American artist Rachael Sage released a Spoken Word EP last year under the name Poetica. Poetica is a creatively ambitious musical spoken word project distilling a poetic spirit through text, voice, and music in the spirit of Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, and Laurie Anderson. What began as a remote duo collaboration between Rachael Sage and Dave Eggar eventually evolved into a full-blown spoken word concept album, with musicians contributing from around the globe on arrangements fusing elements of jazz, classical and Appalachian folk.
I talked with Rachael Sage to talk about what was Poetica, what were the influences and has was to work on the EP. While reading, you can listen to the EP down below. Let me know what is your favorite track in the comments below!
Hey! Could please introduce yourself! How did Poetica come to be?
Hi! I’m Rachael Sage, a poet, singer-songwriter, musician, and producer. Poetica originally came together for one night only, a decade ago, when I joined forces with Dave Eggar (cellist extraordinaire) and we performed semi-improvised music and poetry as part of the Howl! Festival honoring the poet Alan Ginsberg at the famed Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
Cut to 2020, when we were isolated during the pandemic…Once I knew we were in lockdown, I was determined to record an audiobook of my poetry and very quickly it evolved into a musical project as well, blurring the lines between spoken-word, classical, jazz, and American as we recruited various musicians from all over the world to be part of this collaborative recording.
I wrote a handful of pieces on my own, playing percussion and layering my voice, and cowrote several pieces with Dave and a couple of other musicians as well including Kelly Halloran, my longtime fiddle player. I composed all of the poems never imagining they’d be musicalized, but it’s been quite an adventure!
2.How did you get into spoken word? How has the journey been since the beginning?
I never really realized what I was doing was “spoken word” until people pointed it out to me, how funny is that? I would just sometimes inject my musical sets with some spontaneous poetry or read poems off the cuff from a journal – for instance when I toured with Eric Burdon & The Animals in Europe. I’d ask my drummer to give me a groove and encourage my guitarist to loop wah the guitar or some weird feedback-type sounds.
Eric told me at the time that what I was doing reminded him of The Doors, and generally of the ’60’s Beat aesthetic. It was news to me…I was just “expressing” – but I do love music and art from that era, so I suppose after that I always thought somewhere down the line I’d do a project that was singularly focused in that way, and wasn’t trying to adhere to any particular song structures versus supporting the language, foremost.
It’s been amazing so far to see that folks are actually open to something a little more ‘out there` and that demands a little more active listening in the way that jazz often does. You’re not going to go away from the show memorizing these pieces, but some of the hooks and grooves stick in your head. It’s definitely about just being present, letting it wash over you and take you on a dynamic journey, which is something I hope resonates with listeners, especially after being isolated for so long.
What inspires your craft?
My poems are fueled by courage, vulnerability, love, compassion, spirituality, and essentially, any aspect of human behavior or nature that feels like an opportunity to distill empathy, in an interesting way. I’m inspired by most manifestations of life, and even by death. The whole range of the soul’s experience on this planet, and the way we fail, learn, and grow.
When you write poetry, what is the thing that comes naturally to you? What is the most important thing you want to show in your words?
I do my best to capture moments, events, and qualities of being that reveal beauty or transcendence in some way, even amidst pain and suffering. I don’t think my poems have an underlying, cohesive “message” though; I hope each one expands a moment or an idea in a slightly different way, or I’d only need to write a few instead of writing hundreds! I suppose they are mini-conversations with society and the universe at large, using a more playful, expansive, and hopefully more creative language than I would ordinarily.
I’m always eager to find a deeper meaning in the world around me, but sometimes poetry is just a way to document truth more romantically than a camera phone! My piece “Lower East Side Baby” is an example of this; it’s literally about a cute baby I met in passing, walking my NYC block, but when people listen to it they reinterpret it in ways I never would’ve anticipated, which of course is great!
Let’s talk about your self-titled album. Is there a singular theme that ties those songs together or many?
There are a wide variety of themes on this recording, which contains 19 poems, set to diverse instrumentation. That said, all of the pieces were selected by Dave Eggar and myself specifically because they felt “timely” in one way or another; in that sense, this project debut is a kind of musical time capsule of the last year+, in all its erratic, colorful, bleak and uplifting glory!
How did the album come to be?
While I was in lockdown, I really started to get really antsy no recording, so I ordered one mic, learned Garage Band, and started recording my poetry as spoken word performances, layering vocals, and adding small percussion, body-percussion, and guitar loops. I was in touch with my dear friend and longtime cellist Dave Eggar and he encouraged me by hand-picking 19 poems from over 200, to flesh out with strings and other instruments, over the months that followed.
I art directed the imagery in the basement of my rental apartment in Upstate New York, and tried to create a world that transported the viewer and the listener to somewhere otherworldly and, I suppose, somewhere that could help heal our collective consciousness from some of the trauma we’ve been experiencing, all over the globe.
You worked with many amazing musicians during the production of the album. What was it like? Did you learn anything from them?
I always learn something from every musician I collaborate with. Each of these musicians was ‘cast’ for that exact reason: they are hyper-creative, sensitive, and always manage to surprise me, even when I think I know exactly what I want them to do, and give very specific direction.
I always say, ‘…also send me a track or two of ad-libs, and spontaneous moment’ so that there’s an element of the unexpected even with a carefully constructed arrangement. For instance, my violinist Kelly Halloran plays a gorgeous solo on “untitled”, and I edited it from a handful of tracks she gave me where she just really let loose. She was just feeling the emotion of the poem and her spirit and technique really shine. Within this type of project, I think it’s great to provide structure but also let people stretch out a bit and truly be themselves, as musicians.
How was production like?
Producing this album under lockdown really saved my sanity! It gave me a focus, and once I was involved, it helped me stay connected to my fellow musicians, as well as refine and sharpen my skills as an editor and arranger. It was also a very exploratory experience, more so than when I’ve produced pop and folk music. I really made a point to not judge myself at any point along the way, and to build motifs out of mistakes. I did miss being in the same room with other musicians, but on the upside, I could record at crazy hours like 4 am, and no one bothered me.
That’s how the piece “Sleep When I’m Tired” came to be. I was literally falling asleep and writing those lyrics off the top of my head and recording them at the same time. I went with it, listened the next day, and thought, “wow – I have something here!” Poetry captures feelings and moments more than narratives, generally…and it’s been satisfying to have a kind of artistic chronicle of this very historic time. I fully anticipate doing more recordings in this vein, so it’ll be interesting to see where it all goes when we’re not limited by social distancing, eventually…
What do you want listeners to listen to in your new album?
I want listeners to feel transported to a place that’s a little bit psychedelic, and to feel a sense of liberation and healing, through this music. The voice doesn’t always need to be “fancy” or impressive in an acrobatic way, to hold attention. I hope that’s reflected in this music – that we can create space to be heard while also being supported within a connected community. For me, that community has always been the arts, but I like to think that everyone is a poet or an artist in some way. I hope listeners feel like a door is opening into something comforting and that sparks the imagination, with this material.
Any future plans?
I’m always writing, but I’m also painting and producing some videos currently. I’m looking forward to my upcoming Poetica Fall Tour, and then…we’ll see!!
Make sure to check out Poetica at the following: