Adopted as a baby, Sarah Ann McLachlan was born in 1968 in Halifax. She took singing lessons while growing up, and also began studying classical piano and guitar shortly thereafter. She was still attending high school when she put her first band together, and it wasn’t long before The October Game was the talk of the islands, playing live at every possible opportunity. One of the band’s songs, “Grind”, appeared on the independent Flamingo Records releases OUT OF THE FOG and OUT OF THE FOG, TOO.
Following the band’s first concert at Dalhousie University opening for Moev, McLachlan was offered a contract with Vancouver-based indie label Nettwerk Records by Moev’s frontman and the label’s president Mark Jowett. But her parents insisted she finish high school and complete one year of studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design before moving to Vancouver and embarking on a new life as a recording artist. She finally was allowed to sign with the label two years later before having written a single song.
Her debut album, TOUCH was released in the fall of 1988, and produced by Greg Reely. A couple of remixes were on the re-released version a year later after she’d signed with Arista Records internationally, and to make room, the song “Trust” was removed. Still, the singles “Vox” and “Steaming” were hits in the alternative rock circles. During this period she also contributed to an album by Manufacture, and embarked on her first national tour, opening for The Grapes of Wrath. Years later, Darryl Neudorf, a former member of 54-40 and Vancouver-based studio musician sued both McLachlan and Nettwerk, claiming he’d made significant but uncredited contributions to the album. The judge ultimately threw the case of credit out of court, claiming that while McLachlan did confirm Neudorf assisted on the album, it wasn’t enough to substantiate a claim of co-authorship. The judge did however rule in his favour in regards to payment, and an undisclosed amount was paid.
Her sophomore album was 1991’s SOLACE with new producer Pierre Marchand. On the backs of singles “The Path of Thorns” and “Into The Fire,” it was certified double platinum at home (200,000 units). The American release came the next spring, where it was soon certified gold for 50,000 copies. The US version also featured the additional track, “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” which also appeared on Nettwerk’s Donovan tribute album, ISLAND OF CIRCLES. Although she lost in the Best Female Vocalist category, McLachlan’s video for “Into The Fire” earned her first Juno in the spring of 1992.
, and a concert at Harbourfront in Toronto became the LIVE EP album later that year. Building on her success, next up was FUMBLING TOWARDS ECSTASY in ’93, recorded at Morin Heights, Quebec. With Marchand returning as producer, the album hovered in several countries’ charts for the next two years while various versions of it were released. It firmly established her as a star, with releases in Japan, the UK, and Australia, and it reaching at least gold status in most of them, going platinum in Canada. The first single, “Possession” tackled obsessive fans from one’s point of view. Ironically, the song got her in legal wranglings again, when a fan from Ottawa named Uwe Vandrei sued her, claiming that his letters to her were the basis of the song. It was particularly enthralling, as Vandrei was a self-admitted stalker, and confessed the only reason he filed the suit was to be near McLachlan. The case never made it to trial, as Vandrei was found dead of an apparent suicide in November 1994.
A piano version of “Possession” was also used on the first “Due South” soundtrack in 1996. Some editions of the album also contained an extended version of “I Will Remember You” for the “Brothers McMullen” movie soundtrack.
Just in time for the ’94 Christmas rush, she released THE FREEDOM SESSIONS, although it didn’t come out in the US until the following spring. Largely recorded during the same sessions that produced the previous album, it primarily contained previously unreleased and reworked versions of earlier songs, such as “Ice Cream” and “Hold On,” plus a cover of Tom Waits’ “Ol’ 55.” The album was also one of the first compact discs labels issued in enhanced CD-ROM form, which contained bonus material such as music videos and interviews. Although the enhanced version was limited, much of it reappeared in 2008, as the 3-disc 15th anniversary edition through Legacy Recordings. The set included the original remastered album, as well as a two DVD-set that included live performances, music videos, and documentary footage.
1995 saw Nettwerk Records release a unique tribute album, of sorts. BLOOM: THE REMIX ALBUM featured several DJs rework McLachlan classics, including Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am and DMC doing “Just Like Me,” Tom Middleton redoing “Vox,” and Satoshi Tomiie redoing “Fallen” for the album’s Japanese version.
RARITIES, B-SIDES, AND OTHER STUFF followed in ’96, featuring live versions of “Drawn to the Rhythm” and the previously unreleased “Gloomy Sunday,” among other novelties. McLachlan had long been a staunch supporter of women’s issues and rights, and was also growing more frustrated with concert promoters and radio stations in their treatment of women artists. So she booked a cross country tour of herself with Paula Cole, starting in her hometown of Halifax in September ’96, and grew to also include performances Lisa Loeb and Michelle McAdorey, formerly of Crash Vegas.
Exhausted from nearly two and a half years of touring, she’d all but disappeared to recharge her batteries, but returned with what would be her true breakout album in July 1997. SURFACING earned her four Juno Awards, including Female Artist of the Year and Album of the Year, and a pair of Grammy Awards, on its way to selling over 11 million copies worldwide in the process. “Building A Mystery,” “Sweet Surrender,” “Adia,” and “Angel” (inspired by the fatal overdose of Smashing Pumpkins touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin) all spent time at or near the top of the charts in Canada, the US, Australia, the UK, and Japan. “Angel” was also used in the 1998 movie soundtrack to “City of Angels,” which spent the better part of a year in Billboard’s Top 40 Albums list.
