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Sage Francis
Self Fighteous

Joined: 30 Jun 2002
Posts: 21790
Suicide Girls interview with Sage  Reply with quote

By Mike Hammer
Jul 19, 2007

Sage Francis tears holes in hypocrisy and mainstream hip-hop with his thoughtful stories of the human condition. The wordsmith spits rhymes that make you think, make you smile, and flow beautifully over high-tempo beats. His new album, Human the Death Dance, was released May 8 on Epitaph Records and has charted well on Billboardís ďTop Independent AlbumsĒ list. The album is a hip-hop work of art that mixes cutting edge beats from indie rap producers like Alias and Reanimator and Ant, as well as Sageís insightful personal and pop cultural rants. The 16-track disc is what Sage calls a ďwrap upĒ album of all his previous work.

I sat down with Sage in Cleveland, Ohio to hear some things about the indie hip-hop scene, his abnormal MySpace page, the first rhyme he ever wrote, greedy publishing companies and more.

Mike Hammer: Your Web site ( has tracks streaming for free. Is that a good thing for artists to do?

Sage Francis: People can do whatever they want online. Me streaming my music just skips a step so that they donít go to another site and hear it. On my MySpace page there are like 20 songs there, which is abnormal. Most people donít get that many songs there but I made a deal with the devil.

MH:With Rupert Murdoch huh?

SF:Yeah. I told him, ďIf you want the privilege of having me involved with your network you start throwing some bones.Ē

MH:I hear ya. Did you threaten to go to Facebook?

SF:Yeah. Iím gonna two time on all of Ďem.

MH:I think the Internet streaming music is a great resource for underground artists, but lately they had that crackdown on Internet radio stations.

SF:Yeah, yeah. Publishing companies have stepped in and started to charge people (Web radio stations) for the same type of stuff that venues are charged for, and regular radio stations. Basically any business establishment that plays published artists from ASCAP or BMI Ö thereís a few Ö theyíre bullies man, theyíre bullies about it. Thatís some big business shit and itís unfortunate because Internet radio was a great prospect at exposing a whole bunch of people to new music and people just were streaming free and now theyíre coming down with the hammer and itís just gross. I have no respect for that. I donít care if it makes me more money, it does, Iím a member of those groups I have to be for all the stuff that Iím doing, but I donít respect that. The people who care about making that money are only the publishing companies. Most artists, especially artists on a smaller, independent level never see publishing money anyway. SoÖ Iím wondering where all that money disappears to. It ends up in somebodyís pocket.

MH:Are you seeing any royalty money yet?

SF:Just recently I started seeing some. I had to go through an agency that specializes in retrieving publishing funds; it was a big pain in the ass and a huge process. So you actually have to involve middlemen in order to get money, then get them paid, then other people get paid, and I really donít think itís about artists seeing money for their work. I think itís about a bunch of other people implicating themselves, and getting money that probably isnít really deserved to them and ending up with money that other people donít know how to retrieve.

MH:How do you make most of your money? Is it always live shows and selling merchandise and such?

SF:Yep. Well, I run an independent record label called Strange Famous Records so Iíve always seen money for what I have released, but weíre starting to put out other peopleís stuff. But touring is a great money maker, if you have the ability to put to put on a good live show and you have the stamina to put on one after another then you should be good. Itís just a tough market right now though. It gets tougher and tougher. Itís flooded beyond belief. Our booking agency, the main guy Christian at the Kork Agency, just did an interview where he said he has to book shows six months ahead of time now in order to get a band into a club and preparing that much ahead of time takes professional work. So, for a band starting out that wants to do their own tour, to book their own tour, itís virtually impossible.

MH:For any type of music?

SF:Yeah. All I know is the music we do, the indie hip-hop scene, but also rock and roll, the indie rock scene and I would say probably any genre, weíre all sharing the same clubs, so itís the same thing.

MH:You mentioned Strange Famous, how long has that been around?

SF:Well, the beginning stages were in 1996 when I started putting out my own stuff but I didnít start using the name until probably 1999. We started putting out tapes, then it was burned CDs then we started printing things up and the bigger things got the more official we became and started hiring staff. Now we have a mail out room and we have an office and itís starting to come together.

