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By Phil Bonyata
November 21, 2011
Rachael Yamagata is no jaded pop star. In fact she's not a pop star at all. Her music is rife with heartbreaking and brutally honest lyrics as well as redemption. She is, after all a born storyteller - one that weaves grey words and singular concepts into new colors and strange, new meanings
Her signature album Elephants...Teeth Sinking Into Heart is a dark and intimate tome that oozes with grit and intimacy. Her mesmerizing live performances feature Yamagata's voice turning from a quiet croon to an outright howl at the drop of a dime while her talented band anchor the dramatic mood swings beautifully.
Yamagata is an artist that embraces the chaotic, yet integral aspects of her own creative evolution.
Livewire: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard of you before?
Rachael: I would say like part campfire storyteller with a little bit of an orchestra thrown in and a little bit of underdog grittiness thrown in too.
Livewire: What does the songwriting process mean to you?
Rachael: It's an expressive outlet for me. It's really the conversations I don't typically have person to person that I need to get off of my chest. So it's really my way to have a dialogue with whatever's going on internally.
Livewire: Any interesting stories coming out of your collaborations with the likes of Conor Oberst or Ryan Adams?
Rachael: The Ryan Adams thing was really fun because it started out as he liked my record and wanted to know if I could stop by the studio. I was very, very excited being an über fan and all. And then we all, he doesn't know this actually, we all went out for drinks and I think after the session or something and I don't know if I got food poisoning...I don't know what it was. I barely made it to the bathroom stall and I projectile vomited all over the bathroom wall! As I was wiping it up and saying to myself "of all days...are you kidding me!!" I mean it was The Exorcist, I mean it was not normal. I mean I don't know if I was nervous (I know I wasn't drunk) I don't think I had the flu. I mean I was so super excited about the sessions with Ryan!
Livewire: Your songs have been on numerous TV shows - is that a large chunk of your income and does that influence your writing style?
Rachael: Definitely no on the income part...I'm still trying to figure out how to make money. (laughs) It doesn't influence my writing style, although I do tend to write cinematically as if I were in my own private movie or the character in the story. So, I think that's why my music relates to film so well. When I'm writing it's just me in my own little fantasy world.
Livewire: Is Elephants...Teeth Sinking Into Heart your most critically acclaimed record to date and is it your personal favorite?
Rachael: You know, I don't know. I definitely think that it's a super, super important record. I think that people either loved it and think it's my best record ever or other people didn't get it. It's very dark and introspective. You really have to sit down and focus on it when you're listening to it. It's not the kind of music you put on in the background - which is what I love about it. I think the record bolstered me as a lyricist. I try to stay away on what people are thinking about it because I might jump off a bridge or something. (laughs) I don't know if the record is my favorite, my favorite is the song I wrote five minutes ago...I suppose it's about the freshness. I'm into the new energy in things. I do love the song "Elephants" in particular. For me as a writer it's the closest I've ever gotten to poetry.
Livewire: Do you ever wish you could go back and change any of your work?
Rachael: I always wish I could change things... yeah and sometimes I go back and see that something came out better than I remembered it. But yeah, I go back and say "Why didn't I write a harmony there or why wasn't my voice in better shape that day?" I mean right after I write something I probably listen to it a billion times and after that I rarely listen to it unless it happens to be playing somewhere.
Livewire: When can we expect a new album from you?
Rachael: I've got an EP in the works with songs that didn't quite make it on my last recording Chesapeake. The songs were too special not to release at some point. It should come out in the next couple of months as I'm really trying to keep the time short between releases.
Livewire: What do you feel about the "hyper-connected, get the information on a second's notice, damn-one's-privacy world" that we are becoming?
Rachael: I marvel at the people who have mastered it. It's intimidating to me because it's just not my language...yet. As I learn more and more about it I think I'll get more jazzed. It's a scary thing for me, but also an exciting thing as well. Although I tend to be a pretty private person - so it's something that I'll have to get used to, but in terms of gaining fans and being out there I know it's super important. I think I will always grapple with the fact that I'm in the public domain and that fact that I like my privacy. It's a really strange thing for me. I mean people will come up to me and quote something I said and I think "how the hell did you know that?" I mean I have a terrible memory and realized I must have blogged that or something. (laughs) It sure keeps me on my toes and to stay truthful. (giggles)
Livewire: Any fond memories of playing in Milwaukee in years past?
Rachael: You know it's funny because the clubs in Milwaukee and Chicago are sort of the places I grew up with. I mean we used to be in a band called Bumpus and we used to do the rounds there. We played at a club in Chicago called The BBC a couple of times a month and I got my sea legs playing a lot of shows in Milwaukee. The Pabst Theater shows have always been magnificent. I love The Pabst so much! It's my favorite place to play and it's so gorgeous inside! It's red, velvety, lush awesomeness.
Livewire: What can your audiences expect from you on your current tour?
Rachael: They can expect a very dynamic live show and it's almost an entirely new band. We have some new material that we've never played live before and we have these cool harmonies that are Carpenters and Beach Boysesque. I finally feel that we have this meaty repertoire of songs to choose from now to put on this really entertaining and dynamic live show.
Livewire: Where would you like to be musically in five years?
Rachael: I want to see myself experimenting even more. I'd like to become a better musician; I mean I think my forté is as a lyricist and storyteller. I want to better my command on the piano and the guitar. My evolution will be getting better and becoming more insightful and keep growing while continuing to keep making it interesting for myself.