Sage Francis and B. Dolan are the Epic Beard Men. Though accurate, the name started out as a joke, a calibrated goof on bro culture, from two rap greybeards who aren’t afraid to swing freely from dead-serious to wryly hilarious.
Hailing from the industrial outskirts of Providence, both artists are walking hip-hop vaults. Last year’s debut EP, Season 1, was a sublime buckshot blast of political commentary, interpersonal dispatches, and healthy introspection.
This Was Supposed to Be Fun is the debut LP (and second official offering) from EBM. This album knocks with disreputable outlaws in truck stops. It gleefully fills in for the band as the S.S. Fyre Festival sinks into the ocean. It blends the updated sounds of breakbeats and timeless drum machines, soul grooves and sub bass, guitars, violins, and a even a brass band have sat in before the party’s over.
One half of this epic duo took some time out to talk with us about their new LP which we have reviewed HERE. Sage did not dissapoint. He was just as funny and as introspective as you’d hope.
I remember you saying some of your favourite hip-hop albums were Buhloone Mindstate, Paul’s Revere & It Takes A Nation… Tracks like ‘Pistol Dave’ off of the new Epic Beard Men LP, This Was Supposed to Be Fun, have nods to Slick Rick woven in the lyrics and Beastie Boys ‘Brass Monkey’ in the production. You’re clearly a fan of the golden age era. Do you find it difficult to pay homage to a specific era of hip-hop whilst trying not to pigeonhole yourself to one specific style?
I mean the truth is I grew up on that music and it’s embedded in my DNA, my creative DNA, and I always reference those things as I move along. I feel like I don’t give Slick Rick enough recognition whenever someone asks me about my influences because he was a really strong influence. ‘Pistol Dave’ is one of those songs where it was obvious it was a big headnod to Slick Rick but also a lot of the other music I was familiar with at the time you know, like the RUN DMC stuff and the Beastie Boys stuff. It’s kind of my natural form of writing it’s not really something I go out of my way to do, it just kind of comes out of me because it’s lodged in my head – those earworms that never fucking leave. So the “Dave!”, Slick Rick just says it once on ‘Children’s Story’! “Dave the dope fiend…” that has been in my head since I was a little kid and finally, as a forty two year old, I can incorporate that one tiny line in to a song. It kind of became our magnus opus, yeah our magnus opus is ‘Pistol Dave’ but yeah, fuck that dude! [Laughs]
I wanted to ask about the writing process, specifically relating to yourself. Off of the last Epic Beard Men release, Season 1, you have moments where you say “Let’s connect if you got the heart to slap a cop like Zsa-Zsa..” and continue with… “I like my girls like I like my coffee: with a convoluted background story..” These are bars that when I hear them I think to myself. Only Sage [laughs]. Where do you draw your influences from for the context of your rhymes?
The influences just come from conversations that I have with B. Dolan, day to day interactions in my life. I don’t go in to anything looking for writing props, it’s just the stuff that floats out of me when I decide to write. The one line you quoted, in particular that I find funny, “I like my girls like I like my coffee…” on the ‘Two Different Worlds’ song, that is going to be something funny to perform now as I’m now responsible for raising two little girls [laughs] and that song kinda boasts about having no children, but you know, that’s how life pans out. You know, you got to live ‘two different worlds’ as an artist and as an actual person.
A lot of the times your music is very message orientated. Is there certain criteria you want to hit when making a record because although you and B.Dolan are very hard hitting lyricists at times with tracks like ‘Hedges’, but as the albums title would suggest, there are quite a few moments of light-heartedness like ‘Shin Splints’. Do you and Dolan write together and bounce off each other because listening to your records, you seem to have a very organic chemistry like that of a Beastie Boys or RUN DMC.
Yeah, well we wanted to do that, that was our original intent. When we started putting song ideas together we were staying in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival in 2016. So we stayed there a month and we were kind of just talking about songs that we can do together that can have a lot of back-and-forth. Now, I really don’t think the end result is what we intended in the beginning. We were trying to bounce off of each other’s lines, we share a lot of verses kind of, like trade verses but it’s not like RUN DMC where they were trading every other line than a verse you know? But with things like ‘Shin Splints’,that stuff we have actually lived it many times during our national or international tours where you know, all of a sudden we’re late for a plane and we need to run [laughs] sometimes a motherfucker gets left behind. Like he complained about ‘Shin Splints’ one time, like “Are you fucking serious? Come on, we have to get the fuck on this plane!” Like that’s how that whole song concept came about. And we’ve never been to one of those fancy Admiral lounges, have you ever been to one for these private clubs that are inside of the airport? Like it’s something we’ve always fantasized about. So in the song we take a quick brake inside of one of these airport lounges and pretend to know what the heck goes on inside there. But for the most part that song is just a lot of our travelling side meshed in to various tempo changes and big ups to B. for kind of coordinating the whole production on that song because changing the drum tempo in that song was a pain in the ass. I had nothing to do with that.
