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Sage Interview with Acclaim Magazine, Aust.
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Joined: 02 Jan 2004
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Sage Interview with Acclaim Magazine, Aust.  Reply with quote

A major figure in New York City’s poetry slam scene and credited with the invention of an entire music genre, Sage Francis has always been intent on shaking shit up in the rap and hip-hop genre since day one. His latest release continued this tradition of rewriting the rule-book all over again and gave us an ‘indie-hop’ album that’s heavy on ideals and wit and light on drums and typical beat trickery. We speak to Sage about the new album before he hits our shores in October (2010) for a stint at the Beck’s Festival Bar, a part of the Melbourne Festival.

On your previous album Human The Death Dance, you said that death wasn’t something you wanted to focus on in your music anymore and with your new album being called Life, was this a conscious decision that you had made to move in a new direction with your work?

No, I think that was a coincidence of my consistency. I didn’t really make that connection till recently actually, I went back and listened to that. I was listening to Human the Death Dance just the other day and I made the same connection and I named the new record Life. But yeah it wasn’t a conscious decision at the time. It may have been a subconscious thing but yeah, I mean the thing that I actually thought about after that, was wow you know, the human death theme continues to plague my art and I still need to take some more steps away from that.

You used a lot of notable underground producers on your previous releases including Sixtoo, Reanimator and many members of the Anticon collective. On Life, instead you collaborated with a wide range of indie rock musicians, I was just wondering what led to your shift from indie hip-hop producers to indie rock producers.

Well yeah, as long as I’ve been doing this, every time I’ve put together a mix-tape or an album, I’ve always worked with the hip-hop producers that I work with so I mean it was all the people that are in my circle. For this record, what I talked about with the people at ANTI-records, that I’ve been talking to them about this (for) since we first started working together which was back in 2004, was I really like to work with a band on a record and just have a new sound and we never really had the opportunity to do that until recently. So this record which was the last record of mine with them, it just seemed like the right time to go that route and try and see what we could come up with. So we just reached out to all the bands that we knew, wanted to see who was interested in, I don’t know, going down this path as such and seeing where it would lead and yeah after two years of doing that, the Life album is really what we came up with.

Your previous records started out primarily sample based. It seems like a natural progression to your sound, I guess is what I felt from the new album.

I agree too. A lot of people have said, or some people expect that they think it’s a drastic change from my previous work and I really disagree with that on a lot of levels. But I think what most people get hung up on in terms of hip-hop and how they want it sound or expect it to sound, is very drum heavy type of music so, when they hear a hip-hop album where the drums are defiantly taking a backseat to the rest of the music, it kinda sends people through a loop and I mean I have to say honestly, it was like done intentionally. As many people as that may piss off or, I mean there’s

other people out there who were happy to hear a record of this style and myself included. So you know, I wanted to do it. There wasn’t too many people out there I worked with who would be able to do it like this, so to have a producer like Brian Deck on board, who produces rock records and typically works with Califone in the studio that we recorded this album and so it was sort of like their home playing field, I was the visitor, I brought the lyrics, you know I brought my own song structures and I just wanted to follow the sound of the music that was being created and I feel like hip-hop and rap in particular, is flexible enough to be able to do that and still come of as organic and authentic.

You’ve said in the past that some of your main influences have been Chuck-D and KRS-One when you were younger and a lot of the classic hip-hop rappers. Yet it seems that a lot of I suppose you can say stereotypical hip-hop fans don’t quite understand what it is that you do and the direction that you take hip-hop. Do you think this is something that people are too used to, that kind of hip-hop stereo type of drums, raps, samples, do you know what I mean?

I definitely do and I feel like I fall into that category too because that’s what I grew up on and that’s sort of my default setting, where I know I could make a record like that and I feel like that would be the easiest kind of record for me to make if I was to do it in that format that is tried and true and it’s been done a billion times you know, because there’s obviously an audience out there for that. I just felt like it was time to take a risk and push the boundaries of my own writing and my own music…Try out new things, try every new sound and to talk about, I mean KRS-One in particular, who definitely was an inspiration in me coming up.

