On the back of her debut EP release, ethereal singer-songwriter and cellist Sage had a chat with Grok about the ideas behind the Tethered EP, inspirations abroad, and her hectic, but rewarding writing process.
What reaction have you had to your latest single, From Dust?
It’s been so lovely! Lots of people have messaged me about it, or mentioned in passing how gorgeous and unique it is. I’m glad it’s resonating with people, but still I was really surprised! Not that I think I wrote a terrible song, but it would have been presumptuous of me to assume it would be a major hit or get so much love. Fans seem to be loving how sweet and catchy it is, as well as the ethereal vocals in it. There’s been a lot of great feedback about the music video too, which I’m really proud of.
Set the scene for us. What’s the ideal setting for listening to From Dust?
I’d be sitting on a cliff looking out at the ocean at dusk, much like the beach scenes from the From Dust music video. I’d be sitting with my headphones in absorbing the beauty and blocking out the rest of the world. I think it’s the kind of song you ideally want to be in nature for or in a quiet place where you can appreciate the lyrics and dynamics of the song.
The single has a somewhat biblical element to it, mixed in with a sense of nostalgia and enchantment. What’s the story behind the song?
I think it’s more fantasy than biblical. At least that’s how I interpreted the song as I was writing it. I’m a big reader, and a lot of the books I read are by my favourite Australian historic-fantasy author Juliet Marillier. I think it’s nice to be able to escape into art and daydream about other worlds and possibilities. Certainly, there’s an element of storytelling in From Dust influenced by this idea. It’s sung from the perspective of someone who has been left behind; their sweetheart taken from earth too soon and returned to the sky as a star. The person left behind is wanting and hoping to be with them again, reminiscing on the beautiful life they shared together.
Did you enjoy shooting the music video?
Yes! It was so much fun playing dress up in such a beautiful location. We were lucky to get such a beautiful day, but because we were shooting on 8mm film and there were a lot of clouds out we had to be patient and wait for the right moment to start rolling. It was just a really easy process from start to finish, from development to completion. I had a clear vision and was able to DIY a lot of elements needed for the shoot. Hugo Rose shot and edited the final product, and I’m so glad he was a part of the project!
Your debut EP Tethered came out on February 27. Tell us about your writing and recording process.
During the writing of Tethered I was finishing university and working…a lot! So it was a matter of taking odd days here and there, or working late to stupid hours of the night so that I could squeeze in the writing time or prep for recording. I also really struggled with lyrics on this EP and was caught changing them in the car last minute as I drove to the studio on more than one occasion. A lot of the time I was writing about myself and I found it so hard to articulate in three minutes how I was feeling as well as keep the language condensed and poetic. The recording process was pretty straight forward and I got into a rhythm with that, so I knew what to expect tracking each song. I loved hearing all the pieces come together!
What were some challenges you faced while making the EP?
Basically, just lack of time and self-doubt. Probably two of the biggest for a lot of artists, I imagine. I wanted this to happen for a long time, but it only made progress when I purposefully pressed pause on life and set aside the time. The same kind of disciplined attitude was required to write music and not worry about how it would be received. It was complicated for me in the beginning because I was part of the classical music sphere, so I really did think the people I knew would think it lesser than what they were working on, like a cute side project but nothing more. It clicked for me when I realised that I really loved what I was doing, so there had to be other people out there who did too.
I notice in some of your songs on the EP, The Loveliest Thing especially, the cello almost sounds like a guitar. Where did this idea come from?
If you listen to music on the radio, the majority of it has guitar or piano at the heart. They’re both great instruments because they carry harmony, melody and rhythm all at once, and they’re easy to play while singing. While I can play a lot of instruments, I’m most comfortable with the cello, so if I was going to write contemporary music with it, I had to be able to carry harmony, melody and rhythm all at once, and be able to play it while singing. It was a case of using what I had and borrowing methods from other places. Given that the cello has four strings, that’s enough to strum a chord or treat it like a bass guitar. Everything on top of that is rich, lush, bowed texture that now gets to shine because of the contrasting sounds.
Do you have a favourite song on the EP and why?
I think my favourite song is one of the more underrated ones on the EP, and that’s Fault Lines. My fiancé recently listened to the song with the lyrics in front of him and said that it gave him chills. There’s a lot of nuance and symbolism in there that can easily be missed. I love the simplicity of the melody, I love the feeling of playing it on the cello and letting everything ring out and resonate, and I love the awesome cinematic production in the second half of the song. It’s one that I really enjoy playing live.
How would you describe your music?
It’s a hybrid of folk, pop and classical. The cello has been a huge part of the sound world, and it always will be, but lately I’ve been writing a lot more music on piano so I definitely feel an evolution unfolding. Tethered is full of beautiful moments, ethereal vocals, catchy melodies, and introspective lyrics. It’s lush and earthy. I definitely love writing sadder songs, but there’s an upbeat tune or two on the EP too that I’m really proud of.
When did you start making music and why?
I started writing music very young. I wrote my first song when I was four years old, and I think my parents still have the lyrics written down somewhere. I also remember writing songs in primary school and performing them at school assemblies or for my music class. I was just addicted to it from a young age, and I’d attribute that to the fact that my Dad is also a songwriter so music was a part of our home. I loved listening to the radio as a kid and singing along with all the 90’s classics.
What motivates you as a musician and songwriter?
Other artists! There are so many people out there who have had a major influence on me. I love hearing a song and thinking: “That was written for me. I wish I had written that” I’ve always wanted to have the effect on listeners, to really connect with someone and make them feel something. Earlier this year I was in Canada at a songwriting residency, and one night I performed a brand-new song. It was a great song, but it was inspired by something really random I saw on a YouTube video. When I was done performing a girl put up her hand and said: “Have you been reading my diary? Did you hear me crying in the shower this morning? You know just how I feel. That’s the song I wish I had written.” I was just floored. I really love this song now, and hope to record and release it one day.
What’s next for Sage?
The release is over so now I’m just riding the coattails of that for a little while. In the background I’ve got some new music brewing and some writing days set aside with a producer friend of mine. I’ll be taking some downtime as well to move house and get married.