The Tosco Music Party is always a great way for local musicians to connect, and surely there have been no shortage of collaborations spawned by the quarterly event.
Sometimes, they can happen without warning.
Local singer/songwriter Emily Sage was simply enjoying a set from her friend, R&B soul singer Greg Cox, at the spring Tosco Music Party in April when Cox made an announcement to the crowd that came as a surprise to Sage: the two musicians would be making an album together.
“I was like, ‘Oh cool, OK, I guess we’re doing this now,’” Sage recalls now, laughing.
When I ask Cox where the idea came from, he laughs and gives me a straight answer: “It came from me.”
The pair just released their second song together, an uplifting chorale titled “Find a Way,” which tells a tale of hope, friendship and neighborly love. It’s a follow-up to their first collaboration, “The Other Side,” which made NPR’s Heavy Rotation in February.
The pair wrote and recorded “Find a Way” in one evening — Sunday, August 11 — and three days later, Queen City Nerve is happy to bring you the premiere.
The song is a message of hope that can translate nationally in a country looking with skeptical optimism at the coming presidential election, but Sage and Cox insist it’s a local ode — a plea to connect with those around you in a fast-changing city.
“This song feels like a song of hope for the future, learning about what it means to be a good neighbor,” Sage says. “I don’t want to turn it churchy, but like, who is your neighbor in Charlotte and do you actually know them? And when you do start getting to know people and start putting intentionality behind loving people well, how that can really propel healing and culture forward in general.”
Cox says that, while the song looks at love through a local lens, it serves a broader message. In contrast to Sage, he’s not shy about tying the new track in with a Sunday sermon.
“My pastor would say something like, ‘Jesus said to love God with all your heart, soul and mind; love your neighbor as you love yourself,’” Cox says. “And basically, that sounds local, right? But it’s actually a global declaration. Because if everyone is loving each other correctly in their home, it will be easier to do it out in public on a global scale.”
The tendency for Cox and Sage to take different routes only to end at the same point is what has inspired their musical partnership, Cox says.
“I love Emily because she’s the exact opposite of me in every possible way that a human can be the exact opposite of you, and I love that about her,” Cox says. “But we kind of hold each other up in a way that I feel we have taught each other so many different things that it sort of leaks out for other people, and other people connect with that and can learn from what we learn from each other. And in the music, it bleeds through.”
And it bleeds through fast. While Sage usually likes to take her time with songwriting, she says that when she works with Cox, who’s a more spontaneous creator, it rubs off on her.
Though she had heard the chorus for “Find a Way” months ago — one of the voice memos Cox sent her after his impromptu announcement at Tosco Music Party — she didn’t begin thinking of lyrics until she was driving to Cox’s house on Sunday night to record.
“I think Greg is kind of a machine the way that he works,” Sage says. “He just does things super quick and all of a sudden there’s a thing, and because he works like that and he’s such a positive energy, I am able to open up super easily. Because I don’t have time to second-guess myself, I can write something super fast with him, whereas typically when I write I let things soak for months.”
Cox says he may spend months waiting on Sage to get into a certain zone, but once she’s there, it’s like a storm blowing through.
“Most of the time it’s like I get inspired and I’m ready to go right now, and writing doesn’t go like that for her; she kind of has to be in a space where she’s available to write, spiritually,” he says. “So when those dots connect, it takes maybe 30 seconds, whole song written, done. Whenever lightning strikes, it just strikes for us, and we both really love Charlotte and we love making music for this community here.”
As for how much more of that music this community will get, Sage says that apparent album isn’t quite set in stone, yet, but we can expect more songs like “Find a Way” in the future.
“I know that we’re going to continue working together, whatever that looks like,” she says. “As far as plans that are hard in place, we don’t have any at the moment, all we know is that we love working together and something really special happens and we have a lot of fun so we’re not going to stop.”