Q&A: Sarah McLachlan
Songstress Sarah McLachlan hit the road last weekend for what she is hoping will be a powerful symphonic showcase of her catalog. That brief, nine-stop tour already played several venues in her native Canada before crossing the border into Vermont and moving into the U.S. leg.
Accompanied by four of her regular bandmates -- keyboardist Vince Jones, guitarist Luke Doucet, multi-instrumentalist and harmony singer Melissa McClelland, and drummer Curt Bisquera -- McLachlan will utilize the services of several symphony orchestras over the balance of her jaunt, which wraps up July 8 in Atlantic City, NJ.
After admitting to a very negative experience performing some years ago with a symphony in Italy, McLachlan has been satisfied to tour with her own band, as well as with a host of friends and musical collaborators during the 2010 Lilith Fair revival.
But after a trio of highly successful symphony-backed shows last year at Red Rocks Amphitheatre with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, at the Hollywood Bowl, and at MusicFest Vancouver, McLachlan was ready to bring her fans and audiences who have never seen her perform a larger and more musically complex experience.
According to early reviews, the two-set concert employs the magic and spectacle of her backing symphony on songs like "Building a Mystery," "Fallen," "Hold On," "Fear," "Good Enough" and "Sweet Surrender."
In a recent telephone interview, which took place while she was driving between home and her namesake school of music in Vancouver, British Columbia, McLachlan talked briefly about the mechanics of putting together a show that multiplies her normal backing act tenfold, and how she is continuing her mission to support music education for marginalized students, as well as being an attentive mom to her two daughters, who are 5 and 10.
SoundSpike: So I get to ride along with you while you're heading to your daughter's end-of-school-year ceremony?
Sarah McLachlan: Yes, as a matter of fact I'm getting in the car right now to go to my daughter's graduation, so hold on while I connect my bluetooth -- ok we're good to go, I'm driving now.
I guess I owe you a big thank you for helping with my music education because you have introduced me to dozens of musicians and songwriters I may have never heard of otherwise, and several who are among my favorites as a result of seeing them on Lilith Fair.
I feel the same way. It was an education for me as well because I got to see so many artists I had never heard before, or if I had it was as a fan. You know, as a touring musician, you don't get to see the people that you really love because you're always missing them by a day or two if you're touring at the same time. And when you're home, they're not around.
At the same time, it's quite amazing -- and must be very humbling to know you've generated close to $10 million for local and national charities just from the Lilith effort.
That was one of the most rewarding elements of the tours: being able to give back to every city that hosted us on Lilith Tour.
Let's switch to the immediate. Inquiring minds have been wondering what your new tour will offer. Is it going to be you backed by the symphony, a little of you with your band?
It's going to be some of both. Some of the songs the symphony augments and others the symphony is my band. On a lot of songs, the arrangements are similar [to what people hear with my band] and the symphony is there for accent -- although it is a huge band. Then we've taken some songs, like "Sweet Surrender," and completely re-arranged them.
How do you take such a popular and familiar hit and rearrange it in a way that will be embraced by your biggest fans?
We've brought it back to its original form, which was a ballad. I got to work very closely with Sean O'Loughlin, who arranged most of the compositions and created something really neat for that one. The ballads for me are the most expressive songs of the show -- where they really shine and take the material in a cinematic direction.
How do you go about preparing for a tour like this?
(laughing) It's sort of like going into a vortex. The last week before we leave on tour brings the culmination and tying up of so many loose ends. At the same time it's both my daughters' last week of school. I have this free music school here in Vancouver that I've been supporting for the past 10 years, and last week we had something every night with all our year-end performances with every discipline represented. And I've had to attend a couple of donor dinners as well to thank the people who have given us money, so I'm wearing all these different hats.
Well I hope you get a nice break after the tour wraps up in a couple of weeks.
Well, not exactly because I'm putting on a huge benefit concert here in our city park on the 15th of September. that's also in support of my music school. So we're going to be putting the finishing touches on that, getting everything squared away.
For the tour, are you trucking around the same orchestra for the duration or hosting a different symphony in each location?
Some of the orchestras are hubbing -- the same orchestra for four or five shows in certain markets. That being said, last year I did several shows with three different orchestras and they were all fantastic. I mean, these musicians are incredibly professional, they know what they are doing, and when they get in there, they play exactly what's on the paper and do a wonderful job of it. The consistency that we do have is Sean, who is the conductor for the entire tour.
Do you have the opportunity to tweak aspects -- adding an oboe here or a harp there -- as you go?
We actually did most of the tweaking last year on those four symphony shows. And that did happen. There were a couple of parts where there were a few notes off, or an element that we thought might sound better with a different instrument, or one that I always wished was there in the original arrangement. So I think we've fine tuned as much as we can. That said, we are doing a few new songs that we'll basically have one day to rehearse. So we'll see how it sounds and make any changes on the fly. Sean is really good about that, making changes I bring to him on the fly so to speak.
Will you be digging out any long-lost album cuts or fan favorites you haven't played in a long time, or maybe never played live before?
When I put this show together I tried to remember what songs I thought people liked best -- what moves people to come back and write to me or tell me are the ones that they like better than anything else.
Will there be a recorded or videotaped product coming out of this tour?
That would be wonderful, but there's nothing in the plans right now. It's quite an expensive and tricky process, apparently, to do that with a whole orchestra, so there's no plans as of yet to do that. Although I certainly would love to do that.
Is there anything happening on the songwriting front? Any time to create some new Sarah McLachlan material?
Absolutely. I spent most of the winter trying to write, with a modicum of success. I have to be careful about putting too much pressure on myself because when that happens, I find it doesn't get me anywhere. It got to the point where I was starting to make myself sick, so I finally just let go. I'm not going to kill myself trying to get [a new album] done. It has to happen naturally. I do try to set aside time every day just to play the piano just for the love of playing it. But that's usually when something starts happening, but lately I've been pretty manic.