Album cover: Li(f)e

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Sage Francis Bio

"All great truths begin as blasphemies," proclaimed the fiery playwright George Bernard Shaw. It's a sentiment that can be applied exponentially to the works of rapper Sage Francis and his exhilarating new album Li(f)e. Francis has never been afraid to provoke. As a result he is a sometimes polarizing and increasingly important figure in modern music. Adored by many, reviled by a few but never ignored and always essential, Sage Francis has emerged as the reigning agent provocateur of hip hop. Read more


Sage talks industry, Brian Deck, Natalie Portman, the UK & more…

Interview with Sage Francis at conducted by Chris Maguire. Posted on April 19th, 2010 To read the full interview click this —>

photo by Anthony St. James

Q: With less than a month til the new album drops, how are you feeling about it and how have the reactions been so far?

A: When we first released “Slow Man” as an MP3 there were a lot of people turning their heads like “Hmmm…what’s this? Interessssting.” Once we released “The Best of Times” the folks started going crazy. Without even giving it an official push to radio, DJs started playing it and I’ve already noticed myself getting new fans because of it. All my networking channels online have been flooded by positive comments
and that’s really good to see. It looks like this album is going to get its proper due. I don’t want to count my chickens before the eggs hatch, but we are 1 month before the album’s release and people who’ve been on the fence about me and my style seem to have finally come around. It’s a good feeling considering how long we worked on this project.

Q: The new album ‘Li(f)e’ boasts a list of names who few would have expected to see next to yours, making it probably your most exciting release yet but also making it hard to imagine the result, how would you describe the sound of Li(f)e?

A: The sound is unique. We made a conscious effort to make sure this didn’t sound like a typical hiphop record or a typical rock record. Brian Deck was instrumental in the overall sound as he handled the recordings and mixing. He’s very particular when it comes to how things sound. He goes the long lengths to make sure he’s getting the right flavor out of whatever it is he’s recording. Whether it’s him tapping on a large metal door or running cable lines down 4 flights of stairs in order to record a keyboard in a parking garage. Listen…to me that is maniacal. Haha. But he gets what he wants and he knows how to get it when it comes to music recording. Once we brought this album to the mastering plant we made sure to let them know not to compress the hell out of it for the sake of volume (which is how most records are mixed these days.) There’s a lot of subtlety and nuance that would have been lost if that had happened. The end result is that we have a musically rich album on our hands with killer sonics.

Q:You can hear in your first studio album ‘Personal Journals’ that you had been writing that album for a long time, 8 years on, how does this new release compare to Sage Francis in 2002 and how long has this album taken you to write on a personal level?

A: The writing process was similar to how I wrote Personal Journals, yet that’s not how I prefer to make albums. However, if I had everything how I prefer it I probably wouldn’t have released anything by this point. I’m a neurotic perfectionist who makes rational decisions to ignore the voice in his head that says, “This isn’t exactly how we planned it…keep tinkering.” It’s not possible for me to know how long this stuff takes to write. Some songs were written
over the course of years. Others were written in one night. But writing is not like carving a statue. There’s no way to quantify how much time it took to write a song since all the ideas that go into a song build up in your head over time until eventually it gets put down on paper. It’s what you do when you’re not writing that matters most as far as I can tell. That was a long answer for a question I get asked a lot and I wish I had a quick an easy answer for it. I don’t
mean to make it sound more complicated than it really is, but there’s just no way for me to say how long it takes to write a song or an album. For instance, “The Best of Times” was written in one night. However, I know that a lot of those ideas, memories, and commentary have been building up in my conscience for a really long time.

Q: The album’s most curious collaboration on paper is the track ‘Best of Times’ with French composer Yann Tiersen of Amelie fame, how does a collaboration like this even come about?

A: My booking agent also books shows for Yann Tiersen. When he mentioned that he might be able to get music from Yann for my album it seemed like one of those things people just say without having any ability to actualize. I didn’t really take it seriously. In fact, we were almost finished recording the album when the music showed up unexpectedly two days before I was done the recording sessions. That’s why I had to write that song in one night. Which at the time was bumming me out, but I’m glad I hit a serious stride that evening.

Q: Another surprise is the album’s producer Brian Deck who’s proved himself time and time again but is not known for working with hip hop artists such as yourself, how did this work for you both in the recording process?

A: He had never worked with hiphop before. We approached him a little more than 2 years ago with the concept of him producing my album. I think he was a bit skeptical at first but thankfully he accepted the challenge. It was a lot of trial and error at first. In fact, there were definite points where it seemed like this wasn’t going to work out at all. He had his reservations and so did I. One thing was for sure, we didn’t want to do a novelty record. It had to be done in an organic and classy way. I think we were both fearful of the possibility that a rapper working with bands could turn into something cheesy if it wasn’t handled with a lot of care. Even when I was at the studio working with Califone it took a while for us to find our bearings, but once we did it was incredible. I wish we had more time to keep recording and keep creating together. Alas, all good things must come to an end. Plus I don’t think any budget would allow me to live in a studio as long as I’d really like to. I did stay there for a month straight though.

Q: Was it always the idea to collaborate with such a dynamic list of artists or is that something that naturally happened along the way?

