A Conversation with Sarah McLachlan
McLachlan as a Mother
After giving birth to a baby girl, India, in April of 2002, Sarah McLachlan ended a five-year absence from the music scene to record her latest album, Afterglow.
A few weeks before her new album was officially released, we had a chance to talk with Sarah while she was on the Afterglow promotional tour. Read on to find out what Sarah had to say about handling motherhood, and her feelings about being on tour with an 18-month-old.
On Her Family
AmericanBaby.com: What have you liked most about being India's mom?Sarah McLachlan: Gosh, that's a hard question, there are so many things. Just the overwhelming love that I feel for her is so intense and powerful it's just -- scary. I always thought I was a selfish person, but being a mother -- it's pretty much instantaneous. It becomes all about her. It was just so easy and necessary, complete instinct.
AB: How did you choose the name India?
SM: For years and years I wanted a baby. I knew I'd have a little girl and I knew I'd name her India. I always thought it was a beautiful name. A couple years ago, I went to the country and it just reaffirmed that for me. It's just an incredibly magical, spiritual place full of history and color and vibrancy. It's got everything. I love the name. And I love the country.
AB: There's something about India that definitely fits into your albums, a sort of motif that fits you. There's a natural connotation to it.
SM: Yeah, and it's unusual. I wanted to have something that everyone else didn't have. You know, my name is Sarah, so I don't know how many times you hear in the supermarket, "Sarah, put that down," and I turn around thinking, "What, I didn't do anything." And it's some little 4-year-old getting yelled at. I'd like my child to have a unique name so there aren't four other ones in her same class.
AB: While you were pregnant your mom passed away. How did you find strength to deal with that?SM: Probably knowing that I was having my own baby sort of carried me through it. It was obviously incredibly difficult. She was sick for over 18 months. She had cancer and I was just really thankful to be around. I went to every appointment with her, every chemo treatment, every doctor's appointment. And we went on a couple trips together and just spent tons of time together. It was great to have that time. As she got sicker and became less herself, you sort of begin the mourning at that point. At a certain point it becomes this body that's still breathing that used to be your mother. I mean it sounds cold-hearted but it's a sad reality. I mean, my mom left like a month before she died. So you know, you just sit with her and you wonder if she recognizes you, cause she can't talk or anything like that. It was brutal.
On Being Adopted
AB: So let me ask you about your own childhood. I know that you were adopted. How does that affect your relationship with India, or maybe the way you're approaching being a parent?
SM: Honestly, I don't think it does affect it. Because when I think about my mother who raised me, you know, she's my mother. I think about how she did things and how I said "I'll never be like her" and how I'm very much like her now. It's not that important to me. It was very matter of fact, I was happy I had the parents I had. I'm not much to dwell on what may have been.
AB: Did they tell you you were adopted when you were in your teenage years?SM: I think I was about 9. And even then it wasn't a big deal. It was like, "Oh, okay, good to know, you're still my mom and dad." Perhaps I was too young to understand it really, but it just never was a big issue to me. I never had this empty place in me thinking that I've missed out somewhere, or that I was abandoned. I met my mother several years ago -- my birth mother -- and I'm thankful that she gave me up. Because she was an artist, she was way too young, she was 19 years old. She would have had to go and live in rural Newfoundland, and she wouldn't have been able to pursue any of her dreams. And instead I've got a great family, who loved me and gave me every opportunity to pursue my dreams. It was a gift. It was probably the hardest thing she ever had to do. I'm glad she did it.
On Her Music
AB: Let's talk about your album, Afterglow. It sounds like you were doing the album before and after you had India.
SM: I tried to get as much done beforehand as I could, knowing that she'd be the biggest distraction of my life -- and the most amazing distraction! I figure I got about three-quarters of the way done. And then I had her. So there was some lag time there in the middle where I was pretty much useless to music. It took me a while to get back into it.
AB: Were there songs you wrote before and then songs you wrote afterward?
SM: Most of the songs were written before, or at least well established. Maybe not completely finished lyrically or musically, but well on their way. The only song that was written after the fact was "World on Fire." And actually, my producer and I wrote that -- it's definitely got the idea of being a parent. We don't necessarily say it in the song, but the whole thought behind it was looking at the world that we bring our children into and what a scary place it is, and what we can do as individuals to try and make it better, on a small scale.
AB: When you went back to the songs you wrote before India was born, did you find that you wanted to change the meaning of them at all?
SM: No. Everyone is asking whether these songs are all about the baby. Give me five or six years and maybe there will be songs about the baby. But I'm not objective enough at this point to write about that.
