Three years in the life of

The Daily interviews rapper Sage Francis

by Tom Horgen

Sept. 11 is upon us once again. In these times, with November approaching, the anniversary of the 2001 attacks has become a lightening rod for conservatives, liberals, Bush, Kerry, whoever, to drum up emotion and sway opinion.

To indie rapper Sage Francis, it’s the perfect day for a show. The Rhode Island emcee ends his mini-Midwest tour Saturday at the Cabooze.

For his fans, Sage couldn’t have picked a better day. Many of the underground star’s most popular songs are also his most political.

In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, as the conservative right began stuffing orange alerts and anthrax down our throats and the media ate it up, he released “Makeshift Patriot,” a song so potent with its critique that Michael Moore should be using it as his theme. Sage then followed up with “Hey Bobby,” an update of Bob Dylan’s war protest, “Masters of War,” just after the United States began dropping bombs on Baghdad.

Now signed to major punk label, Epitaph (he made the jump even before Minneapolis’ Atmosphere), he’ll release his next solo with the label in early 2005.

Sage said the new album, “A Healthy Distrust,” will explore many of the introspective themes that his 2002 debut “Personal Journals” did, but with a little more political verve.

In a recent interview with the Daily, Sage talked about the politics of the political song, his major label deal and making music videos like Atmosphere’s Slug.

Do you still open every show with “Makeshift Patriot”?

“No, but lately I have been ending with that song due to the political climate.”

Obviously, fans familiar with “Makeshift Patriot” are going to find special significance with a Sage show on Sept. 11. What’s it mean to you?

“Sept. 11 brings some powerful memories and emotions. In this election year, all of those things are being brought to the forefront of regular conversation and debate so the subject matter is unavoidable. I have to go about it the way I always have, with a clear consciousness and a healthy distrust of all that’s happening around me.”

Do the situations in Iraq and the Sudan make you want to write songs about those crises? Have they inspired you to write more songs in line with “Makeshift Patriot”?

“No. I mean, I could write about what happens in the news and pump out 10 albums a month. But that would give my music a very short shelf life. And it would be gimmicky. The goal is to be clever enough that you find how to address worldly happenings without focusing on specifics. This is why “Makeshift Patriot” is still relevant to this day, three years after its release. I don’t need to write another song about what’s happening because all the things that I address in ‘Makeshift Patriot’ are still relevant.”

Can you speak on the upcoming election? What are your thoughts on the Kerry/Edwards ticket?

“Kerry/Edwards are very lucky that they are the only viable options because this means they are getting incredible support from people who normally wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about them. We want Bush the hell out of office, but do we really want him replaced with Kerry? I guess we have no choice. Funny, huh? Such little choice in the land of the free. Either you vote for one old, rich whitey or another old, rich whitey. I feel bad for anyone who is left with the job of cleaning up Bush’s mess though. He has done a bang-up job.”

Your song “Hey Bobby” was kind of an invite to Dylan to come back and finish what he started with the protest song, “Masters of War.” Do you still see room for that kind of activism in his songwriting?

“Yes, I do. I believe he peeked out from his hole for a moment, but nothing too substantial. He has enough vitriol and fire to lay a lyrical smack down on the folks who need it.”

Can you describe your deal with Epitaph?

“They courted me. They wooed me. But we haven’t made whoopie yet. Andy Kaulkin, the president, got a copy of my ‘Personal Journals’ album and then he came to see me

perform. He talked to me about my music and my politics in a way that made me feel secure about his company and how they handle their artists and business. I am very happy to be on Epitaph Records. They will provide me the resources I have always needed in order to get my material out to the masses without compromising my music or integrity at all.”

Have you given anymore thought about moving to the Twin Cities, since it is one of your largest markets?

“Yes, I gave it strong consideration. I don’t think that will happen now though. I am considering the West Coast, though.”

What’s going on with that rumored collaboration album with Slug?

“Who is Slug?”

Atmosphere jumped to MTV2 with a couple videos through its deal with Epitaph – are you going to make a similar push and get your face on TV too?

“I don’t consider those things much. I guess I should start considering. I don’t know. Videos are some whole other world I know nothing about.”

With artists like you and Atmosphere signing to bigger labels, what type of changes do you see happening in indie rap (the way people perceive it, the way artists perceive it)?

“If we get big enough, there will be a serious backlash to whatever scene we eventually encapsulate. If we stay under the radar, then the same people will continue to hail us as gods/devils. It’s too predictable to predict. The same few people will be innovative and the rest will be following the pack.”

Sage Francis with Doomtree

When: 8 p.m., Saturday

Info: The Cabooze, (612) 338-6425 $10, 21+