’ve gained by taking a turn in every job possible regarding making and releasing music, touring and maintaining a business. I think artists are often dead right with their instincts on how to navigate, but can get swept up in the strategies of others who may or may not know best. My greatest lesson that I’m still learning is how to manage others so that I don’t take it all on myself."
Since hitting the music scene in 2001, Yamagata has built a loyal and ever-growing fan base, fueled in part by becoming a media "darling" – appearing on everything from The Tonight Show...with Jay Leno, Conan O’Brian and Carson Daly to 30 Rock, One Life to Live and The O.C.. Rachael made a cameo appearance as herself in the film To Write Love on Her Arms and had her songs have been placed in countless hit TV shows (NCIS: New Orleans, Vampire Diaries, Grey’s Anatomy, Alias, How I Met Your Mother) and in several major motion pictures including Hope Springs, Prime, Monster-in-Law and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
But there’s so much more...
Rachael performed with Bette Midler and Sheryl Crow at Senator Harry Reid’s 2008 fundraiser for President Obama, at the White House Cherry Blossom Festival for First Lady Michelle Obama and twice at Deepak Chopra’s ‘Sages and Scientists’ Symposium, She played with Steve Earle and Allen Toussaint for the Woodie Guthrie tribute and has collaborated with artists including Toots and the Maytals, Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne, Conor Oberst, Jason Mraz, and Katherine McPhee. Australia’s The Voice winner Karise Eden reached Number One with Rachael’s song ‘You Won’t Let Me.’ Rachael was even invited by the White House to take part in its Official White House ‘Tweet Up’ in the West Wing with fans, and was one of Chopra’s music playlist selections featured on Oprah Winfrey’s website.
Rachael Yamagata
Rachael Yamagata
Frankenfish Records
Most importantly, Yamagata has released some of the most significant albums of this millennium: Heavyweight EP (2012), Noisetrade Mixtape (2012), Chesapeake (2011), Elephants (2008), Loose Ends EP (2007), Live at the Loft (2005), Happenstance (2004) and Rachael Yamagata: EP (2001). Her upcoming album, Tightrope Walker, showcases her calling card ability to articulate humanity’s struggles within relationships and the freedom that comes from celebrating that which we face alone and head on. The production is riskier and cinematic – think Tom Waits meets Roberta Flack, Nick Cave hanging with Rufus Wainwright. Rachael confounds a labeled genre and instead embraces the production that serves the story. The paradox of her art mirrors that of her career and proves that we are never simplistic, but always full of surprises.
Currently on a headlining tour across America (before she heads off to Europe in January), Rachael sat down to discuss her beginnings, her loves and passions, what super power she would love to possess and why love is like a rollercoaster.
Rachael Yamagata and the sea
Rachael Yamagata and the sea
Frankenfish Records
Can we talk a little bit about your new album, Tightrope Walker? Musically and lyrically what did you set out to accomplish on it that you hadn't done before on previous releases? "I knew I wanted to try my hand at producing and also record mostly in my house – that was a first decision. I live in upstate New York, in the woods, and really wanted to take advantage of an organic setting to develop ideas and arrangements without pressures of time or studio limitations. I followed the lyrics and storylines to guide the music, so as the songs started developing the shape and tone started revealing itself. I’ve always had fun demoing my tracks with textures and sections of development so that each one is a crescendo journey of sound. For this record I really stretched the soundscape of music and experimented with everything from banjo and mandolin to saxophone, drum loops, metal ladder drum sections, reverb chains dropping on the ground, rainfall etc. etc. It’s very risky and diverse compared to what I’ve put out before."
What musicians or artists initially inspired to become a musician yourself? "I grew up listening to my parent’s radio stations playing the singer songwriters of the 70s. A good storyline was ingrained within me from the start. I remember being five and doing a cross-country trip with my dad and stepmother. We had two cassettes in the car – The Beatles and The Muppets. ‘Something’ was always a favorite song. I’d never thought about pursuing a career in music – it kind of found me. However, the first time I saw the band I was in from Chicago, Bumpus, I had a distinct reaction of NEEDING to be onstage with them. Hearing Joni Mitchell, Barbra Streisand, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Jeff Buckley, Fleetwood Mac – I could go on and on – they floored me."
If you were granted one super power, what would you want it to be? How would you use it to change mankind? "I’d make it so everyone felt safe and loved all the time. When you take out the fear factor in relationships/ interactions it starts to breed generosity and compassion. Mankind would start healing within itself."
For many of your fans, your songs are like a tonic for anyone who’s been run over by love. So, tell me, what are the best and worst parts about being in love? "The beautiful partnership that can happen with someone when you find your match – that love that teaches you as much about yourself as you do them – that’s such a wonderful thing. It’s spiritual and magical. You blend and become your greater self. The worst part, or the challenge I would say is not losing oneself through that fantastic first high of love and remembering that your own fulfilled being is what was ready for love in the first place. We’re so vulnerable when in love, aren’t we? It really is like a rollercoaster with the greatest highs and greatest drops and no control will be had for sure."
The many moods of Rachael Yamagata
The many moods of Rachael Yamagata
Frankenfish Records
Do you have any social, global or medical causes you champion? "I burn at injustice, so issues of human rights, social equality, domestic violence, animal cruelty…they are all important to me. I am driven to balance the scales for the underdog, and at heart I believe so much in our ability to connect with each other in a loving way. That includes our treatment of the planet. I long to harness the positivity of our potential when we feel safe and protected and full."
What did you want to be while growing, before music became a way of life? "I loved the idea of being a spy. I suppose I somewhat became one – spy of human nature. I studied theater and languages. I knew I wanted to travel. I didn’t have the patience to really become a good actor, but I fell in love with songwriting and was hooked. It led to a career that I didn’t expect or plan."
You were invited to the White House. What was that experience like? "It was surreal. I was invited to take part hosting a revolving tweet conversation between my fans and the White House – a Q&A of sorts. We had a private tour and that was pretty thrilling."
Okay, Rachael, since you've been a guest at the White House, if President Obama asked you to do some kind of musical duet with him, what song would suggest and why? "Ha! Actually I’ve been doing a cover of ‘Landslide’ on this current tour and I think lyrically it would be fitting for both of us."
What is there left for you to accomplish? Both as an artist and as a human on planet Earth? "I think I have an ability to see the greatness in a person and yet recognize their insecurities as well that potentially shadow their fullest expression. I want to inspire others on a much more widespread level to recognize their gifts. We all have this incredible capacity to heal others even just starting with the basic treatment of each other in our daily interactions. I’d like to somehow channel that idea into something that really produces results."
November 12 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
November 13 - Philly, PA - Union Transfer
November 14 - Cambridge, MA - The Sinclair
November 15 - Northampton, MA - Iron Horse Music Hall
December 17 - NYC, NY - Webster Hall
December 02 - Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Museum of Art
December 05 - Maui Theatre, Lahaina
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