Crosby Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, the Doors, the Eagles, all became his friends and subjects.
This week, Grammy winning singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan releases “Shine On,” her eighth studio album and her first in four years.
There are songs that address the loss of her father, who died of cancer in 2010, as well as the joy of discovering new love following her divorce in 2008.
As she tells Here & Now’s Robin Young, “the songs are a reflection of the past six years, little postcards of stories of where I was at emotionally.”
Sarah McLachlan also wants to address people’s misconceptions about her, in part due to her ASPCA commercials.
“It’s funny because people assume I’m such a Debbie Downer, and I live in the dark, with candles and write poetry. But I’m really a pretty happy person.”
On the experiences that inspired “Shine On”
“Lots of changes — I’m not necessarily discussing those in the songs so much, but the passing of my father — there’s a bunch of songs in there for him, about him. There’s also a lot of songs about parenting, and the terrors and joys of that as well. And also, of hope — of the possibility of new love.”
“I look at life as a constant evolution, and my goal is to suck the marrow out of every single day, and every day is a new opportunity to begin again. That’s sort of why I wanted to call this record ‘Shine On’ — the songs are sort of a reflection of the last six years, little postcards of stories of where I was at emotionally. So I was ready to finish the songs, ready to put it out there to the world.”
On the song she wrote in honor of her father
“It reminds me of him. I mean, I wrote it as an homage to him, to what he meant to me, and I got to understand what he was for me after he was gone, which is a little bit sad as well, although I feel like I did get to tell him everything, and I had the luxury of spending most of the last 18 months of his life with him, because I was home and not working. So just being with him and spending time with him and getting to say everything I wanted to say was a real gift. And also the recognition of that unconditional love, and understanding that rarely happens, and there’s very few people in life who you can depend upon in that way, and that I was now that person for my two daughters.”
On her ASPCA PSA
“It’s heart-wrenching, but you know, that ad raised generated over $30 million for the ASPCA, even though it’s incredibly — I can’t watch it! I turn the channel! I can’t take it, it’s painful, but I guess that’s why it works so well… I love being able to help.”
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW. Sarah McLachlan has a new release. I'll pause here for shouts of joy. It's her eighth. It's called "Shine On," and here's the first track, "In Your Shoes."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN YOUR SHOES")
SARAH MCLACHLAN: (Singing) You let it all disappear, push back the doubt and fear. They You let it all disappear push back the doubt and fear they try, try to hold your head under the waves, but you're breathing all the same. You are stronger than the hate.
YOUNG: This song is an anthem to laying down footprints, walking in your own shoes. It's dedicated to Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani activist who survived a shooting, but maybe the whole work is about trying to follow the footprints left by someone else. Sarah McLachlan's father died in 2010. There are at least two songs dedicated to him.
She had other setbacks. Her Lilith Fair revival failed. She made some tough business changes. But she found a new love, former NHL star Geoff Courtnall. Let's catch up with Sarah McLachlan. She's out with her first work in four years and joins us from the NPR studios in New York. Welcome.
MCLACHLAN: Thank you.
YOUNG: How are you?
MCLACHLAN: I am fantastic, thanks. It's great to be here.
YOUNG: Well judging by the CD that would be true, but it's been sort of a rough six years, a divorce from your husband, Ashwin Sood. You have two children.
MCLACHLAN: Separated from my management and record company of 24 years, lost my father. All those male anchors, bye-bye, yeah, all at once.
YOUNG: You know the list. Why am I telling you?
MCLACHLAN: Yeah, lots of changes. I'm not necessarily discussing those in the songs so much, but the passing of my father, there's a bunch of songs in there for him, about him. There's also a lot of songs about parenting and the terrors and joys of that as well, and also of hope, of the possibility of new love.
YOUNG: Is "Brink of Destruction" something that reflects this new place, this new love?
MCLACHLAN: Yes, absolutely.
YOUNG: What a title.
MCLACHLAN: It - "Coming Through Slaughter" had already been used.
MCLACHLAN: Do you know that Michael Ondaatje book?
MCLACHLAN: Yes, just, I love that title. I just think I actually abuse that phrase too much, but I think, you know, myself and my partner, we've both gone through so much. He's gone through way more than I have. And to be able to come out on the other side and recognize that there is hope and the possibility to have love in your life again like that, it's a wondrous thing after being in the dark for so long.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRINK OF DESTRUCTION")
MCLACHLAN: (Singing) Storms come I learned to be strong. I don't lean on anyone else. Now I'm so content here in your arms. I don't want to be anywhere else. With you I'm home. With you I'm home.
YOUNG: It's pulling back from the brink of destruction. It's not describing your love.
