Southern Sounds

June 29, 2023
5 mins read

An Interview With Musician Rachael Sage 

Words by Carson Rich

Rachael Sage is a woman of many talents who has been inspiring people all over the world through her music. An award-winning singer songwriter in her own right, she’s also worked with Grammy winners Judy Collins and Sarah McLachlan. We had the chance to chat with Sage recently to find out more about her career, life and inspirations.


Folio: Diving into your discography, there are so many genres that your songs can fit under from pop to rock and folk to R&B. Which is your favorite, and also what is one genre that you have not tapped into yet but hope to in the future?


Rachael Sage: It would be true to say that I tend not to think about genre at all when writing and recording my music. When inspiration strikes, as an artist I feel my job is in service to the song … which is often, but not always, a story. I think genre is sort of more about vibe, landscape and environment, and one song might benefit from a super-poppy approach while another just feels like it wants to be more stripped-down and folky. It’s a cliché that we think of our songs as children but in terms of this question there’s a good parallel in that part of a parent’s role is to nurture and not force their kids to be who they want them to be. You offer opportunities, and see where they lead! I would say the same thing about songs because I might approach a composition as a ballad initially, and then decide three months later in the studio it’s an uptempo. Somehow — and partly I think it’s craft but also a bit of magic — you just know when a certain genre or style feels “right” and the arrangement clicks …


In the future, I do think it would be fun to make a full-on rock record, whether old school rock ‘n roll or some hybrid of rock and spoken word. I’ve dabbled in that direction here and there but never made a whole album that rocked out start to finish. Beyond that, I would love to make a whole album with just voice and string quartet. We’ll see!


Folio: What inspires you as an artist? Is there someone you look up to or an incident you often find yourself looking back to?


Rachael: I am inspired by every aspect of life as an artist because being an artist is a way, I believe, of looking at and processing the world. It’s never been any single thing but rather a language and a means of coping with the hardships as well as the blessings that each day brings. That said, I’ve certainly written my fair share of love songs, as well as songs about empowerment, summoning courage and from time to time, songs that attempt to cast light on social injustice as well. I try to balance writing about my own life with also chronicling the experiences of others. In my training as an actor, I was often encouraged to summon my own emotions and experiences to convey other characters, and I am sure that I must do the same — even subconsciously — within my writing. Ultimately, I suppose I’m inspired by all the myriad ways we as human beings go through hoops to connect with one another even under duress and the beauty of how music itself can help us transcend trauma and fuel our wildest imaginings!


Carson: If you could work with any musician, who would it be and why?


Rachael: I would love to work with Elvis Costello! I think he has had the most fascinating and impressive career full of the most unexpected collaborations, and his entire sensibility has helped guide me as a songwriter … for many years. I have listened to his many albums as a soundtrack to so much of my life, but moreover, I just connect so much to his aesthetic and the way he thinks, lyrically as well as musically. It would be an enormous honor, but at this point in my life, I think I would actually be grounded enough to hold my own — so it would be, above all, fun, I’m sure! And of course, that’s what making music should be all about…


Carson: Through your work you have always tried to inspire and advocate for people everywhere, whether it is for the LGBTQIA+ community or in relationships in general. What is the main message you try to promote in your music?


Rachael: Thank you for highlighting that. It’s true that I feel a sense of responsibility to advocate for and hopefully uplift all kinds of people including the LGBTQIA+ community, women in general, as well as those who feel marginalized or, like, that haven’t had a voice or a place at the table, so to speak. As a kid I was badly bullied, and there was never any logic to it; I spent so much precious energy trying to circumvent and outwit meanness, tying my mind and spirit in knots to do so and ultimately I just had to “wait it out” and endure it. It was a tough five or so years where all I really felt I had to get me through was the arts: dance, music, acting — and thankfully also my loving family. So the main message I try to promote in my music is, naturally, compassion and empathy. We all bleed the same blood, and as I was taught in Hebrew school, “every person is a universe.” If we could only remember that all the moments of our lives, what a different universe it would be! 


Carson: While on tour, what is your favorite place to eat and what did you have there?


Rachael: My favorite cuisine in general is Middle Eastern, and along our travels we’ve happened onto amazing restaurants in places like Edinburgh, Scotland or Bath, England. I love Turkish, Moroccan or really any kind of Middle Eastern food and am basically addicted to hummus and love haloumi, couscous and tzatziki. But to be honest, I adhere to a very strict diet most of the time as my cancer experience taught me a lot about “clean eating” — so I’m just happy when I can get a decent spinach or kale salad and some good fresh veggies!! 


Carson: Over the course of your career, you have released 14 solo albums. How has your approach changed during that time when it comes to making new music?


Rachael: My forthcoming album, “The Other Side,” will inexplicably be my 15th full-length album. Where all that time went, I truly don’t know … it has absolutely flown by! I can still remember being in the studio with my first band in the late ’90s and being so determined to get the perfect live take where everyone played their best, all at the same time. I was a purist back then and had a lot more ego attachment to playing without making mistakes. Now, I would probably listen to a take with a mistake and evaluate it more objectively like: “This isn’t perfect, but it has a good energy and I believe it … so I’m going to leave that in there.” I think my approach now is more organic and to some extent, I suppose I’ve mellowed! I am more interested in discovery and surprise and less in capturing a pre-existing plan exactly as I may have been harboring it. That’s not to say I don’t deliberate over arrangements and instrumentation, but I just think I’m a bit more open and looser about it now. I also think I’ve gotten better at letting collaborators “do their thing.” A good idea is a good idea — and as I really learned while making my spoken-word/jazz album “Poetica” during lockdown, sometimes it’s about having a conversation with fellow musicians as much as it is about refining your own inner monologue. Working on that project definitely shifted my musical DNA!


Carson: If you were to be stranded on a deserted island, what three items would you want with you?


Rachael: Paper, Sharpies and a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Assuming food and water weren’t an issue, I think I could get by just spending my days drawing, writing and reading poetry. 


Throughout his childhood, you could always find Carson Rich with his eyes glued to the screen watching Sportcenter every morning before school. Now as an aspiring sports journalist at Folio Weekly, he looks to take after the people he used to look up to. Even when he is not writing about sports, he's usually at home binging old highlights or catching up on the latest news in sports.

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