One-man Band

music Sage FrancisSCMFIndie rapper Sage Francis to headline Santa Cruz Music Festival

When it comes to indie rappers, it’s not that uncommon to find MC’s who rhyme on top of their own beats. That’s not the case with Sage Francis—the Providence, R.I., wordsmith decided more than a decade ago to shop his beats out to other producers. Still, Paul “Sage” Francis picks up plenty of DIY cred in his choice of management.

“I’ve always been the guy who handles almost everything,” Francis says over the phone from his New England home. Without a publicist, arranging an interview with Francis is as simple as sending him an email through his website. “I know how things need to happen and almost no one else does. If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.”

It’s fitting, then, that the rapper would be one of the headliners for the inaugural Santa Cruz Music Festival. The seven-venue, 11-stage, day-long event slated for July 20, was organized by a few local independent businessmen and music lovers who decided to put the whole thing together after a trip to the South By Southwest (SXSW) music, film and technology festival in Austin, Texas prompted a seemingly simple question: Why not?

Festival manager Brian Crabtree—who works at Streetlight Records and runs Blank Productions Photography—co-organized the festival with Bubb Rader, manager at Pacific Wave Surf Shop and owner of the local Thieves clothing line, and Thomas Dawson, manager of local hip-hop outfit Eliquate. “The more we thought about it, the more we were like, ‘I think we might be able to do this,'” Crabtree says.

So far, it seems they thought right. Case in point: Francis.

Currently signed to ANTI- records, Francis has also dropped albums on Epitaph, Anticon and is associated with the Midwestern label Rhymesayers—home to hip-hop heavyweights Atmosphere and P.O.S. He’s also garnered critical acclaim for his heady, verbose raps from the notoriously erudite music blog Pitchfork, which scored his 2000 mixtape, Sick of Waiting Tables, a 9.0 out of 10, and subsequent efforts in the 7.9 to high-8 range.

Francis isn’t touring at the moment and doesn’t have any firm plans for a new record, though he says he has been accumulating material for a follow-up to 2010’s Li(f)e. The MC says he is looking forward to his upcoming show at the SCMF.

“I love Santa Cruz,” Francis says. “It’s always kinda good to get a change of scenery. It helps the gears spin. I find that when I travel I usually end up with at least a couple good verses in my notebook.”

Lately, Francis says, he has been spinning his gears pondering what he sees as Americans’ increasing acceptance of the surveillance state. After the Boston bombings, the rapper says he was “disturbed” with how the authorities shut down the entire city—filling the streets with Hummers and heavily armed forces. The police were going door-to-door and entering homes, he says, and people seemed willing to forfeit their rights.

“A lot of people were quick to say, ‘If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about,'” he observes. “That whole mentality is kind of freaking me out. We have been slowly made to feel comfortable with that.”

Maybe that feeling will turn into a song, he says. Or maybe he’ll pick something up on his trip out to the West Coast. He’s not sure.

Francis says he does know one thing. The last album, Li(f)e, was made using all live instruments and many songs had a rock ’n’ roll feel to them. It was an interesting experiment he says, but he plans to “go back to what I’m comfortable with”—namely computer-based beats—on his next effort, which local fans might just get a taste of come July. 

The Santa Cruz Music Festival takes place from 10 a.m.-midnight, Saturday, July 20 at various locations in Downtown Santa Cruz. For complete schedule, lineup and tickets, visit santacruzmusicfestival.com. Tickets are $30-40. 16+.

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