It does really help though. The changes in the drum tempo help heighten the level of anxiety like “Am I going to miss my flight!?”
[Laughs] Yeah you know, it’s awfully slow, he’s waking up, things are cool until you realise “Oh my god, I have to get somewhere…” then…[Sage exhales at the prospect] I don’t know. I’m trying not to think too much about it all because we’re about to do another fucking world tour. Really, really I’m just trying to get myself in the peace of mind of not trying to deal with all that, but it’s about to be my life for the next few months.
“I want to be that same type of artist who can continue to do things that are specific to my own voice and contribute to other people’s enjoyment of art and entertainment.”
I heard you say it earlier, did you and B. write a lot of the Epic Beard Men material during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
A lot of it yeah. We did record a lot of the rough demos when we were at the Fringe Fest in Edinburgh. I guess the most important thing though was just coming up with the actual concept of a song and then we spent a lot of time by ourselves writing what we thought would be good for the song, sharing it with one another, record a rough demo and let the other person hear it, what do they want to do as a response with what one of us wrote. But honestly, most of the song concepts happened within the time we spent in Edinburgh which was two years in a row for like two months at a time and living in the same apartment, in separate rooms, with like a conjoined living room and we could share some stuff. Some stuff worked out, some stuff didn’t but that was how we wanted to make use of our time there.
How did you find Edinburgh as a city?
How did I find Edinburgh as a city? It was cool. It was like any other city to me but B. is the one who went out on little hikes and enjoyed the nature of the city [laughs]. He went off and looked at castles and shit but that’s not really my thing, I kinda try and stay inside as much as possible and not interact with people but he’s much more of an explorer than I am. I would not mind doing it again. It’s just, performing everyday is a… weird thing. Doing the same show everyday in the same club is not something we have ever done before so it was like a very unique and specific experience we both shared with the whole of Scotland [laughs].
I actually managed to get through and see you and B. Dolan at the Fringe Festival.
Which one was it!? What one did you go to?
It was the one that was in a yurt, like a tent.
Yeah, that was the first year that we did it.
And it was, I don’t know… a weird experience for me [Sage laughs pretty loudly in agreement at this point]. I’ve seen you and B. live a couple of times but being in a tent, sitting down, having B. come out dressed as Evil Kenevil shouting at the audience and you just need to sit, you can’t move…
Honestly it was so weird! I’m not going to downplay the fact that it is not our natural style of performing, it’s not a style we’re used to, we had never done that before. When we first got there, that first year and we ended up in this fucking tent! And we were like “Wow!” This is what we are going to do everyday for a month. Fucking insane. But we roll with it. It was such a unique interesting experience that was only there. Like that’s the only place you can do something like that. So we were in to but we were also aware of the fact we were as much surprised by it by our normal fans, and whoever we managed to wrangle in to this performance, because at Fringe Fest there are so many performers just trying to bring in random folk off the street like “Hey! Check out this performance!” So we were like… “I don’t know who the heck we’re trying to target.” [laughs] Some of it I would say was super sensitive to the normal person because, you know, it’s not a PG rated show.
The best way that I could describe it is uncomfortable but really entertaining…
Ha! That’s perfect.
You tour pretty extensively and I recall you saying you don’t listen to a lot of music but rather read. Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole was the last book I heard you read. Does literature have a direct input on your material? I know an easy quotable is “I’m on the road reading Kerouac his poems verses better raps…” from ‘Escape Artist’, but does literature have a direct influence on your work at all?
