Q&A with musician Sarah McLachlan

As many of you may know, several members of the our staff had the unique opportunity this past summer to tour with Lilith Fair (me included!). And while we were able to interview tons of performers, which you will see in the coming weeks, we had the chance to ask the grand poobah of Lilith herself, Sarah McLachlan, some of our most pressing questions. Enjoy!

When did music first enter your life? And what was the first record you bought?
I grew up with folk music. My mother turned me on to Joan Baez when I was aboutmy earliest memories are when I was 4. That was actually the reason I wanted to pick up an instrument, because I wanted to learn how to accompany myself and sing just like she did. And I guess the first record I bought would have been Queen, The Game.

I know you’ve been on tour all summer—what motivates you to keep going every day?
Music, the love of music and the community that has been created from this, the amazing friendships that I’ve made. It is very meaningful to me, on so many levels, and to be able to play in front of a really warm and receptive, respectful audience every night. It’s been really great as well to be able to perform with a lot of amazing musicians. And the bill is continually rotating, so with all these people leaving it’s sad, but with new people coming in, it’s great.

What do you notice is the biggest difference between the first Lilith and the second Lilith?
The biggest difference–I’m in a bubble with this whole thing so I’m not sure if I’m the best person to ask that question. I don’t know if I can be very objective–I think, more than anything, artists relations have improved from last year to this year. There are way more people playing each other’s sets and I think all of us, myself included, are a lot more confident about asking everybody and getting involved which is really, really fun for all of us. It keeps it interesting and unusual.

And for a very brief time you flirted with adding men to the act–what changed your mind?
As far as the men thing–when this whole thing started last year, I was thrust in the media spotlight and forced to justify this thing every step of the way, every day. And that became quite exhausting and I was in a real learning process, learning what to say and how to say it because the press would take it a certain way, and then, you know, mix it up just to make it fit their story. So I was thinking, “Oh God, maybe I should make this a little more egalitarian, maybe I should add men.” Yeah, early on it was an idea.¬†Emilylou Harris, bless her heart, took me aside last year after one of the press conferences and said, “You know, it might not be my place to say this, but this is a beautiful thing that you’ve started and it’s so important. Just let it grow. It’s just a baby.” And I needed that support from somebody, whom I had a great love and admiration for, to come to me and say that. It just completely solidified and reiterated my initial belief in the whole thing.

One of things that you are doing with Lilith Fair is raising money for breast cancer research. Have you, personally, been touched, or any family or friends been touched by breast cancer? How did you choose that particular fund–the Breast Cancer Research Fund–to support?Well, we all have breasts. I’m one of the lucky ones. I know on the periphery one individual who has breast cancer who is actually a few years older than me–a friend I grew up when I was in elementary school who I hadn’t actually been in touch with for years. And that’s really the only person I know, personally. But I know that it’s a huge problem and it needs research, it needs funds.
There are so many different organizations out there that are so worthy that need money and this is just one of them that we believed in and really wanted to help support. And Biore, one of the sponsors for this tour, has had a long standing with breast cancer research as well. They suggested it and that’s one of the reasons why we became involved with it as well.

Why do you support charities?
Well, we’ve been doing it from the beginning, and me and the people involved with Lilith Fair believe that it’s a good thing for us to do. We gain so much from coming into every community. It is certainly in the way of spiritual enlightenment and in the way of monetary funds as well. This is a money-making venture, it’s a music festival, which can make or can lose a lot of money. We’ve been very successful and I just feel like it’s a good thing. It feels good to be able to give something back to the communities we go into.

You’ve made a real effort to help emerging artists. Have you considered providing more of a forum for veteran artists like Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez?
Yeah, we’ve asked a lot of those people. Actually, Joan Baez showed up in San Francisco. We’ve asked Joni again. Joni’s elusive, she is very non-committal, never actually said no, just never said yes. Bonnie Raitt was on, Emilylou Harris has been on.
Are you at all surprised by the success of this tour?
Not in the least. I knew from the very beginning this would be successful. We have to define success. My idea of success is the fact that we can get together a bunch of amazing women, amazing songwriters, amazing musicians and put on a great music festival that is diverse and wonderful. It was successful before we got started, for me, because we could do that. It was a very selfish thing and it became so many other amazing things as it moved along–and it still is–and those have been a lot of positive benefits.
“I’m going to be really sad when it’s over because it has been such an amazing experience.”

Last year was 37 dates, this year was 57 dates, how was that, increasing the amount of days. Any ideas about Lilith for next summer?
Yeah, we’re going back to 37 dates. I have the easiest job, but it is certainly starting to wear on me a bit. It’s amazingly fun and there’s so many amazing experiences that happen every day that make it all worthwhile. It’s harder on the crew who have been working 16 hours every day, sometimes in temperatures of over 100 degrees, and it gets really, really, really hard after a certain period time. We’ve had over twice as many artists as last year, which I think has been really, really amazing. It’s been quite a juggling act to make it all work. And I think we’re going to bring it back in a little more next year–into a manageable place–it’s just bursting at the seams a little bit. We have 10 shows left and people are getting ready to go home.
I have to say that even though, yes, I’m getting ready to go home, I’m going to be really sad when it’s over because it has been such an amazing experience. Like I said, every day, every week there’s a new artist coming in, so it’s always fresh–fresh faces, fresh music, fresh attitudes–it is continually rejuvenating for all of us. I’m going to be playing all 57 shows.

Looking out on the parking lot, the tons of women you see out there, the Village outside and all the socially-aware organizations with booths, there is more than music happening out here. What is it?
It’s a love fest. It’s a happening. It’s a music festival. It’s a great day of music, and there’s a lot of socially relevant issues and causes we support and we feel this is a great platform to give information to people if they choose it. We’re not stuffing it down anyone’s throats, it’s simply out there. The information is there if people want to go and get it. Again, these are things that I believe in, that Lilith believes in and that we really want to support, and this is a good platform for that.

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