Coming from the impenetrable metropolis of New York City is Poetica, the new spoken-word jazz collective from the mind of alt-folk star Rachael Sage. Having released their debut single, “Thanksgiving,” followed by their latest, “Passenger,” Sage and collaborator Dave Eggar prove that they are here to break new ground, collaborate on beautifully whimsical psychedelic tracks, and consistently push boundaries of musical genre.
In the past, Sage has proven herself to be a master of the pen, crafting emotive and relatable lyrics over her alt-folk pop jams, which have led her towards success in publications such as Maverick and Record Collector. But it’s refreshing to see her in an entirely new context such as this, helming a collective that allows her to expand into new and mature realms of music and pushing the boundaries where music and poetry collide.
“Writing song lyrics is very different for me than writing poems,” Sage says. “Poems come from a much more subconscious, mysterious place that I would almost describe as a kind of soul-searching. It’s a very spiritual process for me and I usually learn something after the fact, once each poem is written. I’ve been really enjoying the absence of any kind of song structure while creating these arrangements, and I also greatly credit Dave Eggar for supporting this vision, and my writing, unequivocally.”
Eggar shares: “Rachael Sage’s Poetica is spoken word art at its finest. Fusing the influences of Emily Dickinson and ee cummings with soundscapes reminiscent of Bjork and Laurie Anderson, Sage probes some of our most personal and universal moments as humans in this pandemic era in an empathic, poignant and courageous record.”
We caught up with Sage to find out more about Poetica.
How did it feel hearing those amazing words about your project from Dave Eggar?
I have so much musical and personal respect for Dave Eggar, and he has been one of the more inspiring musicians I’ve ever worked with since he first played on my album The Blistering Sun in 2006. I trust his musical and literary instincts implicitly, so any praise and encouragement from Dave is very meaningful and motivating!
What does it feel like to release music under a different artist name? Have you done anything like this before? How daunting did it feel to “start over”?
I didn’t overthink the decision to release this music under the project name Poetica, as the concept actually existed before a single note was even recorded. I did one gig under this name about 15 years ago with Dave Eggar and a wonderful percussionist Chuck Palmer — as part of the Alan Ginsberg-themed Howl! Festival in NYC, at the legendary Nuyorican Poets Café — and it ventured into this exact type of spoken-word/musical terrain. So while being under lockdown finally reignited this flame, it had been lit years ago and in that sense it didn’t feel like starting over as much as focusing on it for long enough to finally complete this work with full commitment. I have definitely never done anything like this before, in terms of the process itself; this has been an unprecedented time in so many ways, and everyone I know has been daunted and also worked through fear in ways they could never have foreseen. Some of that is inevitably reflected in this work.
This project has been more of a collaborative effort than your previous material — what were the best and worst parts of working with others?
The best part of working with all of the amazing musicians on this project was that it gave us all a a beautiful excuse simply to connect, to stay in touch and to focus on serving a collective Muse, in an enormously challenging time, otherwise. I found that everyone was wildly open to this very different approach of working, and people were not afraid to take risks, try things that may not work at all but warranted exploration nonetheless, and in that respect I think it’s been a very adventurous endeavor. There is necessarily a lot of love, respect, and soulfulness on this album, and that’s a testimony not only to the impressive artistry of my collaborators, but to who they are as individuals; I found that each musician who was invited to appear on the record was very eager to serve the poetry, without any consideration of commerciality or the usual production expectations of folk or pop music — so that was very liberating and part of why I decided on the tag “fine art music” for the project.
There was no “worst” part of this collaboration — other than that of course I could not always use every beautiful part my collaborators played; I had to leave some film on the cutting room floor, so to speak, but that’s often the case with any collaboration! There was also a certain melancholy to completing the project, because while it was still unfinished, it was very centering and connective. There will definitely be a Volume 2 though, when busy schedules permit — so I’m not too worried about that!
Spoken word and folk aren’t a million miles away from each other. Were there any artists who combined the two and who guided you in the transitional period?
While I’m in process, I usually derive my creative inspiration from non-musical influences like visual art, literature, film, and nature. But as I was working on this project, some of the contributors — including guitarist Jack Petruzzelli (Patti Smith) and trumpet player Russ Johnson (Elvis Costello) — mentioned Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, and Laurie Anderson in describing the work, which was incredibly flattering as I’ve always admired them all so much! In terms of folk, specifically, I have long been a fan of the Louis Armstrong quote “all music is folk music,” so I admittedly don’t tend to compartmentalize my listening in that way.
Right around when I began this project however, I also gathered a handful of singer-songwriter peers to perform as part of a virtual benefit concert for National Foundation for Women’s Cancer, including Jill Sobule, Paula Cole, and Lisa Loeb. All of these women are masterful musical-storytellers, so that was certainly an inspiring undertaking, and, while I wouldn’t necessarily say they were a direct influence on this particular project, I like to think we we all have an encouraging impact on each other as empowered, empathic voices.
Once my cellist Dave Eggar moved to Tennessee during lockdown, I was definitely eager to enlist some of the fantastic local musicians he was connecting with (remotely and COVID-safely!), so that lead us into welcome Appalachian musical terrain for a handful of the pieces. In hindsight, I am really grateful everyone was so open to helping support the text and there was a great deal of generosity of spirit as well as talent that came into play.
How do you see this project existing alongside your solo work? What do the next 12 months hold for Poetica?
If there’s one thing I’ve re-learned manyfold over the last year, it’s that, as the Jewish saying goes, “Man plans, and G-d laughs.” That is to say, I don’t think any of us is as certain what the future may hold as we were pre-pandemic. But one thing I do know is that there will be more Poetica videos, tour dates, and, perhaps after my next solo release (and February acoustic tour with Howard Jones!), more Poetica recordings. For now, I’m very focused on my upcoming Poetica Tour, which folks can learn more about at poeticaproject.com, or my website, rachaelsage.com.