intimate artist reflectionsalbum reviews:
The Bridge (2004)
reviews and interview © Audrey and Russ Elliot 2005
images © Tara MacLean or EMI (Canada) 2005
used with permission
formatted for 800 x 600 or larger windows
last updated: 20 October 2005
Tara MacLean's solo albums drew critical acclaim through the end of the 90s and into 2000 yet aside from recent updates in her web journal, precious little has been written about this stunning Canadian singer songwriter. Both Silence and Passenger continue to draw interest from female vocalist enthusiasts, the albums containing timeless tracks, and produced to highlight Tara's lovely voice.
With thanks to Colette Baron-Reid (feature), we established contact with Tara and began to correspond, working together to plan an article about the last four years of her life. The result is an in-depth interview with Tara that begins just after Passenger was released, exposes significant developments in Tara's personal life and music through the launch of the Shaye album The Bridge and concludes revealing plans for the future, both with Shaye and her solo career.
Musical Discoveries: So what’s been happening in your life since the release of your last album?
Tara MacLean: Since the release of Passenger, my life has taken a huge turn. I toured for eighteen months on that CD and had an amazing time and many brilliant opportunities, but I was really burnt out from lack of sleep. I was officially exhausted from a crazy schedule and lost my voice a few times. I knew I needed to stop, so after a tour of Asia, my husband and I moved from L.A. to B.C. where we could breathe and relax. I was advised to write a record quickly as all our work in the States had paid off in the sense that everyone knew and liked us and they really wanted me to deliver a strong record so we could make 'it' happen. I knew I was empty, and that any offering I gave at that point would be contrived.
What happened then?
I yearned for stillness and for a child. So, nature overrode management and I got pregnant! I was thrilled and really wanted to raise her in Canada. George W. had just been--I don't want to say re- elected, as he hadn't been elected in the first place--given access to the button and I just wanted to get out of there. One month after we came home, September 11 happened. As I sank to the floor in horror, my hands wrapped tightly around my belly, I said a silent prayer of thanks for the message I had received in the form of instinct, to take us back to Canada.
What happened when you returned to Canada?
When we got to B.C., I was informed that my medical insurance had been cancelled since I had been out of the country for six months without informing them. Here I was all hopped up on how great Canada was for it's Socialized medicine only to get that news. They refused to confirm whether they could reinstate it and with a baby on the way I had to figure it out. We decided that Toronto was best as we had a great deal of friends there and Ontario was happy to grant me Medicare immediately.
How was the delivery?
I tried to have Sophia at home, but she was 'face up' and so I had back labour for fifteen hours. The whole story is on my website and it is pretty funny so I won't go into it in detail, sufficed to say that back labour is hell and there is no break between contractions. You just go from being in pain, to being in more pain. But we kept our sense of humour which is essential in childbirth! So I went to the hospital after all--hooray insurance--and she was born on December 19, 2001.
So, how is family life with a baby in the house?
I had never wanted anything so much in all my life. I loved my husband so much and to have a baby with him was ultimate! But I noticed that I was not feeling the bliss that I had expected. I was, once again, getting no sleep, my nipples were cracked and bleeding--sorry for the graphic nature of that comment, but it is important to know it is not glamorous at all--I had an extra 45 pounds on my little frame, I was crying all the time, and I just felt like Sophia was a little creature in my bed. I would see her there, full of life and desperate to feed, I would weep with pain every time she latched on and I would think of all the children on Earth with no food and no mothers and who needed love.
Did you realize that you were experiencing post-partum depression?
I could never have admitted to being depressed, because I have very strong views on the abuse of that word and the resulting catastrophe of a nation on happy pills. I have since learned that I was not alone in my sorrow, and that other mothers experience this all the time. That there is a mourning period where we lose our girlhood and enter motherhood, that our society is not constructed to really properly help new mothers and we become isolated and alone. But this was not the romantic picture I had painted for myself, nor had Bill. He was quite unhappy and disillusioned. This didn't help as he moved further and further away, I became more resentful of my life. Also, his job fell through and we had very little money. But I knew somewhere inside that this was all going to pass and that there was light coming. That simple philosophy has always kept me alive.
