Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Dec 20th 2011 2:00PM by Alanna Nash
'Chesapeake' may not feature the kinds of desperate piano ballads that made Yamagata's 2004 debut, 'Happenstance,' such a favorite with doomed lovers, but in some ways, the new disc picks up where that much-lauded earlier effort, also produced by Alagia, left off. The album is a return to form after 2008's splintered, two-disc 'Elephants... Teeth Sinking Into Heart,' which ended Yamagata's relationship with major labels but cleared the way for her independence.
Yamagata, who is currently enjoying sold-out shows, spoke to Spinner about the making of 'Chesapeake' and her musical odyssey.
How do you think 'Chesapeake' compares to your first collaboration with John Alagia?
This was very much a live record. We didn't have the luxury of time or even room separation in a lot of recording respects, so we built it differently than we did 'Happenstance.' Musically, I feel like it's more spontaneous. There's still sort of a classic sense to some of the arrangements, but we're playing on different influences. There was a lot of Carpenters being played [around the house], and Beach Boy harmonies. I did some co-writes with Mike Viola, and he certainly has like a Burt Bacharach/Todd Rundgren influence in his progressions. So I think the time period is familiar, but maybe a little bit different than the first record.
You lived in what you call "The Diva Tent" inside John's house. What's that about?
[Laugh] Well, I knew with all the people coming we wouldn't have enough room for everyone to get a bed, so I went to this camping store, figuring, "I'll just get a tent in case I need to break down or just take a nap." And I found this big, yellow, sleeps-eight-people tent and got some air mattresses and brought down blankets and feather beds I'd been collecting at my place and had my own little hideaway. We literally had guys sleeping on the couch, and in the studio, and occasionally people would share beds. It was quite hilarious, but it lent itself to the adventurous feeling of the whole thing.
'Elephants...' has a very different feel from 'Happenstance.' It's much darker, while 'Chesapeake' has a lighter tone.
I was in a very different place, musically and lyrically, for 'Elephants...' I had gone through three years of touring and press, and during that time, my relationships suffered, and 'Elephants...' was a reflection on that. There's definitely a sadness to it that had to do with my trying to stay afloat in that world and keep my own optimism and energy up. With this new record, my perspective is, "There's nothing left to lose." I've experienced super-great highs of early success and then the bewilderment of wondering why [the second] record didn't cross the borders the way the first one did.
You named your label Frankenfish, after the creature that allegedly swims and walks on land.
[Laughs] We looked it up online. It's got these really nasty teeth. And there was a big to-do about this thing in the Chesapeake area a couple of years ago. People would find them on golf courses. They'd walked all the way on land and died. I was actually desperate to name the record 'Frankenfish.' And the week of mastering, we were standing outside a bar, and the guys were like, "You cannot name it Frankenfish. These songs are really beautiful." Then somebody said the word "Chesapeake," and I thought, "That has a nice, graceful tone to it. Maybe I'll just name the label Frankenfish. It embodies me in this world now." Because I feel a little bit like I've championed the underdog, and this little ugly fish seemed to resonate with that idea.
You funded the album with the help of the PledgeMusic website. Why?
When I split from the record label, I felt like everything was in my corner in terms of movement. It was just all up to me to figure out the financial part. My dad joked, "Well, I've always set aside this for your wedding, and if you want to use it now, you can." I was like, "Yeah, let's do it!" [Laughs] Then the people at Pledge synchronistically found me. I saw they were so respectful of the artists and kept the integrity of the work, and they had so much enthusiasm to work with me that everything felt good about it.
A psychic told you it was a karmic connection.
Yes! Carolyn Swift. She said, "There's tremendous '60s energy around you right now. This sounds like the right way to go, everybody helping each other, 'Big Pink' style." She told me other trippy stuff, like, "There's a lot of artists on the other side who are helping you and guiding you, and are very interested in what you're doing."
The killer track 'Starlight' is very reminiscent of a European dance club track. What inspired that?
I'd woken up in the middle of the night, and there are beautiful stars up here, but there weren't any stars. It was a dark night in every way. I just felt mysterious and restless, and a little moody. So I started messing around in this sleep state. I found this loop pedal, and I had this crazy old drum that I'd bang on. But it really transformed in the studio with Victor Indrizzo, who had this awesome drumbeat and laid down these crazy loops. It's not my best writing whatsoever, but it's got a really sexy vibe.
How do you feel about the ubiquitous comparisons to PJ Harvey and Fiona Apple?
I'm always flattered. In my dreams, I can't ever play as well as PJ Harvey. And I've certainly been a fan of Fiona Apple for a long time. She uses words really interestingly, and I love her tone. I know we get comparisons in that respect. But I catch moments with my voice where I'm like, "Ah, I did it!" And then I catch a lot of moments with my guitar playing and piano playing where, "It's enough to get by." I do see differences in the way that I write songs, so that might be my calling card.
Do you feel more in control of your life now?
I feel very energized. My goal is to play as many shows as I can, and record and release much more frequently. I'm fascinated by how much work there is to running your own record label. It's unbelievable! But I feel like whichever way it goes, I'll know that I've put everything into it. I'm ready to guide my destiny.