Rachael Yamagata is an American singer-songwriter who has collaborated with the likes of Ryan Adams and Bright Eyes. She now returns with her fourth studio album Tightrope Walker which ponders the nature of why we do things in life. Rachael talks to us about the records that influenced her life and music. 

Abbey Road

by The Beatles

When I was about five, my family took a cross-country trip from D.C. to California, destination—Disneyland. Two weeks in a car with only two cassette tapes: The Beatles’ Abbey Road and The Muppets movie soundtrack. I don’t remember much about the trip save for the feeling of lying stretched out in the back seat with my brother and those songs playing over and over again. 

“Something” became embedded in my childhood and since then has remained a favourite song. I remember my stepmother singing it to my father and the two of them holding hands while it played. 

I don’t know if an album can have foreshadowing powers, but over my career I’ve worked with mentors/producers John Alagia and Mike Viola who have had expert Beatles sing-off competitions in the studio; I covered “Golden Slumbers”, “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “The End” with my first band and recorded “Here Comes the Sun” for a record compilation for kids. 

This album has weaved itself into my experiences with some of the most important people in my life and is a continued reminder of how music can transcend time and bring back a flood of feeling from different stages of life instantaneously.

 

Mule Variations

by Tom Waits

This record mystified me upon first hearing it. I had these three guy friends in college and they were roommates and, to me, the epitome of “cool”. Going to their apartment was an experience of existential books and conversation, Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone playing in the background, scented candles and woodworking and lots of coffee. 

I had never heard Tom Waits before and just as they first introduced me to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, they are responsible for expanding my knowledge of music in an important way. I didn’t love Mule Variations at first, but had a reaction of “what IS this?” having not experienced such a gruff voice, gritty production and that out of tune piano on “Picture in a Frame”.

“What’s He Building in There” made me FOCUS. Those creaks and rattles and spoken word!? Could music be like this? The soundscapes were jarring and then warm, really warm and luscious—tones that showed me a different world than the crispy clean pop music on the radio at the time. 

This album educated me and showed me almost too much beauty for me to take in. There is so much honesty in his vocal delivery and it’s weathered and heartbreaking and funny and strange.  It would be years later until I would really appreciate it and now I can easily trace my own production choices to a mix of the sounds I heard in that apartment. 

 

Poses

by Rufus Wainwright

I remember first seeing Rufus sing on TV as part of some multi-artist lineup—I think he only had a line or two of a song, but my friend and I both looked at each other in awe saying, “Who is THAT?” The next day I went out to the record store and bought Poses.

I was driving and had to literally pull over to the side of the road to listen. “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” got me immediately. It was a circus performance of changes and some sort of musical theater journey/movie soundtrack—something that still gets me today. I’m almost certain “Poses” made me cry and when the angelic harmonies make their way through all of the songs—spellbinding. 

His voice has such a sadness and purity and I hope someday I can get close to his melodic genius. I think I’ve always been drawn to cinematic backdrops of sound, but until hearing this record, I didn’t know it was possible to even try in modern music.  I would end up falling in love with his sister, Martha Wainwright’s music as well and in later years work with many of the folks on this record.  I’d somehow first meet the siblings on their bus years later as well and buy Martha a pack of cigarettes…

 

About my new album Tightrope Walker... 

This record is a statement of resilience and a look into the human condition.  The beauty for me is the walk, the journey and the mere act of “going on” no matter what challenges try to derail it and our spirit along the way. The songs came together out of stream of consciousness journaling and the theme of the tightrope walker threads the subject matter together. 

Whether it’s a reflection on a past love, questioning a state of career or tributes to those who have passed out of our lives in some way—each song works to articulate the emotional state of these moments with a musical soundscape that matches the lyric. 

Some songs are fierce and cutting and others are cinematic nostalgia. It’s the first record I’ve ever truly co-produced and I experimented with everything from French spoken word, saxophones and strings, rain and drumming on metal ladders. It’s definitely an evolution from my past internal writing and onto something more universal.

 

 

Rachael's album Tightrope Walker is out now on Frankenfish/Thirty Tigers Records. 

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