Trotz eisiger Temperaturen lehnt sich Sage Francis, nur mit schwarzem Hoody bekleidet, behaglich an eine Wand am Wiener Gürtel. Jedes Ausatmen lässt große weiße Nebelwolken aufsteigen. Es sieht dennoch nicht danach aus, als ob ihm kalt wäre. Seine hünenhafte Erscheinung macht es nicht leichter, ihn gerade jetzt, kurz vor seinem Konzert, um ein Interview zu bitten. Doch kaum angesprochen, blitzen seine freundlichen Augen interessiert aus dem bärtigen Gesicht und er erklärt sich sofort bereit, uns ins B72 zu folgen. Da sitzen wir nun an der Bar und führen mit einem der angesehensten Sprachkünstlern Amerikas ein Interview – auf Englisch.
Die Live-Bilder und eine kleine Zusammenfassung des Konzertes findet ihr: hier.
Interview: edHardygirl14 & Michael Reinhard Fotos: Daniel Shaked
TM: Good that you’re back from fake retirement. Do you feel like you did a step foreward personally or musically in this time? Sage Francis: No. I don’t think I projected myself forward any faster or more interestingly by taking a break. That wasn’t really a break. I worked the whole time running Strange Famous Records, personal stuff, just being consumed by responsibilities as an adult in form of running a business and a household. And than when it became time to record and dedicate myself to a project I was like: Ok, what’s the next record gonna be? It’s always the same process. And it’s totally stressful. It’s just nonstop thinking about it and working on it until you come to a conclusion: This is it, finally it’s done! I didn’t need the break to do that. But I needed a break for other reasons. I needed it for my own personal curiosity of what my life could be like if I wasn’t touring all the time. It turns out it’s chilly living alone! I say it jokingly but actually I kinda like it. That was a problem, I liked it too much. I really liked being by myself, having no interactions with other people.
Was it easy to go back to the touring life? No, it was just like a switch, where I know I have to step out and have to be social. I know my position. I know my role in these interactions – on the stage, travelling – the grind of it all. I know how to get through it and I know it’s tough, that was a good thing, too. I don’t step into this expecting fun. I know it’s gonna be hard work. But also all the good stuff when it does happen, that’s the bonus. Like I appreciate it more than I did when I started this.
You were mostly on your own all that time? Yeah, I live in the woods. With two cats and I don’t really have family around where I live. I have a cousin and my aunt. But my mom lives in Florida and my grandma too. I’ve never been that much of a family guy.
Only the cats where around? Yeah, and that was enough for me. I almost started to fear that I never would leave – cause’ I didn’t want to. So I had to push myself: „You have to go out and you gotta do something“. And that was a big reason I decided to go at it again. I didn’t stop writing or recording music. I just didnt’ wanna tour.
Some people reload their energy better on their own, some by having people around. So you are more like an introverted guy? Yes, kinda like that. My girlfriend is more of the second point. Every girlfriend I’ve been with has been like that. I think they need that. That’s how they feel good and get going, like beeing around people and chatting. I just have no interests in it. It does nothing for me and I rather listen than talk. I already know what I wanna say. I am more interested in hearing what other people are talking about.
So why do you give interviews? Part of the game. That’s part of my job now, like the travelling. We do this all on trains. I am glad at least they describe my situation to the people. And than they like BOOM – who is that weird guy.
Good for you that it’s not deep winter time. Oh, I did one tour here in winter time. My first european tour in 2001, I think. That was fucking crazy and I had a nervous breakdown in Paris actually, at the train station. I just had enough. It was freezing cold and we kept missing trains. I couldn’t figure out the system and I was not getting any help from anyone speaking English. I freaked out.
Was this the beginnig of „Fuck it, I will live in the woods alone“? No, it was way earlier. I grew up in the woods. I live in the house where I grew up and I bought it from my mom when she moved to Florida. I just love privacy and isolation. I love solitude and I love to be able to do, think and act however I want. It’s a freedom and it’s a privilege. A lot of people are afraid of that – they are afraid of silence. They get scared to think and act if someone is not dictating their situation. And I don’t like beeing distracted when I am thinking. Sometimes I just rather be alone. I just don’t enjoy company in that way.
It seems to be more like a profession than a passion to you. I do it for the sake of my album and for the sake of my record label. Nothing does well if you don’t tour. You essentially have to. This is how you promote the project in which you put all your money. And I am not gonna let it disappear into space without anybody realizing that it’s here and it’s fucking worth their time.
You founded your own label Strange Famous Records in 1996, but since than the industry changed completely. Everyone can record now at home easily. What has changed from your point of view as a owner of a label? It’s good for people who are talented and who don’t have the resources to record an expensive record. They can bring out a cheap one. But there are a hundred fucking whack rappers who also utilise the same avenues and the same resources, so they clutter the channels and everything is just oversaturated with really half-baked, lousy and shitty rap. And shitty music in general.
So how do you find the good musicians? How did you find your signed artist? That’s a whole different situation. I don’t have any interests in signing people, but if people present me a project and I am really into it and they seem like good people, hard workers and they give me an indication, that they understand how the business works, then I’d be more open putting out their work.
So it’s more about the business than the music? I know a million great rappers, kids I grew up with and they are still dope. But that’s one part of everything. You can’t just be an artist. I see so many people self sabotage because they think just because they can rap good, everything else is gonna fall in to place. Just one out of a billion is able to do that. They get signed by a major label and than the big suits take care of everything, right? But as an indipendent artist there is no way. You have to have work ethic, you have to be reliable, you have to be trustworthy and you have to be talented in a lot of things. Because you have do a lot of jobs and have tenacity to get through it all. ‚Cause artists have to be sensitive. The business side can be brutal for an artist. You have to learn how to navigate that and not to take a lot of things personally – like a bad review or someone doesn’t wanna work with you. I never let any of that bug me really.
