Hard as it may be to believe, it has now been 25 years since Rachael Sage released her first album. Since that debut, 1996’s Morbid Romantic, the openly bisexual singer-songwriter has barely come up for air. She has released 14 proper studio albums, toured frequently, run her own record label (MPress Records), raised awareness about youth homelessness and various other causes, and had her visual art displayed in various lower Manhattan galleries. Basically, she’s been an artistic Renaissance woman.

Independent musician and multidisciplinary artist Rachael Sage | Photo: Tom Moore

Sage’s prolific nature has been even more astonishing in recent years given the COVID-19 pandemic and her own bout with endometrial cancer. In March of 2020 — literally a week before NYC went on lockdown — she unveiled Character, an album that was inspired largely by the latter ordeal. Sage returned last month with yet another offering called Poetica. This album, however, is unlike anything else in her catalog; Poetica, as you might expect from the title, is a collection of poems.

There are 18 poems on this album, all composed by Sage (who also handles vocals, guitar and percussion). She is joined by a long list of musicians including cellist Dave Eggar (her initial collaborator), violinist Kelly Halloran, guitarist Gerry Leonard, drummer Doug Yowell and multi-instrumentalist Jack Petruzelli. Some of these poems were written just last year, but one dates as far back as 2003. The result is less a singer-songwriter disc and more a foray into spoken word, free jazz and classical. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Sage about Poetica and other subjects.

You began Poetica during last year’s lockdown with your cellist, Dave Eggar. Tell me a bit more about the inspiration for this project and how it evolved.

Rachael: I was locked down in a quirky attic Airbnb in New Haven, Connecticut, where I'd holed up to be next door to my best friend and tour manager after our tour with Howard Jones was suddenly halted. The days were long, life was somewhat of a horror show at that point and watching the news became pretty much unbearable. It became clear that if I didn't focus on something creative, I would become very depressed. So, in the process of recording what I thought would become an audiobook for my pending poetry volume, I began layering my voice, humming melodies and adding percussion. [I] then reached out to Dave [Eggar] to get his reaction.

Rachael Sage | Photo: Tom Moore

He immediately became very excited about the material [and] asked if he could read more of the poems, so I sent him a PDF of over 200! Being the consummate editor he is, he honed in on a couple dozen and those were the ones we began creating arrangements for remotely. We had a feeling we were creating something highly reflective of the unprecedented time we were experiencing, and it evolved into something much larger than we imagined thanks to the incredible musicianship from [people] all over the world!

As we speak, you’re touring in support of this album. What has it been like so far, doing these shows? What's the vibe like in other parts of the country regarding the pandemic and in general?

Rachael: It's been pretty revelatory just to get out, travel, connect with live audiences and play with my trio! (Kelly Halloran on violin and Dave Eggar on cello). So far we've had very mindful and folks who've all been wearing masks and don't try to get too close after the shows; but obviously, there's a bit of anxiety that accompanies a tour at a time like this. But so far, so good.

Everyone is following the rules and seems to just be grateful to hear live music, so it feels vital and sort of heightened, in a way.

When I last interviewed you (which was about a decade ago!), you had just released the album Delancey Street. One of the poems on this album is called “Lower East Side Baby.” What is it about that part of NYC that keeps drawing you back?

Rachael: Well, I happen to live there now – so in terms of that particular poem, it was a true story! I was minding my own business, just out to get a juice at my local spot, Kollectiv, and a young woman with a perfect bobbed haircut and a very hip fashion sense was walking past me. I didn't even really stop, just smiled; but her baby in the carriage was staring straight at me. This baby was clearly a kindred spirit and wanted to look at all my glitter and bright colors; it was so cute! So in a way, the poem is capturing that NYC magical energy where no matter how much in a rush we all may be, those who are meant to linger, to find each other and connect — however briefly — will.

