By Joshua Maloni
Sarah McLachlan is perhaps the finest vocalist in North America. The Canadian singer-songwriter has sold more than 40 million albums, with hit songs including “Angel,” “Sweet Surrender,” “Possession,” “Building a Mystery,” “Adia” and “I Will Remember You.” McLachlan was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame as part of the 2017 Junos – an awards show she hosted in 2019. She founded both the groundbreaking, all-women-led Lilith Fair Festival and the Sarah McLachlan School of Music in Vancouver.
McLachlan will perform Wednesday, July 31, at Artpark in Lewiston. She will be accompanied by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Tickets are on sale now. For more information, visit www.artpark.net, or stop by the box office at 450 S. Fourth St.
An edited Q&A follows.
Sarah McLachlan (Photo by Kharen Hill)
Q: How was it hosting the Junos?
Sarah McLachlan: You know what? It was so much fun. I honestly had no idea what to expect. It was sort of something that felt like a little bit scary, and a challenge. So I wanted to do it. And I had so much fun. I wasn't the least bit nervous in the end – I think because we rehearsed so damn much.
I love any opportunity to celebrate Canadians and celebrate Canadian music. So, to sort of be at the forefront of that, and be the host of it all, it was kind of exhilarating.
Q: We're very lucky in Western New York, because we get a lot of the great Canadian music stations. But for you, what excites you about the next generation of Canadian musicians?
Sarah McLachlan: I think there is such a wealth of amazing music that comes out of Canada, and the Junos is a great representation of that. You know, all genres. I really liked the Junos this year, in particular. It was interesting – there wasn’t a lot of the big, huge names. But what that did was give space for a lot of younger, new artists that I hadn't even heard of before. It gave them a huge platform, which is very cool.
Q: Right. And Sting was there, too, so that was something, right?
Sarah McLachlan: Oh yeah, Sting showed up, too, bless him. (Laughs)
Sarah McLachlan at Artpark in 2014.
Q: For this performance at Artpark, you are going to be performing with our world-renowned Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. What appealed to you about doing a show like that?
Sarah McLachlan: Well, there's something incredibly glorious about performing with a symphony. And it's not just from an egotistical point of view. It is like you get to be in your own cinematic experience. Like, it just feels like, “Oh, I’m in my own movie.” This beautiful, huge wall of sound supporting the music that I've made. It's just so much fun. It's so beautiful, and powerful; I love it.
Q: How does it work? Are they with you for the duration of the show, or do they come and go? What’s this process?
Sarah McLachlan: They’re pretty much there the whole time.
They are a great symphony. And we basically come in early in the day, we run the entire show. I play the stuff for the first time – and they're usually better than I am (laughs). You know, they’re more well-versed, instantly, than I am. And then that night, we do the whole show. They're on stage pretty much the whole time.
Q: Now I'm told that you are working on new music. If that is indeed the case, what can you tell me about that? And can we expect to hear any of that in Lewiston?
Sarah McLachlan: Hmm. I hadn’t planned on it, but maybe? Because I don't have anything scored. I don’t have any of the new stuff scored.
But, yes, I am slowly chipping away at a new record. It's taking me a long time.
I think I have a lot of distractions in my life right now. I've been running and helping support financially a free music school in Vancouver here for 17 years, and it’s a big, big, big project; and it takes up a lot of my day. I've got two teenagers, also, which take up a lot of emotional space. (Laughs) And I continually leave to do shows, as well. I'm not on tour, per se, but I do a lot of one-offs, a lot of charity gigs. I just came back from a short residency in Las Vegas.
So, every time I'm pulled away from sort of the serenity and peace of being at home and being in one place, it sort of takes me off my game, as far as writing. So, I really sort of have to force myself to just stay at home and stay calm for a while to be able to focus on it. So, it’s happening. It’s just taking forever.
Q: I know you're very well versed in what's going on around the world, in addition to all the things you just mentioned. With all of the challenges of day-to-day life, how does that affect the songwriting process?
Sarah McLachlan: It just slows it down (laughs). It just slows it down exponentially.
I sort of view writing as a big part of my personal therapy. Like, it's usually because I feel a need to sort through something that I have confusion around in my life – whether it's loss or pain or discomfort or just trying to come to terms with things that I have a hard time coming to terms with. It's always been my way of processing that. I've done a lot of that the past couple of years, and I think I'm sort of at this place, too, where I’m really happy right now; and it's hard to write when I’m happy.
Q: The old conundrum for the writer.
Sarah McLachlan: I know. I'm sure the well is deep – it is. I just don't really want to have to access it right now.
Q: Let me ask you about your live show. Nine years ago, you did an in memoriam performance at the Emmy's that I just thought was flawless. I mean, to be in front of that group of people with, you know, the somberness and the solemnity of the moment, to be so on point like you were – I said to myself, “This is it. This is the cream of the crop as far as musicians go.” And then five years later, you come to Artpark and the show was again just flawless.
Sarah McLachlan: Wow; thank you.