AB: So, knowing that you were sort of preparing, getting ready to get pregnant, was the creative process for Afterglow different than the albums you did before?
SM: Not really. Beforehand I had no idea what I was getting into. I had five months of morning sickness. I was green 24-7. And India had five months of colic after she was born, so it was challenging. I probably should have gone away and lived by myself for a while, but I was really happy to be home. So that slowed down the process a bit. I was just enjoying life and thinking that there was no rush to write the album.
On Being a Working Mother
AB: Will you be doing an extended tour with your daughter?SM: Oh, yes! I bring her everywhere with me. I couldn't live with it otherwise. I'm doing a full tour of North America in the summer. We're getting a custom tour bus with a crib and everything.
AB: That's probably pretty different from the tours you've done before!
SM: Very. That's one of my biggest challenges -- to try to do everything I want and need to do to promote Afterglow and make it a success, but still be a real hands-on mom too. I've had the luxury of being a hands-on mom for 18 months. I had never been away from her for a day. But just the other day was my first time away from her for 24 hours. I was in New York, then I flew to San Francisco overnight, did a gig in the morning and got right back on the plane and came back to Chicago. I was very happy to see her.
AB: What does India do when you're busy with work and things?
SM: Well, now that her dad [Ashwin] and I are working, I have a nanny who is actually a Montessori school teacher, which is fantastic. So she's totally tuned in to children and knows what they like. She's awesome with her. She takes her out to the zoo and they find playgrounds. Whenever we're in a city we do some research beforehand, and find out if there's a kids' science museum or a zoo to take her to.
AB: Are you finding it hard to make time for her now that you're back working?SM: I was really worried about it because the schedule is pretty grueling with all the travel. But the way it's worked out I've been able to. I get up with her every morning, spend the first couple of hours with her, put her down for a nap, go out to work and come back in the afternoon. She is still napping twice. I have dinner with her almost every night and put her down at 7:30. I've been able to spend almost as much time with her as I do at home.
AB: So, here's a personal question. The words to "Perfect Girl" are very poignant for me, but I'm reading them and I'm thinking, how can somebody like you have any insecurities? I know you're a regular person, but I mean, what is it that you're worried about?SM: To be honest, that song didn't start out about me. It was about a friend of mine going through a really hard breakup and just not being able to let it go. But, as songs often begin about somebody else, often my own personal experience gets dragged in there. I was incredibly insecure, as a teenager especially, and even as a young adult. Especially as far as men. I made some really, really stupid choices.
AB: Like we all do.
SM: Yeah, you know, I like the bad boys. Or just the idiots, basically, because I didn't have much confidence in myself.
AB: So you did the settling-for-less until someone snapped you out of it?
SM: Yeah, basically. Did that a few times. I like to look at them as stepping stones.
On Giving Back to the Community
AB: Let's talk about your philanthropic work. You've created the Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach program for children. What made you switch your focus to kids after working on Lilith Fair and doing so much on the feminist front?
SM: The school is something I've always wanted to do, even before Lilith. Unfortunately I didn't have the financial means to do it, but now I do. Originally my thought was to give free art and music education to kids. But I realized I had to focus it on one thing and music seemed right because it certainly saved me when I was growing up. It was one thing I knew I was good at. And it's one of the first things that gets taken out of public schools. A lot of these kids would never have the opportunity to play an instrument and we can give them that opportunity. The program in its third year now.
I remember going to the recitals in the first year and watching the kids try to figure out how to hold their instruments. And now they're almost proficient! It's very cool to see the looks of pride on their faces that says, "This is what I've accomplished."
AB: So most of the kids have stayed with it for three years, is that how it works?SM: Yeah, it's a program for K-12, an all-grades, after-school program. We teach piano, guitar, percussion, junior choir, and senior choir. The K-3 program is just workshops to get them into it a little bit and to see what they might like to pursue. There are 350 kids, including the K-3 workshops.
AB: Are you able to get pretty directly involved in it? Are you working with the kids or meeting them?
SM: Yes, I was directly involved in the inception, putting the curriculum together and working with the teachers. I sort of look at teachers like artists. I want to guide them in the curriculum that I want to promote, but I also want them to have their own voice. And the teachers we've hired have really jumped at that opportunity and proved themselves to be incredibly innovative, so we're looking at actually forming a particular curriculum. We find, as this pilot project goes along, you have to look at what worked and what didn't work. So now we're really fine-tuning to find a constant curriculum that can be flexible say, if a kid comes in with an R&B song they really want to learn. The kids can get private lessons as well as the public classes, so we want to encourage them to pursue things they want to do and teach them the basics of learning an instrument.
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