Born on January 28, 1968, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; daughter of Jack (a marine biologist) and Dorice McLachlan; married Ashwin Sood (a drummer), February 1997; one daughter, India, born 2002. Addresses: Record company--Arista Records, 6 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019. Website--Sarah McLachlan Official Website: http://www.sarahmclachlan.com.
Sarah McLachlan knows where the best music comes from: "Sonically," she told Cover magazine's KK Kozik, "moving water is perhaps my all-time favorite sound." Water has both its aural and thematic relevance for McLachlan. "Being around any kind of water is one of the most important things in my life," she averred. "I find it soothing and it's a very female thing, too. The ocean is like the womb and I'm fascinated, drawn in." Indeed, McLachlan herself has a fluid quality; her voice is noted for its liquidity, and her lyrics and production values, for their tempest and storm.
McLachlan comes by her turbulent personality honestly. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, McLachlan led a relatively sequestered life while growing up. David Thigpen of Time reported that McLachlan was "a shy, awkward child who never fell in with the crowd." He described her as a teenager who "would kill time on long, frozen winter nights writing songs." Billboard's Timothy White provided a more complex portrayal of McLachlan's youthful existence. Her mother, Dorice, sacrificed her "own academic aspirations" in order to support her husband, Jack, an American marine biologist, and then acquainted "her little girl with the isolation that regret places in the path of personal fulfillment." But for White, the results were worth celebrating. "McLachlan was able to fuse her mother's depth of pathos and her father's detached analysis into a calm grasp of our culture's callous objectification of women," he concluded.
From the start of her career at age 19, McLachlan was compared to other female songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Sinead O'Connor, and Tori Amos, comparisons one might ascribe to what Elysa Gardner of Rolling Stone called a voice of "astonishing strength and clarity [that] may drift at any given time from a siren-like middle range to a ghostly soprano." She has remarkable range and tends toward lyrics which explore relationships between women and men.
During her childhood, McLachlan sought out the serenading voices and sentiments of folk-rock singers Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, and Simon and Garfunkel. She had 12 years of training on guitar, six on piano, and five years of voice lessons, all of which surely contributed to what White referred to as "the wit, literate grace, and unfussy intricacy of her material." As a teenager, McLachlan worked at restaurant counters and as a dishwasher in Halifax.
Critics generally agree that with McLachlan's third album, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, released in 1994, she revealed a new maturity as a singer, songwriter, and woman. Her first album, Touch, released in 1988, suggested a waif-like quality to Gardner. But her second album, Solace, in 1991, revealed a sturdier woman, one less "ethereal," one "trying to come down to earth a bit." McLachlan said of Solace, "There's a lot more of myself in my writing [there]--more the way I think, more the way I talk." Fumbling Towards Ecstasy reveals a woman with broader sensibility; her self-awareness and her melancholy meet a political consciousness.
McLachlan has referred to the relevance here of her increased self-respect and gender appreciation. She told Billboard, "It took me six years to learn how not to edit myself, to remain open in my music so that I touched greater levels of darkness as well as some positive areas of escape." When Kozik noted the "femininity" of Fumbling, McLachlan succinctly replied, "I love women. I'm fascinated by them.... I'm definitely starting to realize more of my responsibility as a woman."
While the bulk of critical response to McLachlan's music has been admiring, some criticism contained a disparaging tone. Dave Jennings of Melody Maker was dismayed by the excess of "vulnerability" he found in Solace, which while couched in nature imagery did not add up to "New Age consciousness, but really ... just old-school singer-songwriter preciousness." Similarly, Spin's Joy Press found the lyrics of Fumbling "mature with a capital M, to the point of sophomoric pseudo-profundity." Press's criticism ventured into the realm of gender. Sardonically, she concluded that McLachlan "obviously places herself in the category of the self-defined, strong, female song-writer," and that ultimately Fumbling provided only "an easy-listening portrait of a woman--a perfectly graceful, confident, and smart woman--but it's not the portrait of an artist."
Other critics, however, found in that album both an artist and a portrait of that artist. Thigpen attempted to remove the debate from the gender-biased charge of confessionalism: "Far from indulging in simple emotional bloodletting," he wrote, "McLachlan creates exquisitely poised songs that resist anger or pathos."
In Fumbling, Kozik appreciated McLachlan's newfound "desire and capacity to understand more than just herself," a departure from the concerns of Touch and Solace. McLachlan agreed. A trip to Southeast Asia in 1993, for which she represented her Canadian peer group, afforded her both disillusionment and wisdom. She admitted that she sang less about victimization and self-pity as a result of that mission, one that focused on AIDS, prostitution, and poverty, and where McLachlan saw rooms full of photographs of "thousands and thousands ... of victims, men, women, and children looking at the camera and they all died immediately thereafter.... There are all these souls trapped in this building ... such intense oppression.... I all of a sudden got so horrified with humanity and so disillusioned. How can people be so cruel.... Do we learn nothing from history? But the aftermath of that is, 'I feel so blessed.'"
Though McLachlan does not address the Cambodian situation directly in her songs, its impact can be felt. Critics imply that the garnered knowledge enriched her lyrics and music, even while both remained devoted to interpersonal relationships. Thigpen identified McLachlan's audience as "the desperately troubled," to whom she offers the suggestion "that the answers to life's emotional earthquakes can come through perseverance and compassion." Terry McBride, the president of Nettwerk Records, remarked, "There's more soul in her singing on this album. [This] record finally makes you believe that she means what she says."
