“Talking with Musical Extraordinaire, Sarah Slean!
by Mary Lansing
Canaidian pianist/singer/songwriter, Sarah Slean has been on my radar for afew years now since I stumbled upon her acoustic performances of Out in the Park & California under my ‘Recommendations’ on YouTube. I was amazed at how much passion & vitality this one petite yet mighty woman could create with a combination of her lyrics & killer piano melodies. Since hitting the scene 15 years ago, Sarah has made 8 albums, starred in 2 short films & a movie musical, published 2 volumes of her poetry, had her paintings held in exhibits & also stacked up several awards & nominations, including 3 Juno & 2 Gemini nods. Sarah is truly one of my favorite artists, so you can only imagine how thrilled & honored I am to have her answer afew questions below for my blog! Enjoy…..
1) You’re such a passionate artist; did you know from a young age that making music was your bliss?
No. I was always drawn to it – and always compelled to create – but there were many years I tried desperately to be something else. As an impressionable kid, I sensed early on society’s discomfort with this path, and I earnestly tried to be something that fit more comfortably in the world, to pursue a safer, more conventional life and get those lovely nods of approval. But every time I tried, it felt like a lie. Then I discovered Joseph Campbell and some of my other favourite thinkers, and I decided that pretending was not an option. My life was going to be a big, beautiful, grandiose thing or I would fail spectacularly trying to make it so. No in between.
2) What’s your composing process like? Do you find yourself writing the music then lyrics, vice versa or are no two songs the same?
There is no process. There is the requisite emptying or silencing of the mind that allows for the spirit (or whatever you want to call it) to open. Music is flying around all the time but we’re just too preoccupied to hear it. When the mind is slack, not working on a task – as close as possible to a state of ego-lessness – the music just settles down on you like a fine mist. I find doing something repetitive can sort of hypnotize me into this state wherein I totally forget myself. I write a lot of songs while washing dishes. It feels almost accidental. Of course, when these magical birds fly into your consciousness, some are incomplete, and that’s when the rolling-up–of-the-sleeves comes in. I take these gifts and polish them, mold them gently, but not too much. Just enough to reach a brief feeling of rightness, wholeness or consonance. Then I stop. I have books and books of unfinished “birds”… but in diligently cultivating that empty, open state of mind – what the Taoists call “non-doing” – the rest of the song eventually comes…
3) Your trip to Rwanda was not only super inspiring to me, but also courageous. Could you tell my readers a bit more about what led you there?
I was invited by “Song for Africa” to participate in an album project that paired four Canadian musicians with four Rwandan musicians. While living in the capital Kigali for three weeks, we also took part in a documentary that was aimed at educating the Canadian public (and ourselves) about the 1994 genocide. It was a devastating, life-changing glimpse into Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, and also the glory of the human spirit. What these people were able to forgive in each other is absolutely awe-inspiring. The strength and joy with which they greet life really altered my perspective of my own, and of humanity in general. The whole spectrum is within every one of us – we can all become cruel tyrants or merciful angels. As the Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart. “
4) Do you have a song, whether your own or from someone else, that represents you?
“What a Wonderful World” – I love this song, always have, simply because it effortlessly and gently makes a catalogue of what is truly sweet about living.
This should be done more often, if only to help us practise focussing our attention in this direction.
“Imagine” – same goes for this song. I love this dream, and I still believe in it.
Of my own I would say the song ‘Life’ from Land & Sea – because this really encapsulates my feeling of utter WONDER at life itself – the shocking, awesome fact of existence still dazzles me. Everything around us, everything in history, is miraculous – even the horror and filth and sorrow. “Life” capital L is a complex, beautiful manifestation of some radiant mystery and I could write music about this glorious question mark until the day I die.
5) And…now, my most important question, will you ever do a tour in the states?!!?
Ha! We shall see. I’m eagerly anticipating the alignment of certain stars…
For more information on Sarah, including her latest album, Land & Sea, please visit her web-site & a huge thanks to Sarah & Beth Cavanagh for making this post possible! xo”