Sage Francis' Copper Gone Sees Him Back on His D.I.Y. Grind
Friday, May 30th, Sage Francis plays Le Poisson Rouge as one of the first dates of his new tour promoting Copper Gone, his first album in four years, due out June 3rd. A lot's changed since his last go-round, having said his June 2010 NYC show at the end of his last album Li(f)e's tour was going to be the last performance of the last tour he would ever do. Since then, the underground hip-hop world has flipped several times over, as has Sage's world. Having experiences everywhere from working with HIV-Positive orphans in Africa to maintaining a longtime home as it begins to fall apart while tending to a sick cat, he's seen a lot since we last heard from him. We spoke to Sage about the new album, how the indie hip-hop grind has changed and his issues with those who've attempted a, in his words, "radio friendly version" of his particular hip-hop stylings.
PRENTICE DANNER Sage Francis
Was it cathartic to publicly react to the questions you're sick of in the tour announcement video?
Totally. It felt so good. Those questions that we use in that video have been posted multiple, multiple times on my Facebook and Twitter. To be able to answer them in the video and let this be a thing to exist forever to tip people off that it's kind of annoying to be asked these things. I understand why you say them, and I try to give a cordial response, but the enamel wears off of my niceties and I start saying "That's right, I hate your city. Correct, I hate my fans. Pay no attention to that there's no way to visit your city in between these shows." Who the fuck knows if I can do 60+ shows in three months. I'm not trying to book every single day of my year. How is that possible? People don't see you as a human being, they don't think there's a health risk involved. And again, talk about the indie route. I get the van, I drive the van, I headline the show, I set merch up. I do this shit on my own, this is how I like to do my stuff. Having the opportunity to do a video to give the response that's in my head and now everyone gets to see it is part of what makes it so fun.
It's been a while since your last full-length album, and you make clear your own self-awareness of this by the opening track, "Pressure Cooker" being kickstarted by you saying "I've Been Busy!" With all you have going on with your life now, not to mention being the head of Strange Famous Records, how much time did it take to create the new album?
After the last album and the last tour, there was probably an entire year where I didn't write and didn't record. I didn't do anything except run the record label. I just stopped. I didn't want to do it, and it was the first time I had ever done that. I just reached a point where I was so frustrated and downtrodden that I didn't want to do it and just focus on something else for my own well-being. Developing some type of general happiness and domestic life was the goal. I felt if I was going to be home, if I'm gonna stop touring, I have to develop something here. It has to be the real adult life I've seen other people doing. I've tried that for four years, but the first year I didn't do any writing or recording because I wanted to see what it was like to not do that. When I went to South Africa and worked with the people there and became acquainted with the kids, I wrote a song for them and that was my first time writing again, it got the creative juices flowing. Then I started doing features for other people's records to get back into the saddle. My verses had more fire and energy, which was invigorating because that's the type of rap I like. I like the laid back stuff, but Li(f)e was too laid back for me to try to do another laid back type of project, so for this one I wanted to do more intensity. It took me probably two years or a year-and-a-half. But, some of these songs were half-written about ten years ago. I always delve into old material, and have stuff waiting around always looking for a home. Songs like "Grace," there's segments of that that come from 2005, 2007, earlier than that. I've been sitting on the "this is not a love ballad thing." I was sitting on the sample from the Poor Righteous Teachers record, but thought it worked better in my understated way.
You mention the heartbreaking moments that can come from being a cat-owner on the album. How's your cat doing?
Awesome. Totally back on the mend. He's always had a heart murmur, and it wasn't an issue. I was thinking he was definitely going to die and accepted that I was gonna lose my cat. To have him back in full force right now is amazing. He's the best. Love that guy.
How does having a cat fit into the indie-rap grind?
Cats are important. First of all, they're an animated entity in the house. If was just me in the house for so long, but to have cats they give you something to laugh at and have responsibility. It's having something there, and if a cat's there, you're not talking to yourself. Everything's acceptable when you're in a room with a cat. They're weird, funny, stupid, brilliant creatures and they're great to have around.
There's a line on your new record, "Mama said 'Knock down the house, start over.'" A point of pride in your earlier work is that you bought your house off your parents. Was this your Mom being literal?
Yes, she's said it multiple times and she's being very literal. I'll explain how stuff's failing in the house, how stuff's broken. We have well water here, pipes are shot to shit and rusted the fuck out. Everything breaks and whenever I tell her, [she says] "Knock down the house. You have to knock down the house. Get a new house, but knock that one down." I can't knock down the house, it has every thing of mine in it. So, I'm OK living in a broken house. At some point, maybe when time stands still and I have the opportunity to really gut this house over, OK, then. I wear shoes until they literally fall off my feet. I can't see myself knocking down the house because everything's broken. It's psychologically risky. I'll leave it as is, there's a lot of ghosts in these walls. I don't know what happens if I knock it down.