One day, not that long ago, Sarah McLachlan gave an advance copy of her new album Shine On to a friend who was about to set out on a road trip. “She said she listened to it on repeat throughout the whole drive; she laughed, she cried, she sang at the top of her lungs, and went through the gamut of emotions.” McLachlan says. “That seemed like the perfect reaction to me. I want to make people feel, because I write from such an emotional point of view. That's what music does for me; it brings me closer to my feelings and puts everything out on the surface. A good song will bring up anything that has been pushed down and force you to feel it.”
Largely produced by McLachlan’s longtime collaborator Pierre Marchand, Shine On is McLachlan’s 7th full-length album. This new album finds the musician in a ruminative, yet hopeful place. Unlike its predecessor, which dissected the dissolution of her marriage, Shine On eases up on the heartbreak and lets McLachlan — who has been somewhat defined by such signature ethereal ballads as “Building A Mystery,” “Adia,” “Angel,” and “I Will Remember You” — show an earthier side, especially on the up-tempo first single “In Your Shoes,” and the atmospheric rockers “Flesh and Blood” and “Love Beside Me,” the latter two of which were produced by Bob Rock (Metallica, Ron Sexsmith).
“I needed to challenge myself a lot,” she says. “I needed to step outside my comfort zone. For that reason, I made an effort to write with people I hadn't written with before and to try different producers, like Bob Rock, to take some of the songs in a different direction. He brought a lot of raw energy. He put an electric guitar in my hands and reminded me of how much I miss playing it.”
It was actually Marchand, whom McLachlan has worked with since her 1991 album Solace, who encouraged McLachlan not to play it safe and work with other collaborators. “So I pursued that, but I also know the magic that Pierre can bring, and I knew some of the songs would require nothing less than having him work on them,” she says. “He will take a song to a certain place that I might not have imagined it going. I knew he would have the right energy to bring to a lot of the quieter songs in particular.”
In addition to shaking up the album’s sonics, McLachlan felt the need to change things up on the lyrical front. “I had a couple of writing jaunts that led to a batch of songs that were about breaking up with someone and telling that old story that I felt I'd flogged to death on other albums,” she says. “I wanted to tell a new story. I was feeling more hopeful, more positive and light and open, and I wanted to mirror that.” As a result, McLachlan feels that Shine On is her most lyrically accessible work to date. “I wasn't trying to veil the sentiments or cloak them in a parallel universe like I often do,” she says. “I was just simply telling a story about something that had happened. This record is definitely more direct and closer to the bone.”
In “Song For My Father,” Sarah writes about her relationship with her dad, who passed away in December of 2010. “He was my rock,” she says. “I knew that no matter what I did or said he would be there for me. In hindsight, I’ve realized that we don't really have many people in our lives who are absolutely there for you like that.”
“Surrender And Certainty” also addresses her father’s passing. When she and her family scattered his ashes in the ocean, Sarah swam out with them. “It was foggy and freezing cold,” she recalls, “but I just kept walking out and thinking about him. Everything was obscured. There was no sky, no ocean — just this beautiful soothing gray. It was a really heavy moment, letting him go, surrendering to the moment and not trying to hide the grief. With his passing, I had to come to terms with the fact that I’m an orphan now (McLachlan’s mother died in 2001). I'm the oldest generation, and that really hit me profoundly. I’m raising two daughters and have become acutely aware of the fact that time runs out. I want to be able to get every single ounce of meaty juicy stuff out of this life, the good, the bad and the ugly. I don't want to live a half life. That was the premise of the album’s title. We all endure suffering. I don’t want to just survive or fall into complacency. I want to do my best to shine on through it all.”
McLachlan’s strength and positive attitude come through on several other songs on the album, including “Flesh and Blood” (“Yeah, that’s about sex and passion being ignited again after a long, dry spell,” she says with a laugh), the ukulele song, “The Sound That Love Makes” which is her “Ice Cream” song for Shine On, and “Monsters,” where she comes to terms with the disillusionment of discovering peoples many moral limitations. “It’s that recognition of the growth that comes from friction; wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same?”
“Beautiful Girl” is about ones relationship with their children, and how important that love and understanding is in everyone’s life; this is a very hopeful message to everyone. “You’re going to make it because you’ve got love on your side,” she sings. “It’s about that unconditional love that I had from my father, it’s about taking that feeling that my father fulfilled for me and realizing that is now my role for my children.” “Turn The Lights Down Low” addresses the perils of parenthood again, and the fact that “It’s the hardest job in the world”; recognizing the hardships and how important it is to lean in and do the best you can, but also to forgive yourself when you fall short. “Every new day is a chance to make a change for the better and to just keep trying.”
Then there’s “In Your Shoes.” “With all the talk in the media about bullying, this reminded me of my childhood experiences; I started writing this song for my children, and then the story of Malala Yousafzai appeared in the news. Her strength and sense of self was so inspiring, and the focus of the song turned to her and the struggle she was facing. I was already writing a song about being torn down, bit by bit, and being able to have the strength to step away from that and build your own world. When Malala’s story appeared, she became the heroine and her story informed the direction from that point on.”
Shine On speaks to the fact that life is a struggle, and it’s about what we do with the hidden gems that are there for us at every turn – if we choose to seek them out.
The thread on this new album, which will be released by McLachlan’s new label Verve Music Group, is her intimate voice (which The New York Times once called “pop’s voice of compassion and consolation”) and the fact that so many people can remember the musical backdrop to the hard times in their life; break-ups, loss, and heartbreak, and they all have a McLachlan song that was particular to their healing.
Sarah has sold over 40 million albums worldwide, won three Grammy Awards and eight Juno Awards, and was a founder and the face of the Lilith Fair tours, which showcased female musicians and raised over seven million dollars for local and national charities. McLachlan is also the founder of the non-profit organization the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, which provides free afterschool music education for at-risk and underserved kids who otherwise would have no access to music programming.
In June, McLachlan will hit the road for the U.S. leg of her “Shine On Tour,” which visits 31 cities across 22 states. “I love playing live and I'm very excited to get these songs into the hands of some great musicians and let them breathe fire into them, especially some of the more aggressive ones on the new album,” she says. “I love making records, and going through the process of discovery, but I like playing live even better, because you've got the song, you know it's great, and you get to take it someplace else. You get to experiment and be in the moment with it. That's everything to me.”