The singer-songwriter genre may have come of age in the 1960s and '70s, but it was redefined in the 1990s when what had been a mostly folk-rock fraternity embraced a new crop of smart, talented and successful wave of artists.
That decade witnessed an explosion of women on the commercial and alternative airwaves with Tori Amos, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, Sinead O'Connor, Jewel, Shawn Colvin, Paula Cole, Liz Phair, Tracy Chapman and Natalie Merchant.
And for that Sarah McLachlan deserves much of the praise.
The singer-songwriter with the ethereal mezzo-soprano was a known commodity in her native Canada before 1993's "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" made her a star in the United States with such tracks as "Good Enough," "Hold On" and "Possession."
Ms. McLachlan was in the forefront of a new wave of women in rock, and she brought many of them together for the late-1990s touring music festival Lilith Fair, which she founded. But as good as the 1990s were to her, the 2000s have proven to be equally trying. She separated from her husband of 11 years and longtime drummer, Ashwin Sood, in 2008, and her 2010 Lilith Fair revival failed to muster the same enthusiasm as the tours from a decade ago, with poor sales leading to canceled dates and smaller venues.
That's behind her. The 44-year-old released her latest album in 2010, after a six-year break to raise two daughters. And last year she embarked on a trial run of a few tour dates with a symphony. The experiment went well enough that this summer she expanded the concept.
In a recent phone interview, she talked about the tour, and her crazy-busy schedule being a touring musician and mother.
Why did you decide to tour with an orchestra?
I only did four shows last year and that was sort of a test run to see if I would like it or how it would feel because I'd never done it before and I fell in love with it, thus we decided to do a more lengthy run this summer.
For the tour, did you choose songs that lent themselves more toward a symphonic arrangement, or did you want to push the material in a new direction?
There's the obvious choices of the hits and the singles and what does everybody want to hear, and then I tried to pick ones that would lend themselves very well to an orchestral arrangement. Like "Love Comes" sounds so beautiful with a symphony and "Angel" sounds amazing. So the pieces that don't have a band attached, where the symphony can really take over. "Sweet Surrender" is one of those. I wrote it as a ballad, but of course on the record it's much more upbeat. So I took it back to its original piano form and then challenged the arranger to come up with something that was dark and moody to go along with it.
How do you balance all of your projects, along with being a full-time musician and mom?
Well, it's fun and I like to challenge myself and to see how much I can get done. There was a moment last week where I was just like, "Have I had five minutes to actually sit down and have a meal for the past week? I don't think so." But that's a lot of people's reality, so I'm certainly not complaining. It's so much more exciting than just doing one thing. And each one of the projects is really fun and exciting and I'm happy to be part of them. I wouldn't have taken them on. I wouldn't have taken it on if I wasn't interested or engaged in it.
I try to put my kids to bed every night and try to be home for that, and they were not too impressed with me last week.
... They have no idea how spoiled they are because I work from my house, so my day is punctuated by dropping them off at school, picking them up, taking them to all their different ballet classes and gymnastics classes and being there and frantically being on my computer while they're doing their class. It's great. It's a real luxury to be able to have the time with them that I have, and I really feel like I've missed very little, which is great.
So much of your music is personal. Is there a line you won't cross about baring your soul to the world?
Whilst I'm writing, I try not to edit in that way, and I think the only time I ever have edited myself is when it's not been about me but when I've brought somebody else into it where it's so obvious it's about this other person or it's so unpleasant -- or typically, it's just whiny. ... Most of my themes are pretty universal. I guess I debated a little bit last time, my last record, because some of the things were clearly about my ex-husband and some of the ones people thought were weren't directly about him. I did have to be careful with that because I didn't want to hurt his feelings, I didn't want to hurt him. I was trying to be honest with my own place that I was at, but I didn't want to drag him or anybody else into it.
Given the growing political controversy in the United States of male lawmakers becoming more involved in female reproductive issues, what are your thoughts?
I'm horrified that it's still an issue. Someone else I was talking to today said that a woman was thrown out of the Senate [Editor's note: It was a state lawmaker in the Michigan House] because she used the word "vagina" when talking about reproductive freedoms. Really, it's an anatomical term. We're allowed to watch people getting blown up on prime-time television on the news, but "vagina" is not OK. I find it shocking. We are walking a very fragile tightrope right now in regards to women's rights and I think that we all have to be vigilant to make sure that we speak up and speak out about what we believe to be right, and make sure that those rights aren't rescinded.