It’s been ten years since Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan last toured Australia. But the decade long absence from our shores has been far from dull for the multiple Grammy winner. It’s been littered with substantial shifts in both Sarah’s personal and professional life, including the birth of her second daughter, the breakdown of her marriage, three albums and the shift to a new record label.
It’s a “beautiful, sunny afternoon” in Vancouver, when we place the call to Ms McLachlan to chat with her about her long-awaited return to our shores.
“We’ve had the most glorious summer. It hasn’t stopped. Apparently on Friday it’s going to start raining and it won’t stop until May,” she laughs. “But right now, we have sun and it never rains here and I’m going into a complete state of denial.”
We suggest then that the impending northern winter presents the perfect opportunity to escape to warmer waters and, perhaps, indulge her passion for surfing.
“Well I have to tell you… it’s kind of perfect timing. You get the hell out of Dodge here in February. Come February you’re done with the weather and it’s so nice to be able to come to Australia and be in the midst of your summer. But I don’t have a surfboard there anymore though, so I’m just going to have to beg, borrow and steal.”
As we’ve mentioned, it’s a decade since we last saw a Sarah McLachlan tour swing by our shores. But the singer has been far from idle, confirming that life in general – and the ups and downs that come with it – has been keeping her rather busy.
“I can’t believe it’s been that long. It’s embarrassing because I do love coming there and playing,” she tells us. “Just life has intervened. It’s gotten really busy with two kids. Just about a year before I went to Australia that last time, I started the free after school music program here in Vancouver. We’re in our 13th year now and about three and a half years ago, we separated from the arts organisation that we initially partnered with, so there was this huge learning curve and shift of organisational structures. All this really adult stuff.
“I’m a musician, I don’t know how to do any of this shit. So it really was a steep learning curve to get it to a place that’s really strong. That was a couple of years of spending a lot of time getting it up and going. There was that, there was making music, there was the getting divorced and there was the losing my dad… there was that shit too. So yeah, there was a lot of junk in there. A lot of unpleasant stuff that had to be dealt with.”
But not one to dwell for too long on the negatives, Sarah tells us she’s used the latter two experiences in particular to spur her on to live a fuller and more enriched life.
“Absolutely. And I think that’s one of the great things that my dad’s passing in particular taught me. At the time I was entering my 40s and you sort of have to take a good hard look at where you’re at and think, ‘is this how I want the rest of my life to look? Do I get to choose? And if so, do I want to change anything or do I want to make it better and suck the marrow out of every day?’
“Hell yes. Absolutely. I don’t want to sit and be complacent and think that I can’t manage anything else. Huge changes, absolutely. But I always look at that stuff as an opportunity for growth and an opportunity to get better. For me, songwriting’s really cathartic, because it’s one of the best ways for me to sort through all the stuff.”
We’re staggered to think that a woman who’s sold in excess of 40 million albums across the world, has won Grammy and Juno Awards, sells out concerts wherever she goes and enjoys adoration and support from her global fanbase could possibly have more that she wants to achieve.
“When I say that, I don’t have these lofty aspirations of world domination,” she explains. “If you ask me what success is, it’s that I feel good about the decisions I’ve made. And I’m proud of myself… I’m proud of my accomplishments. And that accomplishment might be I didn’t scream at my kids today! You know what I mean? There are a lot of different levels of goals that we can reach towards.
“For me, it’s about becoming the best person I can possibly be. And I’m going to fuck up and I’m going to fail and I’m going to screw up and some days are going to be great and some days are not, but it’s that journey. It’s all exciting. We get to wake up every day and have another opportunity. To try again, to be better and to learn. You become voracious in that way.”
Though she admits that, for the most part, she strives to live in the moment, there’s one passion that Sarah tells us she wants to indulge a little more.
“I would like to surf more. That’s something that I’m really recognising,” she says. “I’m 46 and I’m getting sore and old. And I just know that there’s a window of opportunity at the end of which I’m going to say, ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and I’m not ready to give it up yet. So I really want to spend more time surfing. That, making music and my kids… I think about it every single day when I’m not doing it.”
Beyond the shifts in her personal life over the past decade, there’s also been a big change in her professional life, with a move from her long-time label Nettwerk to a new deal with the iconic Verve imprint, part of the Universal empire.
“I was with Nettwerk as a management and record label for 24 years. When things happened in my life that were out of my control, I started looking at everything that maybe wasn’t working so well and thought, ‘you know what, I’m just going to change up everything, bring it on’. It was like a domino effect.
