Sage Francis, Fuck Clear Channel Tour
Sage Francis is a rapper out of Providence, RI and half of Non-Prophets (the other half is DJ Joe Beats). Sage made a reputation for himself by consistently winning poetry slams and freestyling competitions, and has built something of a cult following. His style is always personal and often highly political, but refreshingly free of preachiness. With his new Fuck Clear Channel Tour, Sage is pushing music industry politics to the forefront.
Now when someone announces a "Fuck Clear Channel Tour", you know Downhill Battle is going to have to do an interview. Clear Channel is notorious for what they've done to radio-- consolidation and homogenization are the operative words here. They've been investigated for anti-trust violations while continuing to gobble up as many stations as they can legally own. It's gotten to the point that people in the record industry say you can't make a hit without convincing Clear Channel to add a song to their playlist-- just one more way that the corporate music machine narrows and limits access to creative music.
The slightly lesser known side of Clear Channel nastiness is their attempt to monopolize local music venues in dozens of cities. They've been driving local clubs out of business with overwhelming corporate dollars and no shortage of dirty tricks. Needless to say, the Fuck Clear Channel Tour will not be playing any Clear Channel clubs.
NICHOLAS: OK, first sarcastic question: Clear Channel seems like a bunch of great folks doing everything they can to support music and musicians-- what's the problem here?
SAGE: You shouldn't have stated that question as sarcastic, because I know people who have arguments supporting what Clear Channel does. They offer secure jobs to some people. But my main gripe with Clear Channel is that they are homogenizing the music scene of America (and currently working on the world.) It is not acceptable that ONE company owns so many media outlets. It misleading to the public whose quality of life Clear Channel affects.
NICHOLAS: Are you more concerned about what they do in radio or in monopolizing venues?
SAGE: Radio, because that affects a greater range of people. But their vice grip on venues in many locations effectively squeezes the livelihood out of each respective local scene. It is a sad mark on our culture.
NICHOLAS: Yeah, I saw that you're playing that Unitarian Church in Philly that people say was shut down when a Clear Channel guy called the licensing board on them.
SAGE: Unitarian Church is one of the greatest venues I have ever played. Not because of its size or sound per se, but because of the staff and the manner in which they handled the business. The crowd was great as well, and that's a result of having a good local music scene.
NICHOLAS: What do you think makes a good scene?
SAGE: Great scenes are created when local talent is given an opportunity to develop their creativity. This allows them to play the highly important role that artists are supposed to have in society. It is crucial that local agendas are addressed and catered to through the filters and magnifying glass of art. This kind of stuff will not exist when Clear Channel homogenizes every town it rapes with billboards and mandatory radio playlists.
NICHOLAS: You've said that you wouldn't sign to a major record label, do you see them as another homogenizing force in music, or are there other reasons as well?
SAGE: I don't believe I have ever said that I wouldn't sign to a major record label. What I remember saying is that I would never sign to a record label unless they allowed me the freedom to do exactly what I want with my music. They would have to give me the kind of freedom that would ultimately hurt them and any other corporation that depends on the zombie-nature of its artists and the purchasing public. Major labels NEED predictability from the public so that they can optimize their sales by supplying the flock with music that is background music to their numb lives. It is one step above elevator music. And it is ruling the country.
NICHOLAS: You put out Personal Journals on Anticon, and Hope is on Lex, and you also have your own label, Strange Famous-- what's your relationship to those labels? What do you think a record label should be about?
SAGE: A record label should have an investment in the music it supplies the public. It is responsible for the ART it works to offer the audience abroad. That is to be taken very seriously. A label should consist of artists it believes in. If the MAIN motivation of a label (or ANY company) is to merely make money, then we, the people, are the ones who suffer for it. And there should be repercussions.
NICHOLAS: We're all about repercussions-- people act like it's ok that these companies are buying off the radio because it's been happening for so long. But the major labels are in real trouble right now, their sales are falling, and we think this might be a time when things can actually change, and get more independent-- especially if people like you are raising these issues.
SAGE: I will do my part with pride. But it is up to each local scene to raise the bar on what they do artisitically and entertainment-wise. Personal touch goes a looooong way.
NICHOLAS: What do you think the repercussions should be?
SAGE: See, here's where they all get off easy. There really can't be many legal repercussions because this isn't something you can REGULATE. But there was a point in time when MONOPOLIES were frowned upon by the government and community. What happened? Well... people have become conditioned to believe that anything that doesn't come from a HUGE company is "generic."
NICHOLAS: Which is funny because most of the stuff that comes from the big labels is generic.
SAGE: The irony of my life in this era is too much to calculate sometimes.
NICHOLAS: Yeah, sometimes people think it's bad to be popular, because most popular music they hear is being pushed by corporate executives. But if people were picking what music was popular instead of corporations pushing it on them, we could have popular and democratic. If that makes any sense...
SAGE: It does. Ani Defranco is popular, and that's not because a major label pushed her on the public with billboards. MTV ads, or littering city walls/buildings with her poster.
NICHOLAS: More generally, you bring up a lot of politics in your rhymes. What makes music and politics mix well?
SAGE: Politics mix well with art because it is the ONLY true democracy. The public chooses who they care to support and listen to (disregarding the stronghold companies like Clear Channel have taken on our ears and eyes via radio and billboards).
NICHOLAS: So, last question-- what are you looking forward to on this tour?
SAGE: What am I looking for? Hmmmm. I do not look forward to tours at all. At all. I am beyond the novelty of traveling from state to state to state to state to state so that I can perform my songs. But I look forward to tapping into the mind frame of many people. I look forward to making the money that will allow me to sleep in a bed and eat vegetarian makki when I come home. I look forward to pretty people. Lots of people who come to my shows are pretty. Up and down, inside an out. I look forward to them.
By Nicholas Rev