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Interview: Band of the Week – Rachael Sage

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Photo by Bill BernsteinThe best word to describe Rachael Sage's sound is theatrical, and her newest album Chandelier is truly theatre for your ears. Lyrically each song is an act from the stage play of Sage's life; musically each is a mini musical in scope, breadth and drama. As a former performer with the New York City Ballet, Sage's flare for the dramatic is understandable, but while you may expect a prima ballerina to be a drama queen she is far from it. And much like ballet, Chandelier feels graceful and effortless, and Sage's vocals match this with a diaphanous almost ethereal quality, and yet combined they are powerful and energetic. It's filled with hooky melodies and subtle emotive lyrics and guided by a strong pop sensibility accompanied by Sage's tinkley piano. You feel like you're on a personal journey with Sage, and each eclectic song is a vignette of life in Sage's very creative head.

Sage's ability to write, arrange, and perform nicely balanced music is undoubtedly one of the reason this multi-award winning singer-songwriter has built up a large grassroots fan base. Unwilling to sacrifice her artistic vision to a big, soulless label Sage formed her very own label, Mpress Records in 1995. Now she is releasing her eighth album, Chandelier, from that label.

I was thrilled when she recently agreed to take some time out of her busy CD launch schedule to chat with me. Intelligent, witty, and upbeat, Sage managed to be engaging and whimsical while always maintaining a professional demeanour. It was a pleasure to interview her.

Eight albums is quiet a lot to put out on your own.

It is I guess. I don't know about the on my own versus any other option. Once I started the label it's actually part of what makes the label keep at it and stay alive and well. Got to put out records to keep myself on the road, and keep coming out with new tunes. If anything I feel I could and/or should be putting out more work on my own but I'm a little bit more on the schedule that the rest of the universe is on where artists mostly put out one album a year at most. I'm kind of a throwback to the days of The Monkees and The Beatles, they put out a few a year. (laughs) That's where my heart is but obviously it's hard to finance that, and it's hard to keep people focused. Everybody seems to have ADD these days, besides me. Putting out too much work to quickly just means most people will be caught out and confused.

But you are doing your best. You have pretty much released an album a year since 2002.

There were a couple of years where it was a year and a half or so. I try not to count. I just notice that point where I have toured behind a record, and visited all those places I tend to hit in the U.S. All of the sudden I've got 13 to 15 songs and they're just burning a hole in my brain and I got to get back in and record. It's kind of seasonal I guess.

This particular record [Chandelier] I didn't really tour behind the songs. A lot of them had been written just before I went back into the studio or they were quiet a bit older and just hadn't been out and about for several years. There are a few of them including “My Word” and “Moonlight & Fireflies”. Most of the rest of them were written right as I was going into the studio. That's a bit unusual for me. Usually I've written them in the last year or two, before going back in, and “shed” them, so-to-speak, on the road for my band.

Where do you get your inspiration for your music? You're so prolific it must difficult to find it.
Photo by Bill Bernstein

I'm not as prolific as I seem. I have a lot of peers who… they kick tuchas, they write a lot of freaking songs. They are songwriters. I feel like I just write when the spirit moves me, (laughs) you know. I end up with exactly the number of songs I need every year to record. When I was little I wrote a song a day, at least. I was sitting in front of DX7 and my drum machine and writing song, after song, after song. I definitely don't do that anymore. I guess it's all relative. It's like a poet, they might write constantly but only reveal a few of their poems ultimately in a book. That's what I strive for, to be a songwriter all the time. I just don't have time. I see so many words flying around the air and hear so many things going on in the world that I want too.

Do you write on your piano?

I write in my head most of the time. Then I bring it to the piano and work out the arrangement more.

Do you hear the music or the lyrics first?

I hear both at the same time, or it ends up being a poem. If I'm writing it down on a computer screen and it's a bunch of words that fall out like that and I don't hear a melody then it will usually stay that and end up in the Musings section of my website. (laughs)

So where do you see yourself in five years?

I had a funny thing happen this year; I performed at a venue called Joe's Pub in New York, which is affiliated with the adjoining public theatre. Which is an incredible bastion of classic and contemporary theatre, which is something I grew-up going to and I live near it because I love it. I had an acting agent see me and be very passionate about wanting to work with me. Afterwards asking me, with knowledge, “Do you act? You're very funny, you had me rolling.” I guess it was mostly just my shtick about my family, and Jewish stuff, and stories about my songs. I was just being myself doing my thing as a musician.
It felt so ironic because I attended Shakespeare school at the public theatre, more than ten years ago. I put that all aside to pursue music hardcore. That was definitely a sign for me that I would like to get back into that. There is something about the community theatre that I miss. Something about being part of telling someone else's story, that I remember loving.

So I said “Oh Photo by Amy Chacegreat yeah let's work together! Whenever I'm home you can send me out on auditions.” That was about a year ago and I have been home maybe three days a month (laughs). This poor woman, who has such a beautiful sense of encouragement and enthusiasm on my behalf, is probably not taking me seriously at all. I keep telling her “Just wait; this is something I love and want to do. Thank you for seeing something in me.” That happens so rarely, as any type of artist, that someone just, out of the blue, comes along and has that faith in you. I was a teenager praying for that and it never happened. So all these years later I think it's neat that it was in seeing my music that someone saw that in me.

So five years from now I would love to be integrating acting again. Even within my music. Whether it's a one person show where I act and play, or creating the kind of music that integrates dance and theatre or film. I've done a lot of scoring for television and small films over the years but not recently and that's something I would like to do again. I guess just being more of a multi-disciplinarian, cause those are the artists whose work has really inspired me. People like Peter Gabriel, David Burn maybe Prince to a degree, just people who have shown that they're multi-dimensional. But not just for the sake of that. That they are passionate about different disciplines that don't limit them but helps them expand as people.

Chandelier will be available from June 10th at Amazon and CDBaby. If you would like to listen to selected tracks this passionate artist's newest album, or find out more about her touring schedule, you can visit her website and her MySpace space.

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