A few rounds of heartbreak … a broken wrist … eight stitches … a blown-out eardrum … and label realignment.
It wasn’t easy getting here for Rachael Yamagata. Three years after she began to appear on the public’s radar with her self-titled debut EP and full-length album Happenstance, Rachael will release Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Heart, a single record in two parts, on October 7th, 2008.
“I didn’t set out to make a two part album,” Yamagata says. “We just followed the songs’ lyrical lead and built them up with textures and sounds that served the story. The beautiful ones were darker and worked with lush arrangements. We used the sounds of rain, tree branches falling on the roof — whatever kept the mood true to this haunted studio in the first stormy days of spring. The second part became more anthemic, like a reclaiming of personal power. There’s something raw about it. To me it sounds weathered, but not broken or cynical.”
The nine tracks on Elephants are darker and more vulnerable than the five gritty, defiant rock songs on Teeth Sinking Into Heart. Taken together, the two halves present a complete timeline of the emotions that revolve around complicated relationships and the accompanying fallout. “Elephants is much more intimate,” Yamagata says. “It’s about being willing to take a risk even if it’s not going to end up well. Teeth is like rediscovering your backbone after you’ve gone through the loss.”
Yamagata sometimes worries that her need to analyze heartache in her songwriting is too often mistaken as depressed obsession. After all, her songs are famously populated by breakups. “I see it more as a fascination with human relationships and behavior,” she says, “the struggles we create and the strength we gain.” Her lyrics display an ability to draw new wisdom and confidence from every devastating experience in the hope that the next time will be different. Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Heart, reveal a woman not only undaunted by such losses, but smart enough to know she deserves a lot more than she’s been asking for.
“My mother said recently that Happenstance is the beauty of your ’20s, this one is the richness of your ’30s – of someone who’s been through the mill and is trying to make the choice between optimism and defeatism,” she says.
Of the two CD’s 15 tracks, 12 were produced by the Nebraska-based multi-instrumentalist and producer Mike Mogis, known for his work with Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley. Two tracks, “What If I Leave” and “Horizon,” were produced by John Alagia (John Mayer, Dave Matthews Band), who also produced Happenstance. The bulk were written during the two-year touring cycle that followed Happenstance and, especially, the nine months afterward that Yamagata spent holed up in her Woodstock refuge — a period that saw her turn out some 160 songs. “I wasn’t being very social, so I didn’t have many distractions,” she says, laughing about her ridiculously prodigious output.