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Rachael Yamagata: Being single is not a bad thing

Indie powerhouse Rachael Yamagata tells us what inspires her music and if her lyrics were inspired by past loves.

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Rachel’s dream project would be to perform with a symphony. (Photo: Laura Crosta)

It seems like American singer-songwriter Rachel Yamagata’s music career is on a roller coaster that only goes up.

Back in Singapore for the seventh time, the indie singer stole the stage as she wowed the crowd with her husky vocals at the recent Neon Lights concert.

Rachael soulfully belted out favourites like Be Be My Love, You Won’t Let Me, Worn Me Down, and The Reason Why, which she dedicates to fans who need to “move on from something”, though the track is often misinterpreted as a love song.

Rachael had me tapping my feet, dancing and singing along to her tracks like a true fan. By the end of her set, I made a mental note to add her tracks to my Spotify playlist.

I caught up with Rachel at the end of the show for a quick chat.

Why have you decided to take on the responsibility of managing your own career? 

I like to navigate my own career and the business stuff comes easily to me. Over the years, I’ve realised I’ve become pretty good at managing myself.

But now that work is busier, I’ve started working with a manager. This is the first time in about four and a half years that I am doing so.

You’re Japanese-German-Italian. What was it like growing up with both European and Asian influences under one roof?

I grew up with four parents. My stepmother was a blonde blue-eyed Southern belle, and my stepfather is Jewish from New Jersey.

I’ve always felt very comfortable communicating with other people regardless of their cultural identity. I think being exposed to different cultures somehow gave me a creative advantage and shaped some of the universal themes [in my music].

Did your love for music begin when you were a child?

Yes, definitely. My stepfather was a rocker in a band called The Spiral Staircase.

My stepmother also inspired a lot of my musical tastes — she was always playing music by ’70s singer-songwriters and introduced me to Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel, and Carole King.

My mother on the other hand, was a big fan of Barbra Streisand, so that helped me appreciate the cinematic flair in music. My dad wanted to be [Hawaiian singer] Don Ho and sing Tiny Bubbles (laughs). He also introduced me to The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

Somebody once said “With Rachael Yamagata, [American Blues singer] Bonnie Raitt finally has a successor”. How do you feel about that?

I thought that was one of the coolest quotes I’ve ever read because Bonnie Raitt is fantastic. She is soulful and heartbreaking yet fun, and I love the production she goes for in her music.

Whats your dream project?

I would like to play with an orchestra or a symphony. I think the magic of being in such a ‘live’ setting would be incredible.

I’m also working on a musical. It was inspired by a melody my mother hummed. When I heard it, I somehow knew I had to write a musical. I started on the project four years ago and have written 15 songs, but it has sort of been on the back burner because I’ve been working on new releases.

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Wowing the crowd with her impressive vocal range and rich, original lyrics. (Photo: Kwok Jia-Xin)

Many of your tracks are inspired by your personal experiences, like past love. Have any of your exes asked you if your songs were about them?

No, they’ve never asked me but they have assumed. Every now and then I’ll throw in something so specific that there won’t be a question.

A lot of my songs register as love songs but were not written from the perspective of being in a romantic relationship. But I think the emotions [I sing about] translate easily to other areas, allowing everyone to have their own interpretation of my songs.

 A lot of your songs talk about heartbreak. What are the perks of being single?

You have plenty of time to follow your own bliss, like travelling alone. On my sojourns, I get involved in conversations I would never have if I were travelling as a couple.

Being single also allows me to work on my spirit, and find what inspires me — it’s not a bad thing!

By Natalie Kwan

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