by Madeline Turner ('23)
This Friday (February 11th at 8 PM), award-winning singer-songwriter Rachael Sage is performing at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca in support of the Howard Jones Acoustic Trio. The 6-time Independent Music Awards winner will perform songs from her recent Billboard Charting album Character, along with select pieces across her repertoire of 14 albums and her new collaborative side-project, Poetica.
WVBR Promotions Director Madeline Turner (‘23) recently connected with the multi-talented artist over email to discuss everything from her upcoming show in town to new projects.
Q: You will be performing in Ithaca at the Hangar Theatre this Friday–what have you enjoyed the most about getting back on the road and in front of audiences?
I haven't done that many live shows since the pandemic started but the handful I've done have been downright revelatory in terms of the sheer joy and relief one feels as a performer connecting again with an audience of eager and enthusiastic listeners. Add to that the absolute relish of playing with another fellow musician after so much isolation, and it's really just a recipe for complete euphoria! I am also so grateful to be sharing the stage on these upcoming shows with my longtime musical partner, violinist Kelly Halloran - and of course supporting Howard Jones which is always a dream as his songs are so beautiful and thought-provoking.
Q: From what I understand, your last album Character is a very personal album about your experiences as a cancer survivor, with themes of vulnerability and resistance. Can you speak to the experience of performing some of these songs for audiences while on tour? Does the experience of performing (vs recording) have the songs take on a different meaning for you than how they appear on the album?
I love this question! Yes, performing songs like "Blue Sky Days" and "Bravery On Fire" in particular do take on different meanings in a live setting, or even depending on what may have happened that day in the news. Ultimately the act of sharing these types of personal catharsis in a public setting allows listeners to project their own experiences onto our performance and hopefully, to feel less alone and more empowered, in the process.
Q: Your recent musical spoken-word project Poetica is a huge collaboration with nine additional musicians and two photographers, together creating “connection and shared experience via the unifying power of words”. Can you talk more about how you brought together this group of artists for this project?
This project initially began as a collaboration between myself and my longtime cellist Dave Eggar, who was extremely encouraging when I first presented the idea of setting a collection of poems to eclectic, cinematic, or even jazz-oriented musical arrangements. Gradually I brought other musicians into the picture one by one, but of course, everything was virtual and we were sending files around the world to musicians I'd worked with prior such as guitarists James Mastro and Jack Petruzzelli, and then some others including Klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer and harmonica player Will Wilde. The two photographers are both individuals I'd worked with prior. Tom Moore had done some of my other album photography and was living nearby so we could work creatively - socially distanced - and Mark Anton Smith was in England but we were able to FaceTime and generate ideas that way.
Q: What was one of your favorite moments during the collaboration?
I loved art directing still life scenes with various antiques and then having Tom then them into gorgeous photographs. We are always so in sync when we work together on projects of this nature, but this one was extra special because it had been upwards of a year of lockdown before we convened to do it. It really felt like a damn breaking, and the creativity between us just flowed.
Q: How was this collaboration affected by the process of file-sharing and remote connection (due to COVID)? How did creating the album have a different feel during the production process, and in what ways did this process affect the completed project?
In some ways, I actually think the silver lining of lockdown was that collaborations of this nature could happen without anyone feeling guilty they weren't showing up in person. You could give someone a deadline of a few days or a week to approach recording some overdubs but generally people had so much time at home they were happy to jump right into it, and I found the process to be much more relaxed and perhaps even more adventurous because people were more experimental, recording at home. In some ways my job was as much to edit and curate as much as to compose, and I welcomed the opportunity to further hone those skills as the project progressed. I think the finished project is impossible to separate from the process in the sense that this work simply would not have been created at that particular time...but necessity birthed something quite new and ambitious and I believe everyone involved tapped into something magical, in terms of their individual performances. There were times I was editing strings or guitar or horn parts thinking, "Wow! I am so moved by this..." especially because everyone was so sensitive to the lyrical content, which impressed me enormously.
Q: Can you talk more about the future of this project (a book of poems, more recordings)?
Well, to be honest, I have just shifted gears back into working on some overdue solo recordings - more of my traditional singer-songwriter fare under my own name - so I am going to just say that I am certain there will be more Poetica recordings...but it may be in another year or so, we'll see! However, I do have some Poetica remixes already underway - collaborations with a couple very hip NYC-based DJ's - so more about that will be announced shortly at poeticaproject.com. Also, we have 2 new videos for tracks on Poetica that will be released in the coming months - including one that was choreographed by Sarah O'Gleby who's choreographed everything from The Oscars to Saturday Night Live and various Broadway shows...so that will be very surprising and different from the other video clips so far, and I can't wait to share them!
Q: Has your work on Poetica had an influence on the sound or process of your upcoming solo album?
I think it must have...but I'm trying not to overthink it too much because I really do feel they're such distinct projects and so different by nature. One wonderful thing that came out of my Poetica collaboration though was discovering Kevin J. Killen from Philadelphia (on Instagram!), who played organ and electric guitar on that album. I just enlisted him to appear on my solo record too, so - I'm very grateful to know him now and consider him a friend as well.
Q: Ithaca is known for being a pretty artsy community with lots of local artists and musicians. As an artist who has started her own label and made 14 albums, what advice do you have for musicians just starting out?
The best advice I ever received was to just get a regular gig where you can shed, make mistakes, and learn what does and doesn't work. In the current climate that may be more difficult but live-streaming is a good way to self-develop too. Beyond that, I would say: "Vision is everything." It is what makes you unique, and what will separate you - the particular way you sound, look, express yourself. Don't water it down! Take everything about you that is unusual or just feels authentically you, and amplify it. Don't dilute yourself to pander to trends or what have you. What's that saying? "Be yourself because everyone else is taken." It's so true! Say what you have to say in the way that only you were born to do.