A: I don’t think that was the original plan. I believe, I remember correctly, the original plan was to collaborate with one band for the full album. However, almost all of the bands who are featured on the LI(F)E album had their own records and touring. It was tough locking people down for multiple months at a time. Eventually it became clear that the best way to go about this was to get as many demos from as many people as we could and then consolidate the recording process with a specific group of musicians. That group of musicians turned out to be Califone, which is a band that Brian Deck frequently works with. Now the question one might have is why didn’t we just do the whole album with Califone’s music? They did a fair amount of writing and playing on the album, but the problem in all the months leading up to the recording process was that people still didn’t know HOW this was going to work out for a full album. Considering that most of my albums consist of musical contributions from various beat makers this process was really familiar to me. Brian Deck had the task of tying it all together into a cohesive album.

Q: Were there any other collaborations planned for this album that didn’t work out?

A: Yeah. Some people weren’t able to provide music in time and some of the demos just never made it to the final recording phase. The two collaborations I was most hoping would happen but didn’t were with Mike Patton and Modest Mouse. If I ever get around to doing more work with different bands I’ll be tapping on their window again.

Q: Your new album collaborations show that you have a world of knowledge outside of the hip hop you’ve been involved with for so long, so who does Sage Francis listen to?

A: You’d think I was lying if I told you. If you ever get around to interviewing anyone I’ve toured with you can ask them. That’ll be much easier. Haha

Q: Your last few releases have offered contests for fans to remix tracks, with your new album going a different direction will their still be a chance for your fans to remix your new album?

A: These songs aren’t recorded to traditional beats so it’s not as easy a task to “remix” in the hiphop sense of the word. I don’t think we’ll be having remix contests for it, no. We will have remix contests coming up for the “Fallen House, Sunken City” album though.

Q: You’ve obviously been very busy with your new album, do you still find the time to stalk Natalie Portman?

A: No more questions!

Q: Your record label ‘Strange Famous’ has gone from strength to strength over the last few years, how has it evolved for you as it’s grown more successful?

A: I’ve been running a record label during the collapse of the industry. Almost every trick of the trade I’ve learned and benefited from in the past has phased out. So, like all other labels, we’re trying to make sure we get our artists the exposure and sales they deserve. This is increasingly difficult with all the paradigm shifts. The most important thing, and something that will never change in terms of success, is that we stay interactive with our fans. We stay reliable and consistent in the quality of our art. At the end of the day, maybe there won’t be any need for indie-labels. It depends on how much work, time and money an artist is willing to put into their career. Quite frankly, all the opportunity is there. There are no secret handshakes. The worst part is that the music world is flooded so sometimes you need someone to help you poke your head out of the muck.

Q: Strange Famous recently made their first UK signing in ‘Dan le sac Vs Scroobius Pip’, is this a sign of things to come for the future of UK hip hop?

A: Well, to me that seemed more like an isolated incident. It was one of those instances where I was already familiar with DanVsPip. When they presented me with the opportunity to release their album in North America I was lucky enough to have the time and funding to make that happen. That was a very risky gamble considering how the American
audience is traditionally unwilling to accept non-American hiphop. Their album did really well though and I’m chuffed that we had the opportunity to work with them. Chuffed…I learned that from you UK guys.

Q: Strange Famous’s latest signing ‘B Dolan’ recently hit the UK for the first time following his new album, so, with a new album coming out, when can we expect Sage Francis to return to the UK?

A: It looks like will be touring the UK and the rest of Europe in September and October. I’ll be with B. Dolan for that run. When the dates are confirmed they will be posted at

Q: You’ve always seemed to be 2 steps ahead of yourself with knowing what you want to achieve and how you want to do it, plus you don’t seem to stop, so what’s the next step for Sage Francis?

A: I will bask in the light that is at the end of the tunnel. If what I’ve been told in all the books is true, it will be spectacular. Once I get sick of basking I will find a new tunnel.

4 Responses to “Sage talks industry, Brian Deck, Natalie Portman, the UK & more…”

  1. nate says:

    hawaii dates??? i haven’t seen one. (i’m not there yet, so i can’t push for you to be there, but i’ll be out there in junish…) as for the the two singles i’ve heard from the record… I can’t lie. I experienced the exact same response each time, and have grown more and more accustomed to it. different. each time it’s been something different… i remember when i was downloading anything i could get my hands on with your name on it; then i went to the store and bought “personal journals” and thought, “what the hell?” not in a bad way… but a what is going on way… and then my next purchase was the non-prophet album hope. i bought that album on a day my friend and i called “hang over shopping day” it was our first purchase, and played until we made our last. then, “a healthy distrust,” which rocked my world… and onto, “Human, blah blah blah”… not to mention any sick of (any bad excuse for what hip hop should be) that came out in between. it’s all been different. how often can you hear one of your favorite folk singers from “The be good Tanyas” on a song with “Sage Francis”? how often can you hear one of the punk legendaries, “Bad Religion” drop the song they did with you??? paul francis, thank you for putting more than your heart and underpants into something.

  2. saving best kept private says:

    …don’t know you…

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    thank you…


    tell them how it is…

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