The Epic Beardmen, Sage Francis and B Dolan, formed out of a creative writing sabbatical they both took in 2016 during a month-long stint at the Edinburgh (Scotland) Fringe Festival. After more than 10 years touring together as solo artists, these battle-tested wordsmiths decided the world needed more of them, and it should be together, thus the Epic Beard Men assembled.
I got a chance to sit down with these amazing guys just as they kicked off their new USA tour, to find out a little more about their music, who influences them and how they don’t tolerate homophobia or misogyny.
Richard Jones: Hi Sage and Dolan, so first things first you know our readers are going to think you are hot right?
SAGE: Goddamn right. I didn’t put all this work into my hairy, fat physique for people to NOT think I’m hot. I can’t speak for Mr. Dolan, but when I walk into a place I expect to be seen. Or completely ignored. Either way. Our overall look is not as intentional as it might seem. It’s very incidental actually. God shaved my head and Satan made me hairy everywhere else. That’s just how it goes in these hot New England times.
DOLAN: I wouldn’t say I know that, but I have on occasion heard such things from the Bears of the wilderness. As a married straight guy, I’m not in much of a position to reciprocate… but I’m also narcissistic enough to appreciate anyone who thinks I’m hot. Just kidding. In reality, I’m pushing 40 and deeply grateful to any adult human who thinks that. We’re not turning away onlookers, nahmean. My music and artistic output also tend to be challenging and political and content driven, so if my sweet ass cheeks help the medicine go down for ya, I ain’t mad.
RJ: Tell us how you met?
DOLAN: We grew up a few minutes away from each other, but never met until after we had both moved to NYC in search of a rap career. Both of us eventually left New York, a few years apart and for different reasons, and encountered each other as adults back in Providence in 2002. We met at Poetry Slam, and knew of each other for years before working together.
SAGE: By the time B returned from NYC I was kind of moonlighting as a swim instructor in Providence. I noticed him from the poetry readings during one of the water aerobics classes I was helping my mom teach at the YMCA. It was a good ice breaker seeing how he was into the water stuff but also into the word stuff. Probably wouldn’t have tried to approach him otherwise as he’s got a real “don’t mess with me” posture, and I’m not the most social person either, but we eventually nerded out over politics, art, water exercises, and shit like that.
RJ: You toured together but didn’t perform together, what were those years like?
DOLAN: Sage had been touring for a bunch of years before I joined him on the road, so I spent a lot of the early years sort of understanding the ropes and angles of the touring business while opening for him and other acts. I pretty much said yes to all show offers for a decade, and made my way around the world as an opener earning fans night to night…. After my last solo release I was headlining on my own and Sage had been keeping a crazy solo tour schedule for a couple of years. We knew we wanted to tour together again and the Epic Beard Men was a great way to become a new kind of headliner together and take a break from our solo careers and discographies, show wise.
SAGE: The first time he came on the road with me for a full tour was in 2005 and it was basically to promote the Knowmore.org website. He was driving and helping sell merch while overseeing voter registration and wrangling support for Knowmore. He had no interest in taking to the stage at this time, and I think I was the only one who in our crew who knew he was a monster performer. There’s only one night when he took to the stage and he did a really personal spoken word piece that kind of stunned everyone. Then he was like, “Aight, I’m done. Back to my grunt work.” Haha. It was wise of him to take in his surroundings and see how tours of this nature work out because he was then able to facilitate big tours of his own and hip others to the process. It’s also why it’s much easier for me to tour with him than it would be with other people. We work under the same system for the most part and we know how to pick up each other’s slack when need be.
RJ: For those that don’t know, like me, what is Indie-Rap?!
DOLAN: To classify any kind of rap music at this point is tricky and subjective because lots of labels have been thrown around carelessly and mean different things to different people. As applied to artists like us, it means that we’re rappers who own our own recordings and independently release our music. We finance our own tours, recording, and marketing budgets. In some cases, this has been going on for well over a decade and there are big healthy scenes of listeners and supporters who continue to support we do.
Because we’re not beholden to anyone, we get to set our own rules and have control over the culture we create. In the case of Epic Beard Men and our record label Strange Famous, we’ve created a kind of rap show where homophobia and misogyny aren’t welcome and might get you booed offstage as a performer. Our fans take care of each other and are good people, in a way that reminds me of the DIY punk scene… not an accident. Rap + Accountability = Indie-Rap, to me.
SAGE: In essence, it’s supposed to mean that you are making all decisions on your own and you aren’t beholden to the needs, desires, wishes, influence of companies financing your music or career. Sometimes “indie-rap” gets used as a term to indicate the sound or style of music, which is typically less polished and/or pop-formulaic than what you hear in the mainstream.
RJ: What/Who are your musical influences?
