Courtesy photoHer own boss: After two bad experiences with major labels

Rachael Yamagata bounces back with new album 'Chesapeake'

Amid the effusive folk-poppers on her chiming new album “Chesapeake,” Rachael Yamagata has placed a dark piano dirge called “Full On.”

“I’ll never tell a soul that you aren’t full on, full on/I’ll never tell a soul that you’ve been faking it for so long,” she warbles in her cabaret-smoky voice — the only glimpse of vulnerability in an otherwise confident John Alagia-produced collection.

“That’s really my self-doubt song, like, ‘Are we all faking it? Is everyone going to find out that we don’t know what we’re doing?’” she says. “It’s about when I had to mentally make a choice — it was sink or swim time, and I chose to swim.”

Yamagata, who appears in The City on Friday, has a lot to be thankful for this year.

Dropped from Warner Bros. after her last ambitious two-disc set, 2008’s “Elephants….Teeth Sinking Into Heart,” she initially believed that everything might be over — especially since she endured the same contract-severing indignity after her 2004 (and Alagia-helmed) debut for BMG, “Happenstance.”

“I sort of figured that my one four-year ordeal of frustration wasn’t supposed to be followed by another three-year ordeal of it,” she says.

Now, the singer is still dumbfounded the strange chain of events that has reignited her flagging career.

First, she kept writing optimistic tunes such as “Starlight” and “Even If I Don’t.” Then, she took careful inventory of her past mistakes.

“I saw how when I didn’t take control, when I didn’t follow my instincts, three years would go by and I wouldn’t make a record,” she says. “So I became less afraid of pissing people off, less afraid of doing things in an untraditional way.”

Emboldened, Yamagata decided to underwrite a new album herself. She cashed in frequent-flier miles. She used the money her father had been saving for her wedding. The rest she amassed through fan contributions from her online PledgeMusic campaign.

She packed tents and air mattresses and assembled her band at Alagia’s home studio on Chesapeake Bay (hence the album title). “It was definitely vagabond style,” she says.

Then the Woodstock-based Yamagata simply formed her own imprint, Frankenfish, and shot “Chesapeake’s” cover art on her iPhone. No A&R reps second-guessing her work, no more self-doubt.

“So if I’m not going to make a record in three years, I want to do it on terms that I whole-heartedly had a hand in,” the new label CEO says. “That’s my new philosophy. If it succeeds? Awesome. If it doesn’t, it won’t be because I didn’t do everything I could to make it succeed.”  


IF YOU GO

Rachael Yamagata

Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $18
Contact: (415) 522-0333, www.slimstickets.com

artsentertainmentmusicPop Music & JazzSan Francisco

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