Interview: Sage Francis

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If you had to compile a cash-in style The Essential Sage Francis album, which tracks would absolutely have to be on there?

Well, I could cherry pick the most popular songs which would be a mix of the material with the highest sales, most views on YouTube, or the material that kills live. The top five choices in that regard, not counting anything off of Copper Gone as it’s brand new, would probably be ‘Escape Artist’, ‘Makeshift Patriot’, ‘Sea Lion’, ‘Crack Pipes’, ‘Broken Wings’, ‘Damage’ and ‘Best of Times’. Since a lot of those songs were released on different labels, it would be impossible to put out an official compilation like that without it being a major legal headache. At some point I should put together a compilation called Missed Essentials though.

What album have you got on repeat at the moment?

I haven’t been listening to any albums as of late. Currently I’m on a duduk kick. It’s an archaic Armenian wind instrument. Incredibly difficult to play, but it has such a unique, sad sound. There’s not a lot of duduk music out there, so I search out the best songs and make playlists for myself. I’ve mainly been listening to that lately when I need to sleep or I want to have music playing in the background.

Rare for a rapper, your entire catalogue is filled with literary references as well as the more usual nods to pop culture – from ‘Oliver Twisted’ to ‘Vonnegut Busy’. Which authors and books would you say have had the most influence on you and your music?

Currently I’ve been reading a lot of Tom Robbins which is influencing me to pay more attention during my travels so that I can draw greater stories from my surroundings. But I’m not much of a story teller really. I just appreciate stories. I’m not sure if any author has had direct influence on my song writing. Books, pop culture, politics, relationships, music, cleaning dishes, you know… life stuff. That’s where I get inspiration. I’m not so sure about influence though.

You clearly have a powerful command of language and are an indelible component of the spoken word movement; it will be of no surprise to our readers that you pioneered the grand slam poetry team for your hometown, Providence, Rhode Island. Do you think you would still have had a career involving poetry if you hadn’t made it down the musical route as an emcee? What other paths might you have followed?

I might have pursued a career in spoken word if that ended up being my only option. However, to be completely honest, I don’t think I could have tolerated being involved with that scene for any longer than a few years. It was good to participate on a part time basis, but if I were to go full time…nah. That would be like restricting myself to just doing rap battles. Couldn’t do it. And I have a difficult time getting along with people who make these things their whole artistic existence. I incorporate spoken word into what I do, but it’s just a piece of the whole. That’s not to say I wouldn’t be interested in focusing on a spoken word project at some point, but I’m glad that I wasn’t ever restricted by that one option. Had music not worked out, I may have pursued journalism. Maybe comedy or acting. Maybe kickboxing. Always wanted to be a ninja. It was either a ninja or rapper. Those were my two main options growing up.

How’s the tour been so far? Who are the support acts for the UK/Europe tour?

The UK/Euro tour doesn’t start until October 4th, but the US tour was awesome. I expect to remind people how thrilling a verbal punch to the chest can be. That’s my goal. I’m not bringing any support acts with me, but I’ll have a special guest at the UK shows.

You are sometimes described as a ‘political’ or ‘conscious’ rapper, probably due to Makeshift Patriot (a critical look at the media coverage of 9/11, released just after the bombings) being your breakthrough track. Thankfully your music has never been that one-dimensional, but what is your opinion of the so-called ‘conscious’ rappers, in particular their focus on illuminati theory and other conspiracies?

Are you suggesting that there were bombings on 9/11? You conspiracy nut! As for the conspiracy rappers, I think it’s not only cheap to make that your schtick but they’re just contributing to the distractions that take us away from problems that are in plain sight.

In light of the homogeneity of politics (“Republicrat/Democan one party system”), how would you describe your political stance? Is politics still important for you?

You can’t avoid politics. On a certain level, everything is political. I do my best to pay attention and untangle the political mess that’s presented to me every day, but I have no political affiliations. I am not left wing or right wing. I am, for all intents and purposes, the middle finger.

Your last album Li(f)e was backed with indie rock musicians but your new album Copper Gone sees a return to hip-hop beats reminiscent of those you used in your previous albums Personal Journals and Human the Death Dance. Are there any other genres you’d like to see combined with hip-hop and if so in what way?

I’m fairly certain that I’ve heard hip-hop mixed with every genre. That’s the beauty of hip-hop. It draws from everything, reprocesses it and re-imagines it. It doesn’t always work, but it’s always worth the effort.

There’s a recurring theme of introspection and personal struggle in a lot of your tracks, (‘Best of Times’, ‘Inherited Scars’, ‘Make Em Purr’, ‘Water Line’) which cover themes so many people can relate to; loneliness, resentment, regret, responsibility and motivation. Having said that, it feels like we are listening to what you wanted to say, rather than feeding fans with overused, banal sentiments that fit with popular culture. Would you say your music is purely your own thoughts, or are you trying to give people a voice?

Hmmm. Haha. Well, I’d like to think that they’re my thoughts but who’s to say if they’re actually pure or not. I like to communicate the full human experience. Not just the pretty parts, not just the angry parts, but everything. The task is to do that in as classy and crafty of a way as possible. It’s something I find increasingly more difficult, challenging and interesting as time goes on.

What have we got to look forward to from other artists on your label, SFR, over the next year?

The Metermaids will be releasing an album called We Brought Knives before the year’s end. It’s powerful stuff. Also, B. Dolan has been working on an album for the bulk of 4 years which is hard as hell. When he goes in he goes big, so expect your bell to get rung by early 2015. He’ll be touring the UK in November.

Sage, you must be tired of being asked the same questions – what’s the best question you’ve never been asked?

How did I get so handsome?

With his power over the mic still undeniably strong, Sage is currently touring the US, but will be coming our way in October. Tickets are available here