Rachael Sage is a name synonymous in the music industry with hard work and perseverance – setting up her own independent record label and producing new albums each year which brim with poetic lyricism and honesty. No more so than with her latest record, Character, in which Rachael Sage asks the impossible questions of herself – what comprises character? How do I remain grateful and optimistic in a cruel and difficult world? Character is the record written in the wake of a life-changing cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery – making it her most personal album yet.
Hey Rachael, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!
You are so very welcome, my pleasure!!
Your new album, Character, tackles some deeply personal themes. How does it feel to bring those into the public eye? Did you have any misgivings about it?
Of course there is some trepidation in sharing very personal material, but that has been what I have always done my whole life as an artist. When I was 6 I wrote a song about feeling sad because my Dad was away a lot. At 11 I wrote a song about being bullied. When I was 16 I wrote a song about someone I was dating who cheated on me and in the many years and albums since, I’ve done my best to balance the personal with the universal and also to include the stories of others – along with purely imaginative material – in my albums. It’s always been a balance between catharsis and craft, for me as a songwriter.
So after a year of treatment for my 2018 cancer diagnosis, I inevitably wrote about the challenges, but also the silver-linings (gratitude, mindfulness, renewed faith and appreciation of family and friends), of my cancer experience. I don’t have a single misgiving about any of that; I also didn’t sit down to write until more than half a year after my treatment, so I was well into recovery by the time I actually made the record. It was a joy to record again, and to play with my amazing band!
Gratitude is a central theme in this latest album – do you have any specific gratitude rituals that you practice daily/weekly and have found helpful during lockdown? Any advice for people who may be struggling?
I try to name – aloud by myself or otherwise to a loved-one – 5 things I am grateful for, every night before I go to sleep. I also practice yoga (specifically, Yoga 4 Cancer) regularly, and I do find that exercise and going on long walks absolutely helps me to connect with nature and to be grateful for the larger beauty that surrounds us, if we are mindful enough to cue into it!
I will also say that there is a common cliché that says if you are depressed, struggling or just feeling a little sorry for yourself for whatever reason, in that moment of darkness try doing something nice or generous for someone else. I have found this to be unilaterally true, and would recommend this to anyone at all going through a hard time. Be a friend, be a listener, or even just send an email or a text to someone else to cheer them up. It doesn’t have to be a big thing but that positive energy will only ever boomerang and make you feel better, in the sharing of it.
How did the idea come about to rework the Ani DiFranco song ‘Both Hands’? Were you nervous to be covering such an iconic song?
I have always loved this song, and to be honest, it just came to me very organically. It was on a playlist I was listening to with Empowered Women during my chemo treatments, and then at some point, once I had the strength to play again, it made its way to my fingers on guitar. I thought it would be exciting to do it with a string quartet, especially because my favorite album is Elvis Costello’s “The Juliet Letters” with The Brodsky Quartet. My good friend and longtime collaborator Dave Eggar helped me translate the parts I hummed to him into a legit arrangement, and it was quite a thrill doing it love with the string players, in the studio!
Did you manage to do anything for Pride this year? How was it to celebrate something that significant in lockdown?
Yes, I performed virtually as part of Global Pride. I was blown away by how so many volunteers quickly pivoted to the streaming format, and it was a huge honor to be part of such an incredible lineup, hosted by the fabulously talented Todrick Hall! My performance also aired in the same segment as Laverne Cox, which was very exciting as I’m a huge fan. I was also very moved by how our community made a significant effort to increase diversity and stand strong with Black Lives Matter movement, amidst all of the recent protests against police brutality. This year’s Pride will certainly be one I and many others will never forget!
Congratulations on hitting the top 40 on the Billboard charts! How did that feel?
Thank you so much! It was rather unexpected – especially since I am not touring – but also felt very redemptive, because the song “Blue Sky Days” really did mark a turning point for me at the beginning of my recovery, after I began using the meditation app “Headspace”. I started to be able to not only manage the anxiety and fear that had been building up for many months around my cancer experience, but to break through it with genuine feelings of gratitude and ultimately, creative inspiration. The charting was a nice reflection of the fact that other people really related to the song, which I had also been performing frequently on my livestreams since lockdown. A blessing all around!
Anything else we should know?
Yes actually!! On September 24, I will be hosting a global virtual fundraising event, “Bravery On Fire: A Benefit for Cancer Awareness”. It will feature a wide array of talented musicians and actors – including Paula Cole, Jill Sobule, Megan Hilty, Kyshona, Heather Mae & Crys Matthews, and Alison Pill – coming together to help raise awareness around prevention, early diagnosis and research for Women’s Cancers. The broadcast will stream from www.braveryonfire.com as well as Facebook and Youtube; 100% of proceeds will go to Foundation for Women’s Cancer. Please visit www.braveryonfire.com for more info!
Thank you so much for taking the time out to answer these Rachael! You can find out more by visiting her website (below), or following her on social media. Stream Character – out now on all platforms!