The Daily Northwestern

Singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata explores deeper, personal themes in newest album

Rachael+Yamagata.
Rachael Yamagata.

Rachael Yamagata.

Source: Laura Crosta

Source: Laura Crosta

Rachael Yamagata.

Yvonne Kim, Assistant Campus Editor

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Sitting on the porch of her new home in New York, singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata (Communication ’97) said she found great healing in a striking, almost indescribable daydream of strangers coming together amid flying snapshots of their pasts.

It was this vision — one that acknowledged past pains and emotional luggage — that inspired
the title and message of Yamagata’s newest album “Tightrope Walker.” She said she wrote and produced all the songs in such a way that they captured “the magic of Woodstock.”

“Tightrope Walker” was released Sept. 23, and signifies Yamagata’s return after a 2012 release of her “Heavyweight” EP and first full studio album since “Chesapeake” in 2011. After the end of her last tour, she spent about two years bringing “Tightrope Walker” to life, she said.

“I’m going through the process of … taking the time to have reflections on my career and on life,” Yamagata said. “As time goes by, you go through your heartbreaks. You experience death more frequently, and there are family events that happen. I started to question myself.”

Yamagata bought a house in Woodstock, New York, in hopes of finally taking root somewhere and reinventing her space, she said. This home ended up becoming the birthplace of the album, as she set up a studio indoors, placed amps in the closets and even recorded music in the nearby woods.

Rather than formally sitting down to write lyrics, Yamagata focused on “free-writing” journals and picking out prominent phrases and themes, Yamagata said. It was during this process her “vivid, mystical daydream” came to her and drew her to the image of a tightrope walker.

“I could literally see in my mind’s eye this strange healing process taking place,” she said. “The idea of a universal heartache of all levels … all these things that cause us to almost give up: that was, like, the thing I wanted to heal — and help other people heal — from.”

Medill sophomore Julia Song, who has been listening to Yamagata for six years, said the artist is an “intimate” musician despite her large following.

“In her lyrics, she’s been very open that almost everything is based off her life experiences,” Song said.

On explaining the more mature themes in her new music that go beyond relationships, breakups and heartache, Yamagata said “when someone passes away, when you lose a loved one … you question whether you’re on the right career path.”

Communication sophomore Laura Petty first saw Yamagata live in concert in 2015. Though much of the new album remains consistent with her previous music, there are some differences, Petty said.

“With her old (songs), it’s super obvious what she’s talking about,” she said. “She wears her heart on her sleeve more, but with this one she has more subtle messages.”

According to Yamagata, “Tightrope Walker” is more all-encompassing than her older work, bringing in a wider range of experiences and pains.

Song described Yamagata as a powerful performer who still can be intimate with audiences.

“Her lyrics become almost uncomfortable sometimes,” she said. “But she doesn’t shy away from that at all.”

Ultimately, however, the artist strove to embody hope and growth with “a much more lyrically positive record” than any she had done prior.

“(The image of the tightrope walker) was such an interesting metaphor for how you get through things,” she said. “Here’s this guy on a high wire who’s at the risk of falling, but it’s just a beautiful act of balance and strength and focus that basically allows this tightrope walker to basically be a living artist.”

This theme pervades not only the tracklist, but also the music videos released for the album. Yamagata released two videos — “Nobody,” which she co-directed, and “Over” — before the record’s official release.

In “Over,” a white-clad Yamagata performs the song in a brightly lit home against a backdrop of lush green trees. Allowing herself to be splattered by white paint, she embodies the lyrics of acceptance and healing. “Lately I’ve stopped listening to voices … This is over over over, this is who we have become,” she sings.

Petty added she noticed “Tightrope Walker” was “less vocally dominant,” bringing in more musical instruments and a full band.

This new approach has led to greater attention from production and music magazines, Yamagata said. She described the album as “a grand experiment” with a diversity of sound.

“‘Nobody’ is very aggressive and in your face, passionate and edgy … but we still have these sweeping ballads like ‘I’m Going Back,’” she said. “I feel it’s very different from what I’ve done before, so that’s what’s really exciting for me.”

Yamagata is currently on her national tour and performed Oct. 4 at Thalia Hall in Chicago, a place she said feels to her like a home show.

She is scheduled for more performances across the country and in China.

Email: yvonnekim2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @yvonneekimm

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