Interview: Rachael Yamagata talks taking ‘Happenstance’ acoustic, her new album, and a ‘bombastic’ South Korea gig
Exactly one year ago today, Vanyaland talked with Rachael Yamagata as she was in the midst of a trip down memory lane, performing Happenstance — her debut and gorgeous ode to the anguish of heartbreak — in full on select dates across the country to celebrate its 10th anniversary. It seemed only proper that we catch up again on the eve of tomorrow night’s show at The Sinclair to see how it felt to play those songs in the present day and why she’s decided to do an acoustic version of the album, scheduled for release next month.
There’s also the much anticipated release of the singer/songwriter’s upcoming album, Tightrope Walker, for which she launched a PledgeMusic campaign a year ago. We got a roundabout date for its release, heard about Yamagata’s affinity for touring Asia, and also learned what she likes to do most on days off when not dealing with the city-to-city driving grind.
Michael Christopher: A year ago when we last talked, you were about to do the Happenstance shows. What was that experience like?
Rachael Yamagata: It was… so fun, I have to say, because I’ve never done an album like that. Even when Happenstance came out, I don’t think I did it straight through; I think I left out a couple songs and mixed in other ones. So a show dedicated to just that album was a really fun tribute. We had a new band and they were hearing the songs for the first time, so it was musically really fitting for us to play the songs and of course the audience was made up by people that were really touched by that record; they’d been fans for 14 years. So I had the best time. And I just sort of relished in the poptastic nature of that record, and it was a lot more joyful than I even knew it would be, so I had a great time.
Is that what led to do the acoustic version of the album?
Yeah, you know, there were a couple things; I wanted to offer something — as part of the Pledge campaign that I’m doing something involving that record, and we did a vinyl release that has never been done before for that record. And I knew my super-fans would really enjoy it. I also finally hit this legal mark where I could legally re-record that record; I hadn´t been able to do anything with those songs. I wanted to try and do something special that I could pull off in a different way, and then kind of like, it was such an important record to me, and my music has changed a lot since then, so it’s almost a way of wrapping it up and letting it be a part of my world from years ago.
In re-recording those songs though, as an artist, how are you able to revisit the past without either getting stuck or too wrapped up in it?
When you’re growing older, I suppose, I am much more comfortable in my own skin and taking the weight of some of the emotion of a song and applying it to new things in my life, so I don’t necessarily go back emotionally. And because it´s an acoustic version of that record, all of the arrangements were myself and my friend Kevin Salem, live tracking with one mic when he’s on acoustic and I’m just singing. So for me it was like a new musical interpretation that I was so into and there´s no revisiting where I was when my heart broke over that particular song; it’s more about a general emotion of heartbreak or loss – things that I apply to my life now. Musically it was a fun experience to do; there was enough time between myself and those songs that it felt fresh to me.
What’s the timetable for its release?
I should be able to finish that in December. The basics of myself playing with Kevin on guitar, they are finished, and I just want to add a couple touches on harmony here or there, an extra guitar part, maybe a piano – just something very sparse. The whole idea behind it is about the songs, so when I get off the road in December, I’m planning to finish that and post it for pledgers in December.
And what’s the latest on Tightrope Walker? I know there’s five songs available now.
Yeah, they’re available for a stream listen online for pledgers, and the actual record is slated to come out early next year; somewhere in February or March territory. It’s almost finished, and I’ve got pretty much the set order I want and I’m waiting on two mixes from a brilliant mixer who I love — and who is very hard to trace [laughs] — so I’m really trying to get those mixes from him and work on artwork and all those stage. But I think February/march will be the timeframe for the official release.
You’ve spent much of this year touring to some pretty far off places. You were in Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea… what were some of your favorite experiences visiting those countries?
Well, I love touring Asia. It’s a big audience for me and the fans are incredibly enthusiastic. We played a festival in Seoul a few months ago and I was actually the headliner, and I never headlined a festival before and I’d never done it in Asia. So that was, just energetically, one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had; several thousand people, being outdoors, it was at night – all of the things that you love when you think of doing an epic performance they were all in play that night. It was just bombastic and awesome – loved it.
You’ve crisscrossed the States so many times over the years. Do you still look forward to visiting certain cities – not for the shows themselves, but in the downtime or the days off?
I do, of course. Like those certain places where we’ve fallen in love with particular restaurants or a coffee joint or a music store — different hotels, even. There´s things we look forward to in each particular city, but the days off are usually drive days, like this particular run for instance has been a seven-hour, 12-hour drive every day on a show day, so it’s been pretty grueling. It always depends on the tour — some days you just sleep. But no city has gotten boring to me yet, there’s always something to see.
RACHAEL YAMAGATA + MY NAME IS YOU :: Saturday, November 14 at the Sinclair, 52 Church St. in Cambridge, MA :: 8 p.m., 18-plus, $18 advance and $20 day of show :: Advance Tickets :: Bowery Boston event page
Featured photo by Laura Crosta