Sarah Slean, New Age Angel

by W. Andrew Powell
Sarah Slean

Full Name: Sarah Hope Slean
Sign/Age: Gemini, 22
Born/Raised: Pickering, Ontario
Started Writing: Age 9
First Instrument: Piano
First Album: Universe
Label: Made it herself
Fave Venues: Gordon Best, Peterborough & Holy Joe’s, Toronto
Fave Color: Blue
Fave City: Toronto
Fave Place In Toronto: Kalendar’s Patio
Fave Radio Station: None, but “CBC if there was a gun to my head”
Day or Night: Night
Fave Season: Fall

Sarah Hope Slean has dreamed of driving with J.D. Salinger, lusted after cellists, had her version of “Julia” played by Our Lady Peace, and was recently signed to a major record label deal with Atlantic Records (in the U.S.) and Warner Music (in Canada). Her music is a thoughtful mix of melody and inspiration that is as much act of love as passion. She builds each song up like an urban concerto, more so than many of her counterparts. So what’s next for Miss. Slean? It looks like stardom.

“I think we are actually selling more records in the states than we are in Canada.”

You might be thrown off by her middle name, but much like everything else about Slean her name actually comes from something more meaningful than mere words. Her parents weren’t influenced by the 60’s either. “Well they aren’t hippies. It was from family that was close to my family, their name was Hope.” But, you wouldn’t be wrong if you thought that Hope didn’t also have a lot of other meanings with Slean. Her music is hopeful, and carries more than just stories. There is a sense of a great event that has happened within her songs.

When you look at Slean you may not expect to hear the stunning vocals that come from her lips. But anytime you see her you can tell what kind of passion lives within her and the true beauty she possesses. Slean sings like an angel and can reach a range of notes that makes your soul move. Her vocals are pop driven but you can also hear her classical training from her time at university shining through. She is passionate about her music, beliefs and life around her. In her latest release, “Blue Parade” her singing is soft and seductive and filled with hope and honesty.

A lot of her music and inspiration comes from Slean’s pure love of sound. “[It is] connected to the awe I feel when I hear sounds that go together well. The phenomena of sound itself is a muse for me. I discovered that when I was younger and listening to classical music. That’s what inspired me to start playing.” You can tell she isn’t just saying this either. When she talks about her music and art she speaks from her heart and doesn’t leave anything out.

If the source of her muse is interesting then her influences speak even more honestly of where her stunning music comes from. “I know that Joni Mitchel has really influenced me and Jeff Buckley. (He’s good because he is all guts. He’s like ‘Here’s my bloody insides’) And I love Tori.” Music is as spiritual to Slean as it is inspiration and that shows in her influences as well as how she describes them: “I love Radiohead so much, it like, makes me what to sit down and cry and I adore PJ Harvey.” It is this raw inspiration from the people she admires that brings the sorrow and happiness to bolder depths in her songs.

“I only draw from my own life and I actually get dreams when I’m awake. There are images that are sent to my head. I don’t know where it comes from, maybe the primordial unconsciousness.” Slean is very connected to the ideas in myth and religion. Many of her songs, like “playing cards with judas”, are about stories or people from the Bible. “I think that the stories in religious texts are good stories… because they resonate and they have to do with myth. You see stuff like that unfolding as you live your life. All of a sudden you become aware that you are you but there is a part of you that isn’t really yours and yours alone. There is a part of you that belongs to the universe. That is guiding your life as well.”

“I am easily romanced by ideas rather than being faced by reality.”

These abstract views are what make Slean’s music unique without being too strange to understand. Her connection to this basic part of humanity is what draws you into her music so quickly. In many ways she is a much more powerful artist than others like Sarah McLaclan because of her obvious connection to more than just music. Her classical music training certainly plays a part in her power, but I also think it is her honesty with her self that makes her music strong.

When I asked her what she thought about Lilith Fair I was a little surprised by her answer. “This one side of the gender gets rammed together with the rest of the gender. Why? WHY? I just don’t understand this. I think goddess myths are like wicked. They are right in between forces that are masculine and forces that are feminine. That doesn’t necessarily mean that these male forces are by men, and you know what I mean. They are aspects. These are forces not guys and gals or guys vs. gals.” I guess I wasn’t expecting this considering the stale belief most people and artists seem to have that Lilith Fair represents all women, when actually it only represents a fraction of the truth.

“I know a lot of artists who sort of say you step into a role when you step on stage. I just don’t have that function at my disposal.”

