Sarah McLachlan on “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” and its 30th Anniversary Tour | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024  

Sarah McLachlan on “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” and its 30th Anniversary Tour

The Great Leveler

May 09, 2024 Web Exclusive Photography by Kharen Hill Bookmark and Share


After building up a strong following in Canada with her first two albums, Sarah McLachlan broke into the U.S. and further afield with the compelling Fumbling Towards Ecstasy in 1993. She followed this up with her biggest selling album to date, Surfacing in 1997, which won two Grammy Awards. The record included the song, “Angel,” which seemed to take on a life of its own in terms of the global connections that it made and hearts that it touched.

Since her 1987 debut LP, Touch, McLachlan has sold upwards of 40 million albums. She was the architect of the ground-breaking Lilith Fair Festival which ran from 1997-1999, putting female artistry front and center that would have positive repercussions right up until the present day.

In 2011 she opened the Sarah McLachlan School of Music in Vancouver, which provides free music instruction for children and youth facing barriers to access. The school serves over 1,000 kids each year with locations in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Surrey.

We spoke recently to McLachlan, Under the Radar’s first time interviewing her, as she prepares for life on the road once again. She discusses her upcoming Fumbling Towards Ecstasy 30th Anniversary shows, working on her first album in over a decade, the healing power of music, and the flourishing legacy of Lilith Fair.

Lee Campbell (Under the Radar): Sarah, a huge welcome to Under the Radar. Are you all ready for the tour, which kicks off very soon?

Sarah McLachlan: Thank you so much. Yes, the first Fumbling show is 23rd May in Vancouver. We start rehearsals a week before. I am also making a new record right now, so I’m back and forth to LA for 10-day stints. Finally, it’s only taken 10 years!

How are you feeling about playing live again—I guess there are some songs from the album that you rarely have played?

I’m pretty excited, I have an amazing band. The idea of doing the album from start to finish, I’ve never done that before. It’s really cool, kind of nostalgic for me and for other people as well. Yeah, “Mary,” “Ice,” and “Plenty.” Those three songs especially will be really fun to revisit. I don’t have any nerves attached to the show or playing. Playing live for me is still the best drug in the world. I love that connection and energy that happens when you play with other people and it’s a great leveler. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you believe in, the music transcends all of that.

As a society, we badly need those opportunities to come together and be something bigger than just ourselves for a moment. It’s the other 22 hours in the day where I’m not home, I’m away from my kitchen, I love to cook simply and healthily. I’m close to the mountains, so I can go for a hike every day. I know I’m gonna be okay, but ooooh, I am gonna miss those things. I’ve got a lot of friends who are coming out to join various shows and they want to do this and do that. I have to explain to them that I’m working. [Laughs] I can’t talk or laugh too much as I have to protect my voice, it’s fragile.

It’s been a good, solid 10 years since I’ve done a proper tour, so there’s a certain amount of trepidation about going back out on the road, 10 years older, liking my creature comforts, my nice bed, my dog, my kids. Luckily, my adult daughter, who’s been living away for a few years now, she’s going to come out for the first 10 days with me, and then my youngest, who is 16, just finished grade 11, she’s coming out for the last few shows.

Have they both inherited the musical gene?

Yeah, they’re both incredibly musical, both beautiful singers, but they’re not choosing to pursue it, and a little part of me is, “yes, thank goodness.” [Laughs] But my youngest, her passion is dance. That’s how she assimilates music—26 hours a week, and constantly competing. She’s got grit. She comes home and is in pain, but doesn’t care ‘cause she loves it.

Any European dates planned?

I would love to. I’m hoping on this next record, I might be able to. The last bunch of years, I’ve been doing quite a few solo shows, or myself and a cellist, really pared back, playing the songs how they were originally written. That’s been a ton of fun. So, I might do something like that because it’s incredibly expensive to get the band across. We lucked out twice and lost a huge amount of money. The way we chose to do it wasn’t very smart. It’s time away, and I spent so much time in North America working, that’s where I have the strongest fan base. I hope I still have some fans in Europe. I would love to come back. I took my daughter on her 16th birthday to Italy and Greece this last summer.

You mention some special guests for the tour—can you reveal any of these to us?

It’s mostly Feist. She’s doing pretty much the whole tour, with the exception of Allison Russell, who’s playing in Toronto. I love both of them and their music. They are incredibly talented women and great people too.

Any original Fumbling band members from the 1990s that will be playing with you?

