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Singer Rachael Yamagata on the Perks of Being an Independent Artist

Singer Rachael Yamagata on the Perks of Being an Independent Artist
Rachael Yamagata performs on November 12, at the 9:30 Club. Photo courtesy BB Gun Press.

Singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata was born in Arlington and went to high school at Holton-Arms in Bethesda. Now based in Woodstock, New York, she returned to Maryland to record her most recent full-length album, 2011’s bluesy Chesapeake. The album was recorded at a studio built inside a Chesapeake Bay house owned by her producer, John Alagia.

“That record was my first release as an independent artist and it goes down among all who were involved as one of the most fun recording experiences ever,” she writes in an email. “I think you can hear the energy and freshness through the recording–an ‘at last’ feeling that happens after a breakthrough.”

Chesapeake still has the bluesy, sultry vibe that Yamagata cultivated on her previous major-label releases, but the album has a dynamic brightness that was missing on earlier tracks. Yamagata’s husky voice smolders on “Starlight,” while “You Won’t Let Me” begins and ends with her on piano and has a gorgeous full-band arrangement in the middle.

Yamagata’s relief at shedding her major label ties is apparent. “It was far too frustrating to not get to tour and release albums more frequently,” she says. “Now I’m not at the mercy of label infrastructure.”

She crowd-funded Chesapeake through PledgeMusic and has similar plans for her next album, Tightrope Walker. Though her choice to record albums independently means a long wait between releases, she’s filling in the gaps with other recordings, including a covers EP and an acoustic version of her debut album, Happenstance. “It’s a wonderfully empowering way to go about making a record and connecting with your fans,” she says.

Even without a new album to promote, Yamagata works to make her tours different from one another. “I’ve always been very conscious of the live show experience and trying to switch it up every round whether through band lineups or arrangements,” she says. “Touring is also one of the direct ways a musician can continually build an audience. For me, it helps me feel like I am constantly propelling things along as much as I can and giving all that I can to fans.”

Rachael Yamagata performs on Thursday, November 12, at the 9:30 Club; $25.

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