Track Premiere + Interview: Imani Coppola – “Sage”

Posted: by The Editor

We’re thrilled to be bringing you “Sage,” a new track from New York born songwriter Imani Coppola. Coppola says of the song, “I wrote Sage as a reminder to myself that I am ultimately the only one responsible for my behavior and actions. Another mass shooting had just occurred in America and I felt myself brimming with an anger so fierce that if left unchecked I might have actually become everything I was loathing. If you stare into the void for too long, you become the void, or something to that effect.” You can check out our interview with her below while you jam the new song.

Imani Coppola has been making music for almost her entire life, and it’s just not enough anymore. Having signed a deal with Columbia Records at 19 in 1997, Coppola has traversed up and down the rungs of the industry, and is finally settling on a sound she can be proud of. But, it may be, as she jokes, “like a swan song or something.” Before the upcoming release of her 12th solo album, “The Protagonist,” due October 4th via Ipecac Records, I had the pleasure of talking with her about the impact of her artistry on her personal future, and the struggles and rewards of getting back to the basics of DIY production. 

To start, I asked Coppola how her extensive history as a songwriter and musician affected the creation of this record, and if she attempted any new techniques or sounds this time around.

“I tried to make it affordable,” she stated bluntly. “This project is more DIY than I’ve ever been. I had to learn how to play bass so I could track the whole thing myself, and it ended up being one of my favorite experiences of the process. The approach to this album is more personal, as it’s all a learning process, but that challenge is what makes it so rewarding. Going from start to finish, on your own.”

Coppola’s stalwart personality flows through the whole album, as does the attention to detail. Besides the impressive mixture of genres within the music, that personality can also be seen in the artwork for “The Protagonist;” a black and white photo which depicts Coppola dressed in a pinstripe suit and smoking a cigarette, exuding the kind of tension and stoicism of a Humphrey Bogart still. I told her how much I liked the album art, and that it related well to the title. She laughed, saying, “It was very unplanned. I had gotten a call from some of my team asking me ‘Hey, Imani, do we have a cover for this thing yet, because we need one.’ I ended up finding this classic, mafia type photo and posture, and it just felt like exactly the kind of power I wanted “The Protagonist” to represent. The whole shoot and everything came together in like 30 minutes, and I felt like it was an overlooked part of the process, so I’m glad you think it fits!”

The photo had gotten me wondering about the role of the titular protagonist and, adversely, who became the antagonist. When I raised this question to her, Coppola replied, “I’m both, actually. It’s this idea of being the hero of your own story, which for me is navigating racism and sexism as an artist; something I’ve been doing since day one. Just, like, outsmarting and outdoing everyone so I’ll be accepted as a capable person makes me the protagonist, because I’m doing my best to prevail in this story. However, I’m also being the antagonist by shying away from my true self in order to be accepted. The idea that I have to pick and choose those battles based on how often I feel like expending the energy is bullshit. At the end of it all, I’m kind of alone in it and have to be my own support system, but that’s what makes me my own hero.”

During this part of the conversation, I couldn’t help remarking how casual and raw Coppola was in her delivery. Every word was issued with abandon, as if it didn’t matter how it came out, just that it was the truth. This candid drive for honesty is something that’s desperately needed in the current global climate, especially among the media. The content of “The Protagonist” is very politically charged, so I decided to ask what she thought of when listeners chastise artists for “acting political,” implying they should stay out of it and focus on their jobs as entertainers. 

“I can identify with the fan, wanting a ‘happy escape’ from the wack state of the world, so I get it, but also, we’re not here to please them. Our role is to channel this information and knowledge that they need to hear in a way they’ll willingly receive it,” Coppola said firmly. “I watched this Motown documentary where, in the beginning, they’re just giving these people sing alongs and jams, until the Vietnam War came around, and they couldn’t hold their tongues anymore. They had a message, they had to be authentic, and some people really hated it. Artists have to be artists and dictate their own creative paths. If fans and listeners really want to live and learn, and respect these creators, they got to be open to it all.”

After this increasingly ardent discussion, we moved more inward, discussing what she hopes people take away from the album. She said there was a lot of “subtext about death and overcoming grief, whether that’s the personal death of someone, or a more figurative death. Obviously, the world is crazy right now, and communication is at an all time low, but this is another moment that’s going to pass. I don’t mean that like, just give up and go with it, though. Don’t take it lying down, just do what makes you happy while you can.”

Here, Coppola touched on her personal approach to this mentality of living for what you enjoy, so long as you’re working toward bettering yourself and the world, and not disadvantaging others. Opening up about her future endeavors, Coppola told me, “Honestly, making albums doesn’t really make me happy anymore. When I finished ‘The Protagonist,’ I thought about how I’ve just been doing the whole cycle for so long because I’ve never known anything else, really. Not having an opportunity to really experience other parts of the world has made me view it negatively, like it’s work I can’t enjoy anymore. So, if making music doesn’t make me happy anymore, I’ll just move on to something new and different until I find the thing that does make me happy now.”

Winding down from this and concluding our interview, I asked Coppola if she had any final notes on her hopes for the record.

“If ‘The Protagonist’ can influence a few people who are scared of the future, or even the current state of the world, and help keep them around for a little bit longer, maybe inspire some people, then that’s great. Don’t let anything stop you. Apply yourself, and don’t be afraid to talk to your pain. It can teach you a lot.”

Luciano Ferrara | @LucianoRFerrara

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