The Sarah McLachlan Report
(from McCall's magazine, March 2000
Millions of music lovers buy her albums for their heartbreakingly intense songs. In this McCall's exclusive, the star opens up about her painful past and the newfound happiness behind her bittersweet lyrics.
"Music saved my life," says Sarah McLachlan. "It took the pain away."
Looking at the stunning superstar, it's difficult to imagine what kind of pain she's talking about. But in high school McLachlan, 32, was an outsider with unruly hair and few friends. The only thing that made her feel better was to "sit in the auditorium by myself and play the piano."
She no longer plays to empty houses. Of McLachlan's seven albums, her 1997 effort, Surfacing, sold 6 million-plus copies, and her latest, Mirrorball, was nominated for three Grammys. (The winners had not been announced at press time.) Her slow, intense ballads are poignant backdrops for everything from feature films to soap operas. "I Will Remember You," McLachlan's farewell to a failed relationship, surfaced in The Brothers McMullen back in 1995 and is still going strong on General Hospital.
With her Winona Ryder haircut, flowing skirts and intimate stage manner, McLachlan is the antithesis of showbiz belters like another Canadian, Celine Dion. She cuts to the heart of life, singing about passion and even death. "My songs are about emotions we all experience," she says.
A Fan's Frightening Obsession
McLachlan got her break when a record executive heard the teenager singing with a band in her hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. He asked her to record a demo, but her parents, McLachlan says, "were scared about my getting involved in the music business" and vetoed the idea. A year later, in 1987, the executive offered her a contract, and this time McLachlan didn't hold back. She moved to Vancouver, and by the time she was 19 her first album, Touch, had been released to glowing praise.
Her honesty made her an icon to countless people. But the adoration hasn't always been easy to take.
"Fame is weird; to a certain degree you become public property. Ninety-nine percent of the time people walk by and say 'I love your music' and keep on walking. It's the 1 percent that stalk you."
Sadly, McLachlan learned that truth firsthand. Early in her career, a computer programmer sent her hundreds of letters and lurked near her home. She got a restraining order and chronicled the events in "Possession", a deceptively pretty number. Ironically, the stalker sued McLachlan when he recognized some of his ideas in the song. But he committed suicide in December 1994, before the case could go to trial.
In recent years McLachlan has been busy with happier matters. In 1996 she cofounded Lilith Fair, an annual all-women music festival, and married the drummer in her band, Ashwin "Ash" Sood, the following year. Her most recent project is a cookbook, Plenty. "The kitchen is the room we spend the most time in" she writes. "it's the heart of our home." In their current house in Vancouver the couple also loves the atrium, which has a 30 foot high fig tree growing inside.
"Becoming a Mom Can Wait"
McLachlan grew up in a small seaside town. Her mom, Dorice, a homemaker, and dad, Jack, a marine biologist, were strict but supportive, encouraging her love of music. "I performed at tea parties when I was four," she says. Like her two older brothers, she is adopted, and in the mid-1980's she met her birth mother. Today the women exchange an occasional letter, but the singer prefers not to discuss their relationship. "I'm extremly close to my mother and father. I consider them my parents," she says quietly.
As for her own parenting plans, McLachlan was quoted a while back as saying she wanted to get pregnant after the final Lilith Fair tour ended last summer - but she has changed her mind. "I thought having a child would slow me down," she says. "Now I've done that, and I think becoming a mom can wait."
Meanwhile, she plans to travel and to hang out at home. Will this relaxed state affect her music? "Well, I certainly hope so," she says, laughing. "As an artist you need to change and stay fresh."