The concept for Rachael Yamagata's forth studio album, "Tightrope Walker," came to her when she was sitting on the porch of her home in Woodstock, New York, where she said she had a vision. In that vision, she saw several strangers sitting in a tent as well as scenes from each of their pasts.
“I literally was sitting on my porch, and I just saw it in the woods. It was like a sweat lodge or something,” Yamagata told NBC News. “It was moments of their lives that they couldn’t let go of. Someone leaving, or someone dying. And by being in this communal place with each other, there was an overwhelming connection between these people. The end of it was like walking out, feeling fresh and relieved. Moving forward.”
Yamagata began writing the album in the summer of 2014. Unlike her previous works, which feature contemplation over romantic heartache, "Tightrope Walker" focuses on a flurry of themes, ranging from hardships in career to family issues. At the core of all the songs is a common string of optimism about life.
“This record is kind of a study of the human experience, while trying to be true to our authentic selves,” Yamagata said.
In addition to the new themes, Yamagata also took on a different role as a producer on the album, building the music from scratch in a quiet studio space located on 12 acres of woods in New York State.
“We used a lot of instruments I haven’t used before,” she said. “Like mandolins or drums on ladders in the middle of the woods. Pretty much anything lying around the house with the right texture. It was all about experimenting.”
Yamagata describes the music as a revelation of sound and theme. The title of the album came to her in one of her morning writing sessions, the image of a person balancing on a rope in a combination of strength and perseverance intrigued Yamagata, and it became a metaphor that tied the album together.
Yamagata’s role didn’t end at producing, writing, and performing the songs — the artist also co-directed and co-edited the music videos for “Nobody” and “Let Me Be Your Girl.”
“I got hooked on the world of editing,” Yamagata said. “I would love to sit in a room and edit things.”
Her newest music video, for "Let Me Be Your Girl," was molded by Yamgata and her close friend, Josh Radnor — best known for his role as Ted Mosby in the CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother." The video is Radnor's first foray into directing music videos and stars seven-time Emmy award winning actress Allison Janney, another close friend of Yamagata’s.
With the release of the album, Yamagata is once again hitting the road on a cross-continent tour. She’s a frequent visitor of Asian countries as well, with fan bases in South Korea and Singapore. Although she’s no stranger to the stage, performing live still captivates Yamagata.
“There’s a moment on stage where it’s like a chemical reaction with the people you’re playing with, and the audience,” she said. “You feed off each other and there’s a magic to that.”
“The spontaneity of the experience is a rare thing, playing in front of a live audience," she added. "I’m happy to do this as long as I can do it.”