What’s funny about that is one of the most interesting and inspiring pieces I’ve heard form him recently, was of him rapping over an orchestra. There was no beat. It was him rapping over strings from an orchestra and it was really amazing, like it really just sounded like the best stuff I’ve heard from him in a long time, and part of that is because it was so fresh, it was such a new sound and he felt comfortable in that format and I mean yeah, it’s like why don’t we hear more of this kind of, these interesting takes on what can be done with MCing?

It’s interesting you say that. When I first heard Best of Times, I felt that there was an honesty to it and you kind of sounded like you were just doing what you really wanted to do and you could sort of hear that in the music I think. So it’s interesting, or I find it interesting, when people just do what they want to do, it comes out so honest and authentic.

I appreciate that and I feel like there’s people out there who feel the opposite of you and I hear from them a lot, because they’re the loud minority. Whatever the case, what I did specifically with that song and the whole album in particular was like something that I liked for myself, that I felt like was natural for me and I know, in my heart of hearts I know that at anytime I can go back and make the kinda album that is a little bit more typical in format and be more conventional and still have my worth and ideas be presented in a way that I’m comfortable and happy with, but still at the same time, I want to feel rewarded by taking different paths and trying out new things and see what can be done with it and this instance with making this record, there’s really not too may opportunities that any rapper has where they’re left to do this and that. I was. Where here I am with all these resources that I can utilize however I want, as long as we can procure them and we did and Life is the result of it. The album that you hear now is the result of that. Whether it’s my best or worst album I can’t say. I just know it’s not something I can probably never do again and I don’t think anyone else is going to do that kind of record because no one else is me and I will never be in that kind of position to do that and also I’ve already done it so I really need to start thinking about what else I would like to do.

As the founder of Strange Famous Records, I read that it was originally started to release your own material, but do you feel now that you’re relatively quite established in your career, and I suppose your fanbase - do you feel that this gives you a good opportunity as a label boss to put forward music that you feel people should care about and should be interested in?

Pretty much, and that’s how I’ve been treating it for at least half a decade, a little bit more than that. I’m pretty deep into certain styles of hip-hop that don’t really get too much exposure and there is a particular fanbase that I have that I can present Strange Famous artists to and I think they’ll be more receptive to I don’t know, various styles of hip-hop that we make that aren’t as typical as obviously the mainstream radio hip-hop so yeah, it felt like the right thing to do. At the same time the less and less people buy music, hip-hop included, it becomes more and more difficult to run a business and then I mean, the fucking reigns are tightening and it becomes difficult to stay afloat and we’re constantly thinking of ways to stay viable and have access to the public still and make sure everyone gets what they deserve, out of all the time and effort that they put into the art.

Honestly I feel like it’s been more work than it’s worth, but how do you really put worth on art? I do work 80 hours a week and I’m trying to let go and figure out ways to make Strange Famous records expand and get to more people but and then I start to feel let down and it’s not really like I didn’t really see any reward from this. And then the other part of my brain is like ‘Well who gives a fuck’ you know. You’re putting up music that you love and helping out these dudes who deserve that exposure… But then I don’t know, running a business is multifaceted in my head, always wondering who wants what, how much more they need from us and if we’re doing for everybody as much as we need to. And then at the end of the day I’m like ‘Why don’t you just fucking be an artist and stop worrying about all that shit.’ I got a lot of things to juggle now.

You won the 2000 Scribble Jam in a Metallica t-shirt and handlebar moustache. Was this your way of kind of mocking the establishment or more just a way of kinda making fun of it and sort of saying, ‘You know what? We don’t all have to be the same. I can get up there and beat anyone in this battle and I don’t even have to look that.’ Just sort of do it your way kind of thing.

Yeah it sort of was a do it my way kind of thing. Back in 2000, the battle scene was a bit more heavy, and I can remember that time and I remember how much it felt like a risk going out there, like looking the way I did. It really was not generally accepted that a white rapper would even admit to listening to anything outside of hip-hop you know, because then you kind of play into all the stereotypes of how a white person is and that’s what would be used against you in a rap battle. But I felt like at that time, I just was like gonna embrace all those things, all the stereotypes about white people and let that be part of my character in a hip-hop battle and see how other people would deal with this.

