Sarah McLachlan and producer Pierre Marchand share stories behind ‘Surfacing’

Stories behind Sarah McLachlan's 'Surfacing'

TORONTO — Sarah McLachlan and producer Pierre Marchand have worked together for years, but it’s their 1997 collaboration “Surfacing” that left its strongest mark.

Winning two Grammys and four Junos, the album was instrumental in launching the Lilith Fair music festival.

As “Surfacing” turns 20 this year, The Canadian Press asked both McLachlan and Marchand to reflect on stories behind two songs on the album:


On “Angel”: McLachlan was staying at a cottage in Montreal when she came across a Rolling Stone article about the heroin overdose of Smashing Pumpkins keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin. Still recovering from the gruelling tour for her 1993 album “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy,” she found herself shaken by the story of a fellow musician swallowed up by his addiction. It took her about two days to write the song, which went gold in the U.S.

Over the years, “Angel” has also taken on a different meaning as the backing track for heartwrenching SPCA commercials.

“It seems to be the one, more than any other song, that people have related to,” she says.

“(I’m shopping at) 2 o’clock in the morning at Walmart in middle America and it’s like: ‘You’re that dog lady.'”


On “Building a Mystery”: Elements of the song had been rolling around in Marchand’s head for a long time, he says, but the producer was never able to formulate a song out of them. The ideas started to form one Saturday night as he drove back to the “Surfacing” studio from a Montreal party.

“The next day Sarah was in the studio, and I was making coffee, and she was playing these chords,” Marchand remembers.

“I started singing my lyrics on top of the chords she was playing … I asked her to vamp — like improvise — on top of those chords in a certain attitude. And from that I spent the evening writing a whole bunch of verses. The next day we sat together, went through all the lyrics, Sarah modified a few lines and came up with a few new ones.”


Follow @dfriend on Twitter.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

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