“There was nothing really terribly wrong with our relationship. It’s just that there were a lot of complacencies on both sides. And I thought, ‘you know what, I need to shake this up and make a change’. It took me three years to make the decision. I grappled back and forth, because I have a lot of loyalty to them because they gave me an incredible opportunity all those years ago.
“They believed in me and supported me and gave me money to make a record when they had no idea if I could even write or not, so it was a hard decision to make. But in the end, I had to go with my gut and I needed to change everything – and they were part of that change.”
The label shift isn’t the only change Sarah’s seen in the music industry in general since she first appeared on the scene with her debut album ‘Touch’ 26 years ago.
“It’s been a huge shift from the great success that I had in the ‘90s as far as selling millions of records to now people don’t buy records anymore. They go to Spotify or Pandora and they just stream it. There’s no sense of urgency about the release of a record. There’s no ‘I have to go and buy it, it’s the only way I’m going to hear it’. There are so many avenues to have it in your life.
“Selling records and buying records isn’t a big deal anymore, so I’m so thankful that I have a really strong live following. I’ve been playing live for twenty (cough) years and I think I put on a really good show.
“For me, live music is like church. It’s where we all get together to be part of something bigger than ourselves and connect on a really emotional level. And I think that’s something we all crave. We live in such a disconnected society. We’re pack animals. We all want to be together I think and we want to connect with each other. Music is sort of that catalyst. And my music, I think, is very much that. It certainly is for me, anyway.”
And us Aussies will finally have another chance to experience that connection ourselves when Sarah visits our shores for a series of intimate performances in February. The tour is set to begin in Brisbane on Thursday February 04, before making stops in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. She tells us to expect much more than just wall to wall songs from her latest album ‘Shine On’.
“That’s my latest, greatest passion, so certainly I’m going to be playing a lot of songs from there, but I recognise that a lot of people aren’t going to be familiar with it and will be wanting to hear the old stuff, so I hopefully will be playing stuff that everybody’s going to want to hear and peppering it with the new stuff,” Sarah says.
“I’m coming out as a three piece – that’s that plan. I play electric, I play acoustic, I play piano. Butterfly Boucher is joining me, a fantastic Aussie singer songwriter, who’s going to be playing bass and whatever else I can make her play. I’m going to be singing and we’ve also got drums and keyboards. We’re just going to be bouncing around with our different instruments and making as much of our little rock band as we can. It’ll be fun.”
Given some of the subject matter on the new LP (it touches on the death of her father and the breakdown of her marriage), we ask Sarah whether it’s at times difficult for her to revisit those emotionally dark and personal moments in the live arena.
“You know what, it’s so easy because for me, it’s pure joy,” she admits. “I know it might sound weird, especially considering some of the subject matter, but it’s either joy or it’s just a feeling of peacefulness, because I get to have this sense of objectivity. I was in that place. I’ve been there, I’ve gone through it. I feel so much stronger and better and I’m able to look at it and sing about it.
“Even though I was in it, there’s this great level of objectivity. It’s not like I get to go back to that place and feel all that pain. I don’t. I just feel a sense of release every time I sing these songs.”
So to that end, a warning for those who might not otherwise consider buying a ticket to a Sarah McLachlan show.
“I’m a pretty light hearted person and I always have been. Some people have this assumption that because of my music, they’re like, ‘oh god… Debbie Downer, she’s going to be all serious and lighting candles and doom and gloom’.
“No! I have the nastiest, dirtiest jokes you could imagine,” she laughs. “Not that I’m necessarily going to share them on stage. I’m a fun, light-hearted person, because I get it all out in my music, you see!
“The older I get, the more comfortable I get with talking about the songs and telling stories as well. It’s taken me years to get to place where I feel like I have something to say. And I might want to actually open my mouth besides singing, because I used to be quite shy about that.
“So there’s a lot of freedom for me now. Because you know what, I might put my foot in my mouth, but oh well. What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? Some people might laugh! That’s not so bad. I like making people laugh better than making them cry!”
Sarah McLachlan tours Australia in February next year.
Live Nation pre-sale kicks off at midday tomorrow, with general public tickets on sale from this Friday.
February 05 : Brisbane (The Tivoli)
February 07 : Sydney (Recital Centre)
February 09 : Melbourne (Recital Centre)
February 11 : Perth (Astor Theatre)