By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Poetica – the experimental, cinematic alt-folk-pop project spearheaded by composer/producer/poet Rachael Sage and her longtime cellist Dave Eggar (Esperanza Spalding, Duncan Sheik, Corinne Bailey Rae) – will unleash their creative soul for the world to see when the self-titled spoken-word concept album comes out Oct. 22, 2021 via MPress Records.
Influenced by other poet/musicians like Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith and Laurie Anderson, Sage produced and engineered the project remotely with limited gear and sent files back and forth to bandmates and guest musicians from every genre. Sage wrote over 200 poems before and during lockdown, to which then Eggar helped her dwindle them down to the 18 spoken-word pieces that comprise ‘Poetica.’
‘Poetica’ was mixed by Grammy winner Andy Zulla (The Sweet Remains, Stephen Kellogg) and included worldwide contributions from the likes of renowned klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, Spooky Ghost guitarist Gerry Leonard and jazz trumpet player Russ Johnson and drummer Doug Yowell (Suzanne Vega), among many others.
The Music Bugle had the chance to speak with six-time Independent Music Award winner Sage about ‘Poetica’ and more.
Music Bugle – What inspired the “Poetica” name?
Rachael Sage – I actually performed with cellist Dave Eggar and percussionist Chuck Palmer under the name “Poetica” a decade ago, as part of the Howl! Fest in NYC – celebrating Alan Ginsberg. It was a one-night-only performance, fusing my spoken-word poetry with semi-improvised music. The night went amazingly and it felt like flying – but I just never did anything quite like that again, for whatever reason. It had been a fun whim because I wanted to be part of that festival, but then, I immediately shifted back to my folk-pop solo material, while occasionally performing a spoken word piece or two at my shows.
When I started this new project remotely with Dave Eggar under lockdown this past year, I immediately knew it had to be called that name. That gig – at Nuyorican Poets Café – had planted a very resilient seed and I’d just forgotten about it until suddenly we were channeling everything through the Poetica lense again…with no genre or stylistic limitations. It began to represent a kind of creative liberation in the midst of isolation and just felt right!
Music Bugle – Did the video for “Thanksgiving” come out how you hoped?
Rachael Sage – I really enjoyed collaborating with my longtime friend and peer NLX on the video for “Thanksgiving” and was so impressed with her aesthetic, which immediately struck me as simultaneously very retro/beatnik and contemporary. Being an extraordinary musician herself, her ability to syncing clever imagery with music is exceptional! We just clicked right away and I’m also a visual artist, so we definitely speak the same language.
Music Bugle – What made you want to put out “Thanksgiving” as a single?
Rachael Sage – I loved producing this track, because it basically incorporates all my favorite musical colors, while also also projecting a very hopeful energy through the poem itself, which personifies freedom in some unusual ways. I wanted the string section to hearken to classical 70’s R&B and the horns and wah guitar can’t help but make you feel like things are moving forward in an upbeat, conscious way. What better way to launch a new project than by giving thanks and revering freedom? It was my way of manifesting appreciation for the process and also bringing in new listeners with something playful and positive. I think we can all use a dose of assurance at the moment!
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your forthcoming album?
Rachael Sage – So much of this process was me leaning into the adventure of self-recording, engineering and producing entirely on my own, so that was both exciting and burdensome at times. I think that was reflective of what many people were going through in isolation – learning new skills, but also feeling overwhelmed and alone. As they say, “put it into the work” and that I did! Thankfully, all of the wonderful musicians who also contributed remotely were game to do the same – and the result is something I’m so happy and proud of, because it’s a living, breathing testament to remaining creative and connected, even in the most challenging of times.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Rachael Sage – Poetica is exciting because it not only fuses poetry with music, but it also defies musical categorization. Listeners are saying it spans everything from Americana, to Jazz, Classical, New Age and even Blues and Alternative. What that means to me is that the music is serving each poem just as a film score would do so with scenes in a film. The goal is to be as pure as possible in supporting the emotion of each piece, rather than to chart on the radio or appeal to any particular trends. That’s how the project tag line became “fine art music”; between the musical eclecticism and the accompanying objets d’art-themed photography, it’s just been a very liberating, collaborative creative process!
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Rachael Sage – I mostly listen to classical music lately – it just seems to calm me down and put me in the best frame of mind to handle the more stressful aspects of my non-musical responsibilities – but I’m also really enjoying new or recent releases by James Arthur, Nick Cave, Paula Cole and Elvis Costello.
Music Bugle – Of the poems you’ve written, which ones stand out the most to you?
Rachael Sage – I’ve written hundreds of poems and they all have their “purpose” as far as expressing something authentic for that moment, however literal or obscure – so that’s a tough question…but my current favorite pieces on the debut Poetica album are “Unconditional,” “Passenger,” “Butterflies” and “Magenta And Blue.” I’m so excited to perform them live at my upcoming tour dates!
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Rachael Sage – Like so many people, I have had relatives and friends pass from Covid-19. Each time, it has been shocking and painful, but also sobering in terms of how fortunate I am to be a cancer thriver, someone who was forced – however unwillingly – to reckon with my mortality far before this pandemic and someone who is also thankfully able to create art as a way to heal from trauma and loss. Work-wise, it has been very tough to be so isolated, but conversely, it forced me to develop new skills and to really look inward for answers of how I want to spend my time and why I make the choices I do. I hope it has also made me ever more sensitive to people going through tough times, wherever they may be and for whatever reasons.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Rachael Sage – I walk in nature, ideally. Or if that’s not possible, I walk wherever I am, for long enough to get out of my head and into a rhythm that creates calm and becomes meditative. I also really love yoga and have no shame striking a yoga pose wherever I happen to be. I call it “vogue-yoga” and needless to say, it does not preclude wearing sequins while doing downward facing dog.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Rachael Sage – “Say not, ‘When I have free time, I shall study’; for you may perhaps never have any free time,” by Hillel. This seems to have been the ancient Jewish precursor to Nike’s “Just do it.”