Yeah, Luke Doucet [guitar], Vincent Jones [keyboards], new drummer Matt Starr, Melissa McClelland [vocals], Lyle Workman [guitar], who played on my last record, and most of my crew.

You were 25 years old when you first released Fumbling. Why is it such a special record for you?

It was my third album. I had been touring really consistently off the first two [records] and I had built up a really solid fan base, particularly in Canada, but I was really starting to break in America too. I went back to the same cities over and over again, playing to 200 people, then 400 people, then 1,000 people. It was just really building it in a grass roots way. I loved making that record, it was the easiest record I ever made. I was single, unencumbered, I had moved to a cabin in the woods in Laurentian, just outside of Montreal.

I made my first record [Touch] in this bubble of “this is what happens, you get a record contract and you can do exactly what you want musically—really?” I was given the golden egg and I had no idea. Then, when I got signed to the American label, they wanted to A&R me, and I thought, “I don’t like the way this feels.” I got really lucky as I said I would rather not be on an American label if this is what it’s like, so my manager at the time got to talk to Clive Davis and somehow brokered a deal which I didn’t have to.

I was given 100% creative control and on a second record [Solace] there is a ton of pressure because I had a little success. The third album is kinda like, it’s okay now. I toured two years on Solace and really solidified that fan base. Fumbling was an easier record to write, I had a lot of freedom, I didn’t think about what people wanted from me, I tried not to edit myself. I remember making a concerted effort just to let it flow.

Obviously producer Pierre [Marchand] was a big part of that record too—what did he bring to the character of that record?

Pierre and I were partners in music for almost 30 years. He taught me so much. He brought a kind of artistry and different musical genres to it. I’m pretty simple—I grew up listening to American folk music, pop music, and classical, so I was always trying to jam all of those elements in. He came at it from such a different angle and concept.

He had all of these different ideas and it was so fun for me to play the song on guitar or piano and present the architecture of it. He would say, “Okay, give me a bit of time here.” I would come back the next morning and he would have created this whole universe that I would never have thought of visiting myself. It was engaging and fascinating to watch his brain spit out all of this amazing information that made my songs so much more interesting, and better. He also taught me to sing lower. With the first record I was really influenced by Kate Bush, Cocteau Twins, that really acrobatic style. Pierre said, “I wanna hear what you sound like because I think your range is lower.” That really brought out who I was, and who I am as a singer.

We loved that cinematic element. That’s part of the magic and fun of being in the studio with him, trying a bunch of different things with music and taking you to a place where when you close your eyes, you can visualize worlds.

Are you still working with Pierre on the new record?

Actually, I am working with a new producer on this next record. It was a tough decision. It kinda felt like I was cheating. [Laughs] Pierre was wonderful and gracious about it. He said that it would be good for me to try something different. Yeah, I am working with a guy called Tony Berg [boygenius] in Los Angeles. It’s been so much fun because he works with a range of musicians, young and also established, such as Alex Greenwald from Phantom Planet, drummer Matt Chamberlain, and Wendy Melvoin from Wendy & Lisa. They’re all adding these different colors which are so cool. I’m hoping May of next year for the release.

Was it quite an arduous period for you, especially with the long tour after Fumbling was released?

You know, people got married, people had babies, parents died. We were on the road for almost two years. Then the record company is like, “Okay, so where’s the next record?” I told them, “I’m gonna have to go back and live for a little bit, fill the tank back up, remember who I am.” [Laughs] When you are playing the same songs, day in, day out for two years, there’s definitely some fatigue—I wanna sing something new. I felt mentally and physically exhausted being away for so long. Listen, it beats the hell out of doing dishes, but I was grateful I was doing so well. There seemed to be this momentum which kept building and building. It was hard to stop. I was young and hungry, let’s keep going. This is why you tour when you’re young.

I would describe the record as hauntingly beautiful. Can we dive into a few specific songs? “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy.”

It’s the title track for a few reasons. It’s indicative of the vibe of the whole record about freeing oneself of the trappings of fame, society’s expectations on you and from my own healthy dose of self-loathing. [Laughs]

“Elsewhere.”

It’s one of those emancipation songs for me. It’s about becoming a young adult and recognizing how my family life and my mother in particular held me back and defined who I was, pulling away from that and trying to redefine myself as an adult. But, our parents are always there. They are the first and foremost most important people in our lives, and the way they raised us, it sticks in there. It’s about becoming my own person regardless of the judgment, disapproval, and disappointment. We’re all on that same boat of, “who the hell am I,” “how do I stop the blame?” Take responsibility and figure out how you wanna move forward and how you wanna show up in the world.

