"From Fear To Excitement"
Rachael Yamagata is on a solo tour and riding high at the top of the singer-songwriter game
For an artist often described as a "Troubadour of Heartache," the engaging Rachael Yamagata comes across the crackling cell connection as a lighthearted burst of creative inspiration.
Her most recent studio album was Tightrope Walker, which is now almost two years old. The emotive record remains a surge of emotive, experimental compositions. An impressively prolific composer who often begins projects with as many as 200 songs to choose from, Yamagata is also known as a busy collaborator. Her stellar roster of alliances includes Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne and Duncan Sheik.
Between frequent laughter and some decidedly off-the-record asides, she recently spoke with INsite from her front porch at her home/studio/office in Woodstock, New York. She discussed how she feels about her most recent album in retrospect, her myriad of behind-the-scenes responsibilities as an indie artist and her penchant for sharing the often deeply personal moments of her songs.
The last time we talked, you were in your living room boxing records to mail to your Pledgemusic supporters.
That sounds about right. Today I have just a hot minute here before I hit it full throttle with the new tour. I'm sitting on my front porch, I've been doing laundry, getting merch ready and reinventing my living room to test out some projectors I'm working with for the show.
That house is your own personal Big Pink - ground zero for writing, recording and living.
Sometimes when I talk to my tax guy, I'm like, 'So I can write off part of my house, right?' He's like, 'Yes, how much are you using?' I'm like, 'Well every room, pretty much.'
Even the front porch.
Yeah, even the front porch, exactly! This is where I do all my calls.
You mentioned projectors. Are you bringing visuals along with you this time?
I am. This time I'll actually have some visuals. You know the touring at this level is usually just seeing what can fit into the van or a car or what you can fly with. But I'm a big fan of what can be packed up and then expanded in all its glory. The setlist is very different this time because it's just me so I've decided to intertwine a visual element into the show. It's just to sort of enhance the moods of different songs to show a little bit of my life and connect with multi-media. But so far, so good.
Are the visuals images you've created or are they found items, video clips or a combination of everything?
It's all footage I've taken on the road, so there are road pictures and some stuff I shot here in my house, too. When I was doing videos for Tightrope Walker, I schooled myself in things like Final Cut Pro, so for the past couple of weeks I've been experimenting with it - along with a setlist that hopefully makes sense. I've put in a lot of prep-work to make sure this is a stand-alone experience so I'm pretty excited to share it.
This is an interesting tour for you.
This tour is definitely quite different for me, yeah. First, I'm totally solo. I've been trying to pick venues where I can arrange for real acoustic pianos - which I adore and they make such a difference in the sound. This time, every element that I can switch up, I am. So the spontaneity of the moment will make each show a one-time experience. I think at this point, people know that every show is just a little different anyway and I think that's given me some definite longevity on the road. It keeps it interesting for me, too. And I'll have different friends along on each show to open so its going to be exciting to go from city to city.
You're playing solo shows for the first time ever. There's always been some sort of band behind you.
Yeah. I've never done this before. When I initially routed it, I was like, 'This is going to scare the shit out of me, so alright - let's do it!' Then once it's been announced and you've done the artwork for it, you've committed to it. It's always very comforting to have a band up there with you but this time it's definitely my solo set.
What did you do to prepare for the solo experience?
The last couple of months I've been doing some serious prep work because I knew I'd be super freaked out. In addition to the normal day-to-day stuff, I also like to try to psyche myself out. I'll have my boyfriend throw things at me, make cellphone calls or anything else - just to distract me. I've been shifting the monitors around and rehearsing with bad microphones and whatever else can possibly throw me off. It's like, 'Ok let's just do it now so I can get used to it and be ready.' I tend to get super nervous before a show anyway, so having a band and having my tequila tonic has always been a great thing. But now for this tour, I've given everything up. I'm not drinking and I'm completely giving myself over to the experience of being nearly naked on stage.
Now that you're three shows in, how do you think the tour is going so far?
The first show, I was really nervous. But there were some magical moments that have given me this great energy to keep at it. People have been giving me standing ovations! I think it's because they're really appreciating the honesty of it all. When you come to a live show, you want the person on stage to win anyway, so there's a great communal support going on. I think it's been turning pretty quickly from fear to excitement.
Looking at the itinerary, you're playing some really cool rooms on this tour. So the venues shouldn't be a problem.
Yeah, I'm excited about that. We were very intentional with which rooms we selected for the kind of experience we wanted. We really want this to be a good night out and most of the venues are seated. I hear good things about Eddie's Attic so I'm really looking forward to it, too.
Let's look at Tightrope Walker in retrospect. Now that you've had a couple of years to tour and live with it, what is your opinion of it?
I'm really proud of that record. I think we did two full-band tours with it originally. It was fun to have that because a lot of it does have a big production feel to it. I really love that people are starting to get familiar with the songs on it. Looking at it now, a lot of the messages are still very timely. It's very positive and universal. The core of it says to keep going, be courageous, utilize your authenticity and strength in a way that you can find what you have to offer to this world. It's a lot of things I hadn't really expressed in previous albums. But it's all so much needed energy for the world right now.
Are you thinking about your next record yet?
I have no idea what it'll be just yet. But I'm glad this one is still existing in the climate we have now. One of the greatest gifts we have in this profession is the ability to articulate the climate we live in. I think I offer something - whether it's perspective or emotional healing or inspiration in some light. The stakes are getting higher and higher now - which makes it pretty exciting times for a songwriter. When I first started making music, it was always very internal, personal and relationship-based. For me, it's always felt like the bigger world affairs will come back down to those emotions - that fear and that love and our ability to be kind to one another.
Music is the one thing that truly unites and heals.
For me, it's more important now than ever to remind everyone how connected we are and how divisiveness and negativity plays into toxicity. Music plays such a role in combating that. No matter what side you're on, music can get people from all different thought perspectives into the same room. We've got to remember to do that, to shed our armor and just take care of each other.
You've been through all the major label business moves - yet you seem so much happier as an independent artist.
You know, I was thinking this morning as I was getting out of the shower, that maybe I've finally got it down. It's taken me this long, but I think I'm finally somehow seeing the alignment of the artistic side, the personal side, the business-logistical side, the DIY meets the Industry reality side - in some ways it's all finally making sense. It's a good time. There's been tremendous highs and lows and I've excelled but I've paid a lot of dues: I've had a lot of experiences. I really think I'm at an interesting point right now.
Rachael Yamagata plays February 13 at Eddie's Attic. Allie Moss opens. For more information, please visit eddiesattic.com.