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RACHAEL YAMAGATA

Happenstance…the never can be…

Main Entry: hap·pen·stance; Etymology: happen + circumstance: A circumstance especially that is due to chance. - Merriam Webster Dictionary

I apologize for insisting on writing my own bio, but I just can not be satisfied with another’s account of my psyche when even I don’t understand it myself. Welcome to the world of this indecisive control freak hopeless romantic…

Happenstance, produced by John Alagia (John Mayer, Dave Matthews etc.), is a collection of songs inspired by my obsessions, often love related, but not always. It’s about the battle between chance circumstances and the belief that everything happens for a reason. The title and the back cover addition of ‘the never can be’ suggest that I’m not really endorsing chance, but, in fact insisting that there must be a reason for repeated broken hearts - perhaps a promise of a better situation, learning experience, the greater love etc. It’s a circular argument… and it’s merely a matter of ‘happenstance’ that the title is what it is anyway. Without the hopefulness of reason, how could anyone weather the highs and lows of relationships and this delightful junk called love.

Look to the second album for a more cynical approach in which it all goes to hell and nothing makes sense and chance is winning…

Basic facts of my path thus far began with being born to Barbara and Ben (who share the same birthday, are the same age and had twins--Benjamin and Rachael) in Arlington, Va. From there, the natural practice of divorce ensued and I acquired two step parents, a half brother and an early life of travel, which of course gives me a restless complex and an inability to stay in one place for long. This applies to my relationships as well and the endless search for the perfect connection.

I bounced between Maryland, D.C. and upstate New York growing up and carried this pattern of transit into my years of college at Northwestern, Vassar, and than back to Northwestern to pursue theatre. In hindsight, I realize I should have traveled in place of college. When that didn’t work I found myself in an acting class for opera students. Huh?

I discovered the husky, growl in my voice after joining the Chicago band Bumpus - a highly energetic funk/soul/hip hop band influenced by Sly Stone, Prince, Mos Def, George Clinton, and others. Self taught as a pianist, I had never thought to be in a band, but when I saw them I had the irrepressible urge to be on stage with them - tambourine was my first role. I’d bring them coffee and donuts at 2am during practice and sit on the roof of their rehearsal space singing along. One day they needed a third harmony and I was there. They changed everything for me - introduced me to the fantastic interplay between bass and drums, electric live performances, horn sections, and band dysfunction which of course is a rich songwriting foundation. I had to find that Joplinesque power somewhere or face a public crash and burn competing with huge bass amps, guitar rigs and so on… Therefore, in true go-out-and-do-it Cher-like fashion, I did. With four writers and three front people, I also learned the art of crafting set lists and live shows and working an audience.

Alas, I kept falling in and out of love and needed some creative outlet for those emotions. Surrounded by guys who weren’t really coming from Carole King, Roberta Flack, James Taylor, Ricki Lee Jones, Simon and Garfunkel etc…the trail I began with them started to diverge. My writing didn’t fit, so in a cathartic breakdown six years later I decided to try an open mic with these other songs and see what happened. The next day I ran into an artist that handed me the business card of the scout that led to my first showcase at the Viper Room in 2001.

Every part of my musical experience has worked somewhat backwards, so I expect the insanity. My first solo show in NYC was at the Living Room on an out of tune piano. My second was a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden opening for David Gray. So yes, it’s crazy and no I don’t like to think about it too much or it does freak me out.

At this time I met my first manager who ran the CD duplication house that made copies of my five-song demo. Several more rounds of showcasing for major labels followed until I finally settled in at RCA Victor Group.

So began the whirlwind of co-writes, producer searches, booking agents, publicists and so forth. In the winter of 2003 I began work on an EP with producer Malcolm Burn (Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan) in Kingston, NY. This happened to be 20 minutes from my parent’s house in Woodstock.

My initiation into solo recording was similar to my initiation to solo performance: fast and intense. Malcolm is a wonderful genius that pulls it out of you no matter what. He’s earthy, raw, organic, and truthful and a handful for a new artist that hadn’t had time to figure it all out on her own. Our work connected enough to garner some great reviews in the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer etc. and earned me a place on MTV’s ‘You Hear It First,’ and CNN’s ‘The Music Room.’ From there the EP has since conquered The Gap, a Northwest airlines flight to France, a golf course in Virginia, and a fruit stand in Woodstock - so my friends and family tell me. I have just found out about a Starbuck’s sampler and I’m hoping that guarantees me some free coffee.

I’m grateful for all of it, but I have to remember calm, calm, calm, don’t dwell, don’t dwell, don’t dwell…

After touring to promote the EP with Liz Phair, Gomez, Sondre Lerche, and Damien Rice, the focus became the full length. John Alagia fortunately came into my life at the very last moment to choose a producer. Something about our chemistry and common favorites like Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Poses’, Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’, Joni Mitchell, Elton John etc. as well as our love of travel and the ocean led us to begin work in August of 2003 at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. We followed our noses to musicians in New York and L.A. and imported some from Chicago, and London as well. Refreshing demos was our biggest challenge and several versions of a few songs was a result. We treated each song as its own entity and used the players best fitting the song - we had a plethora of amazing musicians including Kevin Salem (who also produced ‘Paper Doll’), Aaron Comess (Spin Doctors), John Conte (Alana Davis, Peter Wolf), Matt Walker (Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage), Matt Johnson (Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright), Stuart Myers and Brian Jones (Agents of Good Roots), Oliver Kraus (cellist - Beth Orton, Ed Harcourt, Tom Mcrae), James Johnston (Bumpus), Robert Carlilse (tenured French horn with the NYC ballet and my uncle), and even the Klezmatics.

We recorded all over the place, taking a somewhat atypical approach to record making. We started in Compass Point and found ourselves in NY, NJ, LA, and finally back to Easton, MD to John’s studio.

John and I were literally and figuratively explorers through this record. We weathered different seasons and a few near death experiences (we tried to broil a pizza at 4am and then forgot about it) etc. He gave me the freedom to experiment with arrangements in my head while stepping in to guide me when my tangents became too far reaching. Together we made a record that forged new territories for both of us. It is eclectic, lush, bare, honest and full….

I try my best to write of love and pain and explore how we humans treat each other, and what our souls are trying to get out at the same time. Performing is my meditation; writing my traveling companion. These songs are as truthful and in the moment as I could be at this point in my life. They are observational, touching, but with a sense of hopefulness that every piece, and each bit of pain had a reason. So that nothing is wasted. The never can be happenstance.

www.rachaelyamagata.com
www.myspace.com/rachaelyamagata



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