MUSIC: Sarah Slean revels in newfound freedom
With her intelligent songs, swan-like neck, and ruler-perfect posture, Sarah Slean personifies the word regal. Heck, even her speech patterns are so pleasantly polite and mannered, it’s hard not to mentally curtsy at the end of our conversation. (It’s no real surprise she called her 2008 album The Baroness.) The Toronto-based singer-songwriter (and part-time painter and photographer) has spent 10 years cultivating her cabaret-style pop, defying the traditional conventions of career pursuit with a lengthy sojourn in Paris and a baby grand piano at the ready.
Having amicably ditched long-time label Warner Music a few months ago, Slean is now officially self-employed, overseeing every aspect of her career — from her website to her costumes to carbon-offsetting her current Recessionista tour. While becoming a true Renaissance woman, she’s also found time to get engaged and become a university graduate (a Bachelor of Arts in music and philosophy, natch).
WE spoke with Slean over the phone from her home.
Can you talk a little bit about your decision to leave Warner and go indie?
Slean: Sure. I have nothing but great things to say about Warner Music. The people there were incredible. They did the very best with the system and machinery that exists [there], but for an artist like me who’s never really going to be a major radio artist — and I’m constantly changing my sound and experimenting. You know, I’m not doing one thing and making five albums and hoping people catch on. I need to be constantly evolving. And [Warner] perfectly understood that. I’m really excited now to have this business where I know every arm of it is ethical. It’s important to me to do that, and when you’re with a major company like that, you’re not really sure how things are going down. So, I really want to keep a watchful eye on my business and make sure it’s great.
Are you working toward a new album right now?
The next project for me is something called the Art of Time Ensemble. I did a record with these guys, coming out in June, and it’s a handful of jazz and classical musicians and me, and I chose 12 of my favourite songs by Canadian songwriters, and then we did cover versions of them arranged by people for this ensemble. It’s really cool. We recorded on tape — basically live takes — and we’re going to tour that in the fall. Basically, the remainder of the year I’m probably going to be writing.
What’s the biggest difference for you from being in your twenties to now being in your thirties?
[Laughs] Girls love this question! Isn’t this time the best? I’m doing this show on CBC this week about what you’d write in a letter to your 16-year-old self, and I’m thinking: Forget 16! I had it all figured out then. [At] 24, however? I was a real mess then. If I was to write a letter to that person, I’d say, Just relax! Relax and trust that the universe is taking care of you — even though you can’t tell — and everything is going to be fine. I remember some dark nights of the soul from my twenties when I thought, “I cannot go on.” And I can’t fathom having that thought now.
You talked a little bit about how you’re wanting to create different sounds. What are your influences?
Everything: when I read poetry, when I’m curious about the world — which is kind of a constant state for me. I read up on quantum entanglement, and I’m fascinated by all aspects of life. It’s so insanely diverse and complex; everywhere you look, you could pursue something for a lifetime. I’m looking out my window right now and there’s a seagull flying by, and I could study thermal currents forever and never know it all. That, to me, is what’s exciting about getting up every day.