Woodstock, New York based musician Rachael Yamagata is known for “soul baring, gut punching songs of love lost, perseverance and triumph though the human condition.” The intimacy of her music allows fans to sense a strong bond with her. Yamagata in turn values those connections. Her fourth album, Tightrope Walker, was the second record she had financed via crowdfunding. And, more importantly, she has decided to go on the road for a string of intimate shows in the fashion of VH1 Storytellers or Springsteen on Broadway.
We caught up with Yamagata via phone a few days into her “Songs – Stories – Solo” tour so she could give us a sense of how it is going and what we can expect from her on the upcoming tour dates. Tour dates follow below though several of the shows have sold out. Read on to get details about the experience, her openers and to find out if she ever met Philippe Petit, the famed wire-walker who has some connection to the name of her fourth record.
How’s your tour going so far?
So far, so good. I just got to Ann Arbor last week with a show here tonight, and then I’m three shows in, and so far it’s been really, really nice.
For this tour, are you going in with a planned setlist, or is it free form?
It’s very planned. I spent a lot of time trying to get it sorted so that it would have sort of a through line to it, and because it’s just me, I wanted to play songs that were a collection of records that I’ve done, some that really lend themselves well to this living room style mentality of performance. The whole idea behind the tour was artists and audience with no walls in-between, and making it really intimate, making it seated venues, grabbing real pianos when we can get them, almost like a … just an intimate, vulnerable experience. For that reason, I’ve got a very strategic set. I’ve integrated a visual element, so I’m hauling around a projector. I’m not working with a band. You know, it is just voice and either piano or guitar. It’s a different entity than I’ve ever tried to do before, so that’s why I’m creatively inspired, and the audiences are really loving it. So I’m psyched about that.
You said you have a through line, so then do you have a narrative arc?
It sort of starts dark and then weaves in and out of more high energy moments, and then culminates on a positive light. So you could say it traces sort of where I’ve been as a songwriter a little bit. I wouldn’t say chronologically, but thematically there’s a little bit of that there.
In such an open setting, are you leaving yourself open to questions or comments from the audience? Is that welcome or unwelcome?
There’s definitely interaction. It’s not like I just get up there and then say nothing to the crowd, because I definitely love that part of performance. But I have been, I’ve been asking some fans afterwards, like, “what did you think?” “What do you think of the visual component?” “How’d you think of the set?” Because they’re my greatest feedback, you know, so I’m getting positive reaction so far.
Do you have openers on this tour or is there anyone you will play with?
Oh, yeah. I think one of the fun things for me is changing up the support acts on this run. Usually I’ve taken like one support for the entire time. This time it’s been all handpicked acts that I either have played with or I’m trying to push to get out there and do their solo material. So it’s like a road trip. I’m traveling alone, I’m meeting up with different people for a couple of shows and then hitting the road again.
So I think there’s a fun aspect to the opening side of the shows as well. People like John Alagia, who’s my long time producer, he’s opening Louisville and Nashville, and he doesn’t play solo material. He doesn’t do solo shows, but he writes these beautiful songs, so I convinced him to do a set, so he’s going to do a set. We’ve got Hemming, who’s meeting me out in Ann Arbor today, and Zach Djanikian on some East Coast dates. He plays with Amos Lee, but he also does this beautiful solo work. Allie Moss, who plays with Ingrid Michaelson, she’s opening Atlanta.
I started with Tracy Bonham. She did the first three shows and she’s also coming to DC, so I love that aspect of it. It’s been really fun for me, so if anyone is interested in the tour, just make a note to come early and check out the opener as well.
So you’re living in Woodstock now, where you recorded your most recent album Tightrope Walker. I know that area has a strong musical community. Though this is a solo tour, are you part of that community? I ready you collaborated with Ed Romanoff, who’s got an album coming out this month.
Yeah, I sing on his record. He’s a good friend of mine. We’ve done some touring before. He has a beautiful new record coming out.
It’s nice to have a community as a musician. You can sort of trade back and forth with, whether or not you’re known as being from Woodstock.
We did … Amy Helm did the shows where we had … it was called the Skylark sessions, and that was really fun. That had artists from like Austin and Nashville and local folks up in Woodstock, and that was amazing. So the community part is wonderful up there. There definitely is a music scene happening.
Does Woodstock or the history of Woodstock influence your songwriting?
