Canadian Musician - July/August 2017 - Page 37

“It’s an exciting time in music in general … A lot of those tried-and- true boundaries are melting because they have to melt. The whole infrastructure around live music, music sales, it’s all dissolving.” nuts, you’re going to have fewer of those moments.” Like the business side of music, record- ing is part of the duality Slean must contend with to get her metaphysical message out. Luckily, on Metaphysics, she had top-notch help to make those often painful portions of recording rela- tively painless. “There’s the physical matter that has to be arranged and moved around and there are very specific laws,” says Slean. “I can’t just throw a mic up and expect the piano to sound great. It has to be managed. I like to work with people who live in that sphere. They put in the 10,000 hours. They know what to do instinctively and just do it.” To that effect, she has high praise for her collaborators on Metaphysics. “Hawksley, I believe in 100 per cent. It’s like we’ve been separated at birth. He’s a really brilliant mind and that, first and fore most, is what attracts me to an artist. What do they think about? What’s their metaphysics? What’s their world- view? I feel like Hawksley’s worldview is most decidedly on the magical side and that delights me, it inspires me, it gets music stirring inside me. I’m just such a fan of his music. It drives me crazy he wasn’t way more successful because I think he should have been.” On former Attack in Black member- turned-versatile troubadour Dan Romano: “I’m such a fan as well. I think his songs are incredible and you could strip them down and put them into any costume and they’d still be great songs. My respect for him is first and foremost as a songwriter, but on the production side he and his engineer are a great team with great sounds.” Slean credits Van Tassel with helping to design the dreamy soundscapes that pop up throughout Metaphysics. His relaxed approach helped her dip her toe back into the songwriting headspace, with their sessions often involving more chat- ting and tea than tinkering on the piano. “He’s a fascinating musician,” she says. “I would say he’s becoming a sound designer. He’s really interested in creating new sounds. He’s a kind of sound architect.” As mentioned, Slean herself took on the hefty role of string arrangements on Metaphysics, a task that came only towards the end of pre-production. “I don’t write the string arrange- ments until the song is almost there,” she explains. “For me, I start with rhythm. I get the form of the song in my head. I have the lyrics, the chord changes, I have the sections. We start in the studio with trying to figure out where the groove lies.”   It’s been over half a decade since the world heard new Sarah Slean music. That’s a long time by the standards of most album-tour-album-tour career cycles, but in a metaphysical sense, it’s been a blink of an eye. The world is bil- lions of years old, so what’s another few spins around the sun? Her two decades as an active artist speak to her vision of what her music should be: a progressive mix of classical, cabaret, and pop aimed at the pleasure centres of the brain without stooping to crass commercialism or cozying up to what the suits think a radio hit should be. That persistence has gotten her re- spect from the start. This writer remem- bers one of his first rock concerts, way back in 1997, when Our Lady Peace performed Slean’s version of their song “Julia.” Since those days when music was dominated by the tried and tested drums-bass-guitars set-up, the pop world has shifted massively, driven by sounds that largely originated in Can- ada. Bands like Metric, The Dears, and Arcade Fire have made strange instru- mentation and experimentation du ri- geur for any aspiring star. That raises the question: Does Slean feel like the music world has finally caught up to what she’s been doing all along? Yes and no. She’s a part of some- thing bigger, as are we all, and that larger picture is constantly shifting and chang- ing, whether it’s pop music or some of the concepts of human identity that were once thought unchangeable. “It’s an exciting time in music in gen- eral,” she says. “Not the business part, but the evolution of the art form. It’s really changing significantly. A lot of those tried and true boundaries are melting because they have to melt. The whole infrastructure around live music, music sales, it’s all dissolving. The way people find music now and discover music isn’t by going into an HMV and flipping through their genre. That is completely dead. Genres are dying. I think that’s a theme in the world right now as a whole. Gender as a concept is becoming blurry and unstable. All kinds of things like that are shifting. “Maybe that’s why music is shifting, because it’s reflecting the times. It’s re- flecting the shake-up of the old model of get a job, work for 25 years, and retire. Where does that exist? It doesn’t exist anymore. The old structures are crum- bling because they must… I think the job of artists is to reflect their times. It’s kind of a dream come true for true music fans, but it’s also bewildering, because how do you organize all that music? How do you find it?” Yet again, that theme comes back – things dissolve and come back, because music is eternal; or, as another wise mas- ter of the audio arts once said, “ Every- thing is everything.” To Slean, that’s the wonderful mystery of music. Genres dissolve into each other and are reborn. It’s a hopeful message, and one that applies to more than music; it applies to everything. If all music is one, maybe all humanity is, too. During these politically troubled times, the metaphysics of it provide a glimmer of hope. “If we can take that to art,” she sighs, “can we take that to the rest of the world?” It’s a hard question with no set answers. But those kinds of questions are what drive her art. Let’s just hope she doesn’t take another half-decade to ponder. Adam Kovac is a freelance journalist based out of Montreal. C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N • 37