Sarah McLachlan shines on

Canadian songstress remains true to who she is through her music

  • Sep. 23, 2014 7:00 a.m.

There’s a sense of “what you see is what you get” with Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan, and you know what?

That’s a great thing.

“I feel like my public persona and private persona are pretty much the same,” she reflected during a recent phone interview from her Vancouver-area home.

That personal connection is a big part of what connects McLachlan’s reflective music with her fans.

“I write from an emotional point of view and I’m trying to tell a story, if not from personal experience, then from something I’ve witnessed. With this last record, there was plenty of fodder in my own life,” she says with an easy laugh.

The album title, Shine On, reflects McLachlan’s positive approach to life’s challenges.

“It’s a place of acceptance,” she says. “I’m a pretty light person and when I’m not, I work hard to work through that.”

Regrouping with family after the recent American leg of her Shine On tour, McLachlan kicks off the cross-Canada portion of her tour here in Victoria Oct. 18.

From deeply moving songs like “Song For My Father,” exploring her relationship with her father, who passed away in December of 2010, to the edgier “Flesh and Blood” and “Love Beside Me,” produced by Bob Rock (Metallica, Ron Sexsmith), there’s a freshness about McLachlan’s eighth studio album. Largely produced by McLachlan’s long-time collaborator Pierre Marchand, it’s the first album for new label Verve after more than 20 years with Nettwerk/Artista.

That same philosophy of adaptation has carried McLachlan through the vast changes in the music industry since her debut in 1988.

“Music and the music business is very cyclical (with) huge pendulum swings as to what’s popular,”she says. Rather than lamenting the loss of revenue from music sales, she admires artists like U2 who find innovative new ways to be successful while connecting with fans and doing what they love.

“You don’t have a choice,” she says. “I need to make a living and I make a great living (but) it’s a shift. It’s adapting. That’s one of the most fundamental things in humanity.

It helps that money was never her fundamental motivation for pursuing a music career. “I love making music,” she says simply.

When it does come time to write, McLachlan’s inspiration flows from life and humanity, particularly by people who have struggled and emerged in a positive place, she says.

In a career rich with successes, from selling 40 million albums worldwide to raising millions for charity, McLachlan recalls her first of eight Juno Awards, her first of three Grammys and being named to the Order of Canada as significant milestones, “none of which I ever expected or even sought out; they are wonderful things that just happend.”

Among such achievements, however, she is tremendously proud of her non-profit Sarah McLachlan School of Music, founded in Vancouver 13 years ago to provide free afterschool music education for at-risk and underserved kids who otherwise would have no access to music programming.

In deciding to open the school, “I looked at my own life and how much music and music education had given to me,” she says. “It’s been fantastic. It is the most rewarding thing to see these kids thrive and be part of something; that’s really special.”

Students, ranging from Grade 4 to 12 and from all walks of life come to learn and explore, “leaving their labels at the door.”

The result has been nothing short of fantastic with former students going on to study engineering, medicine, and yes, even music.

Sparked by a trip to Asia in her 20s, philanthropy has been a large part of McLachlan’s adult life, reflecting her gratitude for all she has.

“I took a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia with World Vision and that was a life-altering experience because I saw first-hand what real poverty looked like,” McLachlan reflects. “I really got the fact that here in my life, how lucky I was, and I have carried that with me ever since.”

McLachlan also founded the Lilith Fair music tour showcasing female musicians and through that has raised more than $7 million for local and national charities – not to mention also raising the profile of many female singers and musicians.

For her own Shine On tour, making Victoria the first stop made sense geographically, but it’s also familiar. She had visited her parents often after they settled in Oak Bay. (And beau Geoff Courtenall is another native son.)

After the solitude of writing and recording, McLachlan welcomes the thrill and rewards of performing live, but at 46, and mom to two young daughters, it also brings its challenges. “Touring is not an easy business (but) it’s amazing; I love it,” she says. Building her schedule around her daughters’ school schedules, the girls accompanied her for about half of her 22-state summer tour. They’ll also join her for a few weeks of the Canadian tour.

“I’m still mom,” she says. “It doesn’t matter that I’m on stage ‘til 11 o’clock. They’re a great leveller.”

Picking up her daughters from school recently, her daughters had no trouble weighing in on their mom’s choice of footwear. Her youngest told her, “‘Mom, those are rock star shoes and you are so not a rock star,’” she laughs.

“They humble me every day.”