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Sage Francis: An Interview with the Personal Journalist on Li(f)e, music, and his appearance at the Santa Cruz Music Festival.

By Mat Weir

Sage Francis

Photo by Drew Carlson.

Born in Florida as Paul Francis, Sage cut his teeth on the hip-hop underground, battling emcees in freestyle competitions and performing his poetry at slam events. The thirty-six year old rapper then used his words to carve a name in the outlet of hip-hop as one of the best independent emcees in the business. His lyrics are soulful and often dark, reflecting the evil in the world outside as he internalizes it, trying to find the meaning.


He is the mastermind behind Strange Famous Records, an underground , truly independent label, and he dropped his latest album, Li(f)e, in 2010.


On Saturday, July 20th, he will be one of 100 performers and artists to participate in the inaugural Santa Cruz Music Festival (SCMF). A West Coast rival to Austin’s famed South By Southwest fest, SCMF is a seven venue, eleven stage, 100 artist, all-day music extravaganza.


Mat: What inspired you to use live instruments on your 2010 release, Li(f)e?

Sage: I suppose it was a matter of circumstance as well as opportunity. Li(f)e was to be my final record with Epitaph Records and we wanted to make special use of the situation considering all of the musicians that they work with. They also had the kind of budget that could handle the insane expenses that come along with making an album of that sort, so I figured I might as well make use of that. That money eventually came out of my future earnings, and if I had to do it again I would have certainly figured out ways to get around some of the huge costs, but it was interesting stepping into a whole new process to achieve a different sound than what I’m used to. It was basically a “Let’s see what kind of album happens when I’m not in control of every element” kind of thing.


M: It’s been 3 years since Li(f)e and just as long since you’ve performed in Santa Cruz. Without giving anything away, should the audience expect some surprises?


S: The audience should always expect surprises at my shows. Along with a predictable rain of broccoli of course. But if by “surprises” you mean new material then yes. I will be showcasing some of my new ideas for songs while feeling out the way it all works on stage. Win/win hopefully.
M: How did you hook up with the Santa Cruz Music Festival?


S: The promoter emailed me and asked if I would be part of their festival. It was that direct.


M: Along with performing hip hop, you will be doing a spoken word set. Who are some poets/spoken word artists that inspire you?


S: In the mid 1990’s Patricia Smith inspired me to get involved with the spoken word scene. Since then there have only been a handfull of spoken word artists who have inspired me (mostly from the New England area,) but this was all from around 1997 until 2000. That’s when the scene felt the most electric, eclectic, sincere and original *to me*. After that it turned into something else that other people would surely find exciting, interesting and unique. It just didn’t click with me too much after that. Felt too much like people were wholly content with just performing in a bubble for themselves. The culture of “poets” pandering to “poets” became way too insular. Honestly, more often than not, it comes across as LARPing.


M: Why are poetry and spoken word performances still important in 2013?


S: Poetry, spoken word, language and all forms of communication are important. Anything that can be used as an outlet to express or entertain oneself is important. Even if you LARP. I certainly don’t mean to disrespect the LARPers out there. Hey, I entertain myself with silly, 6 second Vine videos. No judging here. Without outlets we’d probably self-destruct sooner than later.

Sage Francis

M: In 2000 you won the Scribble Jam under your Xaul Zan alias, do you miss those types of battle competitions? Do you still participate in any?


S: I think those battles happened at a perfect time in my life, though I was already on the cusp of losing interest in doing anything that is competition-based. It just doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that you should dedicate too much time, talent or mental energy to. Get in, do your thing, have fun if you can, make a name for yourself if you’re lucky/talented enough, and then move on. If you don’t move on then your creative mind begins to get molded by too many restrictions. You start to adopt a more formulaic approach. That said, I do miss the fun of it all. I don’t miss the anxiety though. After a 10 year hiatus from anything battle related, we just started including emcee battles as part of a monthly event we do in RI called “Church of Providence.” I’m only the host though. Once I laid my whole life into my music that was with the understanding that I could never battle again. Too much ammo. haha.


M: What is hip hop missing in 2013?


S: I don’t even really know what people think hip-hop is in 2013 so that’s an impossible question for me to answer. My best answer to that question is what I try to provide in my music, but I certainly don’t expect everyone to have the same definition of hip-hop as me.


M: What was the first hip hop album you heard and does it still influence your music?


S: It was either a Fat Boys album or a Run DMC album. That entire era of hip-hop influenced everything I do and it will always be a part of me. Same with anything else I experience and enjoy in life. Or hate in life. I’m influenced one way or the other I suppose.


M: What new projects can fans look forward to?


S: I’m sitting at the helm of Strange Famous Records. That’s what eats up most of my time and energy as I do my best to make sure we’re able to survive as an indie label.  I’m looking at a dry erase board at the moment and it lists 9 projects. 9 upcoming albums. One of them is mine. The rest are from some well known SFR artists and some who have yet to be announced. I reckon these albums are all worth looking forward to. If they aren’t, then I can chalk up the past few years as the greatest waste of my professional and personal life. And I will fuck that chalk into dust before sniffing it all away forever. Incentives!







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