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February 11, 2011 | by  | in Arts Features Music | [ssba]

Sage Francis – Love the Li(f)e

While playing shows in Auckland and Wellington late last year on “his last major hurrah around the world”, Salient caught up with indie hip-hop luminary, Sage Francis, for a conversation about his exceptional recent album Li(f)e.

Lyrics such as ‘While you’re going around trying to keep people out of hell, I’m going around trying to keep the hell out of people’, suitably reflects the biting critique on religion, that is the central theme in hip-hop provocateur Sage Francis’s latest album Li(f)e. As the self-described indie-rap artist comments, “The driving force behind creating the album was to explore the lies of our lives. I find that a lot of that originates with religion, so it made me think about religion, about where it comes from and the reasoning behind it. I wouldn’t say it is a super-obvious, it’s more of an underlying them but it’s there and it is part of everything else that I talk about.”

He continues, adding that the lyrics “could be considered political, but it isn’t politics. It’s the stuff in our lives. It’s what I think about because it is around me at all time, so it finds its way into my art, it finds its way into my lyrics, and I address it. It’s just me exploring my condition, my situation and my circumstance, and communicating the human condition. That’s really what I feel I do best with my music.”

From a sonic perspective, the eclectic nature of the musical accompaniment on Li(f)e, makes for an incredibly compelling listen, sometimes complementing, and sometime juxtaposed against the emotion of the lyrics. Collaborations with the likes of ex-Grandaddy front man Jason Lytle, Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie, and members of Sparklehorse have resulted in a truly eclectic and perhaps slightly unexpected masterpiece. Francis explains, “When we went into making this record, the concept behind the album was me working with all sorts of musicians because we basically wanted to have a totally fresh and new sound. I wanted to do something that could initially be seen as bizarre, but to actually do it well enough that people would adapt to it, and be like ‘Oh wow, I see that this works and it’s cool’. I didn’t really have any particular sound or style of music I was looking for though.”

“I feel like what I wanted to do was challenge myself as a writer, because I knew that I would be able to work my lyrics over different soundscapes, whether it was a boom-bap beat, or anything vaguely hip-hop loop related. I would be able to make it work and I felt like it would also push my song writing if I were given that opportunity. So, we reached out to various musicians and bands to see if they would provide me with music that was natural to them. We didn’t want them to give me stuff that they thought was good for hip-hop, because once people do that it becomes more contrived, and sounds false.”

Francis mentions that working with ANTI-, a label who have been responsible for releasing albums from the likes of Tom Waits, Bettye LaVette and Grinderman among many others, essentially allowed him access to a huge range of musicians. “Andy Kaulkin who runs Anti has a lot of contacts in the music world, so he was able to reach out to all different types of musicians, from all different genres, and he basically championed me to them. He actually explained the kind of hip-hop that I do, and explained to them the path we were travelling down, and asked them if they wanted to join us. That’s how we got people to come along for the ride.”

As one might expect, the process was by no means a simple one. As Francis points out, “We received hundreds of demos – it was a lot to go through. It was a lot of music and a lot of the stuff I admittedly couldn’t do anything with, so I kind of pushed those to the side and focused on the ones I could do stuff with.”

“It was a two-year process, because it was a lot to go through, and it was very expensive. But in the long run, we definitely came out with a record that sounded totally unique and different from anything that came before it, so that was the goal and I’m happy about that.”

While the feedback has largely been positive, Francis does concede, “some people in the more traditional hip-hop world immediately rejected it”, but that is something he expected from the very beginning of the creative process. “I’ve heard the naysayers, and I’ve heard the yaysayers, but I would have been surprised if it had been one and not the other.”

“For me personally, to do something that I felt I was challenged by, and rewarded by – that was my goal. I’m just happy people didn’t collectively think that it sucked.”



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