Was Miami a big musically influence for you? I was born in Miami but I grew up in Rhode Island. As far as hip hop is concerned, I was very battle-oriented. Even when it was on the internet, like message boards and forums – that was before social media – and people were talking shit about you. I remember there was this online hip hop message board. It was like the main hip hop place that people check for new stuff and if someone was shit talking on there I was like: That’s bad. So I had to go on the message board. I would never do that now. It was around ’98 or ’99. Then I ended up hosting my own message board which I still have, even it’s a dead medium now but for old time sake we maintain it, ‚cause there is so much crazy shit on it. It was basically like reddit.
You run a label but you are also an artist. How much energy do you put in your own project as an artist? Mostly I do daily business. It’s like a boring monday. It’s e-mails all the fucking time. The artist thing is just natural though. If that comes out, the music, the songs, I need some actual time which I dedicate to it. But I don’t have to sit down eight hours a day in order to get out what I need to create. That is just always bubbeling inside and than evetually it just comes out. Bit by bit I collect life experience and that goes down on the music. I mean, you live your life, doesn’t matter if you serving meals or delivering ice cream or whatever. You gonne be an artist. I never except the excuse when people say: Oh, I wish I would have enough time to focus on my art. That’s a shit excuse. And you don’t need more money and you don’t need no support. If you’re an artist, you’re an artist. That’s it.
In times of streaming and downloading, what do you think as a labelboss is the next step in music industry? I just know that we want to be a reliable source for really interesting hip hop, music and artists with integrity. Just fight a good fight despite all the obstacles. We’ve been trough a whole bunch of shit and we’re still around. Most of the labels didn’t maintain and I can understand why, beacause everyday I am like: „Why am I doing this? When will I stop?“ I do think a lot about it, than I am like nah, we’ve come too far and sacrificed way to much. I can’t just stop it. It has to be there, always. In one form or another. I am not trying to build a big empire. I don’t want to continiously sign artists and get a bigger staff and come up with reasons why we need to generate more revenue in order to pay this or that person. We just gonna keep figuring out where we go. The music is the most important thing.
You think there is a good hip hop scene? Any special artists you really love? For popular and mainstream it’s Kendrick Lamar. He impresses me. I am like a believer of him. I don’t have much good things to say about anybody else.
Why do you believe in Kendrick Lamar? It’s a visceral thing. It’s the display of his skills, his performance, his content, his originality – everything about it reminds me of all the classics in old hip hop where people believe in the same things. He just reminds me of that time. And he is not a throwback rapper and I am not saying he is a retro-rapper. But there is something about it which I have missed from a lot of hip hop. Just his abilities as an MC, as an artist and as a writer. It’s the full package that I got from him and it’s authentic. That’s what’s lacking in a lot of hip hop: autheticity! No one expects it anymore. It used to be the norm – if you’re not authentic you would get laughed off stage. But MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice were one of the most selling artist. You can’t say it has always been that way, but in the underground – I hate to call it underground – whatever isn’t mainstream.
Are there other influences concerning language than hip hop in your life? It was just hip hop my whole life right up, until I was in college. All I listened to was hip hop. I could not listen anything else and I didn’t care about anything else. And than around 21, I almost made a total switch. I started listening to everything else but hip hop which I thought it was important to my hip hop. In order to contribute hip hop I needed influences and inspiration from outside of hip hop. Otherwise it’s to incestuous. It’s like you bathing with the same bathwater all the time.
The poetry slam stuff was important for me to open my mind to what could be written about. Because in spoken word they explored all different types of subjects that never was been addressed in hip hop. And it was strong and powerful and I was like: Wow, this could possibly work in a hip hop song. Because I kept them separate for a while, like: This is a poem. This over here is a rap and then eventually I learned to mix them together and come up a with unique voice and style. I took a bit of efford to get people to feel it. For some it’s to challenging ‚cause it’s not what they are used to, so they don’t like it. But eventually a lot of people came around and I acquired such a big fanbase even without a record, I just had mixtapes and doing the battles and stuff. But my name spread and the people realized the kind of music I was making. They couldn’t get it anywhere else than from me and from our little circle of people. That was before „Personal Journals“.
You answered questions on Facebook about artists you would love to work with. You mentioned Neil Young. Why Neil Young? I think our voices would work together. Not necessary in a rap song. He hasn’t got a beautiful voice, but it’s such a unique voice. They call him „Shakey“. He got this shaky vibrato in his voice. And he is also someone who has his believes. He sticks to them and he stood up for a lot of big causes in his life. There are bad qualities about Neil Young, too. I own so many of his records. I listened to him for a long time. I really got stuck on Neil Young. I got to meet him too and his family. I hung up with his daughter once.
So there is a connection? If I would be an opportunist, I would have tried it but honestly, I don’t care about collaborations. I would never bug Neil Young to do a song with me.
How did you get to know Neil Youngs daughter? She is a really close friend to a close friend of mine.
What is your favorite Neil Young record? Well, the one I listened the most was „Decade“ just because it was the compilation of all the great Neil Young songs. But if I had to pick up one album: „Tonight is Tonight“ … oh wait, no, „On The Beach“. It’s a fucking really good record. His new records are good too and he still sounds the same – Neil Young still sounds like Neil Young.
Where did you get into Neil Young? It’s crazy. I mistook a song by a group called „America“. The name of the song was: „A Horse With No Name“. It sounds just like Neil Young, but it’s not him. And I always thought it was Neil Young. So I tried to find that song. That’s how I found all the other ones. But in retrospect, fuck that song. They ripped him off and most people thought it was Neil Young and it wasn’t. And even he was pissed at his record label, ‚cause it was the same label which put that fake Neil Young shit out.
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