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Sarah McLachlan: Creativity and Consistency

Posted in MusicWorld on March 3, 2004 by

In a music world increasingly defined by what-have-you-done-for-me-latelys -- performers who hit with a single and then vanish, seemingly overnight -- the career of Sarah McLachlan stands out both for its creativity and its consistency. Few acts, after all, could risk a span of six years between studio albums and expect accolades upon their return … yet that’s just what McLachlan has accomplished with Afterglow (Arista), which quickly went platinum and has become a Top 20 mainstay in the album charts.

"A lot of these songs are about transition," she says, "the turning over of the rock, what's underneath, the murky, shadowy uncertainty where everything looks very different."

The intervening years were challenging, to say the least: McLachlan lost Her mother to cancer and, shortly thereafter, became a mother herself. " It's still all a blur to me -- it has less to do with the album tracks and more to do with my recent state of mind," she says. "I'm sure in five or six years there's going to be a record about all of this, but it's too close right now."

The changes in her life resulted in a new approach to songwriting: Forsaking her standard approach of writing on guitar, McLachlan composed all 10 of Afterglow ’s tracks on piano. "I used to go live in a cabin in the woods for eight months and write and write and write," she adds. "Now, spending time with [daughter] India means that I have two hours in the day where I'm not focused on her, yet even then my focus is continually being brought back to her. All of my old tricks didn't apply anymore in songwriting, and I really had to find that new way."

Created over a two-year period, the material on Afterglow retains McLachlan’s trademark lush production and emotive lyrics, adding a fresh, more mature introspection. From lead single, "Fallen," to the whispered tones of "Answer," McLachlan mines a rich vein of material that seems to hold endless opportunities for further exploration.

McLachlan’s philanthropy has also continued. Most famous for masterminding the Lilith Fair festivals, she also maintains the Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach Program, which provides free music education classes to inner-city youths affected by budget cuts. "It feels so good to be able to see their lives impacted, and I'm the first one at the recitals giving them a standing ovation," she enthuses. "There's hardly any joy comparable."

Looking forward to a summer tour, McLachlan says, "Taking a break and walking away was the best thing I could have done. It brought me to a much happier place, and I'm loving music again."