With her deep and smoky voice, singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata has enthralled many with songs like “Letter Read” and “Worn Me Down.” This ex-vocalist of the funk fusion band Bumpus went solo in 2002, and released her debut full-length album Happenstance in 2004, with songs that span across jazz, folk, indie rock and pop. We caught up with Yamagata for a glimpse into her life.
We heard you have two cats. Are you an animal lover?
Yes, I love animals. Horses, dogs, anything. Right now, I just have two cats. I had three but one of them died in Oct. One is a Himalayan. It’s a stray cat I found under a car. I’ve had the other for 10 years.
Cool. And in your myspace page, you mentioned you like traveling. Are we talking to a free-spirited person?
Definitely. I love being on the move all the time, experiencing new places and new cultures and getting out of my comfort zone. I can relate to a wide variety of people. I like seeing how different people live and get on with each other. People don’t necessarily require an understanding of each other’s language to relate to each other.
That’s true. Will you be traveling to any other countries after Singapore?
Right now, I’m just going back to the US. I’m finishing my second record this weekend. When it’s released in spring, I’ll probably go to Japan, England, Spain and Australia to promote the record.
How is this record different or similar to Happenstance?
There’ll be a lot of guitar-driven songs. They’re still the intimate, heartbreaking piano songs. There’s one that’s almost like a Led Zeppelin song. Actually I’ve been doing that kind of thing for shows, but they were not on the first record. This second record is a journey into that world. The lyrics are more poetic. I’ll still have songs on relationships, but I’ll talk about the media too.
Talking about lyrics, a lot of your songwriting seems very personal. Does it take a lot of courage to show your songs to people?
Yes and no. When I write them, I don’t censor myself. I just write, even though it doesn’t capture me in the best light. I love performing. I don’t get self conscious about it, until people remind me to be. That gets me into a lot of trouble sometimes.
Do you miss being in a band?
Yes. I mean, it’s nice to share ideas and create something together. But I must say it’s wonderful to be your own boss, to have creative control. If I don’t like an idea, it’s nice to be able to put my foot down and not do it.
But what’s the rationale behind going solo?
I wanted to write songs and the songs I was writing on my own didn’t fit in the confines of the band. Being in Bumpus was fun. I loved it. I never thought of getting a record deal. It scared the s**t out of me. But lucky place, lucky person. Before I knew it, I was signed to a label as a solo artist. It’s just a funny story of destiny or fate, or whatever you want to call it.
You’ve been compared to singer-songwriters like Norah Jones and Fiona Apple. Think these comparisons are fair?
They are very general. People need to have comparisons as a sort of reference. I like what Norah Jones and Fiona Apple do and I think they both do it really well. But I think what I do is weird and different, music wise. And my shows are not like theirs. The comparisons are flattering. But they’re generalized comparisons. And don’t give respect to any of us as artistes.