Singer/songwriter Rachael Sage has been writing music and touring ever since she took a detour from ballet and theater after graduating from college and winning the Grand Prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest.
Now she’s released her tenth album, Haunted By You, which features special guests Dar Williams and David Immergluck of Counting Crows. If that’s not enough, she has also released an acoustic version, as this is the first album Rachael has employed guitar to write the songs, as her previous instrument of choice had been keyboards.
In addition to performing, Rachael has her own label, M-Press Records, and puts out music by other artists, as well as her own.
Midway through a tour with Judy Collins and Al Stewart, we asked her to fill us in on her latest adventures.
You were indie before there even was an indie category. What has changed most since your first album?
Undoubtedly, the thing that has changed the most is the way artists communicate directly with their fan base, i.e. the Internet. When I put out my first record, I barely used an AOL account. It was more of a personal thing and I had a public profile set up so peers who liked similar artists could search me and send me messages. It felt a bit risqué and unsafe actually. I didn’t want my parents to know I had up there, as a recent college graduate on my own in New York City.
Now, it’s almost impossible to imagine sharing our music, our goals, our entire creative process even, without social networks through which to communicate with those who directly support and appreciate our work.
It’s also the primary way, obviously, that we promote live shows and has become the equivalent of word of mouth. When I started, there was actually word of mouth.
I used to manually lay out four-up flyers, photocopy hundreds of them at Kinko’s, and hand-draw the artwork. In a way, I was probably more resourceful and visually creative, but it was also a lot harder and required much more time to get the word out about a gig.
Does each consecutive album get easier?
No, it never gets easier. I think it may even get harder, because there is a tendency to become more relaxed or blasé the longer you do something. My personal goal as an artist is to keep pushing myself and use parts of my imagination and musicality that I haven’t tapped into yet. You have to dig deeper, which is a cliché, but it seems to be true.
The older we get, the safer we want to be, so it requires more effort to defy those instincts. This is part of the reason I decided to pick up the guitar, even though it doesn’t come naturally to me and piano is always going to be more comfortable. Comfortable is overrated though, when it comes to being a creative artist. I learned that as a theater major and a ballerina.
Tell me about some of your M-Press artists.
Seth Glier and Melissa Ferrick are both extraordinary live performers, in totally different ways.
Seth, while only 24, has already made three albums for us that are so mature lyrically, and beautifully arranged and produced. He’s incredibly driven and his focus and genuine hunger to connect with a wide audience is always inspiring. I just love his totally classic music. His voice moves me in a very visceral way and that’s been the spark behind M-Press’ efforts to get his music out there as much as we can. It certainly helps to feel so passionate about an artist when you’re promoting him on your label.
Melissa is obviously an incredibly seasoned, respected performer who’s released many albums on her own, and garnered an extremely passionate fan base by touring constantly over the years. Her presence is so strong on stage that people who have never seen or heard her before says she’s “like a female Bruce Springsteen” or “fierce.” I was a fan for years, as well as a friend/peer, before she approached M-Press to release her last album, so it was exciting that she wanted to collaborate with us. My respect and admiration of her intensity and work ethic know no bounds, and we’re very eager to release her next album, which is currently being mixed.
You are mid-tour with Judy Collins and Al Stewart. How did that come about?
Judy first heard me perform at MIDEM in France and invited me to be part of her label’s Wildflower Festival. Since then, she’s continued to be incredibly supportive. When she heard my current album, she offered me a bunch of support slots. Touring with her is a dream come true and she is one of the most charming, gracious people I’ve ever encountered.
I used to look at her album covers in my mom’s collection, and admire how elegant she was, on every level. Then, when I began actually listening and following her career, she became an example of everything positive a female performer could encompass: beauty, brains, talent and compassion – merged with the kind of conviction that has empowered her to stand up for her beliefs in a way that inspires others to do the same. What else is there for which to strive, as an artist? I watch all of her shows from the wings, and always feel like I’m learning from her.
Al Stewart first heard me in Chicago when I was randomly opening for him. We just hit it off. He was very complimentary and open, and after that show he invited me to do a bunch more dates along the East Coast. Like Judy, he’s lived through a lot of musical history, while also contributing to it. And he tells fantastic stories. I’m thoroughly enjoying supporting him lately, and especially jamming with him on “Year Of The Cat.”
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