It's the juxtaposition downtown, that I enjoy! In addition to the gorgeous and creative painted murals everywhere, the people-watching is amazing in my neighborhood. I’ve made lots of friends just walking around or sitting in coffee shops. I love the diversity and artistic aspects of downtown NYC, including the LES. I live next to two art galleries, which has always felt very auspicious... And of course, back when we spoke about Delancey Street, I was very much cued into the Jewish immigrant history of the neighborhood, and how my ancestors' sacrifices settling in NYC — before they eventually scattered — impacted my experience as an American. I do still think about those aspects of the neighborhood, from time to time...

One line on Poetica that jumped out at me immediately was in “Days of Awe” when you say, “I have never believed in karma. I’ve seen too many mensches suffer while the shlemiels won the prize.” For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with you. Expand on that if you would.

Rachael: Yes – well, we all know the sayings "nice guys finish last" and "too nice for my own good.” I suppose that was my poetic, Yiddish-y way of expressing an awareness that there doesn't always seem to be a correlation between how kind people are and how much they suffer. On the flip side, the poem is about accountability, and owning one's actions — regardless of whether one is a "believer.” In microcosm, this could seem to be solely about personal relationships. But I chose the title because I also believe it applies to the human experience as a whole and how our short-term desires impact the wider world: abuse of our planet, imperialism, so many things…. All of which Judaism encourages us to reflect on and deconstruct, during the Days of Awe, aka the High Holidays. Ultimately this is a piece about repentance and responsibility.

You also run your own label, MPress Records, which is home to such talented musicians as Grace Pettis and Seth Glier. What do you look for in other artists before you sign them?

Rachael: I actually don't look for anything in artists. I would say instead, that they look for something in me [or in] MPress! And once in a very blue moon, what they feel we can offer and what I actually believe we can contribute is realistic. In the case of Seth Glier, I was definitely not 'looking', but he opened up for me at a gig in New Hampshire years ago and his sheer songwriting, vocal and musical talent was just so striking, I immediately wanted to help. We developed a friendship that evolved into a working relationship, and I'm proud to play even a small part of his success because I really believe in his vision.

In terms of Grace Pettis, a member of her team approached us at SXSW, and suggested she would be a good fit for us. Of course I'm always a little dubious when I hear that — not only because our resources are very limited, but because I hadn't necessarily perceived a "buzz" about her prior. But when I went to her showcase with my tour manager, we were both blown away by her writing, her powerful pipes and her delightful persona. We hung out a bit and the relationship grew from there. It was very clear how driven she was right away — but more importantly that she genuinely needed help, in a way MPress felt equipped to assist her in achieving her goals. Her work is very socially conscious in addition to being beautiful to listen to, much in the way The Indigo Girls and Dar Williams have always moved me.

At the end of the day, for myself and all of us at MPress, it's about making and releasing music that impacts people's lives for the better, in some way. We are careful though, to never take on too many artists; each one really receives a lot of personal attention and it's a family-like atmosphere, which is the only way I would ever want it.

Is there another spoken word album in your future?

Rachael: I absolutely believe there is another Poetica album in the future! I have so many poems that would be interesting to explore in this vein, with the same core collaborators. It's been exciting to bring these pieces to life for audiences, and I also think it would be great to incorporate visuals in the future. While I'm not sure when I'll be able to focus again on recording in the same way I did during lockdown, there's definitely a 'backlog' of material and I now have a split-psyche approach to it all, like I imagine some bands must [have] between group and solo material. I can say "that would work best for Poetica" vs. myself as Rachael Sage. I quite enjoy the flexibility of writing for a specific ensemble so it would be fun to approach a second release for Poetica more deliberately, in that way. We'll see!

Get Poetica here. Catch Rachael Sage and Poetica live on tour, tickets and info here.
Photo by Sara Dubler on Unsplash

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LGBTQ+ Healthcare Issues

The Dobbs decision, otherwise known as the court case that overturned Roe v. Wade, has resulted in confusing medical situations for many patients. On top of affecting access to abortions for straight, cisgender women, it presents heightened risks for LGBTQ+ healthcare as a whole. Flipping the switch on reproductive rights and privacy rights is a far-reaching act that makes quality care harder to find for an already underserved community.

