IT is hard to find where Rachael Sage…
gets her energy from but, as she says in this interview, the work and passion she has for it drive her forward! I ask the New York-based songwriter if there’s a story behind her latest track, Spark, and what inspired her album, Myopia – she recommends some new artists and talks about N.Y.C.’s contrasts.
Sage tells me what it was like recording her album and whether she gets time to relax away from music; which three albums mean the most to her; if we can see her in the U.K. soon – she gives some great advice for songwriters emerging right now.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Rachael Sage and I’m a touring addict! What that means is I am incredibly lucky to be able to create my own original work and am perpetually grateful to listeners around the world - especially in the U.K. - who have graciously embraced my eclectic, Alt-Pop music; allowing me to get up on stage regularly and forge meaningful relationships through music.
To anyone brand new to my songs, I hope what you will discover by listening is a lexicon of poetry and melody that encourages positivity by making what’s extremely personal, universal. I am always aiming to break barriers and mitigate loneliness because I believe with all of my being that we are all inextricably connected by our humanity.
Spark is your new track. It seems like the boldest and most ambitious you have created! What inspired its creation?
I was inspired to write Spark by the moment of absolute possibility and hope that arises during a first kiss with someone you already know you have a deep connection with; you don’t know each other that well yet but the chemistry feels magical and meaningful because it is genuine and undeniable. It’s not a song only about passion, but about a kind of purity that exists early on between two soon-to-be-lovers before too many expectations have taken hold - and when everything feels absolutely authentic, exciting; vulnerable and inevitable.
It is from the album, Myopia. Like the single; what sort of ideas and stories compelled the music on the L.P.?
The title track, Myopia, is very much about the relationship between what we think: the thoughts we allow to take root and grow in our minds’ eye and how that actually colors our view of the world around us. It’s an empowering song about recognizing that the resources you already have are exactly what you need to create the life you want; if you let go of past pain, negative energy and/or current stress. The concept of vision, including aspects of blindness or narrowmindedness as well as positive visualization and fruition, run through other songs on the album including This Darkness, which is about truly trying to see injustice or suffering through the eyes of someone else and how that kind of vision essentially comprises empathy.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bill Bernstein
Alive is a very upbeat, positive song about truly recognizing the gifts of vitality, passion; love and even how one may grow from one’s from one’s mistakes. Another song, Haunted by Objects, looks at the issue of hoarding and hopefully destigmatizes a very common urge many people have to cling to too many things they believe they need; that are actually weighing them down, literally. There are a dozen new songs on the album and they’re all very eclectic - but the thread running through them all is this concept of examining myopia i.e. nearsightedness from every angle: romantically, socio-politically and, certainly, in terms of what we deem important in our everyday lives.
What was it like recording the album? Did you bring any new disciplines and structures to the plate? What makes this album different in your mind?
I played a lot more electric guitar on this album and a couple new axes were in my arsenal! Sadly, a renowned and beloved guitar store in N.Y.C.’s East Village called Matt Umanov closed while I was recording and I ended up adopting a gorgeous Gretsch guitar that helped me channel a bit more of a Rock ‘n’ Rock attitude on songs like Snowed In, Olivia and my punk version of the Yiddish classic, Umru Meine.
There are also some very luminary singers I respect enormously who popped by the studio to add their harmony magic to the mix; including rising Irish singer-songwriter Fiona Harte, Pop-Rock twins Nalani & Sarina and Americana songstress Gabrielle Louise. It felt really great to be able to include some of my fierce, vibrant female musician friends on the record - and certainly added a lot of laughter to the sessions!
You have created a whole lot of music in your career so far! How did you keep that creative energy going?! Do you notice an evolution as a songwriter?
A lot of people have asked me how I’ve maintained my energy through the years and it’s really very simple: I love my work. Since I’ve been a little girl, I embraced music with all of my being and it’s given me so much back. It’s enabled me to work eighteen-hour days and be reluctant to go to bed because I was so into what I was doing; so fully captured by the creative process.
