You would probably recognize Rachael Sage if you met her. She was that girl in school with more extracurricular activities than anyone else. Like Reese Witherspoon's character in Election, the singer/songwriter's a real go-getter.
"I've been told there are less kind words for it at a therapy session," Sage laughs.
Sage has been interested in music since she learned to play piano when she was 4. Before long, she was writing songs and entering them in contests. She's won several, including the Billboard and John Lennon songwriting contests. But for a long time, music competed with other interests such as ballet (she went to a dance conservatory) and acting (she also attended the Actors Studio in New York).
"I met James Lipton and he chewed me out when I wanted to quit," Sage says. "He's like, 'You know, Rachael, you don't realize it, but someday you will look back at this and you will regret it, you will regret it, you will regret it.'"
She'd pursued music from a publishing standpoint since she was 11 ("My voice wasn't developed ... but I think I had a spark as a writer very young"), but Sage wasn't bitten by the performance bug until she was 18. It changed her entire perspective.
"I saw Marc Cohn and U2 in Ireland. I looked up and said, 'Ohmigod, if I could only move an audience in any remote way related to this experience I'm having, it will be so much more meaningful to me than making demos for the rest of my life every day and shooting them off to a publisher and try to get a famous person to cover them,'" Sage says.
So Sage began her own record label, MPress, and began releasing albums. Last year's release, Ballads & Burlesque, was her sixth in seven years. Her folky, piano-driven chamber pop has a quirky appeal, and features nimble, insightful writing. Similar in tone to Tori Amos, she bears the imprint of free-spirited artists from Lisa Germano to the late Jeff Buckley. She's certainly come a long way from her childhood ambition to be on the radio.
"My whole life I was trying to live up to other people's expectations. And in a lot of ways, that helped me hone certain skills because I wanted to please other people so badly. It definitely took until I was living on my own to realize what kind of music I wanted to do and that it wasn't really as important to me to be in the canon of solid gold pop music, even though I loved that music growing up. It just didn't speak to my heart anymore," says Sage. "When I was 7, all I could think of was, 'What am I going to leave behind?' I wanted to be one of those people who has a whole book of songs that everybody hums -- I was a lot more afraid of death when I was a little kid than I am now."
Though she's had offers to sign with majors, Sage continues to plug away on her own, confident in what she is doing and not so anxious for approbation. She has other goals.
"I might not be able to spend a million dollars to hire a radio promoter to get me onto the biggest stations in NYC, but for a smaller budget, we can do very well at indie radio and AAA and college and the Internet, and all these new frontiers of the digital domain," Sage says. "I don't look as much at what one song is going to be sung that's going to hook me up for life and allow me to retire. I look at it, 'Can I still do this for five years and still be growing?'"
For such a restless, driven spirit as Sage, it seems a foregone conclusion.
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