MPress Records’ award-winning singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rachael Sage will appear at Cabana Taps on October 28, 2021. The 6-time Independent Music Awards winner will perform songs from her new project, Poetica (album releasing on 10/22). In addition, she will preview select pieces across her repertoire of 14 albums, including her critically acclaimed album, Character. Sage will be joined by Dave Eggar on cello and Kelly Halloran on violin.

Rachael Sage. Photo courtesy of Mpress Records/Tom Moore

Sage’s soon-to-release Poetica began under lockdown as a duo collaboration between Sage and her longtime cellist Dave Eggar. Poetica soon evolved into a full-blown, cinematic spoken word album, with Sage producing and engineering the project in isolation with limited gear, sending files back and forth to bandmates and guest musicians from every genre; the project was mixed by Grammy winner Andy Zulla (The Sweet Remains, Stephen Kellogg). The material for the 18 spoken-word pieces that eventually comprised the album was selected, with Eggar’s help, from over 200 poems written both during and prior to lockdown.

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A couple of singles have already been released, including, "Thanksgiving," a psychedelic spoken-word ode to individuality, "Sleep When I'm Tired," which harnesses Eastern European and flamenco musical flavors to capture the feelings that arise from physical and mental exhaustion, and “Magenta and Blue.”

"'Magenta and Blue' puts words and music to the moment when love becomes ego-less, where walls come down completely, and honesty and acceptance are givens," Sage told Parade. "The piece captures a peaceful, uplifted place where each person is embraced by the other with an expressiveness akin to the watercolor painting process, where colors and lines blur into something dreamlike, becoming more beautiful in the process."

Sage’s tour promoting her new record is bringing her to Nashville and Knoxville later this month, and I had the opportunity to ask the openly-bisexual, independent musician a few questions about her Nashville connections, her musical inspirations, and her Jewish roots in advance of her visit!

Q&A with Rachael Sage

Tell me about your Nashville connections: do you have much of a background here?

Sage: One of my very first gigs on tour was at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. I was supporting Ani DiFranco, and while I'd been writing and recording since I was 12 – and gotten the gig on the merits of my recorded material – I'd really only ever played for a handful of people at my college coffeehouse and then a few shows at The Bitter End in NYC. In short, I was complete ecstatic and petrified at the same time...but I remember how warm and welcoming the audience was at that show, and of course I was so humbled by the history and legacy of The Ryman. I also ended up doing a spontaneous duet of my little feminist ditty, "Sistersong", with Ani who surprised me by jumping onstage in the middle, singing harmony, and playing percussion with me! It was certainly life-changing, and one of the many reasons Nashville has always been special for me.

Over the years have you been able to spend much time here?

Sage: Through the years I've returned many times to Nashville and played a half dozen venues there from The Bluebird to Exit/In to 3rd & Lindsley to Nashville City Winery (where I appeared most recently with Howard Jones), and I've also played a handful of LGBTQ+ bars and community center-presented shows. I have a lot of friends who've moved from NYC to Nashville including fellow singer-songwriters Amy Speace, Alex Wong and my friend (and hit songwriter) Jeff Cohen, with whom I'll be playing at Cabana Taps, on October 28! So I've always felt very welcome when I've passed through, and all in all, it's one of my favorite cities because the feeling of community among indie musicians is so strong.

I’ve read a lot about your work, and it’s been described so many different ways, with comparisons to everything from Appalachian folk and klezmer to jazz! Help our readers understand what they'll be enjoying when they encounter your new album!

One of the surprises of releasing "Poetica" into the world finally – after over a year of working on it in isolation – has been discovering that apparently (lol) I've ventured into jazz, as well as some other genres such as neo-classical. My take on some of this feedback and a handful of very flattering comparisons to folks I really admire such as Leonard Cohen and Laurie Anderson is that this new music is centered so much on the poetry, and on serving the text, that the music has a cinematic quality to it. On some tracks it's more like an underscore, and on others it's right up front but all the while it's about telling the story rather than necessarily establishing a radio-friendly hook or melody. This project had no agenda other than to express emotion through poetry and music; that's how I came up with the tagline "fine art music" – which also informed the visual art that accompanies "Poetica".

The instrumentation is very organic and yes, there is some Appalachian folk in there for sure! Dave Eggar was living in Bristol, TN while he was recording his parts for the project and recruited some wonderful local musicians to also perform on "Poetica." As a trio, we'll be doing our best to honor the arrangements on the album but to also create something unique and spontaneous, feeding off the energy of the audience.

I've been getting some feedback lately that this new work is very "psychedelic" and there've even been some comparisons to The Doors which has tickled me as I was a huge fan of them as a kid via my parents' record collection. But perhaps I was more directly influenced by The Doors' keyboardist Ray Manzarek when I used to go hear him accompany the poet Michael McClure in The Bay Area, when I was a student at Stanford. He would improvise on the piano and it was all very out-there and experimental. We hung out, and somehow I ended up having sushi with him after one of his shows, courtesy of a local journalist. I guess his improvisational, adventurous sensibility sank in more than I realized!

I understand that you grew up in the environment of Conservative Judaism, which I’m particularly interested is because it’s my own religious community. How did that impact your music?

Rachael Sage. Photo courtesy of Mpress Records/Tom Moore

Growing up, I never really thought of myself as a 'Jewish artist'. I was raised Conservative Jewish and observed various holidays, had a Bat Mitzvah and so forth; but I just thought of myself as a musician foremost and all I wanted to do was play and write and perform and be part of that fabric of American music I so admired. Gradually, however, I started to realize that many of the influences I perceived as simply "American music" were in fact, very much tied to my Jewish roots – from my mother's favorite composers Gershwin and Berlin, to artists like Carole King, Laura Nyro, Bette Midler, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Billy Joel and Leonard Cohen. I've certainly considered through the years how the immigrant Jewish experience permeated the work of these particular artists, and how my own self-perception has likewise filtered through my music. 

So for those who haven’t seen you on stage, what’s the show going to be like?

It's been really exciting bringing this new material to life in a live setting, and while the instrumentation for the album Poetica is very lush and layered on the record, I'm touring with 2 string players – a violinist and cellist – so it will necessarily be a bit more sparse. One of the things I'm enjoying most is how improvisational these pieces are, yet there is also a loose structure with some set themes that we repeat and extend depending on the pace of my spoken-word delivery. In a lot of ways I suppose it's hearkening to my work as a theatre artist, in the sense that we're really all playing off of each other and listening with a lot of sensitivity, in a way that's always just a bit different. My violinist Kelly Halloran (Michael Franti, Susan Werner) is brilliant with her looping pedal, and my cellist Dave Eggar (Patti Smith, Esperanza Spalding) co-wrote much of the "Poetica" accompaniment with me, so it'll be exciting to distill everything to an intimate trio.

I'll also be doing a smattering of material from my other 14 albums including Character, which was released in 2020 and chronicles my recovery from cancer. It's been really interesting to revisit material from just before lockdown and to feel how the meanings have shifted but also how the concepts of gratitude to simply be alive, as well as personal boundaries and self-care, feel relevant in a whole new way!

Sage’s show at Cabana Taps on October 28, 2021, is a co-bill with Jeff Cohen, and showtime is at 7:00 p.m. The show is free.

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