What happened with your music during this time period?
Two of my girl friends, Kim Stockwood and Damhnait Doyle asked me if I wanted to make a record with them. I though it would be fun and no pressure. I did most of my vocals with Sophia in my arms and I felt like I was back into life a little. I saw more clearly that I was actually an enhanced version of who I had been, having become Sophia's mother. I was healing from some strange trauma, and then, On May 24, 2002, My sweet little sister, Shaye, was killed in a car accident.
It is difficult to imagine how devastating this tragedy has affected you and your family. How did you cope?
There are no words to describe the grief. There are no songs, no wails that can express. No physical pain that can compare. No power that can bring her back. The darkness surrounded and I was sinking. There was nowhere for my husband to find hope and he kept slipping from my view. Finally he was gone and I was alone with a tiny child, and with only my sorrow to carve into me. But in the distance I heard a sound. I lay there on my living room floor, half dead, listening.
Two other voices--Kim and Damhnait--and their voices mixed with mine and I arose. These sounds kept me alive and day after day we worked on music. Day after day they took Sophia in their loving arms to give me a moment to become reacquainted with myself. And after awhile, I was more awake, more able to see light again. Hope found me. Amazing how the Universe works. For everything it takes away, something comes in to replace it. I still had sisters, I still had love.
What happened with all the music you produced with Kim and Damhnait?
We called the project Shaye after my sister. Since then, we have toured and had an amazing run. They are incredible women and we laugh so much. Friends are our true healers. We are like a family. We are working now on our second and possibly final recording. We all have solo work to do.
What about your solo work?
I have begun my first record since all of this. Management wanted it in finished in five months, but they are getting it five years later. Bill will be producing it. We are good friends and we work hard to parent Sophia together knowing that love has it's own course. We still have so much love for each other and he is my musical partner. There are very few people who could have stayed during such a dark time. I am told that the first year of having a baby causes the most divorces, throw in a death and you are pretty much goners.
Did you know from early on that you always wanted to be a musical artist?
I didn't always know I wanted to be a musician. In fact, I saw my parents as kind of irresponsible for being artists. I was the oldest child and although I love my parents and loved that my mother was an actress and my father a singer, I noticed that our lifestyle was very strange compared to the other children at school. We had no money ever, and we moved constantly. Sometimes traveling for entire summers in a van.
Now I see it as romantic and I am grateful to not have been raised differently, but at the time, I just wanted to fit in. Some kids weren't allowed to come to my house because there were often gay people there, and, so it was rumored, pot smoking! Heavens! So, I went the opposite way.
Were there other career aspirations you had while growing up?
I wanted to be a lawyer! I figured it was a more stable occupation and that probably, at one time or another, my family might need one. Then I fell in love with environmentalism. I loved the Earth and felt responsible for her and found my voice was strong and resonant on the blockades. Songs about my love of nature poured out of me. One day, while sailing to Salt Spring Island, B.C. on a ferry, my friends and I started to sing, and people sat around listening. Two of those people were from Nettwerk Records, and they gave me a record deal! I figured, I'll make a record, sure. Then I'll get back to work. Ha!
Did your religious upbringing have any bearing on the direction you took initially and presently?
I think my religious upbringing when I was very young showed me that music was a great tool of hope and praise and communion. I carry that with me in my songs and performances wherever I go. I did have a lot of work to do 'un-churching' myself. I never felt that the institutionalized church was where I belonged, but I did and still do really groove on the messages of Jesus. As most people not of the 'Flat Earth Society', I am extremely concerned about the fundamentalist Christian Right and it growing support. The 'Crusaders' are a very dangerous bunch, so I am glad I can take my young love of God and apply it to my life now and see the difference between those doing God's work, and those serving their own ignorance.