Q: I'm sure that perfection is not the goal. Music is obviously very imperfect. It's very raw and emotional. But, what is your approach to performing? When you get up on that stage and when we see you be so talented and so on point and just so skilled – that's what we see – but what do you see when you go out there? What is the mindset when you get onstage?
Sarah McLachlan: Being prepared is important. I warm up for about an hour-and-a-half. And because this is my skill, it’s something I've been doing for many, many years. I've put like 10,000 hours in, and I can sing very well. But for me, it's about creating joy.
I would say it’s kind of a selfish thing, because, when I sing, when I get onstage and sing, it’s like I'm living my purpose. And I get to tap into something that’s bigger than myself. And I think that's because there's people there. I steal that energy. I feel them, and I feel this – it kind of sounds “whoo whoo” – but really this kind of beautiful spiritual connection. And it just feels really like being completely full and completely empty at the same time.
I don't go out there with a perceived expectation of, you know, “I have to hit that note.” I kind of know I'm going to hit that note. But you know, quite frankly, if I don't hit the note, it's not about perfection. It's just about being in the moment, and giving myself to it – giving myself over to it. And I love doing that. It’s not a hard thing. It's really easy for me. It just feels like the most natural thing in the world to do.
So, I just also feel this whole rush of gratitude for the fact that “I get to do this every night?!? And people like it – and they're paying me for it?!?” That’s kind of amazing. It’s so amazing to me that this little thing that I'm creating – in a pretty selfish manner; like, I write for myself. I don't write thinking about anybody else. I write because I need to. It’s my therapy. And the fact that I can then give that to the world – and make an impact, help people – I love that. I love the idea that something I created is helping other people. It’s f*cking amazing! I get that; I get a real, tangible sense of that when I perform.
It's a good high, basically. (Laughs)
Q: I can imagine. And it's interesting that you used the word “selfish,” because I know so many musicians and music lovers who are so inspired by what you do, and by what you give – and I'm sure you know that. What does that mean to you, first of all?
Sarah McLachlan: Well, I mean, I guess it’s very flattering. I don’t know. I just do what I do. You know, I don't do it to please other people. … Well, maybe I'll do it a little bit to please other people (laughs). …
I think ultimately it's flattering. It feels good to know that I am living my purpose and feeling good about the choices I’ve made. If that's inspiring other people, then that’s a great thing.
It’s a bit of a responsibility, too. But that’s OK; I’ll take it.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your inspiration. Who was your Sarah McLachlan growing up?
Sarah McLachlan: Oh, Peter Gabriel!
Sarah McLachlan: For sure. Yeah. And I was very lucky; I had the opportunity to meet him when I was 21 years old. It blew my mind – and it also gave me a very interesting perspective, because I was completely tongue-tied. The pedestal I placed him on was demigod status. And to walk into a kitchen and see him taking a beer out of a refrigerator. It was like, “Hey, how's it going, Peter?”
It was this casual conversation, and he was lovely and very friendly. Very open. And it allowed me to be a fan, and to see and feel what it was like to be a tongue-tied fan. So, every time other people come up to me, and can't speak, or tears well up in their eyes, because they want to say something and they just don't even know how. For me, it's like, I remember that feeling. So, I just hug them – if they let me. (Laughs) It’s like, “It's OK. I know it; I know what you're feeling. And I’m just me; and I really appreciate that I’ve helped you, or that I have moved you in some way.” It’s beautiful thing. It’s a gift, right?
I am no better than anybody else. I'm no more special than anybody else. And I really, I like to break that barrier down, you know, and just say, “Hey, I’m as f*cked up as the next person, so don't put me on a pedestal.” (Laughs) I'm just doing my best over here. Trying to, anyway.
You know, I think it’s kind of how I was brought up, too. I mean, being raised in Nova Scotia, don't you go thinking you’re anything special, or you’ll get the snot kicked out of you. That's kind of how I was raised, and I think it's a good way to be raised, because it just keeps your head in place.
Q: Despite your propensity to not be braggadocious, you do have a remarkable resume. And one of the things, obviously, is Lilith Fair. In 2019, when someone brings up Lilith Fair in an interview, what percentage of you feels pride, and what percentage of you is like, “Come on guys, I’ve accomplished a million things since then – let's get on with our lives”?
Sarah McLachlan: Oh, nothing but pride. Nothing but pride, and nostalgia.
I don't tend to spend a lot of time in the past. I'm very forward-thinking. When people bring it up and I think about it, I’m like, you know, the overwhelming feeling that I remember is “How special was that?”
I got to be part of something so amazing, and groundbreaking, and powerful, and positive. And, you know, it changed a lot of things. And even today – like last year, I had this girl come up to me – she’s probably 40 – and she said, “I went to the first Lilith Fair 20 years ago, and you showed me – all of you showed me – that I could do anything I wanted; and I'm now CEO of this big corporation. A big part of that was because you showed me I could be whoever I wanted to be.”
You know, I nearly cried! I'm sure all sorts of other factors went into the reason this woman is successful. But, to hear her say that, was just beautiful validation of “Well done; job well done!” We did make a difference.