MH:You actually started rapping when you were eight-years-old, whatís the first rhyme you wrote? Or the first one you recall?

SF:The first one I recall is actually featured on the new album in the intro. Cause I recorded it on a tape deck, and it was like ďIím chillin, Iím chillin, I dealin Iím never ever illin, take that pill and you wonít be livin.Ē
I donít know if most people know that those voices are actually me in different stages of my life in the intro of my album, but thatís on there.

MH:What made you write that first rhyme? Why did you start writing?

SF:I was listening to hip-hop and loviní it and I was the kinda kid, and I think most kids are like this, when they love something they automatically want to involve themselves in it and participate and theyíre not as inhibited as adults are and theyíre just ready to go. And I was ready to go. I had a tape deck andÖ it was probably also cause I couldnít get enough hip-hop.

MH:Who were you listening to at that time?

SF:Run DMC, Fat Boys, L.L. Cool J and a lot of radio stuff I was able to access through 88.9 WERS, which was in Boston, and they introduced me to Rakim and Spoonie Gee and Ice TeaÖ the list goes on and on.

MH:OK. Hearing that first stuff inspired you then, but what inspires you now? What inspired you to write this new album?

SF:Iíve just been on the path. Itís a path and I know that doesnít really answer the question well but itís like, I blazed a trail and Iím at where Iím at because I keep having to figure out how to get further and further and I donít feel like stopping yet. It just keeps flowin, so I keep putting it down and people are listening and thereís no reason to stop now, might as well keep putting out the records.

MH:Did you have a specific goal in mind with Human the Dead Dance?

SF:Not really. For this record I really was just, I wanted it to be reflective, I was looking back Ö the album is a culmination of all styles that had come out previously on all my other records. I think each record before this had itís own voice and this record incorporates a whole bunch of different voices of mine, and itís kind of a wrap up record. As if it was the end of the trilogy, as if itís trying to wrap it all up and I do think itís the end of a certain style of record making for me. I wanna kinda abandon ship after this and go in a whole different direction. Maybe. Weíll see what happens. But I think itís a good time to do that though.

MH:Was the process of making this record particularly grueling?

SF:Well, I used the same engineer. I worked with a multitude of producers that Iíve worked with on almost every other album and there were some new producers to that came in, but itís like a mish-mash, a mix tape style of an album. The subject matter and concepts are wide ranging and itís a pretty revealing record, just exposing shit that Iíve been through and what Iíve learned in my life and how I learned it, and thatís kinda what the purpose of the album is; as far as the content goes.

MH:Whatís more important in a song, the beats in a song or the lyrics? To you?

SF:Iím a lyricist and thatís where my focus is, but Iíve got a high respect for the music and Iím always on the search for the best accompaniment to the lyrics. But, without music Iíll always have the lyrics. And thatís why Iíve done spoken word for as long as I have, cause sometimes Iím just left with no music.

MH:Do you consider yourself a poet?

SF:Yeah, yeah. Itís a funny term, cause I donít think anyone wants to walk around and say, ďIím a poet, Iím a poetĒ Ö but I work with words.

MH:I always liked the term ďwarrior poetsĒ from Braveheart.

SF:Well. Iím a warrior.

MH:So who are your favorite writers, whether in music or not?

SF:Well, in music Iíd give it up to Bob Dylan and John Lennon and for hip-hop, Buck 65 andÖ thereís a few in hip-hop, but I donít know whoís inspiring me. Writers in general, I donít read much but I get a big kick out of Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, Stephen King -- those are the authors I read most.

MH:Do you consider yourself a hip-hop artist or a rapper, or other? Do you make hip-hop or rap? Is there a difference? And whatís the difference between what you do and the mainstream?

