Music Interview: Sarah Slean’s heartfelt honesty

By Jesse Keith

People don’t use the same scales to measure success. For some, a major record deal and critical acclaim might be enough. After the success of her 2002 album Night Bugs, though, Canadian musician Sarah Slean found herself feeling empty and unproductive. The stress and attention that comes with budding fame often takes its toll on up and coming stars. Slean insists it wasn’t her success, but the sad and draining state of the society around her that left her feeling dry.

“At one point I was walking outside and I said, ‘What is the point?’ People race to work so they can make money, and then buy clothes. They try and look like a magazine, and have a home that looks like a magazine, and I thought, ‘This is insanity. Why doesn’t anybody realize it’s insanity? It’s fruitless and meaningless.’”

The magazine lifestyle is something Slean stands against. Although a perfect candidate for the poster girl role, she is more interested in creating art and image under her own pretenses. So, she isolated herself in a cabin outside Ottawa in an attempt to recover herself and her inspiration.

“You have to look like you,” Slean says. “That should be the priority. You have to look like you, and talk like you, and be you. It’s so hard when people are screaming at you from all angles. And this isn’t just for a singer-songwriter, it’s for everyone. Everyone is being told at all turns who they are. ‘You are this person, so you buy this list of products.’ That I reject, and I try to move away from it, but it’s almost impossible in this day and age. I needed to peel away all these layers of who I assumed I was, and who other people assumed I was. I needed to peel those off, and just be this raw little nugget. A person, a simple human being.”

In the seclusion of her cabin, Slean rediscovered herself and found the inspiration to resume writing songs and painting. The art she created in the wilderness around Ottawa would be molded in to her new album, Day One, which like her previous album contains both her music and her paintings. To Slean an album is more than just the music on the CD, it’s a complete artistic package.

“I see albums as wonderful pieces of art,” Slean explains. “An album is a great idea in my mind. Ten to twelve songs is just right. And the little booklet is the perfect addition to this little carpet ride you go on when you listen to it. And I don’t know about you, but when I get a record I sit down and I listen to it and I have the little book out. I think it’s a very succinct, ingenious art form. And I want to make every album that I construct to be a singular vision, so I want the art to reflect the music.”

In her eyes, art is a vehicle for change, as sustenance for the human heart in a time when the world’s outlook is grim. Full of themes of rebuilding and revolution, Day One is Slean’s call for change. To spread beauty through the music inside her is Slean’s own personal mission.

“I think that art has been, in the past, successful in making change because it connects the part of humans that is often neglected in time of war or times of greed, and that is the heart,” Slean explains. “I feel more than ever that the world these days is heart starving. I think that the world is kinder when peoples’ hearts are fed. That’s what art is to me, a nudge to the beautiful part inside human beings.

“This is my mission, to spread beauty,” Slean says. “If only everyone made it their mission, for an hour a day, to spread some beauty, to plant a goddamn flower, or do something kind. I think that if you’re full of wonder and reverence for the world and what goes on, and the miracles everywhere then you can’t be an asshole.”

Slean’s mission to spread her art extends past her albums and onto the stage, where she’s known for open and highly energized stage performances. Her goal when in front of a crowd is to achieve nothing less than their undying worship, and she’s willing to give everything to get it.

“I hope that people feel blinding love, that’s what I want them to feel,” Slean says. “It’s so much nakedness that it’s almost too much to bear. I have to drink a glass of wine before I play, because I’m afraid of what I’m going to do. It’s hard to do, but I’m completely prying open my ribcage for all to see.”

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