When most were learning to form sentences and grasp the concept of potty training, Rachael Sage was as well, but she was also falling in love with the piano. An instrument she considers her best friend, she started playing as a toddler. Later she became fascinated with dance and along the way she’s found a way to combine the two as an artist and as the owner of MPress Records. If this woman wasn’t busy enough, I asked her to sit down and talk about all of the above!
Kendra: Have you always been New York based? Has that helped in terms of creating and moving forward with all you do musically?
Rachael Sage: I’ve been in New York City all my adult life. I also came into New York City virtually every day after school from 11-years-old on, once I started studying at The School Of American Ballet…so I’ve always felt like a New Yorker. I think I am definitely a product of this city in terms of the intense energy that’s constantly around anyone who lives here; it’s impossible not to absorb it and channel it into one’s work. Whether it’s helped me or not, I’m not sure – but it’s definitely shaped me!
People can generally tell I’m from New York City and I ascribe this mainly to three qualities I have, apparently: 1) I’m an excellent multi-tasker 2) I’m a late-night person and New York City is truly “the city that never sleeps” so it arguably has made me more productive because I don’t sleep much either and 3) I’m hyper-friendly to strangers. It’s not put-on, it’s totally genuine. People here really like to engage strangers, and we treat each other like we already know one another more so than in most places, I think. I really enjoy that aspect of my city and while I take it for granted admittedly, I think it probably has armed me with a certain degree of chutzpah when it comes to other aspects of my life and work.
Kendra: Like running a MPress Records. Did you always want to own a record label?
Rachael: No I definitely didn’t always want to run a label. In my teens, all I wanted was to have pop hits and to be on the radio. I wanted to be a pop star, pure and simple, and I had the confidence in my songwriting early on to feel that it was a feasible goal. However, my parents had a different sense of what was best for me and insisted I go off to college right around when things were starting to “happen” for me musically, in my teens in New York City. It was a difficult time for me because I’d become so focused so young, I’d written thousands of songs and programmed/demoed them and was offered a big publishing deal with Famous Music but they wouldn’t let me pursue it because they worried I was too young and couldn’t handle it. In hindsight I think they might have reconsidered and let me do it, but they were just doing the best they could to protect me and didn’t know how hard this industry was to break into.
That said, once I did go to college, my musical sensibility completely shifted, and the idea of signing with a major seemed less desirable as well because my music became much more personal and quirky. I wanted to self-develop and after seeing examples of entrepreneurial musicians like Ani DiFranco and Loreena McKennitt – and learning more about Andy Warhol’s Factory and the “scene” he created – I thought, “Hey, maybe I can do this!” So once I moved back to New York City I decided to put out my own work, and gradually I built the label, got distribution, and eventually, hired a label manager, interns etc. and put out other artist. It didn’t happen overnight though; it was definitely a process and I couldn’t have done it without the help of some really gifted, intelligent team-members along the way!
Kendra: What came first, playing the keyboard or the guitar?
Rachael: Piano is my first instrument and I’ve been playing it since I was a toddler so I don’t even have to think about it, it just comes naturally. Guitar came much later, and I’m still learning…it’s much more challenging for me!
Kendra: If you had to compare each to a person in your life, who would the keyboard and guitar be to you and why?
Rachael: The piano is my absolute best friend, no question. Maybe even my twin…while the guitar is more of a celebrity crush. I admired it from afar for many years and can’t believe it even talks to me now; I’m starstruck but it’s beautiful sonic qualities and how it supports my voice and makes me feel special when I sing against it, but it’s still kind of a skin-deep relationship. I have a lot more to learn about the guitar; right now it’s still very mysterious and overwhelming.
Kendra: What inspired you to do a dance themed album?
Rachael: I was a ballet dancer for many years, and dance was really my first love. I learned to play piano by ear by listening to music from dance class, then going home and sounding it out on the piano. A few years back I learned that a lot of lyrical dance groups were using my music in competition, and many of the videos ended up on YouTube which was very compelling to me as a former dancer myself. Then the hit TV show Dance Moms randomly started using my songs too – over a dozen of them – and there was no escaping the fact that once again, dance was pulling me back in but this time as a musician, versus a dancer myself. I wanted to write a love-letter to Dance essentially, and to create music that was intended for choreography, from the get-go. I had the title “Choreographic” from the beginning, and then holed myself up in a hotel room in London and wrote the bulk of the album in about a week so I could record it with my co-producer Andy Zulla as soon as I got back from that tour, about a year ago actually. I work well under deadlines!
Kendra: I absolutely loved the story behind your single, “Loreena.” I just wrote a piece about the Will & Grace finale and the idea of time getting in the way of friends but letting things take its course because if you’re meant to be, you’ll meet once again. You obviously had some personal inspiration here, but on the flip side have you had the opposite with a friendship – one that couldn’t have ended soon enough, and how did you deal with it?
Rachael: I don’t think I actually have experienced what you’re describing honestly. Once I decide to be someone’s friend, I’m pretty damn loyal. I don’t have many close friends truth be told; I’m a very one-on-one kind of person and don’t socialize much in groups but I value my close friendships a great deal and like to think I have pretty good character judgment at this point in my life, so that’s a natural filter. That said, I have dated a few people and then scratched my head later on, wondering “what the hell was I thinking?!” But then again, it’s made for some decent songs haha so that’s one way to deal with it!!
Kendra: You played a healthy dose of shows this spring, can we expect some fall dates or are you waiting for the new year?
Rachael: I actually have a ton of Fall dates lined up in the UK including shows in London, Bristol, Brighton and Corsham…and more in Italy, Germany and Netherlands. Once I’m back in December I’ll be heading to the West Coast for shows in California, Arizona and a few other destinations, so I’ll be pretty busy touring through the end of 2016!
Kendra: Do you have any other music related plans coming up?
Rachael: Yes, of course! I am finishing a video for my song “Try Try Try” currently, and am also working on a couple new recordings including one song inspired by the life and work of Elie Wiesel, the Syrian Refugee Crisis and the 15th Anniversary of 9/11. I may release the new tracks before the year’s end, I’m still deciding…but it feels good to be back in the studio for a bit. I love touring, but I also enjoy a balance of making records and it had been a while!
Kendra: Being all about dance, if you had to make a mixtape that was meant for shaking it – what five songs would have to be on it?
Rachael: I’m gonna go with some retro dance-hits here, just for fun…
“Ray Of Light” – Madonna
“Freedom” – George Michael
“MacArthur Park” – Donna Summer
“Stayin’ Alive” – The BeeGees
“Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry” – Chicago (I did a gymnastics routine to this as a kid so it’s a nostalgic favorite!)