By Jeff Maisey
Multi-platinum and Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Sarah McLachlan returns to Hampton Roads with a St. Patrick’s Day concert at the Ferguson Center.
McLachlan, best known for her emotional ballads such as “Angel,” “I Will Remember You,” “Adia,” and “Sweet Surrender,” is touring in support of her exception 2014 album Shine On. The Orange County Register described her performance at The Greek in Los Angeles as “a captivating 2 1/2-hour set” while The Vancouver Sun called McLachlan “breathtaking.”
I recently had an opportunity to chat with Sarah McLachlan by phone. The hits of yesteryear and Lilith Fair were essential parts of her past, but I was curious as to the things that helped her create her latest album. Here is an excerpt of our conversation.
How have your inspirations for songwriting evolved over the years? Two tracks on the new album were inspired by the passing of your father. “Angel” was inspired by the suicide of a Smashing Pumpkins keyboardist. Surely death and tragedy aren’t your only sources of inspiration?
No, but it is life and it is the things that impact me. “Angel” was an external thing and yet it was a reaction to a story I heard. For me it hit me personally because I was on the road for two years and felt such a flood of empathy for what I thought he might have been feeling; that desperate need to escape, and feeling like you don’t have anything left. Tour for two years tends to do that to you.
Life is what I write about. I try to get the noise out of my head and sort through things. I’ve always been cathartic in that way. It is an emotional release.
You have sometimes had several years pass between albums. Is this due to life being crazy busy for you?
Yeah. I’ve never been prolific. I write slowly. I have two small daughters who are seven and almost 13. I run a free music school here in Vancouver. I wear a lot of hats. For me it has never been particularly easy to pop one hat off and put another one on. I tend to shift gears rather slowly. And there is that constant punctuation of, “Mom, I’m hungry.” That’s a big part of why it takes so long.
You have worked a long time with producer, co-writer Pierre Marchard (since 1991). What does that lasting working relationship look like?
He’s just a musical genius as far as I’m concerned. He never tires of new ideas and new ways of pushing things. He makes my songs better. He pushes me to strive harder; to take it outside of the obvious choices. I like that.
You co-wrote “Song for My Father,” on the new album, with Nashville songwriter Tom Douglas. Was your dad a country music fan? Was that why you selected Douglas for that song?
Um…it just sort of happened. I went down to Nashville. I was struggling with lyrics. He was recommended by a few people, and I just really connected with him. He’s a lovely man, very thoughtful and soulful. Most we just had these amazing conversations about my dad that lasted a day and a half. He asked me questions. The song came out of that.
Was your father very support of your music career early on?
Yes, he was. Both my parents were extremely supportive of my love for music and taking music lessons; my mother in particular. They were very concerned that I would join a band – it’s a lovely hobby, not a job. My parents are both academics. University was be-all, end-all, and the only direction.
When I came home at 17 years old and said, “Mom, dad, I just played with this band and they want me to move to Vancouver (from Nova Scotia), it didn’t go over so well, as you can imagine.
I went through a year of art college when I was offered a record contract. I went to my dad, who I knew would be a little more sympathetic than my mom, and I said this is what’s happening and I really want to do this. He sat and listened to me and then said, “Well, I guess we better get you a lawyer to look over the contract.” So, yes, he was supportive and always ridiculously proud of me.
Can you tell me about the song “Monsters” from the latest album?
I’ve had a lot of experiences over the years getting taken advantage of. I’m very nice and very conflict averse. I have a hard time saying no. As I get older, thank god, that’s getting easier as I start to respect myself and my time more.
There are a lot of people in the world who want to be part of who I am and what I do, and don’t necessarily have the best intensions, either in my professional world or my personal world. Whether it’s building a house or getting your car fixed. It’s like, “Oh, either you’re a woman or you’re from west Van or you’re rich,” I’m just going to add on 20 percent. There’s a lot of that that goes on. I got a little sick of being taken advantage of. These people, I could just hate them or be angry with them, but I think they’ve helped me become who I am. Every bad thing that happens to me further helps to define me. It’s like Little Red Riding Hood: we love the wolf. We don’t want to be eaten by him but he makes life interesting.