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On The Table Read, the “Best Celebrity Magazine in the UK“, singer-songwriter Rachael Sage talks about her music career and her new single, Revelation Ground.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

www.jjbarnes.co.uk

I interviewed Rachael Sage about her life and career, what inspires her music, and the work that went into her new single, Revelation Ground.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I am a singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist who lives in NYC and happens to also consider the UK to be my “home away from home”! I’ve been coming here many years to tour and made wonderful friends and adoptive family who I am so grateful to be able to see again after so long apart.

When did you first WANT to write songs?

Rachael Sage on The Table Read
Rachael Sage

I started writing songs without knowing that’s what I was doing, at around 5. I already played piano by ear – started when I was two and a half after my parents took me to see a Broadway show and I came home and tapped the whole thing out by ear with one hand.

After that, I just began exploring the piano as an expressive language much like any young kid would be learning to talk. It was organic and an everyday adventure initially, sounding out various music I heard in school or ballet class…and eventually I began composing my own melodies and then words followed a couple years later.

By kindergarten I was playing my little classical and pop pieces for friends at camp and in school and quickly became known as “that girl” to my classmates. I noticed from an early age how powerful music was, that it could change the tone of a room and even open a conversation where otherwise there might be distance or meanness.

Playing music seemed to even be able to turn a bully into a listener, however briefly; I knew I was onto something and it became a safe way for me to say what I often couldn’t directly, through art.

When did you take a step to start writing songs?

I believe I was 4 or 5 when I figured out that the instrumental music I was already writing would be more “complete” to the adults around me if I added words. I had been hearing some Beatles around the house and other pop music in school as well as Broadway soundtracks so the ideal of writing full songs was already percolating. It became a puzzle – just like finding the notes that felt “right” – to find the words that likewise felt like they reflected what I was feeling.

By the time I was 5 I was performing my original songs at school assemblies and sleeepaway camp. The titles were things like “Where Does Love Go” and “Kill The Clock” and “Jenny” about a friend. I was all over the map and had no goal other than the sheer fascination of trying to make something expressive and memorable that I could then share with anyone who would listen.

Occasionally I remember one of those early songs and consider them to be a kind of chronicle of my young psyche so it’s interesting to look back and understand just how crucial a role music played in shaping my personality and perception of just about everything! 

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What was your first song released, and what was it about?

I recorded a song called “Ten Years From Now” when I was 15 and entered it into the ASCAP Pop Songwriting Contest. It was about my first love, a beautiful, brilliant boy I met on a school trip to Russia named Dimitri. I released it on duplicated cassettes and sent them around to publishers and was actually offered a deal by Famous Music but my folks wouldn’t let me do it because they thought I was too young and it would interfere with college (they were probably right, ha!).

Because it won the contest though, some interesting things ensued like I got to meet the great Tony Visconti who was on the judging panel. He came to our house, listened to a bunch of my other material and wanted to make some new recordings together but again, my parents were very protective and just felt it all should wait until I was older. Of course that was very frustrating for me as I was so eager to begin a proper career as a singer-songwriter in my teens but the truth is my voice was not very developed yet and a few years later I was much better prepared to present my music in a way that felt more authentic.

That first track I had released was programmed with drum machines and synthesizers and I hadn’t yet had the experience of playing with a real band; but the inklings of my later work are all there if you listen to it: it’s very melodic, bittersweet lyrically and exploring the idea of how love changes us for the better, no matter what the circumstances. That’s still pretty much what most of songs are about!

What was your latest song released, and what was it about?

Revelation Ground, Rachael Sage, on The Table Read
Revelation Ground on Rachael Sage

“Revelation Ground” is my latest single, the first song I wrote under lockdown, and it’s essentially my version of the Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn”. I wrote it as a kind of prayerful acknowledgement of the seasonal nature of the human struggle – especially struggles against injustice and specifically, the fights for racial as well as gender equality. It’s about being one individual human being wanting to chime in and support positive sociopolitical change, while also balancing self-care and resilience.

