Rachael Sage has been composing and self-producing albums since her teens, and has released 12 full-length recordings that have earned her a devoted international following. A multi-instrumentalist and 4-time Independent Music Award winner, she approaches every new project with the same wide-eyed zeal as when she first began making music. Musically ambitious and emotionally accessible, her latest shimmering collection,CHOREOGRAPHIC, is a tribute to her very first love: Dance. “Making this album was a meditation on my lifelong relationship to ballet and more recently, to lyrical dance. Connecting to music through dance is what prompted me to become a songwriter in the first place. It was time to get back to my roots.”
Sage, who attended The School Of American Ballet as a child and studied with luminary dancers and choreographers like Suzanne Farrell, Edward Villella and Jacques D’Amboise, first began playing piano by ear at 2 and a half years old. “I started writing music right after my mom put me in a pre-ballet class, and it was pretty clear that both dance and music were going to be inextricably connected for me.” Though self-taught as a musician, Sage says her early discipline for the craft of songwriting sprang from the intense rigors of being a dancer. By 12, she was dancing at Lincoln Center in classical ballets like “The Nutcracker” and “Coppélia”, while also balancing schoolwork and making demos of her songs.
Sage is also a painter and graphic designer whose unique visual sensibility has permeated every aspect of her music, and she credits her Karinska-designed satin, rhinestoned and beaded tutus as a child-performer with the New York City Ballet with cultivating her appreciation of the tiniest details in fashion and fine art. “Every night we got to perform in couture costumes that looked like something straight out of a Degas painting, in front of sets created by master designers under gorgeous lighting, accompanied by a world-class orchestra. I was exposed to so much incredible artistry at such a young age through ballet, and it all made a huge impact on me as a musician.” Eventually, Sage left the world of dance to attend Stanford University, but as they say, “once a dancer, always a dancer”.
In college Sage became a fixture in the Bay Area singer-songwriter scene as well as a theater major and was often cast as the ingénue because she was so “balletic”. “I became very aware of how the way one carries one’s body impacts others’ perceptions, and it sparked a lot of lyrics.” It was around that time that Sage wrote two of what later became her most popular songs in the lyrical dance world: “Bravedancing” and “Down My Spine” – both of which have appeared on the controversial reality TV show “Dance Moms” (along with a dozen other of her songs, including 5 solos performed by the series’ breakout star Maddie Ziegler).
Appearing on the hit TV show about young competitive dancers is what ignited the idea for Sage to compose an entire album fueled by her own imagined choreography. After so much of her work was embraced by the dance community – with over 9.5 million combined hits on YouTube – she started to wonder if something subconscious in her composer-DNA was inherently geared toward choreography. “As I was thinking about recording a follow-up to my last album ‘Blue Roses’, I asked myself: what if you set about making a whole record with the intention for it to be combined with dance?” A few months later, the former dancer holed up in a London hotel room on tour and wrote an entire album from scratch, inspired by the “ballet-pop” concept, combining orchestral elements with folk, pop and rock. “I didn’t let myself leave my room every day until I’d written at least one song. I put myself into a kind of trance, envisioning each of the songs as a fully- choreographed multimedia experience, drawing inspiration from all of the amazing dancers and choreographers I’ve encountered along the way.”
Sage began recording CHOREOGRAPHIC in August 2015, with her live touring band The Sequins along with a handful of special guests, supported by Grammy® winning co-producer Andy Zulla (Idina Menzel, Rod Stewart) and Grammy® nominated engineer John Shyloski (Johnny Winter, Diana Ross). Mindful of how the music needed to feel “danceable”, Zulla, who worked as both a producer and composer on the popular Broadway-themed TV show “Smash”, says he wanted to reunite with Sage on this project “because I felt like I really had a firm grasp on Rachael’s new material and the full circle of her music being embraced by the lyrical dance community. We hadn’t worked together in over a decade, but we’ve known each other since she was fourteen...there’s a huge amount of trust there.”
The New York-based Sage recruited several top-notch, diverse violinists to capture what she describes as the “ballet heart” of the record. Rachel Golub (Adele, Sting) and Lyris Hung (Indigo Girls) brought their respective classical flair to the somber “It Would Be Enough” (composed for B.B. King) and “5 Alarms”, respectively, while fiddler Kelly Halloran (G Love) stepped out on rootsier tunes such as “Try Try Try”, “I’ve Been Waiting” and “Loreena”. Cellists Dave Eggar (Coldplay, A Great Big World) and Ward Williams (Brandi Carlile, Sara Bareilles) contributed a lush foundation across all of the songs, bolstered by drummers Doug Yowell (Joe Jackson) and Andy Mac. Guitarists James Mastro (Ian Hunter, Garland Jeffreys) and Jack Petruzelli (Patti Smith, Rufus Wainwright) played a wide range of acoustic and electric parts; bassist Mike Visceglia (Duncan Sheik, Suanne Vega) supplied the low-end, while dynamic keyboardist Peter Adams (Rickie Lee Jones, Juliana Hatfield) layered in organ, accordion, glockenspiel and Rhodes, throughout the album.
Most of the music for CHOREOGRAPHIC was recorded before Rachael returned from a UK tour with folk icon Judy Collins, but she sang her final vocals just after the Paris bombings. Still in shock and mourning so many strangers, Sage returned to the studio with renewed focus. “The quintessential definition of dance, to me, is freedom. We’re in a moment where we realize how precious creative freedom is, and what a gift it is to be able to share it with each other, across all borders, and all boundaries.” On disarmingly honest songs like “I Don’t Believe It”, “Heaven” and “French Doors”, incisive lyrics and yearning melodies merge into something expansive. The lexicon of ballet may be French, but in Sage’s hands on CHOREOGRAPHIC, ballet-pop becomes a decidedly universal musical language.
Rachael Sage is currently on tour with her band The Sequins. CHOREOGRAPHIC was released in the U.S. May 20, 2016 on MPress Records.
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