How have your recent life experiences affected the directions of your music?
My music has become less cluttered. I was so excited to have all these amazing musicians to work with and so I tended to lose my voice at times in the production. I think this is symbolic of who I have become in the last five years. When you experience loss, you also lose layers that keep you heavy. Once these veils lift, and you are more awake, things become magnificently clear. I go in at the end of September to begin recording Desolation Sound. My goal is to keep it sparse and raw and honest.
Recently you've been working and touring with Shaye and also working on new solo material.
The band is amazing. We are all so close and have seen each other through so much. The music really reflects that and our first record was really strong. Although we had never sung together before, we found that our voices were so different that they worked perfectly together! We are also such completely different artists that it created a whole new entity unlike any of our previous solo music.
An interviewer asked us a great question once to describe what role we each play. If your tour bus was attacked by a vicious group of Cape Breton Mountain chickens, how would you each react. Kim would be sitting us all down, with a drawn out plan of how to deal with it, I would go out with some sage and try to talk peacefully to the chickens, using my conflict resolution skills, and Damhnait would just take out her shot gun.
The funny thing about that is that looking at it now, we have all taken on some of each other's characteristics. We learn from each other constantly and our next recording is going to be incredible! We have been singing together for years now and it shows! It sure is great to tour with girls. We all have the same shoe size. Plus, our vision is similar when it comes to charities. We tend to do female oriented work, like Shelters. I think the record can be ordered through our website.
How would you describe the evolution of your music between Silence and Passenger?
Silence was written mostly in my teens, and so I think it reflects a naiveté. It was my heart, my own pain. Whereas Passenger was written with more maturity and a stronger world view. It seemed like a very natural progression. Once you get yourself together, you can look more closely at the world and how you are needed in it. I also toured for 2 years after the release of Silence, so my voice was different and my love of rhythm really comes out. I was also happy and in love so there are some moments of bliss on that record. I loved touring Passenger.
Continuing this thought about evolution, how then would you describe how your work has evolved between Passenger and the present day?
Since Passenger, I think I have gone back to a more simple approach. I think the world is thirsty for music that is lovely and not contrived--something that isn't made into a formula to sell the doughnuts. My manager, Terry, only asked one thing of me on this record. Be exactly who you are, and it will be great.
Motherhood probably makes your time for artistic pursuits a premium. So how do you mix making music with the obligations of family life?
Skin of my teeth! But I work well when multitasking. I find that motherhood feeds my desire to make music and vise versa. I have no idea how I will juggle two and the music career--probably with a lot of help. I also belly dance. There is so much pressure to do everything and to do it well ... clean house, kids, career, look good, be an activist, etc. But the greatest activism I think you can do is to put your children first, while still following your own dreams. That way you are a loving example of how to live as a productive part of the solution.
Tell us about the new love in your life.
I believe I have found someone who will be beside me as a warrior, for better or for worse. His name is Ted and he has asked me to be his wife. We are expecting a child in February and I am ready to try again. I love who I have become, I love the path that has lead me here, I love that we seem to learn more from what we lose than from anything else. And that nothing is really ever lost.
Does he influence your music in any unique way that our readers would find especially interesting?
Ted ... Tedtedtedtedted ...Ted + Tara ...Tara loves Ted ... 2gether 4ever ... it is all over my binder ... just kidding. He is amazing. He is a yoga teacher and a beautiful soul. He had brought such peace into my life. He is also an organic farmer so our plans eventually take us out of the city. He has changed my life in that I know with everything in me that I am unconditionally loved. I wrote a song for him called "Here and Now." It is about how every step, every road, every mistake has lead to him, and so everything makes sense now.
Are there any artists that you’ve worked with that you picked up any tips from, either passed on, or something that you've seen that you've brought into your own performances?
