INTERVIEW: Sarah McLachlan Talks About Her New Album, Motherhood, Feminism, and More
Some musicians mean more to us than a catchy tune on a hot summer day. Some come into our lives with one album, an album that gets left on repeat for months—even years. We grow and process and change as we listen to the music on the album. And then? A new one comes out a few years later. The artist has grown and changed, and so have we. Rinse, repeat as the years pass, the albums continue to be released, and both artist and self grow and change and mature and feel and live life. Sarah McLachlan is that singer/songwriter for me, and her albums have journeyed with me throughout my life. I was thrilled to get to interview her about her new album, Shine On, motherhood, feminism, and life.
I've been a fan of Sarah since the very beginning. From my 90's-girl teenage self—all clunky shoes, flannel, and self-consciousness, trying to figure out who she was—to the dress-wearing, short-haired, less-self-conscious 30-something 2104 self, who is still trying to figure out who she is, Sarah has been with me through it all. From some of the darkest days of my life to the happiest ones to the ones in between, each of Sarah's albums represents my own journey. I'm especially excited about the new album, as it seems to meet me where I am in this journey, this next step of my life as I see it for myself.
Sarah describes the album like so:
We all have a unique contribution to make in this world, and Shine On is about that. It's about being present in the moment, and about how to Shine On through all of life's ups and downs. To grow and change and forgive and to find ways to give back to the world. This album is full of hope and gratitude. It's about getting to the heart of the matter and moving forward. It's about being courageous and victorious and mourning our losses while shining a light for those around us who are stuck in dark times. It's about the true recognition of self, and loving and accepting that.
I can get on board with those concepts. Hope, gratitude, moving forward, courage, shining lights? Yep. All of that. So I was excited to get to ask her a few questions in anticipation of the album's May 6 drop date. I only rambled once. Or twice.
Jenna Hatfield:I'm going to ask you a few questions about my favorite songs on the new album, but first I want you to tell me about your favorite song on Shine On. What went into writing it? What did it stem from?
Sarah McLachlan: It's so hard. "Broken Heart," "Beautiful Girl," "Brink of Destruction," "In Your Shoes." I've always been an album artist. It's about the whole story, not just a single. A good record will take you on a journey. I'm hoping to do that with this one as well. Turning 40, getting separated, my father passing, separating from management, and everything happening at the same time—it was such a huge shift in my world. I had to redefine myself after that, where I wanted to go, and who I wanted to be. I had to understand that life wasn't the way I wanted it to be. A heavy emotional journey, but for me there's a lot of joy and hope in this album. There's songs about the loss of my dad and what that meant and continues to mean to me. There's a lot of songs about parenting and about rediscovering love, redefining it. I want to make every day count.
JH: "In Your Shoes" (which is already available on Spotify for people to listen to) has a line that makes me smile: "You turn the radio on, play your favorite song and sing out so loud." A friend and I were discussing your previous albums, many of which we—and many others—simply left on repeat during various parts of our lives, thus making your music the soundtrack of any given memory. You walked with me through a very difficult time during the pregnancy of my firstborn. Another friend mentioned that Surfacing was the soundtrack of her first child's 60-hour birth. Another got engaged at one of your concerts. One friend wanted to know why you write these albums in such a way that they are so easy to leave on repeat. I want to know how it makes you feel to know that your albums become such an important part of our lives.
SM: It's incredibly validating as an artist, that something you created goes on to affect people in a positive way. I'm a huge proponent of positive change. I'm a giver. I like to make people feel good, to move people, to make them feel. For me, everything music does for me, I want it to do for other people. It gives me a sense of self-worth. It's very cathartic for me to write. There have been so many albums that are soundtracks in my own life, and I love that I'm able to do the same for others.
JH: "Beautiful Girl" has such an important message. "One thing that I know, is it will get better. Each and every drought ends in the river." I already feel this song becoming a repeat in my life. Where did it come from for you? What do you want it to mean to your fans?
SM: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. The most important thing to teach them being love. That sentiment is strongly represented in that song. If you have love on your side, it's a strong step in the right direction. You gotta love yourself. It's the idea that even if you have a shit day, and you screw up, you get another chance.
JH: How do you think the world has changed for women in the past 15 years? How do you think it has remained the same?
SM: Well, there are a few more women CEOs now. My fear is complacency. I see and hear a lot of young women coming out of university fairly idealistic, talking about how there's no glass ceiling anymore, about how we have job equality. But we have a long way to go. Yes, it's getting better incrementally, but again, my fear is that you can't rest on your laurels. At any moment our reproductive rights could be taken from us. Women still get paid less than men. I think it's getting better, but I think those shifts take a very long time. I think we have to be vigilant about reminding ourselves and each other that we have to keep talking about it and keep pushing more.
JH: An important question: Do your daughters like your music?
SM: They do! I don't think they listen to it in a way that you and I listen it. Lyrically they kind of glaze over, but they love the melody.
JH: Speaking of your daughters, how do you manage the rigors of motherhood and your music career? I know you're touring this summer, will they come with you? What do you do to take care of YOU in the midst of work and parenting and life?
SM: Some days/months are more of a struggle than others. I have big chunks of time off, though. I'm a work-at-home mom, and I can pick and choose my hours to work or do yoga or hike or go for a run. But the phones and computers are off as soon as my kids come home from school. When the record comes, things get really busy. Recently, my daughter asked why I wasn't picking her up from school anymore. I pointed out that I had picked her up every day for six years, just not the past two months. When I finish the record cycle, I have like a year where I'm just home and writing—basically a stay-at-home mom, working on my own schedule. As my daughters get older, they understand it a little better. A couple of weeks ago, I was out every night doing stuff for the album, and they understood I wasn't home at bedtime.
So now that Sarah and I are pretty much best friends forever, I've engaged in a listening spree of her new album, Shine On, which drops tomorrow. It's amazing. I don't say that as a fangirl either. I say it simply because it's that good. I already have my own favorite songs, and can see this album being played on repeat for the rest of the year. And next... and next...
You can pre-order it on iTunes or Amazon now and have your own listening party tomorrow. Also, with Mother's Day looming this weekend, you might want to grab it for the moms in your life. Feel free to tweet me your favorite Sarah song, new or old!