Well I wouldn’t say most of the books that I read, that I take in, are influential to what I write. But the Kerouac On The Road book, I was reading that on my very first U.S. tour and it was special to me just for that because he talks a lot about traveling and I was traveling at the time so it was just stuck in my head and I wanted to give it a shout out on that album. But Confederacy Of Dunces, that is one of my favourite books, I think it is one of the most hilarious books I have ever read and I wish I could read it again for the first time. But really, the one author that has kept me company through the last several years is Tom Robbins and I love his writing style. I shout out [Kurt] Vonnegut on ‘Vonnegut Busy’ but I take their writing in, I enjoy their stories, but I don’t feel like it actually changes how I write or what I do. I guess it inspires me in a way like these are people who have done several things throughout the course of their career that continue to be inspiring and I want to be that same type of artist who can continue to do things that are specific to my own voice and contribute to other people’s enjoyment of art and entertainment. But it’s never a kind of things like “Oh it’s just changed my whole fucking pattern on how I write”, it’s never been like that.
Earlier in your career you were a pretty prolific battle emcee. Being a battle rapper, there are a lot of self imposed limitations working within the constraints of that specific field. Did you find it difficult shifting from the mentality of verbal warfare to making albums and did the spoken word scene enhance your skill set to make this transition easier to handle?
We were both involved in the spoken word scene but I wouldn’t say that was our essence in our creativite… it was presented to us and we involved ourselves in it. I can speak for myself specifically, saying hip-hop has been the thing that I was mostly doing throughout my life but spoken word was the one thing that kind of separated me from the pack. And that’s how I met B. Dolan. He moved from New York to Rhode Island and then we met in the spoken word scene in Rhode Island and we were on the same slam team competing nationally and that’s how we came to be partners. But it was never really a thing that we had to shift gears in order to write songs because both of us were more song orientated I would say, me more so. I mean he writes scripts, he writes stories, I mean, I am, for the most part, a songwriter. I don’t write too much outside of social media posts and songs. But B. Dolan literally writes movies. His writing style is much more open than mine is, outside of a song structure and it’s always something I’ve kind of looked at in envy and admired. I mean I can’t do it, maybe I can, I have never really dedicated myself to it, something he does seemingly easily. It’s just very natural to him to write in very broad, open, non-structured styles that are impactful. I feel my strength is more writing inside of a structure, very tightly knit that is “Wow, he was able to do this inside this very strict ruled structure”, you know what I mean? That’s how I operate more, but when we write together I guess that is how I would say we butt heads because we have to find a middle ground between our approaches to writing. That’s what makes our collaboration interesting I’d say because we end up with songs neither of us would have done on our solo records. There’s stuff that we do together that wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have to have this tug-of-war between our writing styles and it eventually turns into something that neither of us could’ve conceived on our own. I love that part about Epic Beard Men.
I would say with the Epic Beard Men material, what I have noticed for the most part is that it tends to be a lot funnier, at times more light-hearted, a lot of serious stuff still being discussed but it seems to be a lot more tongue-in-cheek and you can tell you guys enjoyed the writing process.
Yeah I would hope so [laughs]. I mean we dedicated a lot of our lives to it and I’m glad it comes through like that.
There’s one question we always finish our interviews with, more than anything it’s to help settle a debate among the writers at the site. What album do you prefer between Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Linx and GZA’s Liquid Swords?
I would have to go with Liquid Swords. That’s a quintessential winter album and it was a big comfort blanket for me for a couple horrible winters.
Yeah. I can see that.
Yeah man. And the the production style also opened me up to what could happen in hip-hop after the first Wu-Tang album because it was a different production style. When RZA started getting more into synths and a more ‘cleaner’ style, but the original stuff I loved it, I was like “Hip-hop is supposed to sound this gritty and dirty” and Enter the 36 Chambers was an essential hip-hop album for me at that time. But Liquid Swords opened me up to the idea of “Oh okay, we’re going to go into this cleaner territory and be a little more musical” and I can dig that. I didn’t have a big hand in the production to This Was Supposed to Be Fun but B. did and I know there are songs, even on the Season 1 EP, like what’s the song..? ‘Dumbass Kids’. The synths there sound to me to be very influenced by the Liquid Swords album, but that’s the joint for me.
Thank you very much Sage for taking the time and thank you for preserving with my accent [laughs]. (Podcast coming soon, it will be very funny to listen to!)
I wish I had an earworm that could figure out how to make this workout but I’m a dumb-dumb, I’m sorry.
It’s all good [laughs] thank you very much.
Pre-order your exclusive SFR store physical package of This Was Supposed to Be Fun featuring a coloured vinyl LP, signed CD, blacklight-orange cassette, and MP3 download – plus a Deluxe Package including a backpack & exclusive t-shirt. Sage Francis and B. Dolan are also about to embark on a tour of epic proportions.
All the info on the physical merch and tour dates can be found HERE.