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American musician, singer, producer and visual artist Rachael Sage is gearing up for her support slot with Howard Jones in March. She tells Big Issue North about running her own record label and harmonising with Ani DiFranco without realising it.

What informs your music and songwriting?
I’ve been writing songs since I was five, so for me every facet of my daily life, along with all forms of inspiration from dance, theatre, fine art and film, informs my music. Songwriting can be very autobiographical for me, and chronicle various aspects of my relationships – or alternately it can be purely journalistic or imaginative. In general, I think one of the through-lines in my work is that I try to highlight moments of empowerment that may be derived from duress. I think like most writers, human courage or, conversely, frailty, is something that always sparks songs.

How have you evolved as an artist over the years?
When I first began writing songs they were almost exclusively about my personal experiences, and I actually began as a synth-pop artist, in my teens with drum machines and a four track. I emulated a lot of what I heard on the radio combined with the classical melodies I heard in ballet class. As I evolved and found my own voice, I gravitated toward more organic production, including acoustic guitar and strings, and I think lyrically I’m much more direct and less cryptic than I was on my earlier albums. I think there’s a way to be poetic and still communicate clearly, so that’s something I’m always continuing to work on. That, and my guitar playing!

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
I am about to release an EP called The Tide comprised of more socially-conscious songs ranging topically from the Pulse shooting in Orlando to the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, Elie Wiesel’s passing and the 2016 election. The EP was released exclusively on iTunes on 10 February, and I’ll be performing the new material, along with songs from my full-length album Choreographic, on my upcoming UK tour with Howard Jones.

What’s it like to operate in the music industry today?
I’ve been in the “industry” since my teens and have certainly seen it go through many changes, but I think it’s always been challenging and passion-driven. I can’t remember a time when it didn’t require an enormous amount of self-belief and drive to create and share meaningful work, but nowadays there is the added component of social media that can be a blessing or a distraction, depending. I try to approach every aspect of running my own label with as positive an attitude as possible, and to strike a balance between being prolific and promoting each project properly. I do enjoy the direct relationship with listeners that social media permits, and I continue to tour as much as possible. I absolutely love performing live, and that’s always where I’ve put most of my energy, outside the recording studio. I’m very grateful to be able to do what I love most and also to have a very committed team at MPress Records helping me to amplify my creative vision!

What’s on your rider?
It’s pretty wholesome! Hummus, veggies, unsalted nuts, and red wine – which I usually never drink and just share with the band.

Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.
One of my most surreal experiences was when I was touring with Ani DiFranco, and unbeknownst to me, she walked out on stage during my performance of Sistersong – which I’d actually written for her. The crowd was cheering, but I mistakenly thought it was just because they liked the song – ha! In fact, she was way behind me at the back of the stage but I couldn’t see her because my keyboard was way up front and I had no idea. Apparently she was singing along, but I couldn’t hear it because her voice was not in my monitor, so instead of having the wonderful experience of harmonising with my very favourite artist, I didn’t notice her there until the last few notes of the song, when my accompanist was oddly nodding and pointing to look behind us. I was so touched she had surprised me in such a generous way, but I also desperately wanted a “do over” because I hadn’t been able to enjoy it. Definitely surreal – and embarrassing – but also memorable and poignant.

What’s your worst lyric?
According to my parents, it’s whenever I use a four-letter word in “otherwise very catchy” pop songs! I think they’ll be reprimanding me forever for saying “shit” in my song Big Star, but on an up note, at least it shows they really listen 🙂

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