Yamagata goes from ‘The O.C.’ to Cleveland

Andrew Hampp

Rachael Yamagata is really happy about playing the House of Blues this Wednesday with Ryan Adams.

Credit: Andrew Hampp

There are several “reasons why” you should know Rachael Yamagata.

For starters, her debut album Happenstance, released last summer, has sold over 100,000 copies nationwide and garnered heaps of critical praise for its intimate, passionately sung songs of love, longing and heartbreak. It’s piano-driven pop music for the hopelessly romantic who refuse to give up hope.

You might also know Yamagata from her song “The Reason Why,” which she performed on a recent episode of “The O.C.” In case you’re unclear as to which episode, it’s the one where Mischa Barton made out with a girl.

Yamagata said the use of her song in the episode was just as much of a surprise to her as it likely was to anyone else who caught it.

“You know what, I fucking loved it,” she said of the candid kiss. “You can’t talk about (what happens on) the episode. So even though I’m in it they won’t tell me what it’s about.

“So we see Mischa Barton come down, and we see this really hot girl bartender and there’s this handholding thing. I’m sitting there with my manager going, ‘What’s going on?! Tell us, tell us!’”

While the producers of “The O.C.” were less than forthcoming, Yamagata held nothing back when talking about her recent lack of luck in love.

“I always think I’m lucky in love,” she said. “Even if it’s painful, I’ve never regretted anything I’ve ever done. I was in a very complicated relationship; it’s one of those things where it ends and you’re wondering how you’ll ever top it. When you fall so deeply in love it makes you see things differently and question the world.”

Yamagata’s often heartbreaking Happenstance caught the attention of rebellious rocker Ryan Adams, who loved the album so much he invited her on tour with him for a month’s worth of dates in the Midwest. The tour will finally bring Yamagata to Ohio for the first time on May 4 at House of Blues Cleveland after more than a year’s worth of touring behind her debut disc.

“I was so excited,” Yamagata said of the tour invitation. The two corresponded by letter for a few weeks, then Adams asked Yamagata to help him out on another project. “At the same time (of our correspondence), he was doing a record and said, ‘Come down to the studio’ literally before I had the proper introduction.”

Yamagata played piano and sang back-up on a total of six songs for Adams, two of which will make the final cut on Cold Roses, due out this Tuesday.

As if a new tour and a new album weren’t enough, Yamagata also has one more thing in common with her new road buddy. Both she and Adams were tapped by designer John Varvatos to appear in ads for his spring collection. That’s Yamagata sporting that pristine white oversized dress coat in the pages of many a fashion mag on newsstands now.

“It was completely flattering,” Yamagata said of the fashion shoot. “I’m not a model by any sorts. I have this big scar on my chin and I had broken my wrist and it’s in eight stitches in the photo and you can’t even tell.”

Just don’t expect Yamagata to be some chic fashionista despite her glossy induction into the world of print modeling.

“I always love trying out new things in performance because when you’re a musician you can get away with anything,” Yamagata said of her personal style. “But if I had to bring back legwarmers, I’m gonna damn well do it.”

But before Yamagata tries her hand at reviving snap bracelets as well, she’d really like to play Cleveland for the first time as a solo artist. She played the city once three years ago as part of the Chicago-based funk outfit Bumpus and had an experience that one could only have in Northeastern Ohio in the middle of January.

“It was the first day of our tour,” Yamagata said. “We’re driving with a van or a trailer and there’s so much snow. I turn to Jamie, the lead singer, and said, ‘Watch out for the black ice.’ And he goes, ‘What’s black ice?’ Just at that moment we skid all over the place, all the guys are banging around, I’m like, ‘Hold on, here we go’ and we just did I don’t know how many 360s. I completely smashed my head on the side of the window.

“As long as I make it there alive, I’m happy.”

Contact Pop Arts editor Andrew Hampp at [email protected].