SARAH McLACHLAN ON WORLD CAFEMarch 1994
Interviewer: Sarah joins us in the studios. Welcome.
Sarah McLachlan: Hi.
I: "Wait" is a track we've been playing. What's this song about?
SM: It's sort of about loss of innocence and the feeling that for every generation, with every generation, there is a group of individuals who will go outside of the norm and outside of society. We'll be the outcasts, and we'll try to make a difference. But it seems, eventually, they all get sucked back in, or they lose their minds completely, so it was kind of a sad thing for me. But I still have that idealism.
I: Thank God!
SM: Yeah, I've gotta have it.
I: If you could do that song, it would be great - the acoustic version.
SM: Yeah, sure.
[Sarah plays a solo acoustic version of "Wait" on guitar.]
I: Hard to believe that when you were signed, your record company knew you could sing and knew you could play, but had no idea you could write.
SM: Blind faith, I call it (laughs). I'm amazed. The longer I'm in the industry, and the more horror stories I hear about how artists sort of get eaten up, whether they know what they're doing or not. I mean, I was so lucky for Nettwerk to find me and give me that opportunity.
I: A lot of your songs are not real specific, but there's one song on this new record, "Good Enough," that seems to have a couple of specific touch points, things that happen.
SM: Yeah, in the past, my songs have been pretty ambiguous and vague.
I: That's what I was trying to say (earlier).
SM: I've gone through a lot of emotions and different types of things within every song, because usually I'd spend four to six months writing them. Like I said before, they (the songs on FTE) came out really cohesively.
"Good Enough" is one of those songs that came out in almost a day, and I don't really know where it came from. I know now, but when it happened, it just sort of came out. It was a song about my mother, in one sense. It was also inspired by another singer/songwriter in Canada called Jane Siberry. She is going around, doing these "this is not a concert" concert kind of thing, where she shows her videos and she does spoken story and stuff. One of her stories was aimed at her mother and their relationship.
I don't know quite what grasp I had on it, except that it affected me tremendously, of the relationship that she had with her mother and the women of my mother's and her mother's generation who were so completely out of touch with their bodies and who did not really have any friends to talk to about anything. I have amazing female friends and this is another thing about where the song came from. I can say anything to them and I trust them to be able to say these things to and to talk about it and work things out. My mother's generation is of, "Oh, let's just not talk about it." So I wrote that song for her, on the perspective of, "I'm not just the daughter anymore. I want to be your friend now."
I: If you could do that one, that's one of my favorite songs.
["Good Enough" on acoustic guitar]
I: Sarah McLachlan is our guest. That's "Good Enough." It's helpful to hear you talk about that song before you hear it because you can see a lot of different things in it.
SM: Well, I write that way for a reason, too, because I want people to relate it to their own lives, and as much as I do write from a very personal and emotional point of view, I also need to save a bit of it for myself, for my privacy. I can only give out so much, thus the ambiguity.
I: That makes sense. Now you're originally from Halifax, and I learned something today that I didn't realize. If you're from Halifax, you are indeed a Haligonian?
SM: Haligonian. Bluenoser. There's a number of them (laughs).
I: You've moved to the other side of Canada. You're in Vancouver, which seems like a great city. What's Vancouver like? Is there a music scene?
SM: There's a pretty diverse musical culture happening. I mean, there's a lot of blues, a lot of R&B, a lot of jazz, a lot of industrial/alternative type of bands that have been there a number of years. Then of course, there's Nettwerk which is sort of this in-house thing. They've got all sorts of different kinds of acts. It's really nice, especially within Nettwerk. All the bands know each other, and we use each other from time to time, musically and stuff. So it's kind of a big family out there and of course it's beautiful.
There are mountains and ocean. It's still relatively - I say relatively - unpolluted. It's getting bad, but it's a big city, and it's getting incredibly bigger every year. There's a huge influx of people coming from all over the place. Everywhere else in Canada is depressed, and so they're all coming to Vancouver because there's work. It's filling up really quickly.
I: One of my favourite songs is "Ice." I don't quite know what question to ask about it, except that I really like it. Would you like to do it?
SM: Yes, this is "Ice."
[same arrangement as the last two songs]
I: That's "Ice" from our guest, Sarah McLachlan. Another one from "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy." Who came up with that title? It's a wonderful phrase.
SM: I've been trying to use those words. They came to me at first in a different configuration, from a Wilfred S. Owens poem called "Dulce Et Decorum Est" He was a war poet, and he was describing the soldiers in the field who were getting gassed. For some reason, I just fell in love with his poems, I guess, because they were so beautiful, but they were talking about something so horrible. The way he melded the two things together, two complete opposites, and made it so beautiful.
I was a total romantic to this guy. He was talking about the ecstasy in fumbling. They were in ecstasy of fumbling as they tried to fit on the masks, so they wouldn't die. He was watching people not make it and fall, and that little phrase stayed with me all these years.
I think I first heard it in the ninth grade. I've always wanted to use it, but "in ecstasy of fumbling" or "fumbling towards ecstasy," how to fit that into a song. I thought, "Wow! What a simple, beautiful metaphor for my life, for what I'm trying to do." I mean, you can put in place of "ecstasy" any adjective, whether it's inner peace or nirvana or whatever. I'm definitely trying to reach that and being human and making mistakes, which I think is one of the greatest learning things that I have.
There are mistakes all over the record, and another interesting thing for me is that there are mistakes and we tried to take them out, but I realized that the mistakes were what made it wonderful. They were what made it unpolished and human, and it just seemed like a perfect title, and like I said, I always wanted to use those words. Another great thing is that it made people laugh. When I told Arista, they laughed and they said, "Yeah, sure!" And I'm like, "No, really!"
It's nice because people would laugh and go, "Oh, right on!" The past two records, "Touch" and "Solace," have been very melancholy and dark. I really wanted to get away from that because, as a human being, I've always strived for happiness, but I really feel like on this album, there are places and moments where you can see that. I wanted to dispel that depressed myth.
I: Boy, I can't wait for the title of the next one! It'll be even more ecstatic. Thanks a lot for coming by.
SM: My pleasure. Thanks for having me again.
I: Sarah McLachlan, our guest. We'll be back in a moment on World Cafe.