Rachael Yamagata had her share of accidents and physical ailments in the time leading up to last fall's release of her long-awaited double CD, Elephants ... Teeth Sinking Into Heart. For one thing, she took a fall off of a ladder and cut open her chin and broke a wrist.
"I literally plummeted down 15 feet, and there was a wood floor at the bottom of it," she says. "So I dented the floor, tore up my chin and got eight stitches. And I broke my wrist during that fall, which I found out about hours later. Once I had recovered from the grotesque nature of my face, it occurred to me that my wrist was also hurting."
Also, while vacationing in the Dominican Republic, Yamagata and a friend went diving, determined to touch the floor of the ocean. In the process, she blew out an eardrum.
"It was just one of those 'I will do this' [challenges]," Yamagata explains. "On the seventh try, as I finally got down far enough and grabbed some sand, I heard something pop, and I got real dizzy. It was like, 'Oh God, I've just done something really bad.'"
But as she moves toward her mid-30s, Yamagata's also done something really good: Her Elephants ... Teeth release suggests the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist makes music in much the same way that she lives her life.
"I guess when I do things," she says, "I do them full throttle."
Yamagata wrote and demo-ed some 160 songs for the project a number even she knew was excessive and didn't hold back when it came to pushing the extremes of her musical range.
True, the introspective sound of Yamagata's 2004 full-length debut, Happenstance, continues to be well-represented in the nine-song "Elephants" sequence that opens the album. But the five-song "Teeth Sinking Into Heart" portion surprised even some of those listeners familiar with her previous work; Yamagata's sound is far edgier and harder-rocking than ever.
"I knew that if I were going to do kind of up-tempo, guitar-driven rock, the things I'm drawn to are not slick and sheeny and beautiful versions of a rock song," she says. "I wanted them to be gritty and gutsy. And the lyrics, they had this kind of sassiness to them."
Noting that she's always had guitar-driven rockers in her set, Yamagata says it's been no problem to navigate between the different styles in a live setting: "I've always really appreciated a broad dynamic for the live show. I've never wanted to do just a monotone beautiful-ballads set.
"I think people actually come to the shows and are surprised that it can be so lively," says Yamagata. "But there's nothing like doing kind of a crazy, in-your-face, anthemic rock song and then hushing the room with an a capella version of 'Elephants.' It's really striking to kind of mix those dynamics."