Sarah Slean is a well-loved singer, but she’s also an accomplished pianist, poet, actor, painter, and photographer. Emilie Bourque spoke with her and asked her about her most recent album, The Baronness—released earlier this year—and about the road she’s taken to get to where she is right now.
Most of your albums are unique in their own right. Can you tell me a few words on how you arrived at your newest album?
Well, I think my fans know by now that I don’t really put out a record unless I feel like some sort of shift, or change, or massive learning has happened inside me. And I can’t really make music, or the music that I believe in won’t come out, unless that happens.
I had many really self-actualizing experiences between my last record and this one. I mean, I lived in Paris, which was not the walk in the park that most people think it would be. It was really trying, it was a dark period for a good chunk of it. At the end of my France stay, I went to a Buddhist monastery, near Bordeaux, in the middle of France, and stayed there for about ten days, which was a really heavy experience as well.
And when I came home, I was just totally laden with experience.
All of the songs that I had started there, I couldn’t finish them, because it was just like everything was too loud. All of the stories, and all of the change that was happening in me, and all the sensations—it was just too big. You can’t finish them at that point. You have to water the seed and be patient.
So when I came back, as I settled down and the dust cleared, all of this stuff started growing and completing themselves. It was a really fertile, calm time for me. And, I think it’s because all of the trials and all of the experiences I went through that their lessons were coming clear to me. When they come clear, then you can really say something with music.
Were your emotions brought on by your surroundings alone? Did it just sort of happen to you when you went there that all of these feelings rushed in?
Well, to me, the great lesson of Paris was learning to be. To be, capital B. B-E. Just to be.
The experiment in that was, I was totally divorced from the things that I had roots in. My family was far away, my friends, who I was in the community of Toronto, and the music community, all of that was gone. It was like all of the costumes and badges that you wear where you represent someone, they’re all taken away. And then you have this crisis: “I don’t know who I am, I don’t mean anything to any of these people. I walk down the street and I could be invisible.” And then you add to that a language barrier, and it’s not just isolating, it’s an existential crisis: “I don’t know who I am without these things,” and “am I worth anything without these things?”
It’s a real panic of the soul. I think coming around to just being you, minus the sub-plot or the titles, the “I am daughter of,” or sister of, girlfriend of… Take away all of those, and there’s still some value to your existence.
Your existence alone is a magical, miraculous thing. It’s really hard in our society, where we’re so obsessed with labels, and with class, and with names, it’s really hard to let go of that and figure out what’s valuable. …Not just valuable, but beautiful. I wanted to hold onto that, and to feel at peace with that. If I had no career anymore, if my family all were vaporized, if Toronto went off the map, if I had none of those things to hang on to, what would be left? Would I love it? And would I cherish it? And would I consider it worth experiencing? And I took from the monastery, yes… I thought the answer was yes.
Sarah Slean will appear live in Concert Saturday, May 17, 2008 at Holy Heart Theatre with guest Royal Wood. Tickets available at the Mile One Centre box office, by phone at 576-7657 (1-800-361-4595) and online at www.sonicconcerts.com