“Hold On.”

I was in Vancouver and I watched a documentary about a young woman whose husband contracted HIV. The way she told the story was this beautiful and really tragic love story. I was impressed by her grace, her steadfastness, and the struggle both of them went through. That was one of the songs that came about very quickly. There was so much empathy to try and tell this story because it was just so beautiful and sad.

Can you give me an insight into the song “Dear God,” which was released just before the fourth album?’

It was for some sort of compilation. I always loved that song by XTC so it was a little bit terrifying to cover a song like that. You either pay homage to it and do it exactly as it is, or make it your own, but it better be better. I remember recording that. It’s just such an incredible song with so much visceral energy, although I couldn’t sing for about two weeks after doing that track. [Laughs] I screamed that vocal, it was very cathartic. It’s relevant today, if not more so. Music just keeps coming back around with the stories that are getting told—yeah, we’re still here and we are still dealing with this shit!

Can music still heal and bring people together, build bridges so to speak?

It’s more important now than ever. The arts are so important for that reason. Music does build bridges, as fragile as they may be. It’s important to keep being hopeful. There’s a lot of scared, angry, disenfranchised people who are wondering what the hell is gonna come next. We are being bombarded 24-7 with horrible news. It is just so overwhelming and I wish there were more opportunities out there showing how humanity can be beautiful. We’re capable of both being horrible and beautiful, but sometimes the choice becomes harder and harder to choose good, especially when you’re fed mis-information constantly.

That’s the greatest challenge—trying to sort through what you’re being told. I stick to what I know and what I believe in, which is trying to create a change in places in the way I can. I will continue to spread love, positivity and joy through my music and through those connections. We need to be reminded of that in the media, about people doing good things.

Sarah McLachlan’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy 30th Anniversary Tour will be participating in Live Nation’s annual Concert Week, which offers $25 tickets to over 5,000 shows from May 8 – 14 at livenation.com/concertweek.

www.sarahmclachlan.com

Sarah McLachlan Fumbling Towards Ecstasy 30th Anniversary Tour Dates:

Sat May 25 – Seattle, WA – Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery +
Sun May 26 – Seattle, WA – Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery +
Tue May 28 – Bend, OR – Hayden Homes Amphitheater +
Thu May 30 - Berkeley, CA - Greek Theatre *+
Fri May 31 – Los Angeles, CA – Hollywood Bowl +
Sat Jun 01– Palm Springs, CA – Acrisure Arena at Greater Palm Springs +
Sun Jun 02 – San Diego, CA – The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park +
Tue Jun 04 – Phoenix, AZ – Arizona Financial Theatre +
Thu Jun 06 – Salt Lake City, UT – USANA Amphitheatre +
Fri Jun 07 – Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre *
Sun Jun 09 – Kansas City, MO – Starlight Theatre +
Mon Jun 10 – Maryland Heights, MO – Saint Louis Music Park +
Tue Jun 11 – Chicago, IL – Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island +
Thu Jun 13 – Sterling Heights, MI – Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre at Freedom Hill +
Fri Jun 14 – Cincinnati, OH – PNC Pavilion +
Sun Jun 16 – Indianapolis, IN – Everwise Amphitheater at White River State Park +
Tue Jun 18 – Lewiston, NY – Artpark Mainstage Theater +
Wed Jun 19 – Toronto, ON – Budweiser Stage ^
Thu Jun 20 – Laval, QC – Place Bell +
Sat Jun 22 – Boston, MA – Leader Bank Pavilion +
Sun Jun 23 – Bridgeport, CT – Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater +
Mon Jun 24 – New York, NY – Radio City Music Hall +
Wed Jun 26 – Philadelphia, PA – TD Pavilion at the Mann +
Thu Jun 27 – Columbia, MD – Merriweather Post Pavilion +
Sat Jun 29 – Nashville, TN – Ascend Amphitheater +
Sun Jun 30 – Atlanta, GA – Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park +
Tue Jul 02 – Rogers, AR – Walmart AMP +
Wed Jul 03 – Irving, TX – The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory +
Fri Jul 05 – Austin, TX – Moody Amphitheater +
Sat Jul 06 – Sugar Land, TX – Smart Financial Centre +

*Non-Live Nation Date
+ With Feist
^ With Allison Russell

Subscribe to Under the Radar’s print magazine.

Support Under the Radar on Patreon.



Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.