Rachael Yamagata Talks "Chesapeake"
Fri, 28 Oct 2011 09:03:31
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"I never know how I'm going into it," Rachael Yamagata says of her creative process. "You just do it, see what happens, and analyze it after the fact."
On her new album, Chesapeake, Yamagata manages to harness that honest and unbridled energy better than ever. In spots, Chesapeake is lilting and lush, while in other places it's exuberant and emotional taking flight on her harmonious hum. She's got a rare talent and can cover a myriad of feelings within the space of one song. A diverse gem, Chesapeake is one of the best albums you'll hear all year.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief and Dolor author Rick Florino, Rachael Yamagata discusses Chesapeake, Under the Tuscan Sun, and so much more…
Did you have one overarching vision for Chesapeake from beginning to end when you first entered the studio?
I had no concept or goal going into it. We were flying by the seat of our pants [Laughs]. I split with my record label, and I was really at a boiling point like, "Somebody press 'record' and let me release it." It was like I exploded with energy as soon as I got the freedom to start calling the shots. It was very fast. I had slews of songs that I'd been writing. They'd gone through several rounds of various labels saying, "We like this one", "We don't like this one", or "Why don't you try this one?" I knew I had a short fuse of retaining their freshness because they'd been passed on. However, they were in a form where I felt like people weren't hearing their potential. We got the right people in the room and worked very quickly. We picked out a handful of songs to try and spent very little time on pre-production. We just let loose with the musicians. Spontaneity was the guiding force of the song selection and the arrangements. As a whole, there's a looseness to it. There's a fun factor and a bit more optimism than I've ever been able to plug into lyrically. It all worked to be conceptual after the fact because of how we went about doing it.
So the vision came into focus after it was done?
I think so. We started plugging into this vibe as we were going through it. I was able to write with a lighter tone to some of these songs which helped the process. I'm usually the super dark ballad person. I think I found the bridge for myself to keep the sorrow or reality but also have more optimism mixed in lyrically. What I brought to the table allowed it to also be a bit more spontaneous with the music because there was a lighter feel to certain songs. As we go through and get certain sounds, the tone was starting to develop. We thought, 'What are we missing? What songs should we develop to round this out?'
Is it important you to tell stories in your songs?
It's hugely important. I'm a sucker for a good story, and I like to present a whole picture. With the way I write, the lyrics and melody are so important to one another in order to get the message and the feel across. A good story just gives you a framework for the emotion you're trying to express. I try to plug into that as best as possible. We've all been through these same stories. If I can distill the story into the main points that everyone can grab into, then I feel like I'm doing what's right for me and it will resonate.
What fosters that visual sensibility? Do you tend to read a lot or watch many movies?
All of those things really…I think anybody who writes music is probably a constant observer. I'm always watching. I spend a lot of time in nature and on the road equally. Cities fascinate me and so does the country. I just finished Patti Smith's book which blew my mind. I'll also listen to entrepreneurial enterprise radio and think about the philosophies of business-minded people. I definitely watch movies or DVD series when I can. It all contributes. A lot of personal life stories weave into my songs. You snatch ideas whenever you can.
What's the story behind "Dealbreaker"?
That was a co-write I did with Mike Viola. We actually wrote it about a year and a half ago. I played it life and it always seemed to get this great reception. I really loved that idea of the ironic sorrow of knowing yourself and getting through your own psychological challenges or hang-ups internally that may have had a lot to do with the destruction of a relationship. You're bringing something to the table that's influencing a relationship in a negative way, but it's more your own. The song is about getting to a place where you've finally got it sorted out and you're so excited. You're sorrowful though because it's too late and it had the effect on the relationship. On the one hand, you feel positive because you've sorted through your own stuff. On the other hand, who cares? None of it is worth anything because you've lost the one person you feel for so deeply. I've been through that. I've also watched that on the other side in a relationship thinking, "God, if you could just sort this stuff out, we'd be so good." I thought that was an interesting idea.
Does walking that line play into your creative process?
It wasn't a conscious thing. I think that's my nature. I always look at both sides of something and seeing the grey matter versus the black and white. That's how I view life. I feel like when you do that and go through both sides of it, your compassion, your tolerance, and your ability to enjoy the great stuff all increase. I think that's my lens that I see the world through.
If Chesapeake were a movie or a combination of movies what would it be?
Wow, that's a really interesting question. This is totally a chick flick, but it's probably like Under the Tuscan Sun [Laughs]. Diane Lane's character goes through this divorce, goes to Italy, buys a house randomly, fixes it up, and falls in love again. It has these crests and valleys of "I can do it" and total depression of "Oh my God, what have I done?" Over time, she lives through the whole spectrum and gets to this place where it all comes together and surprises you. I definitely feel like this record surprised me from how it came together to the music we made. I plugged into the heartbreak, but there's also a refreshing tone. It feels like a whole to me.
Have you heard Chesapeake yet?