How the devil are you Rachael Yamagata?
Hey Rachael, how the devil are you?
Fine thanks! Currently writing this on the road to Glasgow for our last show of a two month tour, so a bit excited to be heading home.
So, Tightrope Walker is your fourth record, what’s the biggest difference between you now and in 2004 when you released your debut?
It’s hard to say. I suppose in the beginning I had others take the lead more and now I’m very clear on what I want and know my process. It applies to the music, my business, working with a band…
Tell us about the new album.
It’s a record that has a certain magic and grit to it. The themes are more universal and focus a lot on the courage we find when we must overcome life challenges that try to break our spirit. It’s lyrically optimistic and empowering for many songs and yet the music has a definitive edge to some that almost make it darker or haunted in some way.
What have you been listening to that’s found its way into this album?
This one really came about through play and instinct to tell you the truth. I’m not sure it was as influenced from anything I’d been listening to, but instead more about the particular players and environment. We recorded in my house, which is in the woods and took full advantage of the relaxed setting. Ben Perowsky played a mock drum kit outside in the trees made out of metal chairs and ironing boards. I tracked rain and looped it for a song. We had people switching instruments and playing whatever was around. I had my French friends translate a letter into French and read it as spoken word under a track and I also played with a few electronic loops. It was my first time really diving into the role of producer so there was a lot of freedom and experimentation with that.
What was it about Phillippe Petit that inspired you to use him as a catalyst for the record?
Actually, I discovered him just after I’d made the record, which is what makes it so magical to me. I remember years ago being in Leonard Cohen’s house in Montreal and looking out the window and seeing a tightrope walker practicing between two trees. I was fascinated, but then didn’t think much of it after that. Then when I was writing this record I did a lot of free writing in the mornings – a sort of subconscious journaling. At some point I scribbled down ‘tightrope walker’ and that’s when I really jumped onto the metaphor as a visual that weaved the album’s themes together. When I was in the later stages of getting the record set up to release I saw the movie ‘The Walk’ and was intrigued by who this person was. I watched his documentaries after that and then found out he lives in the same small town as myself. What struck me about the synchronicities of it all was this universal energy idea of things we plug into at the same time. I’d made a record paying tribute in a way to the drive we have to push on and it was in hearing Phillippe speak in these documentaries that really made me feel a connection to him.
What’s the one song on the album that you’d choose to represents you?
I feel connected to all of them. They vary a lot in production from song to song so it would be tricky to pick on that basis as well.
How do you go about writing/choosing songs for the album?
Typically, I’ll hide myself away and write 200 songs over a few months and pick my favorite 12 to work on. This round was very different. I did the morning writings that I spoke of and when I hit a theme I knew had something to it, then I would write around that theme and revise and rework. I took about 15 ideas and kept on their trail. A lot of the lyrics actually cross over between songs and it definitely has something to do with how they came about.
There sounds like a lot going on on the record, how challenging was it to record?
There are definitely a lot of layers on this one for sure. My engineer, Pete Hanlon, tracked most of the record in my house so I think he made great use of that environment even though we were missing certain isolation or loads of fancy equipment. I got very into editing and really had fun with some of that part as well, although it can be maddening. ‘EZ Target’ was especially tricky because I had a very specific idea for the drums, but couldn’t quite get any one person to play it. I ended up initially editing three different drummers into the full song and John Alagia (co-producer) made it all make sense.
And what was that process like?
Loved it. Crazy. Infuriating and magical and amazing and oy vey.
What do you enjoyed most about the whole recording / releasing cycle?
I love the moments when you are listening back in the studio in the first stages and you just know you are onto something. It’s infectious energy to be around people who are creating together and you get a take and it all works.
You used PledgeMusic again for this record, can you explain how important that site is for you?
It’s been a great way to share the process with fans and it helps to give me the freedom to be my own label. This campaign has been a very long one and we’ve gone through many hurdles together with it. I think fans know how much actually getting the record released means to me now.
Would you be able to fund the album without it?
Pledge isn’t really the financial answer for me so much as a source of connection and excitement when involving fans behind the scenes. The funding part is a bonus for sure, but I’ve had to finance through touring and saving to get the bulk of money needed to pull off the record. It’s a really tricky thing, but very gratifying to find a way to do it.
You’ve done a few collaborations over the years, including with The Muppets, what’s been your favourite thing that you’ve done outside your own albums and EPs?
I loved working with Jon Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood) on a track for the ‘Altman’ movie. It was my first time recording as a jazz singer really and I loved it. He’s a brilliant force and I definitely want to do more with him.
What’s been your best experience so far this year?
There have been so many incredible things going on this year. One of my favorites was watching Allison Janney dance in the video for ‘Let Me Be Your Girl’. That was magic.
If you could only listen to one song this week, what would it be?
Paul Simon’s ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ always does it for me.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
If I could be anything else other than a musician – what would I be?... A spy.
Finally, how do you take your coffee? (Or alcohol?)
Black. Although, I’m also a fan of a soy latte.
Thanks so much for your time Rachael.
For more information on Rachael and her live dates visit her website. Or follow her on social:
Main image credit to Laura Crosta