Rachael Yamagata on music, inspiration, and mending a broken heart

Rachael Yamagata on music, inspiration, and mending a broken heart

Not your average break-up song

Text: Adibah Isa

Photo: Max Crace Laura Crosta

Lauded as the voice and words behind some of the best break-up songs, the singer-songwriter imparts sound advice ahead of her concert

A lot of things have changed since singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata's album debut, Happenstance, 11 years ago. For starters, she's morphed into a crazy cat lady, found the balls to start her own record label, Frankenfish Records (yes, it's named after a fish) and now has three records and five EPs to her name.

Nowadays, Yamagata's music balances pop elements with poetry — resulting in Chesapeake, a vibrant, band-oriented record that has evolved from the dark and cinematic nuances of Elephants. A lot of time has passed since she's felt the pangs of devastating heartbreak written in her previous records. Her upcoming album, out later this year, will deal with themes surrounding the passage of time, loss, and nostalgia — but with a lot more hope and power.

Rachael Yamagata

Do you still scribble songs on napkins?

I'll always love the napkin! Capturing a phrase or idea here or there when it happens in real time is important because they're little gifts of inspiration that can get lost.

You visualised a tightrope walker while writing this record. Whoa.

I had two visions of sorts...then a kind of healing sweat lodge where strangers enter and have a mystical experience of facing their fears in order to leave refreshed and reinvigorated. There's a different strength to the point of view of this record, a sort of spiritual resilience that I believe we all have within us.

What's a new song we can look forward to?

I'm Going Back. It's very personal, about wanting to bring someone back to a time of safety, love, and innocence.

What's the best thing to emerge from the end of a relationship?

Alone time. That's the best for creativity — rediscovering yourself, your needs and wants, routines, and spontaneity.

What cures heartbreak?

Creating something out of all that emotion. I love to re-organise my space, reassess, learn, and write.

Your ultimate break-up song?

Neither One of Us Wants to be The First to Say Goodbye by Gladys Knight and the Pips. It helps identify that stage within myself and the painful limbo that exists between something you know is over in your soul, but don't want to leave.

You say you believe in the lingering magic of music.

When I'm in that situation (a break-up) it's actually hard for me to listen to that song. I won't do it - almost in a superstitious way. I suppose it helps me because when I do literally face the music, I know I have the courage to make a move.

Rachael Yamagata performs at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 29 May, 7.30pm