Her love for music has also affected the kind of guys she falls for. I found out from some other interviews that she really likes cellists. “I’ve played with several cellists. I’ve had a romance with one person and then I had a crush on another guy who plays cello. I am easily romanced by ideas rather than being faced by reality.” In one other interview she went as far as to say that the way cellists play gives her “naughty thoughts.” But she told me that from now on she is aiming to leave that “fetish” behind her.

There is more to Slean than just music though. She also has a love for painting. “I love art. But music and art are always separate. They never happen at the same time [for me]. Which is kind of convenient. I am kind of in an art style right now, but the music then suffers because I haven’t written a song in a while.” I wondered if she ever wanted to go on and become an artist but she said, “I don’t have the patience to study and become better at art. I love it though, and I couldn’t not do it.” (Some of her art can be found at a link below.)

Listening to Slean’s music you might see the same style of images that she uses in her paintings. Her thoughts and visions take on surrealistic qualities, but never leave the realm of earth behind. She dips into herself and uses everything that makes Slean who she really is inside and out. When you listen to her music you can tell that nothing is just a story or an act. It is pure passion and her live performances are like whole other realms of art. “I know a lot of artists who sort of say you step into a role when you step on stage. I just don’t have that function at my disposal. I can’t do it. So when I go up there, all the pain and stuff I am talking about and all the stories are totally real at that moment. It really is hard to do. But, it’s kind of therapeutic at the same time.”

Slean’s imagination has also played a part in the creation of some of her songs. Like “Me and Jerome” a song from her album Universe which is all about a dream she had about J.S. Salinger, the reclusive writer who penned “Catcher In the Rye.” “I had a dream where I went up to his house way in the eastern states and I went up and knocked on this huge drawbridge door. I asked if he was there and he was putting his arm in his coat and he’s like ‘Where are we going.’ And it was just a bizarre dream. And he gets into my car (and it’s pink) and he just starts to drink…heavily.”

Reality has been almost as kind to Slean. Raine, the lead singer for Our Lady Peace has actually performed her version of their song “Julia.” “I’ve met them and Raine and I had talked on the phone for a while after he got my tape. He wanted to see what I was going to do with the music. He really liked the version of Julia I had on the tape. He played it on his cross Canadian tour and said my name in front of 20,000 people. That was great.” But if you think that her records sales are flying here, you should look into the U.S.A. “I think we are actually selling more records in the States than we are in Canada.”

Her last album “Universe” is now a much sought after CD that you would have a hard time finding except for through Slean’s own web site. Slean is also a painter and all of her artwork for her albums and merchandise are her own paintings. Check out some of her links below to see some of her work.

So what happens next? Well, her record labels have given Slean room to make her own music, but the next CD she makes will be with them and not an indie release. What really makes this note worthy is the fact that it will be released in the U.S.A. as well, through a co-venture deal with Atlantic and Warner. This could mean the meteoric rise of Slean’s fame sometime in the next 2 years depending on when Slean works up to her next album. So if I were you I would get her autograph now while you still can, before this star comes burning into her rightful place.

The Discography:

Sarah Slean, Blue Parade ++ 5/5
Slean’s bio compares her to the cure to the “concrete jungle.” The funny thing is that isn’t such a strange comparison. People use music to escape and “Blue Parade” is possibly the best escape from our harsh reality that I can think of. The best part is that Slean keeps her music honest and doesn’t turn it into a fairy tale and yet she has crafted a sound that breathes life into the air.

I try and maintain a certain amount of criticism in any review to keep a balance, but I find myself lacking any real wish for something different. “Blue Parade” is like a great symphony of sound and emotions. Each song is a new impression of the world mixed to music and delicately vocalized. Slean’s voice is always melodic and angelic, but never over flowery. She sounds a lot like Tori Amos, but she has so much more to offer than the same piano music we have heard in the past. The best part is that Slean uses a lot of different instruments to make each song sound fresh and doesn’t fall into the pitfall that Tori often has with the very similar styled piano tunes.
If you are a fan of melody, style, grace, passion and grand sounding backgrounds then I would recommend you buy this satisfying CD. She is also a voice to listen for since she was recently signed to an American record deal…

++Sounds Like: Tori Amos, Heather Nova, Emm Gryner, Fiona Apple

All material copyright: W. Andrew Powell, 1999-2000. Except, S. Slean photo, by Graham Kennedy, courtesy of What? Management. Use by permission only.

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