Touring has also been a huge gift and given me the opportunity to meet amazing people from all walks of life, in cities and small towns all over the world. I think if anything my evolution has been from being a young songwriter working out my own ‘issues’ (gratefully) through song to a mature woman as eager to write impressionistic, poetic material as to share details about my own story.
I find equal value and inspiration in other peoples’ stories now and do my best to incorporate a balance between fact, fiction and imagination - and toward crafting something that’s hopefully universal and inspiring in some way to others.
New York is your base. How important are the city and its people to your music?
I adore N.Y.C. and will probably live here forever…but, at the same time, the cliché is definitely true that absence makes the heart grow fonder when it comes to such a bustling, intense place. I know that having lived here most of my life is extremely defining, but I also mourn for a time a few years back when more music clubs and artists were able to thrive because it wasn’t so prohibitive to live here.
Nonetheless, what I love about N.Y.C., as whole absolutely remains: the passion, intensity and determination of people who are able to survive here and contribute to the diversity (of N.Y.C.). People are very focused and ambition here to be sure which energizes me; and yet they are also very down to earth and open, in my experience. I feel exactly the same about London and consider it to be my ‘home away from home’ for those reasons!
Have you got any musical heroes that made you want to follow music? Who do you rank as idols?
Among a few of my early, as well as later musical inspirations, are Carole King, Elvis; Buddy Holly, Elton John; David Bowie, Elvis Costello; Sinead O’Connor, Maria McKee; Sarah McLachlan and of course, The Beatles. In terms of creative inspiration, I’ve always tried to avoid the word ‘idol’ because I think it’s dangerous for an artist to aspire to be too much like anyone else; but two brilliant, insightful and musicians have absolutely made a huge impact on me in recent years and those are Folk icon Judy Collins and Synth-Pop legend Howard Jones! The kindness and encouragement both have shown me while touring together has taught me so much, artistically and personally.
Can we expect a little stopover in the U.K. at all?
I’m really hoping to be back next year! I love touring the U.K. so much and look forward to sharing all these new songs live as soon as possible!
Do you have any ambitions to fulfil before the end of the year?
I would love to write a bunch of new songs! This past year has been so busy - with recording the new album, touring the U.S. with Howard Jones and playing festivals internationally - that I simply haven’t had much of a chance to reflect on all of my adventures or process everything creatively, through music.
Being off the road a bit enables me to warm up all those muscles again and to, hopefully, do some extra practising as I’d liked to keep getting better as a guitarist as well! On a non-musical note, I’ve been on a huge spring cleaning kick lately and am basically going through every closet and shelf and purging any piece of clothing, paper, knick-knack or whatever the case may be if I haven’t used it in the last five years. It feels great and, hopefully, it’s a cleansing that will allow new energy to flow into my home and my life!
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
Playing Union Chapel with the brilliant Howard Jones last year in London was one of the highlights of my musical life. Being able to share such a wonderful experience with an artist I admire so deeply was a huge gift - and the acoustics in that venue are pretty much unparalleled!
Which three albums mean the most to you, would you say?
Carole King /Tapestry; Elvis Costello/Spike and Glen Hansard/Rhythm and Repose.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Find a safe local venue where you can perform live as often as possible; figure out what feels authentically you as a performer and don’t be afraid to make mistakes - because you’ll only grow from taking chances!
IN THIS PHOTO: Seth Glier
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
Of course; as label-owner of MPress Records, I’m partial to my own artists! I highly encourage everyone to check out singer-songwriter Seth Glier who has been steadily building his career in the U.S. as a touring artist and whose new album, Birds, is absolutely brilliant! I’ve also been really enjoying rising Irish artist Fiona Harte whose new E.P. will be released very soon.
IN THIS PHOTO: Fiona Harte
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I do my best to balance work with play but, as they say, if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life! That being said, I love watching movies, crafting; designing my own stage clothes and painting.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
I Want You – Elvis Costello & the Attractions
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