It was me just having fun with the situation. But my career was on the line at the same time so there was still a fire burning in my belly and making sure I can’t just go out there and get clowned for being the white guy. I actually have to go above and beyond of what’s expected of me and pull the trick move and just surprise people, have that surprise element there. And it worked out thankfully. I mean honestly it could have gone one or the other way with each battle I was in at that time but it worked out.

I think it’s interesting, first they would have been like, ‘Who’s this clown in a Metallica t-shirt’ but then when you actually get into it, I think it would have also thrown them off guard a little for them to say, ‘Shit! This guy’s actually good.’

A bunch of techniques from the art of war. It was a strategy that thankfully worked out but it definitely was yes, throw them off guard, try to overload them with all the material that they can talk about and then give them a name that is really hard to remember. Everything worked out for me in that instance. I’m happy that it did. It helped that I had about I don’t know, some eight years of battle experience right up till that moment so it wasn’t like an overnight decision that I should get into a battle with this kind of getup and see if I can make a name for myself. I was lucky that I already had some kind of previous experience but I also had a career that I was trying to build. I wasn’t trying to build a rap career. I mean I wasn’t trying to build a battle career. There was something else going on that I was able to help out with the whole rap battle thing and I think that’s where a lot of battle rappers go wrong, when they focus way too much on the battle rap and stuff and yeah you can win in a battle but then where do you take it from there. It’s very like a, what do you call, an instant gratification kind of thing like yeah, you wanna battle, you took home money, you got a little trophy, you got a little notoriety, but what do you do with that. I mean 10 years later, here I am, talking to you, about to do an Australian tour.

Well I remember seeing a documentary once about the battle rap scene and one of the rappers commented, it’s one thing to go up there and battle but completely the other end of the spectrum to be able to write lyrics for actual songs that kind of mean something, that people are gonna wanna listen to over and over again. For some artists I imagine there could be a thing where yeah, you can get in that zone of being an amazing battle rapper but then being able to transcend that, to actually as you have and as you wanted to do, transcend to actually have a career in the music industry as such, is such a different thing.

Yeah they’re two different worlds and I have to believe that most people understand that. But it’s a lot of work for both worlds, I mean it takes different parts of the brain. People keep asking me you know like, ‘Why don’t you battle? Why don’t you battle?’ Honestly, I don’t use that part of my brain anymore. I don’t fucking spend my days and nights thinking of ways that I can tear down another person or come up with a punchline. I did do that for a long time, and I just kinda like continually built up ways where I could talk about somebody in a demeaning way and that is not where my energy was focused after a certain point. And that kinda bugged people out because once I had made a name for myself as a battle rapper, the first official album I came out with was Personal Journals, which was a total confessional, anti battle rap album. It was nothing punchliny about that album. It was very poem like in that album, but it wasn’t about, I mean if anything, it was a self-deprecation kind of album. I just kind of was breaking down my own humanity you know.

I remember the last time you toured Australia was in 2004 with Epitaph, I remember being at the show and there were so many kids in the front row in NOFX T-shirts, you know really quite excited. I’m wondering what you’re expecting from the Australian crowd this time, can you generally tell what kind of audience you’re gonna get at different cities that you’re familiar with, or is it a complete mixed bag where you go, you just sort of come across different people everywhere?

It’s a mixed bag. I play at certain cities enough times in a year or over the course of a few years, I’ve got the general idea of what kind of crowd will be there, but for something like playing out in Australia, the last time I was there was like you said five or six years ago, so I’ve no idea what kind of crowd it’ll be. I don’t know if it’ll be the same crowd I had before (or if I need to give). I mean honestly I think the crowd regenerates every three or four years so it could be a whole new audience and I just need to go in there, pretend that they don’t know shit about me and try to impress them and entertain them as much as I can and leave them with something to think about and yeah, something to mull about. Like when you leave a good movie and you kinda think about it for two or three days or even a week, that’s what I hope to do with my show. And I’ve already done that and it’s done well for me up to this point, so hopefully it works out.
Post Sat Oct 09, 2010 12:44 am
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nice read, thanks for posting it
Post Sat Oct 09, 2010 2:44 pm
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