Sarah McLachlan celebrates 30 years of 'Fumbling' with new tour: 'I still pinch myself'

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Three decades ago, the voice of Sarah McLachlan breached the clatter of grunge with a warm, glistening voice and a dozen introspective songs.

Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” wasn’t McLachlan’s first record, but her third. Nor was it the Canadian songbird's biggest seller. That would come four years later with “Surfacing," as well as the start of Lilith Fair, the all-female touring ensemble spearheaded by McLachlan.

But “Fumbling,” with ethereal songs including “Possession,” “Good Enough” and “Hold On,” landed McLachlan on the U.S. charts for the first time, albeit in the lower regions of the Billboard Hot 100.

McLachlan, 55, will celebrate the legacy of that breakthrough with a 30-city tour that kicks off May 25 in Seattle and runs through theaters and amphitheaters around North America through July 6 in Houston.

She’ll be joined by Feist on all shows and, in Toronto, Allison Russell. Tickets go on sale Dec. 12 via a Citi card presale and Dec. 15 at noon local time via livenation.com.

McLachlan recently settled in with a cup of tea for a phone chat from her home in Vancouver to discuss the tour, during which she’ll play “Fumbling” straight through along with other hits that will likely include “I Will Remember You,” “Building a Mystery” and yes, “Angel.” 

Sarah McLachlan kicks off the 30th annviersary tour for "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" May 25 in Seattle.
Sarah McLachlan kicks off the 30th annviersary tour for "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" May 25 in Seattle.

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Question: This album was your international breakthrough, but it was really a slow burn in the U.S. Do you remember going back three decades what you were feeling at that time?

Sarah McLachlan: On one hand it feels like 30 years and on the other, the blink of an eye. It’s crazy to think it’s been 30 years and I’m still doing it. I still pinch myself to think that I get to call this thing I do a job. What a gift. But I remember it being a slow burn and being grateful for that. It felt like I was able to become used to fame a little bit, even though it’s pretty weird. I wasn’t an overnight success. I was on tour for almost two years. Friends got married, friends had kids and I was on the road. It was this weird little microcosm and I loved it. I loved playing live. I loved the community that touring built. And it was an easy record to write – the first and only easy record to write.

Why do you think that was?

I was single for the first time in my adult life. I had space and was really coming into my own, figuring out who I was. It was incredibly liberating. It gave me space and time to be selfish.

You’re going back on the road for a 30-date tour in May. Do you like the touring life?

I’m super-excited but also trepidatious. I haven’t been on tour since 2016. I’m old! (Laughs.) I know the Stones do it and lots of bands are still doing it. But with COVID I got really comfortable being home and staying home. I’ve traveled my whole adult life whether for work or personal. I’m not good at sitting still and I got really good at sitting still. As one gets older, one gets used to their creature comforts.

Sarah McLachlan performs on the Zyn Stage during the 2022 Beale Street Music Festival at the Fairgrounds at Liberty Park.
Sarah McLachlan performs on the Zyn Stage during the 2022 Beale Street Music Festival at the Fairgrounds at Liberty Park.

Four years after “Fumbling” you had an even bigger album with “Surfacing” and the ballad “Angel,” which became synonymous with that heart-tugging ASPCA spot. Do you feel like that PSA has become a part of your legacy as much as your music and did you ever think it would follow you this far into your career?

Oh God, no. I had a friend on the board of the ASPCA and she said we’ve never had a celebrity endorsement before so would I do it? It was two hours of my time and they used the song and I had no idea of the impact. But I am now a meme because of it. I never meant for it to define me or that song that way. One way it was amazing is that it raised so much money and awareness and hopefully helped a lot of animals. But that isn’t how I would have chosen to define my life’s work. I’m more interested in children and music education. If there’s a hill I need to die on it would be humans, not animals.

You’ve had the Sarah McLachlan School of Music in Vancouver for a long time.

We’re 21 years into it and have three locations now (two opened in Edmonton, Canada, in 2016). During Lilith Fair we raised (ticket) money to give back to women’s shelters and it really instilled in me the power of a platform to create change. Around that time all of the public schools were cutting their music programs. The only reason I’m still here is because of music and it pained me that kids wouldn’t have that emotional outlet.

Some of the performers in the 1998 Lilith Fair concerts. Left to right: Lisa Loeb, Bonnie Raitt, Shawn Colvin, Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, Meredith Brooks, Rebekah, Margo Timmins, Liz Phair, and Tracy Bonham.
Some of the performers in the 1998 Lilith Fair concerts. Left to right: Lisa Loeb, Bonnie Raitt, Shawn Colvin, Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, Meredith Brooks, Rebekah, Margo Timmins, Liz Phair, and Tracy Bonham.

When you look back at Lilith Fair and then today’s landscape of female singers, is there a sense of pride that you helped kick-start a movement? 

I’ve seen a real positive shift over the years. Music is so cyclical, and the pendulum always swings wildly one way or the other. A lot of artists have had incredible success, Taylor (Swift), Beyonce, Olivia (Rodrigo), Gracie Abrams, Phoebe Bridgers – they’re just amazing doing it on their own terms and having great success. Whether I or we had a hand in that … I know for sure (it influenced) people like Brandi Carlile, who sat up in the bleachers as a teenager and has told me, “I watched you tell me that we could do anything and you showed me it was possible.” Brandi is an amazing advocate for reaching back and pulling along all of these amazing women.

You sold your catalog to Primary Wave Music earlier this year. Why was it the right time? 

A number of reasons. It became normalized, I wasn’t so intimidated by it. We did the math and it made sense. I sold a portion of it, not all. I liked that the folks there were from the music industry and actively keen to work the music and I hadn’t had that in the past. I know the work it takes to get back in the game; you need to make a whole lot of noise these days. Also, the idea of having money in hand now opposed to later seemed like a good thing to do. It allowed me to restructure my lifestyle and we’ve been talking about an endowment for the Sarah McLachlan Foundation for the schools.

Your last album and single were seven years ago. Are you working on new music?

I’m in the process of writing. I could not tell you when a new record is coming, but there will be some new songs played on the tour.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sarah McLachlan 30th anniversary tour Fumbling Towards Ecstasy