As the fight against the Dobbs decision continues, it’s important to shed light on the full breadth of its impact. We’ll discuss specific ways that the decision can affect LGBTQ+ healthcare and offer strategies for overcoming these challenges.

How the Right to Bodily Privacy Affects LGBTQ+ Healthcare

When the original Roe v. Wade decision was made, the bodily privacy of people across the United States was protected. Now that bodily autonomy is no longer guaranteed, the LGBTQ+ community must brace itself for a potential loss of healthcare rights beyond abortions. This includes services like feminizing and masculinizing hormone therapy (particularly for transgender youth) that conservative lawmakers have been fighting against this year, as well as transition-related procedures. Without privacy, gender-affirming care may be difficult to access without documentation of sex as “proof” of gender.

As essential services for the LGBTQ+ community become more difficult to access, perhaps the most immediate effect we’ll see is eroding trust between healthcare providers and LGBTQ+ patients. When providers aren’t working in the best interest of patients — just like in cases of children and rape victims denied abortions — patients may further avoid preventative care in a community that already faces discrimination in doctor’s offices.

The Dobbs Decision Isn’t Just a Women’s Issue

While the Dobbs decision is often framed as a women's issue — specifically, one that affects cisgender women — it impacts the transgender and non-binary community just as much. All people who are capable of carrying a pregnancy to term have lost at least some ability to choose whether or not to give birth in the U.S.

For transgender and non-binary individuals, this decision comes with the added complexity of body dysmorphia. Without abortion rights, pregnant trans men and some non-binary people may be forced to see their bodies change, and be treated as women by healthcare providers and society as a result.

The Dobbs decision also opens up the possibility for government bodies to determine when life begins — and perhaps even to add legal protections for zygotes and embryos. This puts contraceptives at risk, which could make it more difficult to access gender-affirming care while getting the right contraceptives based on sex for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Overturning Reproductive Rights Puts IVF at Risk

Queer couples that dream of having their own children often have limited options beyond adoption. One such option is in vitro fertilization, or IVF, which involves implanting a fertilized egg into a uterus.

While IVF isn’t directly affected by the Dobbs decision, it could fall into a legal gray area depending on when states determine that life begins. Texas, for example, is already barring abortions as early as six weeks. To reduce embryo destruction, which often occurs when patients no longer want more children, limits could be placed on the number of eggs that can be frozen at once.

Any restrictions on IVF will also affect the availability of surrogacy as an option for building a family.

How Can LGBTQ+ Individuals Overcome Healthcare Barriers?

While the Dobbs decision may primarily impact abortion rights today, its potential to worsen LGBTQ+ healthcare as a whole is jarring. So how can the community be prepared?

If you’re struggling to find LGBTQ+-friendly providers near you, using telemedicine now can be an incredibly effective way to start developing strong relationships with far-away healthcare professionals. Telemedicine eliminates the barrier of geography and can be especially helpful for accessing inclusive primary care and therapy. Be sure to check if your insurance provider covers telemedicine.

If you’re seriously concerned about healthcare access in your area — especially if the Dobbs decision affects your whole state or you need regular in-person services that may be at risk — it may be time to consider moving now. While not everyone has the privilege to do so, relocating gives you the ability to settle in areas where lawmakers better serve your needs. However, this decision shouldn’t be taken lightly, so preparing and making progress on a moving checklist now can help you avoid issues later.

The Dobbs Decision Isn’t LGBTQ+-Friendly

The Supreme Court of the United States has proven the power of its conservative majority with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. However, the effects of the Dobbs decision don’t stop at affecting cisgender women’s abortion rights. In states with bans, it also leads to forced birth for trans men and non-binary individuals. Plus, the Dobbs decision increases the risk of other rights, like hormone therapy and IVF, being taken away.

Taking steps now, whether it’s choosing a virtual provider or considering a move, can help you improve your healthcare situation in the future.