Motif Interviews Sage Francis

sageAn enigmatic force and a local legend around Providence, Sage Francis has everyone’s ear when he has a microphone in his hand. He’ll be performing at The Met in Pawtucket on Fri, March 13 with New Haven, Conn-based musician Ceschi Ramos, Brooklyn hip-hop duo Metermaids and fellow Providence artist Storm Davis. In advance of the show, Sage and I had a chat about the success of his latest release, Copper Gone, obtaining Elmo costumes, the future of independent music and everything else.

Rob Duguay: Last June you released your fifth studio album, Copper Gone, and it has become your biggest release yet. How do you handle your success as an artist? Do you embrace it or do you ignore it and focus on the next project?

Sage Francis: I’m certainly happy with the acclaim I get after all the hard work, but it’s not something that I put much stock into. Success is such a dangerous word. It always makes me uneasy to see people equate my relative success with happiness. It’s all come with so much struggle and stress. When someone says, “At least you’re doing what you love,” it really makes me take a step back and wonder if they’d even know who I was if I actually did what I loved. I’ve been able to accomplish more than anyone could have predicted, and I’ll do my best to keep things moving — that’s all I can say. Once I feel like I’m standing on a mountain top and once I’m content enough to die there or come back down, I’ll be in a much better position to answer this kind of question.

RD: Last month you and Ceschi Ramos put out a music video for the track “Barely Alive.” How did you and Ceschi meet and where can we get our own Elmo costumes?

SF: Ceschi and I first met at a hardcore punk show in 1996. I don’t remember this, but he’s one of the very few people who purchased my first demo tape. I don’t think he started releasing any official albums until the mid-2000s but I took notice. Not just because he’s fairly local, but he’s clearly got a special talent. A few years later we started working together on various levels. I think he was the last person we had perform in the Strange Famous Records basement, back when we used to do shows at our office space. Anyway, the Elmo costumes are rentable at any bootleg costume shop. I don’t know, Ceschi was the one who hooked them up for our video. I just had to make sure my wig game was on point. No worries there, always is.

RD: What is the most difficult thing about running Strange Famous, and what do you love most about it?

SF: The most difficult thing is figuring out ways to make as much impact as possible with so few resources. I like keeping our label small and compact, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to reach as many people as possible. The odds placed against independent labels seemed to have increased exponentially since 2006. The hustle never ends, and I guess the exhaustion is the worst part. The best part is working with a team of people with a unified goal, it’s nice to be a part of something like that. It’s probably more important to me than I’ve fully acknowledged for the better part of a decade because I’ve been so immersed in it, distracted by how busy we’ve been. We’ve developed a loyal fan base and we’ve developed a killer roster with a small, dedicated staff who all go hard for Strange Famous and that’s all with minimal media attention. A lot of indie labels have folded or sold out in various ways while we continued to weather the storm. That might be what I am most proud of, out of anything I’ve been involved with in my career.

RD: What is the main difference between poetry and rapping?

SF: There’s no main difference between poetry and rapping, but I feel the best “poetry” doesn’t rhyme. I also feel that the best rap doesn’t need to be poetic, though I prefer when it is.

RD: What do you think the future holds with the battle between independent and mainstream in the world of hip-hop?

SF: The battle has nothing to do with hip-hop. It’s a shared battle between conglomerate control of all common channels and indie entities fighting over the scraps. We’re all going to rip each other’s faces off and some lucky blogger will capture it on video. When the video goes viral, the money made off of ad revenue probably will go directly into supporting the fine arts.

Purchase tickets to the March 13 show here:

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