Winter Songbird


Winter Song Bird
After three years out of the studio, Sarah McLachlan resurfaces with a message of joy and peace
 

Staying power in the world of pop music is a tricky thing. Some have to resort to a constant state of reinvention to stay in the game (Madge, anyone?), some make their mark by pairing up with the trendiest producers to “keep it real with the kids” and some even have to resort to tabloid scandals to keep their heads—and hits—afloat. None of the above applies to Canadian music superstar Sarah McLachlan. Almost two decades in the biz and McLachlan chooses to work on projects she is wholeheartedly and passionately invested in rather than getting involved with the latest musical trend of the moment just because it’s hot. Take one listen to her new Wintersong album—the Vancouver-based singer-songwriter’s first studio album in three years—and you can tell McLachlan’s got a far more spiritual and sophisticated take on the holly-and-ivy time of year than most.

A holiday disc of a very different sort, Wintersong gathers together Canadian cold-weather classics (Joni Mitchell’s “River,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter’s Night”), heart-rending traditional tunes (“What Child Is This?”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”) and more, including McLachlan’s gorgeous original title track, all delivered in the songstress’s superlative serpentine voice.

 

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“I didn’t want the schlock of Christmas,” says McLachlan over the phone from her home. “I didn’t want to do ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’ I wanted to do a record that wasn’t so much about Christmas as it was about [capturing] the spirit of the season and a sense of nostalgia. For me, this time of year carries a sense of loss as well because I lost my mom right before Christmas.” McLachlan’s sense of midwinter melancholy is at least partly based on the fact that her mother passed away from lung cancer in 2001, but she’s all too aware that her experience of the season is one shared by many.

As she explains it, “People come together for five days a year and are expected to exist as a normal family. OK, let’s open up Pandora’s box! The sense of loss is so prevalent for many people around Christmas, and that’s part of what I’m drawn to: sad songs that make me feel and bring me to my emotions—not so I can wallow in them but so I can move past them and connect with other people who experience them. One of the best things about music is that it reminds me I’m not alone.”

Finding solace in music in times of sadness and alienation is something McLachlan has done since she can remember. Growing up in Halifax, she was dubbed “Medusa.” It was when she turned to the new-wave scene’s stylish synth-pop romantics that she found kindred spirits.

 

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“I was more into the fashion than the music,” she admits. “Oh, there were a few awful moments. I can’t remember if it was when I was into new wave or punk, but when I was 17 years old, I unknowingly beat out Billy Ray Cyrus [for bad hair]. I had really long hair and I shaved the top of it but left the rest long because I couldn’t quite commit. I have the pictures to prove it.” Though her love affair with new-wave style was “fleeting” (“My true passion lay in singer-songwriters”), it was through her initial experimentation within that genre that McLachlan first got discovered as a solo artist.

From her first album, 1988’s soaring Touch, through the stark beat-driven soundscapes of 1993’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy to the heartbreaker anthems on 1997’s Surfacing, McLachlan soon experimented her way into becoming one of Canada’s biggest international pop stars. With eight Juno awards, three Grammys and a recent induction into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcast Hall of Fame, McLachlan has built up an ardent fan base by connecting with listeners’ deepest feelings.

 

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Her teen-angst days may be a distant memory now that McLachlan’s settled into a life she never could’ve imagined during her awkward Halifax youth. With millions in record sales behind her, she’s now a happily married working mom (she wed her best friend/longtime drummer, Ashwin Sood, in 1997, and they had their daughter, India, in 2002).

Still, McLachlan’s managed to sustain a thriving career where so many of her Women & Songs peers have faltered for two crucial reasons: as a songwriter, she doesn’t shy away from raw emotional honesty, and she refuses to compromise her personal values for the sake of her career. “I do think I do things for selfish reasons,” she says. “I don’t have a contract where I have to put out a record every two years. And after the hell of my second record, I stopped working with a [certain] American A&R [artists and repertoire] rep. I remember him saying I needed to give him singles, that liking the record wasn’t the point. “My career has been a slow, steady rise, due largely to the fact that we toured and toured to build up a strong fan base. Those are the best and most loyal fans you get.”

To read the entire article, pick up your January 2007 issue of FLARE – on newsstands now!

 

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