RACHAEL YAMAGATA Honey, I shrunk the piano.
LAURA CROSTA

IT'S LIKELY YOU'VE heard Rachael Yamagata before—if not through your own musical procurements, then certainly while caught in the throes of a television drama's particularly impassioned scene. You know the drill: A character, inexplicably wrought with some unbearable emotional conflict with another actor, will say something of great heft and then bolt off before the other has a chance to respond. Then suddenly, the rain begins to fall in torrents, and as the camera pans from the defendant's helpless stance, the music cues up. It is undoubtedly Yamagata's howling and tortured chorus from "Worn Me Down," off her 2004 debut, Happenstance.

It seems that Yamagata has been faced with some drama of her own in recent years. By the book, Yamagata had successfully "made it"; Happenstance was released on BMG, and 2008's Elephants...Teeth Sinking into Heart on the hulking Warner Bros. label. "But the industry has changed so much since I started," she says when discussing her departure from Warner Bros. "And my experience [working with the label] was a continued experiment, spanning months and always including a new lot of people I had to get through to even get permission to make a new record. And I was ready to get it out and go on tour. I couldn't be hindered any longer."

As a result, Yamagata severed ties as peacefully as possible and began scrounging to start her own Frankenfish Records. She borrowed from the funds that her father had saved for her wedding day and set up a pledge site where fans could donate in return for a bevy of incentives, including an incredibly personal view of her third album Chesapeake's alchemy (which happened in longtime producer John Alagía's house on the Chesapeake Bay). For Yamagata, regaining touch with the fans is the best perk of her newfound independence. "It's so nice to not have to excavate through so many levels to get through to the people who are listening to the music. I now have my finger on the pulse, and a bird's eye view of exactly how everything's going."