Though still inspired to look outward, McLachlan insisted that her strengths as a singer and songwriter are nurtured in solitude. With Rainer Maria Rilke's self-searching philosophies at the core, in 1994 McLachlan was focused on how to reach the most of her artistic potential. With expressed gratitude toward her producer and sometime-collaborator, Pierre Marchand, and all the talking and thinking he required of her, she still remarked, "I find that to open up myself as much as I have to to get at what I need, I need to be by myself." Like the true romantic she is, McLachlan conjured images of herself walking the moors of Nova Scotia, out in the country where "everything just seemed so huge and so much bigger than I'd ever known it to be before and I got really ... high about how overwhelmingly beautiful everything was."
Fumbling lingered on the music charts for well over one year and attained multiplatinum sales. The album's hit single, "Possession," reached number 14. Likewise "Good Enough" reached number 16. McLachlan released an alternate version of Fumbling, called The Freedom Sessions, in 1995.
In 1997 she released Surfacing, which made its debut at number two. The album scored two hit singles, two Grammys, four Juno (Canadian) Awards, and earned multiplatinum sales certification. McLachlan used the momentum from the success of Surfacing to inaugurate the first Lilith Fair music festival and tour in the summer of 1997 to honor the advances of women in music. Lilith Fair met with success and earned a reprise in 1998 and again in 1999. Also in 1999, McLachlan released a live album, Mirrorball, which made its debut at number three, igniting the largest sales surge of her career. The album was recorded during McLachlan's tour in support of Surfacing in 1998.
In February of 1997 McLachlan announced that she had eloped with drummer Ashwin Sood in Negril, Jamaica. The couple set up residence in Canada in the Dunbar District of Vancouver, British Columbia. McLachlan, who won a Grammy Award for her 2000 song, "When She Loved Me" from Toy Story 2, was featured among the all-star lineup of "Music Without Borders," which aired on Canadian television and radio stations on September 29, 2001, to benefit the victims of the September 11th terrorist attack on the United States.
McLachlan's ensuing release, Remixed, made its debut at the top of the Billboard Top Electronic Albums chart in 2003. That same year, after giving birth to a daughter, India, McLachlan turned to the peaceful retreat of a cabin in the woods. There, while caring for her new baby, she completed an all-new album. The recording, Afterglow, won Juno awards for songwriter of the year and for pop album of the year. One year later she released a live version of the album, recorded on tour following the release of the original disc.
by Diane Moroff
Sarah McLachlan's Career
Trained in classical guitar, piano, and voice; discovered by Nettwerk Records while performing with a New Wave band in Halifax; signed a contract with Nettwerk at age 19; moved to Vancouver; released debut album, Touch, Nettwerk, 1988; contributed "Hold On" to No Alternative compilation, 1993; featured on American Public Radio's "E-Town," 1994; released Surfacing, 1997; released live album Mirrorball, 1999; released Afterglow,2003; released Afterglow Live, 2004.
Sarah McLachlan's Awards
Grammy Awards, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Building a Mystery" and Best Pop Instrumental Performance for "Last Dance," 1998; Elizabeth Cady Stanton Visionary Award from New York Governor George E. Pataki, 1998; Juno Awards, Album of the Year for Surfacing and Female Vocalist of the Year, Single of the Year, and Songwriter of the Year for "Building a Mystery," 1998; Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) Award for Most Performed Pop Songs for "Adia" and "Sweet Surrender," 1998; Billboard Award, Adult Contemporary Track for "Angel," 1999; Grammy Award, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "I Will Remember You," 1999; Grammy Award, Best Song Written for a Motion Picture for "When She Loved Me" from Toy Story 2, 2000; Juno Award for International Achievement, 2000; songwriter of the year and pop album of the year, Juno Awards, 2004.
- Selected discography
- Touch , Nettwerk, 1988.
- Solace , Arista, 1991.
- (Contributor) No Alternative , Arista, 1993.
- Fumbling Towards Ecstasy , Arista, 1994.
- The Freedom Sessions (multimedia CD-ROM), Nettwerk, 1994; BMG/Arista, 1995.
- Rarities, B-Sides, and Other Stuff , Nettwerk, 1996.
- Surfacing (includes "Building a Mystery" and "Sweet Surrender"), BMG/Arista, 1997.
- Mirrorball , BMG/Arista, 1999.
- Remixed , BMG/Arista, 2003 (re-released, Arista).
- Afterglow , Arista, 2003.
- Afterglow Live , Arista, 2004.
- Billboard, January 8, 1994; March 19, 1994.
- Cover, March 1994.
- Melody Maker, June 13, 1992.
- People, November 10, 2003, p. 56.
- Rolling Stone, February 6, 1992; June 16, 1994.
- Spin, March 1994.
- Stereo Review, August 1989.
- Time, March 21, 1994.
- "Sarah McLachlan," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 26, 2001).
- Sarah McLachlan Official Website, http://www.sarahmclachlan.com (September 26, 2001).
- "Star! to Air 'Music Without Borders,'" Star!, http://www.star-tv.com/news/index.asp?thisArticle=252 (September 26, 2001).
- Additional information was obtained from Arista publicity materials, 1994.