Sarah McLachlan

"I think the success of Lilith got rid of some of that old-school, pig-dog mentality."

With her ethereal love hymns, doe-eyed album-cover portraits and an official fan club called Murmurs, Sarah McLachlan understands why photographers often want to take pictures of her in a forest wearing a flowered dress. But when McLachlan created last summer's Lilith Fair, a 35-city roadshow featuring more than 70 female artists, she cast aside her waifish image in favor of a new role: championing other women in the music industry. As the first all-women pop festival in history, Lilith was a grand success, outselling other tours such as Lollapalooza and H.O.R.D.E.

When we talked to her, McLachlan, a classically trained guitarist from Halifax, Nova Scotia, was on tour promoting her latest, most refined and mature album, Surfacing.

How has the music industry changed for women in 1997?
I think the success of Lilith got rid of some of that old-school, pig-dog mentality where you can't play two women back to back. Quite honestly, the state of radio has been improving, opening doors for women. But there is still a ceiling that you hit that you can't get past.

Was there any particular event or conversation that inspired you to start Lilith?
I guess it started four years ago when I was promoting Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and wanted to tour with Paula Cole. I got a lot of flak from promoters who said, "You don't want to put two women on the same bill." And I thought, "Oh, that's ridiculous." I had always had women on the same bill as me, but I'd never been at a point where it mattered. Now I was playing bigger venues and there was more money at stake, so promoters were getting very interested. This attitude came out - and it's bullshit- but I had the power and the control where I was able to say, "I'm going to play with whoever I want to." In the end we sold out practically every show.

Do you have to reassure men that you're not angry?
Only the media. Every day [on Lilith] I had people saying to me, "Do you hate men?" At some point I wanted to say, "Read your fucking press kit that you got before you came in here," you know? It did get very frustrating. I felt like I had to defend Lilith every step of the way.

Other than Lilith, what were the signal musical events of this year?
Fleetwood Mac getting back together. I grew up on Fleetwood Mac, and to see them reunited and sober, playing so well and enjoying each other's company again, is very nice.

You took a year off in I996. Why?
I came off the road and I was completely drained. I wasn't doing anything for myself anymore. I was making decisions based on what everyone else wanted and expected. It took me a while to admit that the last thing in the world I wanted to do was write, and it was OK not to for a while, to give myself a break. Once I got over that, I allowed myself to have a life. I stayed home and gardened, and we got a dog and did the domestic-bliss thing, which was very important.

In your songs, love is an all-powerful force, something to sacrifice everything for. But the life of a musician often leaves little free time. How does that work for you?
That's why I married my drummer [Ash Sood]! It's amazing. I mean, I'm needy. I'm a little older now, so I suppose I could probably handle a relationship at home, but it would still be difficult. All I can say is that I'm lucky I don't have to worry about that now.

Were you worried that getting involved with your drummer would disrupt the band?
Oh, yes. People were like, "Oh, Sarah, no." But, you know, I went out with my keyboard player before that!

You did?
Oh, yeah, I'm such a slut. But who else is there? You're on the road for two years - what do you do? You don't want to shag groupies.

Are you and that keyboardist still playing together?
No, for reasons other than the relationship breaking up.

Was it an amicable split?
Somewhat. We're still friends. Very soon after that I was getting close to Ash without any clue that there was anything remotely romantic, and then one night it just kind of happened, and I was like, "Oh, my goodness." The door swung wide open. I'm like that. I know things are going to eventually blow up in my face, but I still gotta do it. I enjoy the roller coaster too much.

You had a very disturbed fan who became obsessed with you and eventually took his own life. Has that affected the way you deal with being in public?
For a while it did. And this one person wasn't the only guy. Thankfully this is the only fellow who committed suicide, but there were a lot of letters from other people saying the same kind of thing. So for a while there I looked over my shoulder every time I walked out the door. Writing the song "Possession" [about the fan] was very therapeutic. It's funny, because almost every letter I get these days, the writer says, "I'm not one of those psycho fans." But ever since then I haven't gotten any letters that were freaky like that, which is great, because I used to get them all the time.

You've spoken about being an unpopular kid, being teased and called Medusa because of your wild hair.
Who was popular? I got over that so long ago. I've met too many of those people who were mean to me, and now I can look back as an adult and see what hell they were going through. So I have a great measure of empathy.


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