There are obviously things we can all do to plant seeds of positive change wherever we are and however far flung…and if nothing else, the pandemic has reminded us all of that in innumerable ways – whether it be helping our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, pursuing a more sustainable, environmentally-conscious lifestyle or standing up for those who are marginalized in whatever ways possible.

I was raised on the idea that every person is a universe, so in that sense it’s a song about how we learn and relearn that vital lesson of social empathy – with the hope that somehow that sense of connectedness, borne of duress, will “stick”.

Focusing on your latest song. What were your biggest challenges with Revelation Ground?

Nothing about this song was challenging actually. It was a life-raft to be able to write and record it exactly when I needed to! It was actually the first song I ever self-engineered but there was really no other option as I was isolated like most people. If anything I would like to give a giant shout-out to Garage Band software for being so user friendly that even a very tech-phobic person like myself could figure it out, ha!

I suppose the fact that I was renting in a little attic apartment above a young couple with a baby might have proved challenging, had the baby not been so altogether calm and quiet. She was quite well-dispositioned little girl or maybe she just liked the sound of the music through the ceiling…

How many songs are you working on right now?

I just started a new album right before beginning this tour, and I believe we tracked 13 songs. I’m not sure if they’ll all end up on the next record but I’m very excited to resume work on them after my current tour with Imelda May!

Do you keep to a theme with your music, or just go where the mood strikes?

With rare exception – such as when I’m commissioned to write a specific type of song – I do not strategize at all when writing new material. I feel like that would be akin to walking into a room at a party and planning out a whole conversation before you meet a new person. The process of writing – of capturing a particular image, concept or event, reveals itself organically based on so many things: emotion, reading the newspaper, overhearing a conversation or just meditating….and sometimes I don’t even know what the theme is until I am up on the mic about to record it and it suddenly crystallizes.

There is also a subconscious element that comes into play, which I do my best to get out of the way of as there really wouldn’t be any new creative spark without it and it’s not entirely in my control. Sometimes I have to just step away for something to be finished months or even years later – while other songs come in a matter of minutes. I find the creative process to be very comparable to relationships with people in that way!  

What is your favourite song you’ve recorded, and what do you love about it?

My favorite song I’ve ever recorded is Sistersong. It means so much to me I’ve recorded it three times on three different releases!

It’s about women having each other’s backs, and understanding the pressures we all face to live up to often ridiculous expectations. It’s a feminist anthem and I never fail to feel joy singing it live because it also reminds me how many incredible women have supported me, and on whose shoulders I gratefully stand.

Do you find other people’s music inspires you? Who do you listen to most?

I am also a record label founder and have some wonderful artists on my label MPress Records so of course I am continually inspired by great music from our own artists – including Grace Pettis, Seth Glier and A Fragile Tomorrow – and just yesterday I was checking out some new German bands on TikTok that really inspired me with their passionate vocals and unpretentious, off the cuff performances.

As far as musicians and singers who have inspired me most through the years, here’s a short list: Lucius, Hozier, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Ben Harper, John Lee Hooker, Glen Hansard, Maria McKee, Alison Moyet, Peter Gabriel, Sinead O’Connor, Carole King, Marc Cohn, Howard Jones, David Bowie, Buddy Holly, Sarah McLachlan, Suzanne Vega, Judy Collins and Elvis Costello. All of these artists have inspired me both as artists and human beings!

Poetica by Rachael Sage on The Table Read
Poetica

Do you write your own music, or do you have musicians you work with?

I write my own music. I’ve only co-written songs a few times – and it’s been interesting and something I’m always open to doing but generally, it hasn’t been something I’ve pursued with any concerted energy other than in my spoken-word side project, “Poetica” which was more collaborative.

I do admire my peers in Nashville who cultivate co-writing as a lifestyle especially with the intention of pitching more commercial type songs to other artists – but for me composing has always been a very personal process so I’ll likely always write most of my material myself.

Do you play any instruments?

I play piano, guitar and percussion.

Do you like performing live, or does it scare you? Where can people watch you?

