Sage Francis is full of contradictions – the introspective hip-hop artist (as shown on his album Personal Journals) coupled with off beat sense of humour, and outspoken politics. He's won Poetry competitions, and hip-hop slams. He's toured America independently, and sold records by the bucketload without any major label support. He's played with live bands, and collaborated with the famous Non-Prophets, while his MP3 free release Makeshift Patriot was one of the few artistic responses to 9/11 of any depth. Three Monkeys Online Interviewed this American maverick:
What do you see as the role of the artist in society? Is there a duty to comment on society?
My role, personally, is to apply my current knowledge and emotion into my artwork of the moment, while reflecting as much of my humanity as possible. This way I can view every song I make as a documentation of where I was at in my life when I made the song, and it won’t feel like I wasted years of hard work on someone else’s idea of what is ‘cool.’ I don’t know if there is a duty, per se, to comment on society; that usually just comes with the territory of being an artist. The artist plays a very important role in any culture, and America has been trying to forget that for quite some time now.
You are an independent artist, working with small labels – how much of a business man do you have to be to maintain yourself at the independent level?
It is a discipline not many artists can stomach. To be independently successful means you have to remain accessible and deal with people on all sides of the business and the art at all times. Business people and artists often speak two different languages, so you have to be keen to both. There are no weekends, there are no proper working hours. You keep your receptors up at all times and swat at every single fly that comes your way for many years until you’re knee deep in exoskeletons. You have to deal with the tedium of putting together boxes of CDs and working with numbers and making small ethical decisions at every turn. Does this take away from the art? Sure, it can. I find it keeps me balanced. I am unable to stop worrying if there is something happening in my career that I am not fully aware of. I literally haven’t met a single person who has been able to take care of all these things for as long as I have, and I very well may have entered a new world of letting other people take over certain aspects of my business. That was the reasoning for signing to a big label like Epitaph Records and accepting partners in my Strange Famous Records business.
What things influence you in your writing, apart from music?
Every single thought and feeling that common life interactions evoke. There is a domino effect between the blink of that girl’s eyelash to the synapse in my brain to the outcome of whatever song I am going to write next. Most influences certainly do not come from music or formal art of any sort.
You’ve commented, rightly in my opinion, against media conglomeration, and against the overtly commercial aspects of major record companies. It does beg the question though, in both cases: who has the responsibility for this? To take an example, who takes the blame for Britney Spears – the record company who markets her so efficiently, or the public who want and buy her records? Also with the media/radio etc – in the information/internet age – the choice is out there, but the majority choose the conglomerates. So at the end of the day, do we receive the media and the artists that we deserve?
Different people are to blame on different levels, me being one of them. Because I like Britney Spears. Do I perpetuate her career monetarily? Not at all. Do I watch MTV when her video is on? Sometimes. But the problem here is that we have been conditioned to accept what is spoon-fed to us. The easy truths. The easy food. The easy news. The easy music. We are brought up on it and, unless prompted otherwise, it takes a special breed to dig deeper and discover the awesome gratification of what exists under the surface of gloss. The internet has made that digging process a lot easier for people. A few clicks away and you’re there. Do we get what we deserve? Sure. But I think people should be made aware of their options in life and most aren’t. Glossed over eyes and well rehearsed laughs. Fleshy fucking robots.