Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


The woman who does it all

What do you get when you take a young girl with a passion for picking out songs on the piano, put her in college and introduce to her the idea of creating her own record label?

Well, you get Rachael Sage, perhaps one of the most ambitious artists in the music world today. Sage not only owns and operates her own independent record label, Mpress Records, but has released four of her own CDs on the label. As if that isn’t enough, she also designs musical instruments, furniture and clothing.

So how does one person manage to balance all these endeavors and still have time to leave the house? “It’s hard — absolutely,” Sage told the Badger Herald via telephone. “Having that many and diverse interests takes a toll on your personal and social life. You just have to be passionate and love it; [all the projects] are creative and all are parts of my personality, part of what I’m trying to convey as an artist.”


Sage began in music at an early age, learning first how to play some of her favorite popular songs on the piano.

“I’ve been playing piano since I was three or four — I just sat down at the piano and started playing songs from ‘Oklahoma!,’ ‘Annie’ and a few other shows,” she said. “I think it kinda freaked my parents out, and they enrolled me in [piano] lessons. But I didn’t take well to lessons — my ear was impatient. So I started doing it on my own, writing little pop songs and imitating top-40 radio. I never learned to read music.”

The little girl soon blossomed into a young woman, attending The School of American Ballet (“I remember singing Billy Joel songs before ballet class,” she said) and later receiving a degree in drama from Stanford University. Sage decided at this point to turn her attention to music.

“It was sort of a natural progression for me,” Sage remembered. “I started by sending demos to publishers and managers, and went through a variety of phases, working with various sleazy folks in the business.”

Deciding to start her own label was a “passive decision” for Sage, as she realized she really could do it all herself.

“It was so obvious to me,” she said. “If I already had music I’d been working on for years and years, I could do the demos myself. The line between making demos and making a record became so thin when the technology became more widely accessible.”

Sage learned how to do mastering, producing and graphics “just by doing research,” she said, and soon put out her first album, 1996’s Morbidly Romantic. In that album, and her later efforts, 1998’s Smashing the Scene, 2001’s Painting of a Painting and 2002’s Illusion’s Carnival, Sage’s influences, ranging from classical music to U2, are apparent.

The year 2001 was a turning point in Sage’s career, as she was awarded the grand prize in the prestigious John Lennon Songwriting Contest as well as first prize in the Great American Song Contest.

Of winning the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, Sage said that “It was fun — a big surprise. They (the judges and other participants) were wonderful about spreading the love and goodwill, and it was one of the coolest contests I’ve ever been involved in. Plus, I’m a big fan of Lennon and of Yoko Ono.”

Besides winning these prestigious awards, Sage has also toured with greats like Ani Difranco, to whom she has often been compared, and participated in Lilith Fair. Although comparisons of her music to that of both Difranco and Tori Amos are common, Sage isn’t worried about losing an individual voice.

“The more you dwell on it, the more of an issue it becomes. I admire both of them (Difranco and Amos) — they’re incredible musicians,” Sage said.

Illusion’s Carnival was written directly in the wake of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the fact that Sage lives and works out of New York undoubtedly had an effect on her writing process. “When I was finishing the album, around the time of Sept. 11, it was a painful and difficult time to even try to complete a project like a record. I was having so many questions about even continuing: Is it worth the effort? Should I be helping in some other way?”

Regardless, Sage finished the album and integrated some of her feelings surrounding the terrorist attacks into the album’s art. The cover, for example, features a snapshot of Sage, surrounded by a green, painted design.

“I wanted to reflect me looking through [the painted portions]; green symbolized hope for me, and re-growth, and what would come after. I was being filtered, too, changing how I was looked at as well. This is also reflected in the album’s title — hope of not even knowing what you’re going to take or learn from [an event], but that there is always something to take and know,” she said.

The sound of Illusion’s Carnival is undoubtedly unique, employing instrumentation that includes piano, jingle bells, flugelhorn, cello and upright bass. In general, it is easy to understand why Sage is so often compared to Ani Difranco, as her vocals bear striking resemblance to Difranco’s famous ones.

However, this is not to say that Sage isn’t carving out her own niche in the already tight field of female singer-songwriters. While her influences can be heard throughout the album, Sage employs her unique instrumentation and amazing songwriting abilities to take the listener inside her songs.

The album’s lyrics are a definite high point, as Sage touches on topics ranging from the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath to her personal experiences, which makes the songs easy to relate to.

In the end, Sage said the ultimate goal of songwriting should be to “keep it meaningful for yourself and not be drained by the process of business.”

And of playing in feminist bookstores like A Room of One’s Own? “If I could be pigeonholed as a feminist, that would be my greatest hope,” Sage concluded.

Rachael Sage, with opening band Girlyman, plays Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at A Room of One’s Own, 307 W. Johnson St. Call 257-7888 for more information.

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