MCLACHLAN: Exactly. It's - you know, I like to, of course as you know, bring in a little bit of darkness, and I like that, you know, we talk about coming back from the brink of destruction, you're right. And obviously I'm a huge proponent of love. Love is a many splendored thing. It's incredible. The opportunity of new discovery of that has made a profound impact.
YOUNG: Boy do you ever sing about that in "Flesh and Blood."
YOUNG: It's just, it's just...
YOUNG: Back away from your radios, people, and let's just listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLESH AND BLOOD")
MCLACHLAN: (Singing) Logic escapes me and I can't breathe 'cause you burn to my bones like you're all I've ever known. Let thunder crash, let rivers flood, if all we are is flesh and blood.
YOUNG: So there's hope, there's new love, but there is this terrible loss. I think we're ready to hear the song for your father.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
MCLACHLAN: (Singing) I wish that I could tell you it's to you that I will run. You were the place that I could always rest my head when my world had come undone 'cause I've been wrestling with my demons, telling me I have no choice. How I wish that I could lean upon you now. It's the chaos and the noise.
(Singing) Your light buried the dark, a constant and wavering heart.
YOUNG: OK, you're killing me. What's that like for you to listen to?
MCLACHLAN: It's sweet. It's bittersweet. It reminds me of him. I mean, I wrote that song as an homage to him, to what he meant to me, and I got to understand what he was for me after he was gone, which is a little bit sad as well, although I feel like I did get to tell him everything, and I had the luxury of spending most of the last 18 months of his life with him because I was home and not working.
So just being with him and spending time with him and getting to say everything I wanted to say was a real gift. And, you know, also the recognition of that unconditional love and understanding that rarely happens, and there's very few people in life who you can depend upon in that way and that I was now that person for my two daughters.
YOUNG: Yeah, well, so your dad infuses this, as does a new love, as we said, and this sense of moving forward. What do you want to do? Is there something on Sarah McLachlan's list that sort of...
MCLACHLAN: Illumination, transcendence.
MCLACHLAN: I mean...
YOUNG: Short of that.
MCLACHLAN: Yeah, I look at life as a constant evolution, and my goal is to suck the marrow out of every single day, and every day is a new opportunity, a new chance to begin again. That's sort of why I wanted to call this record "Shine On." The songs are sort of a reflection of the last six years, little postcards of stories of where I was at emotionally. So I was ready to finish the songs, ready to put it out there to the world.
YOUNG: Well, and we want to hear some more of them, but first we wanted to just ask you about an experience, well, just about everyone has. We get up, and we feel great, and we're, you know, just ready to go out and conquer the day, and then we turn on the TV, and we hear this.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
MCLACHLAN: (Singing) In the arms of the angel...
MCLACHLAN: Oh dear.
YOUNG: And there they are.
MCLACHLAN: And then there are those poor puppies and kittens. Oh, it's brutal, I know.
YOUNG: It's just brutal.
MCLACHLAN: It's heart-wrenching, but you know, that ad raised generated over $30 million for the ASPCA, so...
YOUNG: But how do you feel about...?
MCLACHLAN: Even though it's incredibly - I can't watch it. I turn the channel. I can't take it. It's painful. But I guess that's why it works so well.
YOUNG: Well, I suppose have to both thank you and blame you for that.
MCLACHLAN: Well, it's funny because people assume I'm such a Debbie Downer, and, you know, and I live in the dark with candles and write poetry. But I'm really a pretty happy person.
MCLACHLAN: But it's - you know, I love being able to help.
YOUNG: And it's OK to - I'm reading that you had to swear to people that you weren't going to go back to the darkness for the new CD, but there's nothing...
MCLACHLAN: But that's my happy place, come on.
YOUNG: Exactly. We sort of need you to help us get to some of those - to write songs about fathers who have passed and struggles that have happened.
MCLACHLAN: Yeah, I mean listen, loss and suffering is a natural state of life. And I think so much of our dissatisfaction is wrapped up in trying to avoid or trying to say why is this happening to me, what, you know, what singled me out to have to deal with this difficult thing. It's just, it's going to happen.
YOUNG: Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan. Her new album is "Shine On." Thank you so much for talking to us about it.
MCLACHLAN: My pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MCLACHLAN: (Singing) If this is love beside me, I'm working on forgiveness, laying the past down behind me, letting go, erase that I've been hurt. Let the rivers rage and rage, trying to sail with grace...
YOUNG: To hear more songs from Sarah McLachlan's new album "Shine On," go to hereandnow.org. Jeremy, I know you cry when you see that commercial for animals, too.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
YOUNG: Everyone does.
HOBSON: The sad puppies.
YOUNG: HERE AND NOW. Well, respond. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.