 I love performing live and while occasionally I do get nervous if someone I know is in the audience, for the most part I find being on stage to be exciting, energizing and among the most gratifying time I spend because it’s unique to each show and something quite intimate shared in the moment with strangers. I am currently on tour with Imelda May all over the UK and Ireland so folks can definitely come out to those shows! All dates can be found here: www.rachaelsage.com/shows.  

Is your music available online, and where can people listen to it?

Yes! It’s everywhere music is available: Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon and of course my website: www.rachaelsage.com

Are you able to make music full time, or do you have day job?

I am a full time musician, yes. But I do also do freelance work such as graphic design, visual art and voiceovers. I learned very early on never to say no to solid creative work in whatever realm – it all helps and I’m proud to have the “NYC hustle” engrained in me!

Are your friends and family supportive of your music career?

Yes absolutely! Most of my friends are musicians or other kinds of artists or work in the creative arts somehow so we all support each other and cheer each other on. My family has certainly had their concerns through the years about me doing certain type of gigs or putting myself out there in particular ways, but they love me unconditionally and give thanks every day for that blessing, which I know makes an enormous difference in terms of self-confidence and self-esteem.

What’s something you never expected about being a songwriter? What have you learned that surprised you?

I think I always knew what I was signing up for actually! I knew it would be a unique and exciting way to navigate the world and that I was very fortunate to have found the one thing at such a young age that gave my life purpose and meaning.

Whether it was songs I learned in Hebrew school that I then was able to lead my family singing at our Jewish holidays or music I heard in ballet class that I came home and played on our piano, I have always had a deep reverence for this mysterious and powerful universal language and the only surprise has been that I am still as fortunate as I am to be able to do what I love most!

I suppose meeting and touring with Judy Collins was a surprise that came about because she heard my songwriting and inexplicably connected with it; I would not have seen that coming as what we do is quite different but to her credit she has been over-the-top generous sharing her mentorship and encouragement not only with me but many other emerging younger artists. For that reason alone I always strive to be that way with other up-and-coming musicians, and to be open and accessible sharing any lessons or advice I am able to. 

Rachael Sage on The Table Read
Rachael Sage

Have you had any experiences that really stand out because of your songs?

I was able to perform at Lilith Fair after I auditioned with “Sistersong” and that was aming my most memorable experiences that very much shaped the rest of my career. I also was able to tour with the great Eric Burton and The Animals as well as my childhood idol Howard Jones which id still a “pinch me” moment that happily yielded a lovely friendship with him. I am thoroughly enjoying his latest single “I Believe In You” by the way, which is already climbing the charts!! 

Do you have any important events coming up we should know about?

Yes, I’ll be playing The Palladium in London on April 14th and then continuing to tour with Imelda May until mid-May! 

What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone inspired to write songs?

Don’t judge anything your write. It is all miraculous and awesome – the mere fact that you have the ability and impetus to create, and the willingness to work on your craft, period, already makes you brave. Make lots of art, keep your “antennae” as open as possible by always having a pen and paper or voice recorder handy, and it will just get better and better the more you do it!

Remember there is only one you – with your unique perspective, your voice, your way of expressing yourself – and be that as much as you can possibly be; it really is true that “everyone else is already taken” so the stories you have to tell will inherently be resonant if they are authentically you. 

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Truthfully, I am only proud of myself when I treat people well and can say I have done my best to be kind, on any given day…or when I take a risk to help someone in a way that is out of my comfort zone. I’ve never really correlated pride with creativity as that just seems like…what I ought to be doing since I’ve always committed to being an artist – but I do understand that many people orient to music and art in that way.

I just want to do my best and like any relationship I believe you get out of it what you put into it! I feel very lucky and try to avoid feeling proud about simply doing what I most love to do. I have made some sacrifices to be sure but whether or not they have been worth it, I think I may only know when I’m only and grey – ha!

Find more from Rachael Sage now:

Audio for ‘Revelation Ground’: https://open.spotify.com/track/76KlqdPEWrF7Xwy1tJW18E?si=f4408b1f66834221

Video for ‘Revelation Ground’.

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