SF:I donít concern myself with those labels. I really donít know. Myself Iím definitely hip-hop. I learned through hip-hop and I carry on the traditions of what I learned in hip-hop, but itís obvious at this point and time that the type of music I make and whatís most popular in hip-hop, we donít sound the same, we donít talk about the same things, we have different approaches. But that itself is supposed to be hip-hop. Just cause itís not the same, people are doing their own thing, that doesnít mean that what I do isnít hip-hop. But, if it ever ends up with a new title, Iíve said it time and time again, so be it. I came up with a term that maybe it should be called, but now I canít remember it. Maybe it should be warrior music.

MH:Warrior poets?


MH:Youíre a white warrior poet, is that tough in the hip-hop scene? Whatís the diversity level in hip hop these days?

SF:I donít know what makes it tough to be a white artist. I donít know what makes it easy to be a white artist. Before 2007Ö like 10 years ago, even five or six years ago, I can tell you what made it difficult to be a white hip-hop artist, and that was that people were not willing to accept white rappers into their scope. Iím sure they exist today, but now there are people who scout out rappers who are white, and thatís freaky. Iím not down with that. I wasnít comfortable with people not listening to me because Iím white and Iím not down with people listening to me because Iím white. I donít want it to define me. I donít want it to include me or exclude me in anything. Itís gross.

MH:Donít you think they do that in other things, like sports maybe? They scout in Cuba and in Midwest USA because maybe different people with different backgrounds can do different things better or have different tools for success.

SF:Thereís a lot of social reasons for that. I came up in an era when white people where definitely scarce, at least in the public eye. If they were around they were behind the scenes. And here I was, jumping into battles and going into contests and it was a shock. Most people would be like, ďOh man a white guy is trying to do this, give me a break.Ē And it would influence me or inspire me to go above and beyond what was expected of me. It helped me a lot, and I think that helps, if a black dude is trying to play hockey and he already knows people are gonna be thumbiní their nose heís gonna push extra hard to prove himself, so Ö itís like Tiger Woods on the golf course -- itís good fuel. Itís good inspiration. But right now I have no answers. I think in 10 years from now Iíll have a much better idea of how it all worked at.

MH:What do you think the best music is out there today? Who should our readers be listening to?

SF:Jolie Holland who is a singer/songwriter, sheís ghostly, sheís like a black and white photo, she has beautiful music, beautiful voice and edgy lyrics. Itís really good stuff.

MH:What do you guys listen to on tour?

SF:UhÖ I scour the radio looking for the hits, a lot of classic rock and Neil Young.

MH:No talk radio? Sports talk? Left or right wing?

SF:Um, a little bit. Iíd say 2% of the time.

MH:You do some politically inspired lyrics, but you donít pay attention to that stuff on the radio?

SF:I donít. In fact Randi Rhodes from Air America came to our show in New York and she had never seen the show before or heard the music and when she heard the political songs she got really excited about it and has talked about the show and my music and Iím really excited about that but I had no idea who she was and sheís this huge talk DJ. So, maybe I should spend some more time listening to talk radio, but at the same time, no I shouldnít. Yeah, I donít think I should at all.

MH:OK. The new album is Human the Death Dance, where did that name come from?

SF:Buddy Wakefield, who is featured on the album, has a poem called ďHuman the Death DanceĒ which we chop up and sprinkle on the album.

MH:If someone is reading this who is not familiar with you, what album of yours do you recommend they pick up?

SF:Well, Personal Journals came out in 2002 and that broke me onto the scene, thatís the first official album that came out and itís a little off kilter and it set me apart from everyone and helped me gain my own audience and I think most people, because itís the oldest, tend to gravitate to that one the most. But each one that came after that I invested so much of myself into itÖ A Healthy Distrust came out after that and right now Iím kinda feeling like that was my best album. Human the Death Dance came out and Iím over-consumed by it Iíve just been around it too much and Iím trying to get it out of my head. Again, in 10 years ask me these same questions.

MH:Alright, definitely, weíll do it again in a decade.

Starting July 25 you can find Sage Francis on the Paid Dues tour, featuring Felt, Living Legends, Mr. Lif, Cage, Brother Ali and others. Paid Dues runs through August, then Sage jumps on the Rock the Bells festival tour featuring Rage Against The Machine, Wu-Tang Clan, Mos Def and more.

