[the sea of waking dreams]

SARAH MCLACHLAN: Fumbling Toward Equality

Sunday, February 21, 1999

After two years building herself and Lilith Fair into the globally recognized brand name for quality music by women, pop powerhouse Sarah McLachlan is about to take a long vacation.

"We're going to do one more year, this summer, and then we're going to retire it for a while." Don't look for a new McLachlan album to come out during the Lilith hiatus either. A follow-up to her GRAMMY-winning album Surfacing (she's nominated again this year for "Adia," a track from that album) isn't in the immediate pipeline. "I don't know, maybe in four or five years," she says lightly.

If her sudden semi-seclusion seems surprising, it's par for McLachlan's course. As an artist, she has consistently bucked conventional wisdom and then waited for the world to catch up. All one has to do is tune in a Top 40 format station or take a look at his year's roster of GRAMMY nominees to understand what McLachlan instinctively knew. There is a huge audience eager to listen to women's voices.

Does McLachlan think the success of Lilith had anything to do with that? "Well, I don't think Lilith Fair hurt," she laughs. "But it's kinda like asking what came first, the chicken or the egg. There have always been a lot of amazing women artists out there making music, and Lilith Fair could not have happened if it weren't for independent people gaining recognition on their own."

But she will own that Lilith impacted certain more mercantile attitudes toward women in music. Like those who make radio programming decisions, for example. "Radio people would never think not to put Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden back to back," she says, referring to the resistance many stations had to playing two women artists in the same set. And while she'll cop to naivete, that kind of resistance surprised her.

"You know, maybe I live in a bubble, obviously I do," McLachlan says. "But I feel very lucky. The people I hang out with, in this life that I have chosen, don't have those ideas and values. So when I come across it, it's kinda shocking to me."

Some of the flak she's taken for the perception that men are being denied membership in the Lilith club also surprises her. "It really opened my eyes to how sexist a lot of the world still is, because there was so much negative feedback," McLachlan says. "I was amazed by how threatened certain people felt."

But the flak won't persuade McLachlan to headline men at Lilith. "Absolutely not. Absolutely not," she says, sounding very decided, and slightly annoyed. She's clearly tired of being asked the question. "Lilith Fair is a celebration of women in music, and I don't think that will change."

Like her music, McLachlan's next project will be highly personal, created in close collaboration with husband drummer Ashwin Sood. "I'm going to have kids."

-Leigh Bailey

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