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From theater to funk, her background gives her music roots



Published: Fri, April 29, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A young singer, she's living her dream right now, touring with an alt-country favorite.

Considering singer/songwriter artists need to sell their emotions to live audiences, the notion that a background in musical theatre would be helpful isn't a stretch.

For up-and-coming artist Rachael Yamagata, who initially went down the theater stage route, her experience was slightly different and not what you would expect.

"I never did very well in music theater so I don't know if that has actually helped or what," Yamagata said calling from Woodstock, N.Y. "It's a different thing because with musical theater, you're just hamming it up all of the time and I don't try to do that. I just get up there and try to be whoever I am and see what happens, whether it's a melancholy day or a giddy mood or whatever it is. I was never a really good actor. Plus, I got kicked out of acting class and could never quite adjust to that world."

Part of her

Despite her lackluster thespian past, the experience still appears to be integral in her development. For her debut disc "Happenstance," which is filled with lovelorn tales, a certain amount of honesty permeates the 14-track disc that mixes jazzy pop with soulful lyrics steeped in blues-ville. It's pretty heady material for a 27-year-old songwriter but more importantly, it confirms her notion about hamming it up or faking behavior. In order for an artist to pull off the intimacy of "Paper Doll" or the real world aspects of "Worn Me Down," garnering comparisons to P.J. Harvey and Beth Orton, Yamagata must be speaking from the heart. This also crosses over into her live act.

Since releasing "Happenstance" last summer, the pianist has been touring nonstop, logging supporting roles for everyone from Gomez and Liz Phair to David Gray, Damien Rice and Tom McRae. Currently, Yamagata is living a dream. After mentioning in countless press interviews a dream of hers would be to support alt country singer/songwriter Ryan Adams on the road, the publicity paid off when she was pegged to open for the erstwhile Whiskeytown member on his current tour, which pulls through Cleveland Wednesday at the House of Blues and Pittsburgh May 13 at Mr. Small's Funhouse.

As for her current live show, it features plenty of material from "Happenstance," as well as a few new tunes. A Cure cover is on her to-do list but don't expect it anytime soon. In hopes of attracting new audiences, Yamagata relies on her instincts to create the perfect performance.

A lot to learn

Before going solo, the singer was part of Chicago-based funk band Bumpus, which she feels provided her an education she still relies on today.

"It was like all over the board, this mix of jazz, funk and soul," Yamagata said. "You had to merge these different genres of song really and have it make sense during a show so I learned about song structure and set list. It taught me a lot about listening to dynamics and feeding off the energy of the room and changing sets on the fly."

As far as her next album, Yamagata is already looking forward, having written over 100 songs since the release of "Happenstance" nearly a year ago. While not wanting to get pigeonholed as the heartache queen, she's wise enough to know where her strengths lie.

"It's just a matter of deciding what I feel like putting on the next record because I write songs about other things definitely but I just think probably my strength is analyzing these human relationships," Yamagata said. "I'd hate to be known as the heartbroken relationship writer girl and that seems to be my tagline of sorts at the moment. But we'll see. I'll just go with the best songs."




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