10 Questions with ... Sarah McLachlan
January 5, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Folk-pop singer and songwriter Sarah McLachlan was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She is best known for her emotional ballads. McLachlan became internationally known with her 1993 album, "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy." With her next release, 1997's "Surfacing," McLachlan enjoyed even greater success selling more than seven million copies, buoyed by the popularity of such songs as "Building a Mystery," "Adia" and "Angel."
That same year, McLachlan co-founded Lilith Fair, a summer concert series that showcased the talents of female artists, including A-listers like Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, Paula Cole and the Indigo Girls. Along with promoting awareness about women's issues, the tour turned out to be a big success. Over three summers, Lilith Fair was attended by two million people and raised more than $10 million for charity.
In 1998, McLachlan won two Grammy Awards for the instrumental "Last Dance" and the other for "Building a Mystery." She took home another Grammy Award the following year for the touching ballad "I Will Remember You." Throughout her lengthy career, McLachlan has sold more than 40 million records worldwide.
McLachlan's personal struggles served as inspiration for her latest work "Shine On," which features songs about, "The strength of hard-earned independence; the trials of love won, lost and found anew; and the infinite joys of living" according to her web site.
1) Hi Sarah! So where does this interview find you today? What's on the agenda today besides this interview?
I'm on the west coast of Vancouver Island enjoying the early morning sunshine. Today I'm helping to put in a new water heater and planning on going surfing later.
2) You recently released your new album, "Shine On". Was there an overall theme or vibe that you were trying to capture with this album?
It's a snapshot of the arch of the last six years of my life; the losses, the mourning, the forgiveness, the awakenings and hope. It's about not only surviving and enduring but taking all you know and have learned and using that power to continue to grow and prosper and shine.
We all have so much to give and in shining our light as bright as we can, we get so much in return. That connection is powerful and hopeful. It's what we all want: to be seen and heard and understood, and loved for who we really are, be it whole and strong, wounded and insecure, angry and vengeful. We are all these things, these feelings and to fully understand ourselves we have to embrace it all and love ourselves through it all. It's a tall order, but a great thing to strive for.
3) How would you say it is different than your other albums?
I write from an emotional point of view and I try to tell my stories from that lens. I think with this record, the songs are more direct as in the past I felt I needed to draw from a number of different people's stories to round out the song ... This time I felt my story was strong enough to just be without a lot of embellishment.
4) I love the song, "Beautiful Girl." Can you share with our readers how that song came about and what was the inspiration for that particular song?
My guitar player and I wrote that song. He sent me a piece of music with the first verse/chorus as a little piece. He said, "I just think about you and your daughter, this reminds me of you." I just instantly fell in love with it. It's very much about that tumultuous journey that we enter into as parents, becoming mothers, being responsible for another human being and having to guide them and teach them.
"There will be many tests along the way, many storms but weathering them together is what makes the bonds stronger. If you have love on your side, it's a strong step in the right direction. You gotta love yourself. You have to stay the course, it's a haul on many days but it's worth it."
5) Your music is so easy to connect with. Who or what are your musical inspirations when you need a pick me up, or something to mellow you out or rock out to?
I typically gravitate towards strong melodies and great voices ...anything soulful ...I love Peter Gabriel, Cat Stevens, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Bon Iver, Nekka, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Sigur Ros, Brian Eno, Talk Talk, The Killers, U2 to name a few.
6) If you had the opportunity to work with any act/artist from the past, present or future, who would it be and why? If you could spend the day with them, where would you go...and what would you do?
Maybe Mozart as he was an incredible composer with wicked melodies. We'd be in the present and I'd spend the day just listening to him play and if I was lucky we could improvise together and I'd record everything.
7) What is your approach to songwriting? How do you capture the inspiration when it comes?
The approach to songwriting for me is slow and laborious and I just have to let things take their natural course. I attempt to work every day, I try to write, but certainly when absolutely nothing is happening and I'm banging my head up against a wall, I kind of have to let it go.
"But when I am feeling fruitful and things are happening, I just let the song dictate how it wants to go, and I try not to edit myself too much.
I can only speak from personal experience on inspiration but for me, I think spending years listening to melodically driven folk and pop music and then learning how to play these songs informed me and what I'm instinctively drawn towards musically. There's no math to it, it's about what feels good and sounds good and creating tension when needed and ease elsewhere.
8) What was the first song you fell in love with growing up and why?
The first album I bought was "Piano Man" by Billy Joel. I loved his melancholy and story telling. He painted a really strong picture of love and loss something I was very drawn to as a teenager and still am. But, things really shifted when I heard Peter Gabriel.
It was aggressive and sexy. I was 16 and I'd never heard anything like it and thought, "That's what I want to do I want to make people feel the way this makes me feel."
9) As the modern face of feminism and someone who came up with the Lilith Fair, which showcased female musicians on a scale that had never been attempted before, what is your take on other females artists making music nowadays, what do you see?
It certainly put fuel on the fire when we started organizing having guys say, "You can't do that, people won't come to see more than one women at once," which of course was ridiculous. The strength of our numbers and quality of music really put many of us on the map in a whole new way, but I will say that at the end of those three great years, as we ended the festival, it felt that the pendulum was swinging a new way towards bubblegum pop boy and girl bands and pop music shrunk to become a very tailored and homogenized format.
Music is cyclical and I think people are, again, leaning towards wanting and needing music to be more than just a well crafted pop song and more people are looking for depth and meaning in their music and once again I think there is a lot of diversity and quality in the music being made.
10) You have raised more than $10 million dollars for women's charities throughout the years and with Lilith Tour, and one dollar from every ticket sale went to a local women's shelter. That's awesome! Speaking of your philanthropic awesomeness, you also fund the Sarah McLachlan School of Music in your native, Vancouver. Can you tell our readers more about the school and why you started it?
We're in our 13th year, and we will have over 1,000 kids in the program this coming year. It's just an incredible program. There are a couple of kids who do more than one discipline, and we now have a lot of outreach as well. We work with 13 elementary and high schools in at-risk and underserved communities, and we're also doing further outreach to kids who can't even get to the schools.
We have guitar, piano, percussion, junior/senior choir, songwriting, and a lot of ensemble/band mash-ups as well as production and video. There are lots of opportunities for performances out in the community as well. We do a Christmas song every year that either the kids write or I help them write and we shoot a video for which is a fundraiser as well.
My reason for starting it is simple, I don't know what I would've done if I didn't have music in my life growing up. It was in all the schools, and my parents could afford to pay for private music lessons. There were lots of options, and these days in Canada, and it's the same in America, the music programs are all being taken away the same as the sports programs. It's just so important for kids to have art in their lives, and music in particular. It brings us closer to ourselves and gives us a place to be able to feel things and understand things that resonate in other people and in ourselves.
With this school in particular, some of these kids come disenfranchised from different schools. They've already been labeled, especially a lot of teenagers. They get to leave those labels at the door and come in and are all in it together. There's a real sense of equality and of being in something together that's bigger than yourself. I think we all need that. I think that's what church does for a lot of people. I'm not religious, but when I think about music and about gathering for music, that to me is my church.
*Special thanks to All Access Writer Nicole DeRosa who contributed to this article.