The album’s release coincided with the birth of Lilith Fair. Inspired by her series of shows a year earlier, it was one of the hottest tickets on the festival circuit that year, and featured Lisa Loeb and Michelle McAdorey (formerly of Crash Vegas), and eventually grossed $16 million in its first year. Over its initial three year run, the tour was seen by an estimated two million people, raising $7 million for various charities in the process, helping launch the careers of Lisa Loeb and Michelle McAdorey, formerly of Crash Vegas, among others. That same year, she also married her drummer Ashwin Sood in a ceremony in Jamaica.
Once Lilith Fair ran its course in ’99, MIRRORBALL, recorded in Portland, Oregon a year earlier was released, and contained all of McLachlan’s fan favourites. The next several years were spent away from the studios, while the label released REMIXED in 2001. However, she did find the odd project to keep herself busy – including recording the Academy Award nominated version of Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me” on the “Toy Story 2” soundtrack, working with Delerium on their album KARMA, appearing on Stevie Nicks’ TROUBLE IN SHANGRI-LA album, and performing on Bryan Adams’ soundtrack to the film, “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” She also showed up on Sheryl Crow’s “Live from Central Park” in 1999, Arista’s 25th anniversary party the next year, and the 2002 BC Cancer Foundation Benefit Concert.
Her return to the record store stands in 2003 was greeted by mixed reviews. Her time off was often spent, turning the emotional time (which included the birth of her first child, only months after the loss of Sarah’s mother. AFTERGLOW was a departure from her previous albums in many ways. Although longtime producer Pierre Marchand was involved, it was predominantly written at home, and on piano.
The album topped the charts in Canada, reached #2 in the US, and also peaked in the top 20 in the UK, France, Australia, and New Zealand. McLachlan’s songs had always found their way into the dance clubs, sampled and remixed. A club version of the first single, “Fallen,” helped introduce her to a new audience, and the album spent time on both the US Adult and Dance charts. Subsequent singles “Answer” (featured in the 2007 movie “The Brave One”), the socially charged “World on Fire,” and “Stupid” helped sell in excess of five million album copies worldwide.
She was nominated for five Junos in ’04, and won for Pop Album and Songwriter of the Year. The album was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album. Back on tour in full force, she hit most corners of the globe, resulting in AFTERGLOW LIVE in late ’04. The album was a condensed version of the DVD, which also included several music videos.
Her foray into the Yuletide market happened in 2006 with the release of WINTERSONG, which eventually peaked as high as #7 in some markets, and was certified double platinum in Canada. Along with covers of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),”Joni Mitchell‘s “River,” and Gordon Lightfoot‘s “Song For A Winter’s Night,” it also contained several traditional favourites, and McLachlan’s own song, the title track.
The latter part of the decade was another period of time away. Along with having a second child, she separated from her longtime husband and drummer Ashwin Sood. She did however make several other television appearances, as well, including “The Tonight Show,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Life Unexpected,” “Oprah,” and others.
Nettwerk re-released MIRRORBALL in ’07, but this time in the concert’s entirety and calling it MIRROR BALL: COMPLETE RECORDINGS, then followed it with RARITIES, B-SIDES, AND OTHER STUFF VOL 2 a year later. It featured collaborations with The Perishers, Cyndi Lauper and Bryan Adams, among others. Then the definitive collection, CLOSER – THE BEST OF SARAH McLACHLAN was released in 2009, which also featured a live version of “I Will Remember You” and the new single, “U Want Me 2” (inspired by her recent marital mishap).
A year later, she recorded the song “Ordinary Miracle” for the remake of the movie, “Charlotte’s Web.” She also performed the song during the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in her adopted hometown of Vancouver, in front of an estimated 3 billion TV viewers worldwide. A new single, “One Dream,” was released in September 2009, and although the rumours it was going to become the official theme song of the 2010 Winter Olympics turned out to be false, nor did the song appear on the LAWS OF ILLUSION album that June, except in Japan.
But in a stroke of marketing genius, customers who pre-ordered the album through her website were given an instant download of the song, as well as a pair of tickets to that year’s return of Lilith Fair. Pierre Marchand returned as producer, and the album debuted at #2 in Canada, selling 22,000 copies in its first week. It debuted on #3 in the US, and backed by the singles “Loving You Is Easy,” “Illusions of Bliss” and “Forgiven,” it was generally regarded by the critics as one of her most emotion-ridden albums to date, although too syrupy for some. Still, she was nominated in three categories at the Juno Awards the following spring, but failed to bring home the ninth of her career.
On September 10, 2011, she performed at a 9-11 ceremony in Stonycreek, Pennsylvania, commemorating the passengers and crew of hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 who fought the hijackers and brought down their airplane a decade earlier. The event marked the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial.
In addition to her musical contributions, Sarah McLachlan has been involved in many philanthropic causes throughout her career. The video for “World On Fire” caused positive controversy, shot on a $15 budget when the rest of the $150,000 was donated to various charities. The difference the donations made was the video. Another pet project was The Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach Program, funding music lessons for disadvantaged children. She’s also done several commercials for the ASPCA, for which “Angel,” “Answer,” and her version of “Silent Night” have all been used. She also appeared at the Philadelphia portion of the 2005 Live 8 concerts, and has guested on several of Neil Young‘s annual Bridge School Benefit concerts in California. For all she’s done, she was awarded the honourary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from Simon Fraser University in 2011.