I have learned so much from so many--Sarah McLaughlan--stay centered. Dido--space and simplicity in your music, and stay humble and be generous. Paula Cole--it is not about when the world is ready for you, it is when you are ready for yourself. Bare Naked Ladies--humour. Ron Sexsmith--honesty. Nelly Furtado--let go and sing. The Indigo Girls--community and harmony. Jann Arden--balance the joy and pain. My Father--look them in the eye, never forget you are part of a team.
We understand you had a recent visit to Ireland. What fulfillment did you get from these travels--and other travels!--and did the visit or music you heard while traveling influence you in any way, musically, spiritually or otherwise?
I love to travel. I am from a long line of gypsies. We are drifters in a sense. We all are really, we just don't know it. I can not stay still too long. Ireland is a home for me and the music is a part of my soul. The Irish have such wonderful musical blood. I get so much out of seeing the world and finding my place in it. It fills my spirit, no matter where I go, to see how music can connect us all, even if we don't speak the same language, we feel the same things. We are inspired by the expression itself.
Can you tell us about some of the songs you are preparing to record for your third album? And, what can you tell us about the messages you are trying to convey through your lyrics?
The songs are back to basics, and the lyrics are quite accessible. I have a tendency to write so vaguely that you have to decode my messages. These are straight up. I did a lot of co-writing, and found a tremendous wealth of song in that process. i also am doing some covers, including a James Taylor song. I think I am doing what I have always done with regard to the message in my music. I have a mission to connect. Whatever level that is, is has to be deep and it has to be surface. I have to make you feel understood, and I have make you laugh ... for that you have to come see me live.
What kind of reactions do your fans give you after hearing your material?
No one has really heard the new stuff. But I get a great reaction from people regarding my music. Live gets a better reaction. It is the greatest high in the whole world to sing a song and get instant love right back! Next to having your baby smile at you, I guess. The best thing anyone has ever said to me is that my music has helped to heal them. I am so glad, because it saves my life again and again. Someone told me they used my CD to help calm them during childbirth. That was amazing, except they probably won't want to hear it again now.
Are you planning on touring again as a solo act or with your own band? Do you have any plans to tour abroad?
I plan to tour for around three more years on a full-time basis. Forever, if I can tour now and then. I will go where the demand is and I will start again with building a fan base. From the ground, up, I guess! I would love to sing all over the world. I have been to Asia and America and Canada of course, but I feel Australia calling, and Europe and ...
What kind of feeling do you get from the audiences--who we understand are ultra-positive--when performing on stage?
The feeling I get from audiences no matter where I have played is always positive. Although, opening for Bare Naked Ladies once someone yelled, "Show me your tits!" I was mortified, and Steven Page laughed and said that he gets asked that all the time, too! Next time I'll say, "What? Play you my hits?"
Do you think the internet has the power to influence your musical career in any way?
The internet has huge power over my musical career. In fact, the internet can make or break a career. I remember when Jewel's fan club, the Everyday Angels, really started a networking of music fans. They bought CD's and concert tickets! They spread the word about new artists and even took some of them under their wings. Since then, loads of netfan clubs have had tremendous power in the music world. I have been lucky to have found my way into cyberspace. I googled my name for fun one day and I was shocked!
Any negative influences?
In the negative, The Shaye record was a victim of downloading. We had a huge song in Canada with two top ten hits, and we didn't even go gold. That is only 50 thousand copies in Canada. So radio and awards were everywhere, but we were still borrowing clothes and putting shoes on our visas for the fancy galas.
What are some of your musical hopes and dreams for the next twelve months?
In the next twelve months, I just want to have my solo record recorded, the Shaye record recorded and released, and some great summer touring under my belt with the kids! Shaye stays in Canada primarily so that helps so much! I think this Shaye record will be special and well loved.
We'll be keenly watching for the new releases. Thanks for this intimate interview Tara!
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