Photo: Ivan Otis
Photo: Ivan Otis

Five Questions With… Sarah Slean

Sarah Slean is getting ready to wrap up 2017 with her first Toronto headlining concert in five years. The singer/songwriter’s long-awaited hometown return takes place Dec. 12 at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre, wrapping up a fall tour in support of her ninth studio album, Metaphysics. The evening will feature songs from the album, a number of her classics, and a sprinkling of holiday favourites.

Signed to Atlantic/Warner Records at the tender age of 19, Slean is a three-time Juno nominee who has also published two volumes of poetry, appeared in films, penned two string quartets, held numerous exhibitions of her paintings, and shared the stage with some of Canada’s professional orchestras.

Classically trained from the age of five, she routinely collaborates with cutting-edge contemporary classical ensembles like The Art of Time and has been invited to sing world premieres by Canada's leading living composers. Citing such diverse influences as Leonard Bernstein, Joni Mitchell, Buddhism and Bach, her music borrows aspects of cabaret, rock, pop, and orchestral, all knit together by poetic lyrics and a voice described by the CBC as “a 19th century Kate Bush.”

In addition to headlining theatres across Canada, Slean has also toured internationally on her own, and opening for artists such as Bryan Ferry, Rufus Wainwright, Alanis Morissette, Andrew Bird, Feist, Ron Sexsmith, Chris Isaak, and Buck 65. Metaphysics, released this past April on Cadence Music/Fontana North, has earned her praise for the dramatic orchestral arrangements as well as her signature songwriting style.

For more info on tickets for the Dec. 12 show, go to


How are you preparing for this first Toronto headlining show in five years?

Rehearsing! We’re also setting up an excellent donation drive for the St. Felix Centre in Toronto. We're going to make food and cash donations from the proceeds of the holiday show to this fantastic place. People who bring a non-perishable food item on Dec. 12 to the Harbourfront Theatre will receive $5 off any merchandise purchase. We will also match donations in food and cash directly to St. Felix.

Metaphysics came out earlier this year. What's your perspective now on making it?

I’m proud of it. I think it’s a very distilled, cohesive statement of my lyrical perspective, string writing, and songwriting. Musically, I never really sit still. I find myself hungry for change again, which is why I’m working with orchestras next year on some challenging contemporary work, performing again with the Art of Time Ensemble, writing film scores at the Canadian Film Centre, and composing a classical commission for the Made In Canada Ensemble.

You've always been an artist who works in many disciplines. How do you balance them all?

They announce themselves to me. When my ears need a rest, they go into a kind of dormancy. If I don’t listen to as much music, I won’t feel a strong desire to play or sing. That’s when my eyes start to see more intensely, and the desire to create visual work takes over. The quietest possible internal state is the one conducive to writing poetry, I find, but that one happens more rarely as the pace of life is pretty nuts these days.

What's been the most significant change in your life in the past year?

I fell in love.

If you could fix anything about the music business, what would it be?

I think the expectation to churn out content is diluting the quality of music out there on a massive scale. This tendency, in any field, is bound to produce lower quality output and is subsequently seen as value-less by the consumer. I think this trend is due to the widespread confusion between art and fame. I don’t think any art of lasting value to the human spirit can be made by a person seeking fame from the start. In my view, an artist seeks an authentic confrontation with life and takes risks to explore it ceaselessly. That requires humility and time. I don’t expect to be changed on a fundamental level by a tweet, but I do know I can be changed in such a way by a novel.

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