Strange Famous ( is planning new releases in the fall, including an album from Buck 65 (
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:10 am
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passive aggressifist

Joined: 13 Jan 2003
Posts: 1610
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good interview.
the randi rhodes thing is cool.

laughing at the writer calling him ice tea.
and the human the dead dance.
burn the editors.
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:19 am
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Joined: 04 Aug 2006
Posts: 4545
Location: Switzerland
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this was actually one of the easier interviews to read. You seemed more into it, rather than just answering questions to answer questions. Which you may have still done.
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:22 am
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Storm Davis

Joined: 01 Apr 2004
Posts: 425
Location: Providence
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"Ice Tea"

Finally, a radio station concerned with expanding its listeners' refreshment options.

Curious that he didn't address the "suicide girl" line on HTDD.
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:24 am
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p00ny tang

Joined: 30 Jun 2002
Posts: 6413
Location: Detroit, Michigan
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ice tea was a popular drink, and it still is
i get more stunts and props than bruce willis
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:28 am
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Joined: 19 Feb 2004
Posts: 707
Location: Des Moines, IA
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Storm Davis wrote:
"Ice Tea"

Finally, a radio station concerned with expanding its listeners' refreshment options.

Curious that he didn't address the "suicide girl" line on HTDD.
haha I was wondering if that would come up.

I think this is one of the better interviews I've read in awhile.
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:45 am
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looks like the writer didn't include anything he noted eves dropping dilly, eric, and me at the bar.
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:58 am
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Blackstone Valley

Joined: 09 Jun 2006
Posts: 3586
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Ian wrote:
looks like the writer didn't include anything he noted eves dropping dilly, eric, and me at the bar.

i read through this interview with great haste when i saw it was posted to make sure dude kept it in his pants.

he was scribbling like crazy while we were sitting there!

he actually did a good job, i liked this one, even though it had some of the standard questions.

edit: i also think that the reason dude didnt mention the suicide girls reference was because he didnt hear it.

Last edited by Blackstone Valley on Thu Jul 19, 2007 12:08 pm; edited 1 time in total
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 12:01 pm
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dilly dilly

Joined: 08 Mar 2007
Posts: 846
Location: maine
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ha ha SAFE!

though I do wanna keep an eye out for his next couple of articles....
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 12:05 pm
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Joined: 02 Apr 2007
Posts: 5081
Location: Dr. Pepperland
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There are dude journalists working for Suicide Girls? That's kind of creepy.
Neil Young huh? Sweet.
"White warrior poet". That bummer sticker would get mad respect on a busy freeway or during urban grindlock.

and lolz@ all the Ice Tea comments.
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 4:12 pm
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Joined: 12 Nov 2002
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Storm Davis wrote:

Curious that he didn't address the "suicide girl" line on HTDD.

more than curious. that line is classic. i kept reading to the end convinced that it would come up. how anticlimactic. i'm actually surprised you seemed so nice/polite in that interview. why be mean, i guess.
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 4:31 pm
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Joined: 30 Nov 2004
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Location: Hous of Gaga
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good read...good read.
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 4:33 pm
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Joined: 05 Jul 2002
Posts: 6370
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So this was done in person and not a phoner? It seemed very casual.

And the editors do need to step up their game, but I dug your responses.
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 4:52 pm
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Mikal kHill

Joined: 29 Jun 2002
Posts: 6849
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I think it's funny that Suicide Girls is viewed the way it is...

Is it really a different standard of beauty. It's still skinny girls, and they still look like most of the young girls do now.

Scrawny preteens! America's favorite pastime.

All that said... Thier interview with Jhonen Vasquez (which I posted here a long time ago) remains one of my favorite interviews ever. This one was pretty good. As other people said, pretty standard questions, but it was articulate at least.

Also, I like the suicide girls.

I'm not hating on them precisely.

I'm hating on us.

Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 5:52 pm
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Mac Lethal
the one with the back hair

Joined: 19 Apr 2003
Posts: 1920
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Stephen King is a horrible author.

Stand By Me is a dope movie, though.

Great interview.
Post Thu Jul 19, 2007 6:25 pm
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