‘Street’ singer
an interview with Rachael Sage

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Rachael Sage

“It’s important for me to include out musicians in my life,’ Sage says. – Photo: Courtesy

“Delancey Street” (Mpress), the ninth album by prolific out singer/songwriter and queen of the keyboard Rachael Sage, sounds like it could be her most fully realized and richly rewarding effort. Making the personal universal on “Hope’s Outpost,” “Everything Was Red” and “Back To Earth” or offering Sage advice on “Big Star,” “Brave Mistake” or “Wasn’t It You,” these songs illustrate why her following continues to grow in leaps and bounds.

Gregg Shapiro: Like Ani DiFranco and her Righteous Babe record label, you have been putting out records on your MPress Records label from the very beginning. Additionally, you have been putting out the “New Arrivals” various artists compilation for a few years. How does it feel to be a music mogul?

Rachael Sage: …It made me laugh for you to use the word “mogul.” But, I don’t really think of it that way. I just get these crazy ideas in my head. 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. Her name is Natasha and every Shabbat I say a little prayer for her and I hope that she never gets cured. I am really lucky that I am able to pursue something that I love … all of the grunt work and stuff that … keeps me up most nights and occasionally gives me pneumonia. The purpose of all that is to do the thing that I love most … perform, bring other artists together and keep building this community. I’m pretty damn lucky.

GS: I want to begin by asking you about your SXSW (South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas,) experience in March.

RS: It was fantastic! It was the best we’ve ever had, by far. It all came together in terms of … all the outreach we were doing. Then people showed up in droves to our event, so it was really exciting. All the artists played so beautifully and our snacks were really good, so it was a perfect day.

GS: Over the years, you have included cover tunes by queer or indie musicians on a few your discs. One of the covers that you did for “Delancey Street” is a reinterpretation of “Fame.”

RS: That was a pretty literal reaction to the opportunity that I had earlier. Last year, I had a song called “Too Many Women” picked for the remake of “Fame.” It didn’t do quite as well as we had hoped, but it was such an exciting thing to have a song picked for a big, mainstream release.

I was a huge fan of the original film and also the TV show. Coco and Leroy felt like my slightly more than imaginary friends (laughs). When I got that opportunity, I decided to not only perform “Too Many Women,” but also to cover (“Fame”), to thank the folks at Lakeshore (Records). I performed it when I went to L.A. Everybody went crazy; everyone was singing along and yelling out the word “fame” in the chorus.

GS: The other cover on the disc is the Hall & Oates hit “Rich Girl.”

RS: I think Hall & Oates are back in everybody’s minds. They reissued … their entire catalog. And they have been on television a lot and all of that. I’m quite friendly with their percussionist Everett Bradley, who is one of my oldest and dearest friends, and he played on my album. He offered me an invitation to see Hall & Oats at Mohegan Sun on New Year’s. So, I went and … it was incredible – to be at a casino on New Year’s seeing Hall & Oates, one of my favorite bands from childhood. I went into the studio the very next day and just played that song.

GS: In the song “How I Got By,” you use the word “ameliorate.”

RS: (Laughs) That’s very funny because Kevin Killen, who mixed the album and mixed that song, he gave me a lot of shit about that (laughs). He’s like, “Rachael, I’m very impressed you use the word ‘ameliorate.’ The only other person I could think of who would use that word would be Paula Cole.” I’m sure that it will make my mother happy.

GS: “How I Got By” makes reference to Esther Williams and “Everything Was Red” contains a reference to Judy Garland. Are you a gay man trapped in a lesbian’s body?

RS: The answer is yes! And you are not the first person to make this observation. I am often lamenting that I haven’t been invited yet to perform on a gay men’s cruise ship. But, absolutely, a firm yes!

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 as part of your band and part of the musicians with which you work?

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 liked hanging out with them. Then they discover they play three instruments. If you can’t … enjoy the company of the people you are being creative (with), you’re in trouble. The people that you mentioned, they’re people 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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