Sarah McLachlan sings about divorce, father's death in new CD
Sarah McLachlan performs at the ELLE 5th annual Women In Music concert celebration at the Avalon Hollywood on Tuesday, April 22, 2014, in Los Angeles (Chris Pizzello / Invision)
Nick Patch, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, May 1, 2014 2:47PM EDT
TORONTO -- When she began assembling new songs for "Shine On," Sarah McLachlan made a concerted effort to let a little light peek in after issuing her most dramatically overcast record yet, 2010's "Laws of Illusion."
And to her mind, she succeeded. She can point to the strummy country groove of "Monsters" or layered first single "In Your Shoes" or even the jangly "Flesh and Blood," which she says is "so fun to sing."
But old habits don't usually die completely, and -- for those eagerly awaiting her new record's Tuesday release -- rest assured McLachlan is still the empress of ethereal heartbreak.
"Of course, there's always the dark side that keeps pulling me back, that I love so much," McLachlan said in a recent telephone interview. "All those achingly, painfully beautiful bits of music are still kind of my favourite."
Well, it wasn't forced -- unfortunately, McLachlan had plenty of personal trauma from which to draw.
There was her much-publicized split from drummer Ashwin Sood, her husband of 11 years with whom she shares two daughters. Then in December 2010, her adoptive father, Jack, died.
"It comes in waves," she said. "He passed around the same time as I separated from my husband and I separated from my management company. It was a huge, huge shift. All the male anchors floating away around the same time.
"And it really left me with a feeling of, as I speak to in song, what do I do now? How do I begin to move forward? How do I define myself?
"I wanted to speak of being ... rudderless. And wishing and hoping to find something that will help ground me again."
Although she prodded the still-tender wounds from her divorce on "Laws of Illusion," it took longer for McLachlan to confront her father's death.
McLachlan needed these past years, she said, to "recognize what (she) had lost."
A mournful three-song suite in the album's mid-section addresses that void. On the plaintive piano amble "Broken Heart," she yearns for her father to "see me trying to live up to my name." "Surrender and Certainty," another placid piano dirge," finds McLachlan again searching: "You were the star by which I light my way/ So how do I find my way now?"
Finally, "Song For My Father" is a straight dedication to her dad, who was a biologist. She describes his "constant unwavering heart," positing her late dad as the cool-headed counterpart who always stood as a comfort when her "world had come undone."
"That was the most profound thing with him -- I just knew that no matter what I did or said, he would always be there to support me," she said. "And having that anchor, that person who offers unconditional love, you don't get that very often. And I think it was after he was gone that I really recognized the weight of that and the beauty of that.
"I could always go to him. I didn't that often, because I'm kind of stoic and I try to handle things on my own and I didn't want to worry him. But if ever I did need anything ... he would be there in a second."
If all of "Shine On" was devoted to a daughter eulogizing her beloved father, McLachlan might not have delivered on her promise of inching away from forlorn ballads.
But the past four years have had their positive moments for the 46-year-old. In the liner notes, she writes: "To Geoff, who showed me how wonderful it is to love again."
Indeed, much of the record finds McLachlan either gingerly navigating romance with the weary eye of the wounded ("Love Beside Me" and "What's It Gonna Take") or, more often, simply exalting in the rush of new love ("Flesh and Blood," "Brink of Destruction" and "The Sound That Love Makes").
Although the latter category has been fruitful fodder for pop songs as long as the genre has existed, it's the former themes that McLachlan felt were particularly rich.
"I'm a survivor. I survive and endure. That was the idea behind the album title," she said. "It's a poignant story I share with a lot of my friends. We're in the second half of our lives now. It's kind of the time where you really assess where your life has been and how you want the rest of it to look. For me and the people I know and care about, we all want to live every day as best we can, with as much passion and integrity as we can, and shine. I don't want to just be."
It's a sentiment she's confident will resonate with her fanbase.
"Look at how many people are getting divorced. Look at how many relationships fail. We don't get to this age unscathed," she said.
"It's certainly the subject of my life, where I'm at now, where I've come from, and where many of my friends are as well. It's just all the struggles ... and how we move through them I find endlessly fascinating."
"Shine On" will be McLachlan's first release on the David Foster-run Verve Records in the U.S.; she left Nettwerk/Arista after more than 20 years (the album is being released by Universal in Canada).
Although "Laws of Illusion" couldn't match her platinum-stacking commercial heyday of 20 years ago -- when 1997's "Surfacing" went diamond in Canada, and hits "Afterglow" and "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" each went five times platinum -- McLachlan makes the convincing case that she's never paid much attention to the charts.
(Though she acknowledges she was perturbed by the recent suggestion that "Shine On" represented her "comeback," saying with a laugh: "I didn't realize I went anywhere.")
She's already deemed the "labour of love" album a success regardless of its sales. Well, she can't necessarily rely on her two daughters for creative validation. Approaching seven and 12 years old, the girls have arrived at an age where they have opinions on McLachlan's work and they're not always positive.
They do love "Monsters" and "Beautiful Girl," McLachlan says. But over time, her new material began to feel a little old to those closest to her.
"On occasion, it's like: 'Oh my God do I really have to listen to this again?"' she recalled, laughing. "I actually haven't played them that much of it, because after a while I didn't want to hear their complaints. I started listening on headphones, to tell you the truth, or when they weren't around.
"I saved them from the pain."