'Street' singer
an interview with queen of the keyboard Rachael Sage

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Rachael Sage

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“Delancey Street” (Mpress), the ninth album by prolific out singer/songwriter and queen of the keyboard Rachael Sage, might be her most fully realized and rewarding effort. Its songs illustrate why Sage’s following continues to grow in leaps and bounds.

On “Hope’s Outpost,” “Everything Was Red” and “Back To Earth,” she succeeds in making the personal universal. Meanwhile, Sage offers sage advice on such songs as “Big Star,” “Brave Mistake” or “Wasn’t It You.”

Check out Sage on Logo, where her video for the song “Big Star” is in heavy rotation. During the week of Feb. 14, it was shining brightly at No. 3 on The Click List.

Gregg Shapiro: Like Ani DiFranco and her Righteous Babe label, you’ve released records on your MPress Records label from the beginning. You’ve also put out the “New Arrivals” artists compilations for a few years. How does it feel to be a music mogul?

Rachael Sage: (Laughs) Well, obviously it made me laugh for you to use the word mogul. But, I don’t really think of it that way. I sort of feel like I just get these crazy ideas in my head, and then I become kind of possessed by them and they don’t let me go. So I have my obsessive-compulsive disorder to thank. I would like to take this moment to thank her (laughs). Her name is Natasha, and every Shabbat I say a little prayer for her, and I hope that she never gets cured.

I just think that I am really lucky that I am able to pursue something that I love doing so much … which is to perform and to bring other artists together and keep building this community. I’m pretty damn lucky.   

GS: Usually the cover tunes you include on your discs are by queer or indie musicians. One of the covers you did for “Delancey Street,” which is available as a bonus download on iTunes, is a reinterpretation of “Fame.” Why did you choose that song?

RS: Last year, I had a much older song called “Too Many Women” picked to be in the remake of “Fame.” That came out last year, and it didn’t do quite as well as we had hoped. But it was such an exciting thing for me to have a song picked for a big, mainstream release like that.

I was a huge fan of the original film “Fame” and also the TV show. Coco and Leroy felt like my slightly more than imaginary friends (laughs). In a way I felt like I was kind of raised with the dream of going to a school like that and being part of that world. When I got (the) opportunity, I decided to not only perform that older song, “Too Many Women,” from my album “Public Record,” but to also do the cover to thank the folks at Lakeshore (Records) for picking me.

I performed it when I went to L.A., and I played Hotel Café, which is near where Lakeshore’s headquarters are. Then my band was like, “You have to keep doing this! Everybody went crazy. Everyone was singing along and yelling out the word ‘fame’ in the chorus.” It was kind of campy, but … I think it is a beautiful song, and I think slowing it down and playing it in the way that I did helped me recognize that, which is always fun.  

GS: “How I Got By” makes reference to Esther Williams and “Everything Was Red” contains a reference to Judy Garland. Are you sure you’re not a gay man trapped in a lesbian’s body?

RS: Wait, wait, did you just say what I think you said? Because, if so, the answer is “yes” (laughs). And you are not the first person to make this observation. My tour manager is constantly reminding me that is the case, and I am often lamenting that I haven’t been invited yet to perform on a gay men’s cruise ship, and I am wondering what I have to do.

GS: You use the word “l’chaim,” which means “to life” in Hebrew, in the song “Wasn’t It You” and recently the Black Eyed Peas included the phrase “mazel tov” in their song “I Gotta Feeling.”  

RS: Did they really?

GS: Yes! Do you think that this could be the beginning of a trend in which Hebrew phrases make appearances in pop songs?

RS: I think it absolutely could be. But I have mixed feelings about this. Cirque du Soleil has their new show “Banana Shpeel.” My show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer was called “Sequins & Shpiel.” They have this trademark after “Banana Shpeel,” which debuted well after my show, but they’re huge and I’m tiny. So does that mean I’m not allowed to use mine anymore? This could become like a whole crazy lawsuit if I try to revive my show “Sequins & Shpiel.” We’ll see.

GS: Queer musicians, such as Gregory Douglass and Allison Cornell, perform with you on your disc. Is it important for you to include out musicians?

RS: It’s important for me to include out musicians and queer people in my life. I think that’s just a natural extension of that. Most musicians will tell you that half the people in their band are there because they met them first as people and they liked hanging out with them, or they’re people with whom they are touring and they become buddies. Then they discover that they play three instruments. If you can’t get along with and hang with and enjoy the company of the people with whom you are being creative, you’re in trouble. It’s a long process. The people that you mentioned in particular and others, they’re just people that I love and whose work I admire. I don’t know why I would want to make any other choices in the studio than I do in my life.

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