For the past seven years, Sarah McLachlan has largely remained silent while her personal life turned public and she sought to endure the breakup of her marriage.
Today marks the release of Laws of Illusion, the Vancouver-based songstress’ first album of new material since 2003’s Afterglow.
And if it seems as though the lovelorn lyrics on the oft-wrenching record were inspired by real-life events, it’s because they pretty much were.
McLachlan says her personal struggles fuelled her work — once she got around to dealing with them directly.
“There’s creative licence, but certainly, the emotional rollercoaster of the past couple years played heavily,” McLachlan said.
“I find it very difficult to write, typically, when I’m happy.
“It’s a fleeting, light-hearted experience and you don’t want to analyze it because I’m sure you’ll find something wrong with it if you look hard enough,” she said.
“Whereas when you’re sad, or heartbroken, or angry, that’s meaty, visceral stuff. You can really sink your teeth into it. And there’s a lot of good juicy bits to grab hold of and dissect and figure out.”
McLachlan split with drummer Ashwin Sood, her husband of 11 years, two years ago. They have two daughters: eight-year-old India and Taja, who turns three next week.
As she tried to recover and take care of two children as a newly single mother, McLachlan didn’t find herself immediately compelled to sit down and write about the pain she was going through.
“My world sort of fell apart, and I just had to work to figure out what the heck I was going to do next,” she said.
“You know, I don’t tend to write when I’m in the thick of the emotional angst.
“It’s a lot easier for me to do it after the fact, when I have a little more objectivity.”
Yet, once the 42-year-old began writing — which she did, in earnest, in March of last year — she found that the ideas flowed.
Opening track Awakenings is a distorted rush, with ear-candy electronics adding texture to a nakedly emotional rant.
The clatter mostly fades out in time for McLachlan’s key final pronouncement: “I’m not the girl I was but what have I become?/ I’m not so willing anymore to bend/ Still pleasing and conceding/ But I’m not gonna lose myself again.”
Moving on is an idea she explores throughout the record.
For instance, in the lilting piano ballad Forgiveness (in which she sings “I don’t believe when you tell me your love is real/ ’Cause you don’t know much about heaven, boy/ If you have to hurt to feel”) and the languid Rivers of Love, which McLachlan calls a “love song to yourself.”
While you might expect a record exploring the fresh wounds of a painful rift to sound as gloomy as its subject matter, the music is surprisingly upbeat — from the sprightly hop of “Loving You is Easy” to the uptempo jangle of “Heartbreak.”
“There’s certain rules,” explains McLachlan, who worked again with long-time producer Pierre Marchand. “When you wear a short skirt, you cover up your top. if you’re going to have really happy lyrics, the music has to have some sort of tension or aggression to it, or if you have really, really sad lyrics, there … has to be a bit of a twist to it.
“’Heartbreak’ is a good example, because it’s so light and effervescent and fluffy musically, but when you listen to the lyrics, it’s all about denial.”
McLachlan professes to have a tough time analyzing her own music, even though she’s able to describe the feelings behind each song more clearly and directly than most artists.
So when she’s asked how the past years — so fraught with personal turmoil — have changed her, she pauses.
“God, I hope I’m a little bit wiser,” she says. “I certainly feel like I’ve been through the wringer the past couple years. And I feel like, all these experiences, good and bad, are where we grow — especially the hard times. That’s where you find out what you’re really made of.
“And so I feel a bit wiser in some ways, and I feel a lot dumber in other ways. You get cocky and complacent and you think, ’OK, I’ve got this figured out.’ And that’s just when you get the rug pulled out from underneath you.
“So, I’ve learned not to be complacent.”