SAGE: I absorbed pretty much anything even remotely hip-hop related from the early ’80s until the mid-’90s. There’s not enough time available for me to list all the groups, but I’m constantly giving them head nods in my songs. Easter eggs everywhere. In the mid-90’s I began getting into more hardcore punk stuff as well as ultra soft, ambient material. Eventually, I stopped listening to music almost completely due to the fact that I’m constantly working on my own music and music with people on Strange Famous Records. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need to delve into my blues playlists, piano playlists, Mazzy Star playlists, and Dylan/Cohen/Young playlists in times of need.
DOLAN: Thanks to Hip-Hop, my musical influences come from everywhere. After the initial rush of inspiration when I was young from rappers like Scarface, De La Soul, and Public Enemy, I started trying to figure out how to make rap music and listening to anything I thought might contain samples. 30 years later I’ve got too much music in my brain to fit anymore in, it feels like. I’m a fan of musicians in every genre. From Bounce music to Country, I can probably name you someone worth checking out, or whose recordings I’ve learned something by listening to.
RJ: What about art influences, I see you like Star Trek?
DOLAN: The Star Trek references are something I’ve brought to the EBM project because I’ve been on a hardcore ST binge since Trump got elected. Originally our engineer DS3K and Kathleen Stubelek of Circle Takes the Square (both of whom are on the record) had been recommending Star Trek to me, and I’d been trying to get into it for years. I started to find that it was perfect to watch at night because it would take my mind briefly away from problems on this planet and allow me to relax. I’ve now watched every episode of every series up to the present one. It’s been a stressful couple of years.
SAGE: I’ve always been Star Trek over Star Wars. I grew up watching the original series and I still love the campiness of it. That whole era of sci-fi is right up my alley. I never really checked out the following iterations of Star Wars in the 90s and the aughts, but B is always trying to hip me to the new ways. I gotta be honest though, fellas. I’m really not a Kirk. Dolan says I’m more of a Kirk and he’s more of a Spok on the record, but it’s not true. I’m more of a Spock behind the scenes. On stage, I’m dashing though, and I’ll totally charm a full alien race into some type of demented sex war. For the culture.
RJ: Who in music impresses you?
DOLAN: We’re currently on tour with Vockah Redu, who is a Bounce artist from New Orleans and an originator of the Sissy Bounce scene that produced artists like Big Freedia. His music is legendary though it’s just now starting to be discovered by a larger audience. His set is like nothing I have ever seen before. He and his backup dancers provide the most high energy live choreography I’ve ever seen… there’s twerking handstands and moments that remind me of an Erykah Badu concert within the same set … and somehow Vockah brings it all as a performer with him. Right now he’s the standard most of us would be lucky to reach, for me.
SAGE: Currently, yeah, I’m a huge fan of what Vockah brings to the stage. Nearly brought me to tears on the first night of the tour seeing him transform a typically disinterested Boston crowd into a swarm of participation. There are so many people we work with at Strange Famous who knock my socks off in very unique ways though. I wouldn’t work with them otherwise. I’m fully aware that the kind of stuff that blows me away isn’t always recognized by the average listener, but we’re so privileged to have worked with the people in our mix of weirdos. Everyone has a specific superpower and it keeps me interesting in keeping my neck to the railroad. I mean…nose to the grindstone.
RJ: What do you think is your appeal to your fans?
SAGE: People at shows and in the backchannels of social media are always telling me how my music helped get them through some difficult times. I never went into this thinking that the vulnerability in a lot of my songs would be the thing that got people hooked, but it really seems to have worked out that way. As someone who sought refuge in music during some dark and lonely years, all I can say to them is that I’m honored to know I could play that kind of role in their life by just speaking openly about some tough situations. But it’s not without humor. I don’t think it would be possible for someone to get into the music if they’re a humorless person. Dark humor plays a big part in the enjoyment of what we’re all going through.
DOLAN: I think after this many years, fans feel like they know us. We make a habit of walking directly offstage after our shows and hanging out with fans for pictures, etc. I legitimately know and recognize people from my Facebook page or Twitter. By nature of the kind of operation we are, our actual personalities and lives are pretty close to the surface, and I think our listeners reward us for that kind of openness. It’s familial, honestly. That’s the appeal of my fans to me, which is maybe easier to answer for than what they’re getting out of music I’m mostly making to satisfy myself.
RJ: What are the goals for the tour? And what will you do after it finishes?
DOLAN: Same goals as always. Packed shows and semi-clean hotel rooms. Van safety. Personal hygiene. Tours and album releases are massive undertakings, so we’ve been preparing for this since January and are preparing to tour the UK immediately afterward. Our goals are to put the record in as many hands as possible, and hopefully make some new friends along the way.
SAGE: The goal is to entertain, promote the music, sell merch, have fun, be safe, and ultimately return home with enough money to pay all the bills that keep piling up. I feel like that’s been my goal since day one on the road. Ain’t a damn thing changed in that regard except for the fact that I can’t keep tossing the dice and expect to have wins in my career without suffering personal losses. Something’s got to give and I have a family to take care of, so I’d much prefer to figure out how to get these W’s in their presence rather than remotely.
You can catch these amazing guys and their powerful performances across the USA, check out epicbeardmen.com/tour for all the dates and location.