‘Maybe I’ve lost my ability to love’

Adam Griffiths

Rachael Yamagata

Not much can turn life into a boldly introspective mirror better than a nine-month stay in Woodstock, N.Y. Rachael Yamagata would know – the stay lent itself heavily to her second album, “Elephants.Teeth Sinking Into Heart,” due out next Tuesday.

“It’s very isolated from anyone or anything,” Yamagata said. “No real social activity. No streetlights, in bed at eight, up at four in the morning. I didn’t listen to an extreme amount of music, so I really just wrote whatever was happening and didn’t censor it, didn’t have anyone looking over my shoulder.”

It’s certainly been a long four-year wait since her debut, “Happenstance,” came out to critical acclaim. Her music’s showed up on “The O.C.” and in Zach Braff movies, but a split with RCA Records over creative direction left the fate of her second release uncertain, even though it was recorded by late 2006.

“I used a lot more metaphors,” she said. “I don’t know why. Maybe I was just trying to digest things in a different way? Something about the isolation, and nature, the almost abnormal secluded time period, helped to kind of make me more poetic. I wrote a lot of things at night, in the middle of the night.”

Produced by Mike Mogis, whom Yamagata recruited from “this indie-rock, underground world” of Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley and The Faint, the new album is darker and more sultry. It’s presented in two parts – the instrumental-heavy “Elephants” and the rock-driven “Teeth Sinking Into Heart.”

“We took both sides to extremes that I think just made them stand apart even more,” Yamagata said. “The ballads just kind of deserved lush orchestration. The lyrics were dark, and it got very intimate. And the rock songs – I wanted to make them kind of harsher and more raw and be vulnerable in that way. When you try to interject one into the other, it really takes the listener out of that trance that each side can create.”

That trance is something that’s secured Yamagata as a mistress of her craft. She doesn’t believe in chance, despite the title of her first album, and as “such a ‘there’s a lesson in everything that happens’ person,” the new album leaves listeners questioning which way they are going to take things.

“You’ve been through traumatic things, and here they are, and they’re painful, and they’re personal and overwhelming, but what are you gonna choose to do with that?” she positioned. “Will it enrich you, or are you going to become cynical? You still have that ability to maintain hopefulness. It’s a choice when times are really hard.”

It seems too easy to peg Yamagata as a depressive one-trick thirty-something pony. Love, loss and moving on are at the center of “Elephants,” though compared to “Happenstance,” love, this time around, is “almost used as an object.

“Maybe I don’t believe in love anymore. Maybe I’ve lost my ability to love,” she said, frantically questioning herself. “I like the idea that you could still imply something that grand with having to articulate it.”

But, as she finishes up a brief circuit of solo headline shows and joins the 2008 Hotel Café tour later this month, it’s clear the other side is still winning.

“I still do believe that all of this has been – it’s a journey,” Yamagata said. “It’s supposed to happen. I don’t really regret or begrudge anything that’s happened to me up until this point.”

And is it going to be another four years before we find out what happens next?

“No,” she said, laughing. “They want me in the studio by late spring.”

Contact managing editor Adam Griffiths at [email protected].