I think the environment of the nature aspect influences me more than anything else. It has such a rich history of incredible musicians who’ve lived up there and gone up there because of the seclusion and the woods and the light and all of those great things that that particular town offers. I have family who have lived up there since I was growing up. My family’s been up there for over a hundred years apparently. I think some of that definitely seeps into my ability to just hide away and dig into deep dark emotions and be inspired by that. Certainly I’m not the kind of artist that you might think when you think of like Bob Dylan or somebody, you know, the bands, people who are known for being from Woodstock. It’s not necessarily my type of music, but the story-telling aspect of it is something that could connect us. I’m always curious about how to write the best story you can.
I read you’re nervous before going on stage. Do you have any pre-show rituals or if you had any specific song that gets you … maybe it’s yours, maybe it’s someone else’s … that helps you get you ready to perform?
I do, I have kind of like a talk that I do with myself, and really that tries to connect with my … whatever you call it, my angels, muses, artistic guides. Whatever name you want to call them, where I really try and let things not be about myself or any kind of anxiety, but more about how can I deliver the best message for the evening for the people who are watching and for myself that the muses want me to deliver, and to not have anything stand in the way of doing that. So it’s less music or tequila shots or anything like that, and much more centering myself to do a task at hand.
That sounds appropriate. Around the release of Tightrope Walker, in one of the interviews Philippe Petit, who is relatively speaking, a neighbor of yours, was mentioned as someone you would like to meet. Have you met him since recording the album?
I did meet him. I actually was driving in my car, listening to WDST, which is this radio station up there, and he was on the station doing an interview about a show he was putting on, and the DJ had said, “You know, there’s a local artist that just did a record called Tightrope Walker,” so I was so jazzed, and I went to the show, Philippe’s show he was promoting that night and got to meet him. I was like, “You talked about me on the radio.” Yeah, so it was great. It was really fun.
Do you feel like you’ve gained some of his ethos regarding “being prepared” for tour?
You know what, in some ways I do. I saw his documentary and of course the movie and everything, and I do really love artists like him, who there’s a lot of planning. There’s a lot of visionary work that goes in. Some tours that I’ve done have been … we’ve been so swamped and so rushed to rehearse with people who come in from all over the country, and then you just get in there and you go, and it’s like a free-for-all, and you rely on the excitement and the chemistry of the music of the night, and it’s amazing. It’s an amazing way to tour.
Because this is my own solo experience, yeah, it’s been a different approach, a lot of pre-production, a lot of planning, a lot of trial and error, experimentation, to do this, so that’s why it’s a fun challenge for me. But yeah, he’s somebody who I think approaches preparation and stillness and extreme focus in that way.
Then are you going to allow yourself to change the structure of the tour tour as it goes on?
Yeah. I think I’m open to it, for sure. I think if something starts feeling wrong, then yeah, I would make a switch.
Okay, so now on to the last topic, a new record. Do you have anything in mind? Also, you crowd-funded your last album would you potentially crowd-fund your next album?
Yeah, in terms of like direction and artistically where this new record’s going to go, I don’t quite have a handle on that yet. I’m going to dive in once this tour is over in mid-March. That’s going to be my section for that, thinking about that.
Then in terms of crowd-funding, I’ve done two pledge campaigns and they’ve been really successful and a great way to integrate my fans into the process as I go, and I’ve loved it. It’s more that than the funding part, like money-wise, it’s a lot of work to make a record and a lot of money, and I don’t really do it for that purpose. Because it does entail a lot of time, I just need to make sure that I’m up for it again because it’s a big venture, the way that I like to do it. I have to see time-wise whether it makes the most sense for me, but the past experiences have been great so far.
02/09 Cleveland, OH Music Box Supper Club
02/10 Louisville, KY Headliners Music Hall
02/12 Nashville, TN City Winery
02/13 Atlanta, GA Eddie’s Attic
02/20 Boston, MA City Winery
02/21 Fairfield, CT StageOne at FTC
02/22 New York, NY City Winery
02/23 Philadelphia, PA The Ardmore Music Hall
02/24 Annapolis, MD Rams Head On Stage
02/25 Washington, DC Union Stage
02/28 Denver, CO Globe Hall
03/04 Salt Lake City, UT The State Room
03/06 Seattle, WA Columbia City Theater
03/07 Portland, OR The Old Church Concert Hall
03/12 San Francisco, CA The Independent
03/13 Los Angeles, CA Moroccan Lounge
03/14 Los Angeles, CA Moroccan Lounge
03/15 Solana Beach, CA Belly Up