Sarah McLachlan is part of a singer/songwriter genre that's been sadly underrepresented in mainstream music over the past 20 years. Still, standing almost alone in that spotlight, McLachlan is a starkly original and devastatingly real artist. Her melodies are fluid and powerful, her lyrics poignant and vulnerable, and her devotees—referred to as "Murmurs" (think "Deadheads" meet the Ani Difranco uterine army)—are transfixed by both the sounds they hear and the enigmatic woman who creates them. And in person—albeit over the phone—she's as authentic as her confessional songs, and infinitely funnier than we could make apparent here.
OC Weekly: Your music is so richly layered and complex—where does a song start for you?
Sarah McLachlan: It's like putting pieces together in a puzzle. And it usually takes months—sometimes six or seven. "Answer" [from her new album, Afterglow] is a great example of that—the chorus on that is 12 years old and from another song. I filed it away and thought someday I would revisit it and it would make more sense. Then, for whatever reason, I stuck the old chorus and new verses together one day in front of my producer, and he was gleeful! And I thought, "No, no, this can't work—they mean the exact opposite!" But somehow he convinced me it was right, and now I love that song.
That's a really classic way to write a song—like a craftsman. It seems like modern musicians chug a six-pack of beer and then spew out whatever is in their heads.
Oh, there has been that; too! [laughs] But it wouldn't be a six-pack; it'd be a bottle of wine.
Oh, yeah? Which song is your "bottle-of-wine song"?
Actually, for "Dirty Little Secret," I was fairly inebriated—if I remember correctly. It was only two glasses, though—I'm a cheap drunk!
What about the inspiration for your first big U.S. hit, "Possession"? I've heard those lyrics were actually from a stalker fan letter you received.
Well, that's true in part. I'd get letters from people who would say my songs spoke to them personally—which is great—but to them, that meant we had to be together—which is not so great! There was one man who was really convinced we should be together, and he ended up suing me, saying I had taken those lyrics directly from his letters.
Are you as melancholy as some of your music indicates?
Well, I can be pretty maudlin at times, too. And I don't like being that way, so songwriting helps me through that. I'm basically a really happy person, but we all have shit that happens to us that depresses us.
And then there's that weird dark place that you fall into, but you don't know why, and you can't think of one good reason to be depressed, but you are.
Yes! That's the worst. I don't know about you, but I'm really mean to myself. My husband just looks at me and shakes his head like, "Why do you let yourself get sucked down this cesspool?" Sometimes you just do.
Are you going to do a Return of Lilith Fair? There are a lot of women who are in a dark place because there's no more Lilith.
[laughs] No. It's highly unlikely I'll do it again.
There are also a lot of lesbians who were really bummed you got married—although I'm sure deep down inside they're happy for you. Kinda.
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[laughs] You know, it's so funny when you hear about a lot of pop celebrities—not that I'm putting myself in that category—but a lot of them are married, and it used to be they wouldn't let anybody know because it would ruin their image.
Well, the lesbians still love you. They're faithful gals.
Oh, excellent! I love my gay-and-lesbian fan base!
Sarah McLachlan performs at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 704-2500; www.arrowheadpond.com. Tues., 7:30 p.m. $45-$65. All ages.