Rachael became poetic as she took on new project to say creative in lockdown
Jewish Telegraph, November 2021
RACHAEL Sage has released more than a dozen albums showing off her songwriting skills — as well as her voice.
But her latest project, Poetica (MPress Records), sees her tackle jazz poetry.
“The process of writing poetry is much more subconscious for me than writing song lyrics, and is usually spurred by something immediate, to which my psyche is reacting in an often cryptic way,” the New Yorker told me.
“Many times I don’t even know what a poem is about exactly, which makes it more impressionistic and akin to a mental collage, in a sense.
“With lyrics, the through line between my conscious emotional or intellectual intent and what ends up in the song is usually pretty clear.
“I also often rework lyrics, whereas poems tend to be written completely in a sort of burst of energy, and rarely do I revise them at all.”
Poetica is a collaboration with cellist Dave Eggar which started as an “improvisational spoken-word/musical trio, for the Nuyorican Poets Café curated Howl Festival, in honour of Allen Ginsberg,” she said.
“This particular project likely would have remained an audio book, however, as it began only with layers of my voice and my goal was to complete several volumes of recorded poetry to coincide with a book.
“That all shifted when we got locked down, and suddenly it felt like the best way to stay creative, engaged with fellow musicians and generally sane was to allow this project to evolve into something much more layered and musically free.”
Rachael has been influenced by Patti Smith, one of the leading lights of the New York punk movement, who also uses poetry in her music.
“I met her once and saw her perform very intimately at a women’s music conference in Seattle,” Rachael said. “She was so down to earth and positive, and it really impacted me!
“Since then I’ve seen her perform almost annually — my guitarist Jack Petruzelli also plays in her band — and I’m always so struck by her fearlessness, her dynamic vocals and her complete and utter originality.
“The first concert I went to after my cancer recovery, in 2019, was actually Patti Smith, along with her band, which featured her son as well as a surprise appearance by Michael Stipe.
“She’s incredible and while I haven’t yet read all her books or heard everything she’s released, seeing her live has certainly been an influence.”
Rachael said she would love to take the Poetica concept on tour, adding: “ We are actually on the lookout for jazz and more alternative festivals for which this project would be more suitable. Ideas welcome.”
Poetica includes the bonus track A Father’s Nachus, so would she say her father has gained a lot of nachus from her career?
“Well yes, I would,” she smiled. “He is actually tone-deaf, believe it or not, but he loves music and is a Beatles fanatic.
“He also writes poetry, but it’s much more whimsical than mine. Sometimes he critiques my poems for not rhyming enough . . . but he definitely kvells with nachus on a regular basis, ha!
“He especially enjoyed when I covered a Yiddish song, Umru Meine, a couple of albums ago.”
She doesn’t see Poetica as finishing with the album’s release, but hopes to continue it while also performing the style of music for which she has become known.
“I am really excited by the prospect of allowing my solo project to be ‘influenced’ by some of the techniques I’ve learned as an engineer/producer while developing Poetica,” she said.
“But they are definitely two very distinct realms for me, in terms of the overall approach and goals of Poetica versus my singer-songwriter material.
When the first lockdown hit, Rachael was in the middle of a tour with 80s music star Howard Jones.
“My entire identity pretty much hinged on playing, writing and promoting music as a performer and label-owner,” she told me.
“During lockdown, I think it’s safe to say, most people turned inward and questioned virtually every aspect of themselves, the idea of community and society as a whole.
“For me, the regular Zoom series I did for many months was both a way to stay connected to my listeners and a way to ‘wave’ to loved-ones around the world and say ‘I’m ok!’.
“I thought I might continue to do it forever, to be honest — it almost became an addiction knowing I would have that time each week to play and the high-wire aspect of going live, with no net — so to speak.
“I only stopped once live shows resumed . . . and I may start doing it again this winter, but everything is seasonal and I needed to step away from it to be able to complete the Poetica album, work my live show muscles again, on some real stages.”
Rachael feels like online performance are here to stay and “there will always be some combination of online as well as in-person performance from now on.
“But I don’t feel quite as desperate about it, I would say. I put a lot of pressure on myself last year to do it ‘no matter what’ and eventually I needed a break to mix it up and because it started to feel like I was just repeating myself.
“I have a very limited attention span, which tends to work in my favour artistically! That’s when I know it’s time to write new material or to just have some life adventures.”
Rachael has been very open about her bisexuality, believing it “is positive to be open and authentic as much as possible: if it can help someone young or nervous about coming out to feel more confident, it’s a great thing.
“ Conversely, however, if someone feels reluctant or unsafe sharing their sexual preference I would never push them to do so until they were ready.
“Every individual and their circumstance is different . . . but hopefully my having been open and written songs about all kinds of love since my early 20s has been an inspiration and comfort to some listeners, through the years.
“Normalising every kind of love is such a no-brainer to me as an artist and a human being, but there is no question that I live in a bit of a New York bubble and there is much work to be done, standing up for those in communities where discrimination is still rampant.”
Rachael is planning to spend Chanukah with her family.
“Now more than ever, family is so profoundly meaningful to me,” she explained.
“I plan to gather with my immediate family, express gratitude for the miracle that is life and survival in every manifestation, and light the candles on my brand new neon hot pink menorah that I just bought.
“And I’ll probably make some Chanukah art, and share it on Instagram. Maybe I’ll also play my song Hanukah In The Village at my upcoming December shows.”
Poetica is available now, and watch the lyric video to Hanukkah In The Village at tinyurl.com/SageHanukkah