For Sarah McLachlan, the best yet

March 18, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Sarah McLachlan is usually pretty gung-ho about interviews. She's a good talker and clearly enjoys sharing her ideas.

On this particular afternoon, however, the 26-year old Canadian singer is somewhat less than pumped, what with six interviews on her schedule and a bad cold working on her throat. "I'm getting laryngitis," she complains, then quickly corrects herself. "Well, I'm trying not to get laryngitis, I guess is the way to put it."

Still, she doesn't seem too worried. Apart from the cold, things have been "fantastic" for her on the road so far. Not only is her third album, "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy," selling better than either album before it, but she believes this current tour boasts her "best live show yet."

"Everybody tells me it's better than the record, which makes sense to me," she says, over the phone from an Athens, Ga., hotel. "I have a wonderful group of musicians, and I think the way the songs are -- the order that they're placed in and the dynamic range that they go through -- is really nice. I feel much stronger about what we're doing this time out than I ever have before. It's just a good feeling."

McLachlan credits much of that to the fact "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" is much more of a "band" record than its predecessor, the 1991 release "Solace," was.

"With 'Solace,' things were very compartmentalized," she says. "It was done over nine months, and half the time, a verse would be written one month, and the chorus was written six months later, and pieced together. So the drums were among the last instruments to go on the record.

"On this one, they were the first things to go on the record. The songs were written, but they started with the rhythm section. More of a traditional way [of recording], I guess. And we wanted to get away, too, from the linear softness of 'Solace' and try something different, try to be a bit more aggressive."

That's not to say the songs on "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" are particularly blunt-edged in their approach. As with her previous efforts, McLachlan's supple, expressive voice dominates the album, infusing the songs with a warmth and intimacy that seems to invite the listener to sit and stay a while.

Yet even in its most lyric moments, like the dreamy "Fear" or the soft, prayer-like "Mary," there's always a strong sense of rhythm underpinning the melody. Some songs, in fact, almost put the beat on par with the vocals -- an approach that recalls Peter Gabriel's recent work with African musicians.

"Well, that's just opening up another avenue in musical exploration," she says of the rhythm-based approach, adding that one of the things she likes best about that sort of playing is that it respects the spaces between notes as much as the notes themselves.

"When you're making music or playing a song, I find the moments when there are no instruments being played even stronger than when they are being played," she says. "Because they add tension. It's also an ego-less thing -- a place where you have no ego -- when you're with a bunch of musicians who stop and listen instead.

"It's something to strive for. I don't always have it," she adds, laughing. "I'm a real wanker myself. I just play and play and play. It's something I'm working on."

But unlike Gabriel, whose interest in exotic rhythms derived in large part from his own interest in the sound of other cultures, McLachlan doesn't spend her time listening to recordings of African and Asian music. Or much of anything else.

"I used to listen to Peter Gabriel," she says. "I don't listen to anybody now."

Why not? "I just don't hear anything I like" she says. "Haven't for years. Or else it's a I-like-it-but-now-I'm-over-it kind of thing. So I have my five or 10 CDs that I've had for five or 10 years -- the music that I've liked. I've got 'Thursday Afternoon' by Brian Eno, I've got 'Closing Time' by Tom Waits, 'Spirit of Eden' by Talk Talk, and those are the only CDs I've listened to for years. I keep going back to them, because they fulfill me."

What she most enjoys while on tour is listening to the silence. "I really love to hear the air move around the room, you know?" she says, laughing. "I love silence, and in this lifestyle that I lead these days, I have almost no privacy. In a sense, I'm always hearing music of some sort, whether it's people talking or surface noise or whatever, because there is no privacy.

"So when I'm by myself, I just kind of like to be and reflect, and I can't do that when I'm listening to music. Because it's someone else's reflections, not mine."

Sarah's song

To hear excerpts from Sarah McLachlan's album "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6129 after you hear the greeting.

Sarah McLachlan

When: Saturday, March 19, 8 p.m.

Where: Gaston Hall, Georgetown University

Tickets: $20

Call: (410) 481-7328 for tickets.

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