Volume 92, Issue 68
Thursday, January 28, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Female artists unite in song for women's benefit
Photo by Graham Kennedy
By Christina Vardanis
At the age of 21, most people are only beginning their search for a title. However, Sarah Slean is more than ready to accept the moniker of songstress, as it's been a long time in the making.
"Music is the first love of my life," Slean admits. "Given the opportunity to pursue it, I'm very grateful and I'm going to ride it until the wave stops."
Although the choice to attempt musical notoriety is clear in hindsight, Slean went through the standard set of anxieties which plague teenagers finishing high school careers and embarking on their future.
"When you're 19 and you have to pick your Ontario Academic Credits, everyone's scared shitless because your teachers are telling you it's D-day and you have to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life," she recalls. "I was leaning towards science, thinking maybe I should do what I'm supposed to go to university for four years, get my degree and a respectful job and that'll be that. But music was beginning to occupy more and more of my time and as a whole person it spoke to more of me than anything else."
The passion Slean attributes to her music also surfaces when she speaks of her inspirations. It's clear that while her appreciation for beauty enhances her performance, it also extends into other aspects of her life which translate to inspirations for her work.
"I love literature, I love plays and I love words, basically," she gushes. "A lot of things which inspire me are emotions I can tap readily, or really good, honest, heartfelt art like My Own Private Idaho or J.D. Salinger people who are devoted to making art."
Slean can now officially add herself to that list of devoted artists as she has committed herself to a musical fate signed with Atlantic Records in the United States and Warner Music in Canada. However, while Slean may have signed over some of her recording rights, she is determined to be the master of her own destiny.
"My manager and I thought it would be a good idea to fight for the chance to record a full length indie album before any major label made the stakes a bit higher," she explains. "It's for my own piece of mind. I'm learning a lot about the studio and producing, which I was a total spaz about before. I'm also learning a lot about personally keeping a lid on the pressure which gets to you. I'm glad I don't have to learn this stuff in the middle of a high pressure Atlantic release down the road."
The pianist adds these pressures can actually contribute to the creative process. While some may see a shrink to deal with tensions in the industry, Slean finds the same therapeutic benefits in writing music. "I love the piano," she professes. "It was my friend when no friends were there.
"[Music] is especially cathartic when you're sharing it with other people. There's something great about that sitting in a room and being able to tell people are feeling what you're feeling. It's amazing."
The intimacy Slean feels towards her music characterizes her stage show and creates a welcoming, soothing environment. Slean will share the stage tonight with Sarah Harmer and Oh Suzanna at The Whippet Lounge as part of a benefit for a woman's shelter.
Although Slean hasn't personally known the other two performers for long, she says playing with them is a purely beneficial experience. "I said to Suzy a couple of days ago, 'You guys make me want to go home and write better songs!'"
Photo by Luther Wright
By Clare Elias
Sarah Harmer would probably find herself tucked away on a farm somewhere if her gift for songwriting were to somehow dissipate. But luckily this idealized vision of hiding among farmhouses hasn't happened and this artist is now embarking upon a solo project.
As Harmer takes a break from her five-year career as singer/songwriter for Kingston's Weeping Tile, she brings the dynamics of working within a group and single-handedly integrates them for her own devices. But ultimately, the basic need to express her thoughts in song occurs in both venues.
"I think it's basically therapeutic for me to write songs. I guess subconsciously there's a need to get things out," Harmer admits. And in this cathartic moment she's able to get out those skeletons and, as the artist delicately puts it, exercise her demons. "There's a cluster of ideas in my mind and they somehow get whittled down into songs. It just feels really good to write."
Harmer states the most effective way to get these emotions out on the table is to write as quickly as they surface. "The more sincere songs are the instant ones, they're more honest and even easier to write," she exposes through her soft and languid voice.
This relaxed manner, however, should not be taken at face value. Harmer is not a fierce political activist like Sinead O'Connor, nor is she "free as Eve Alanis." She instead seeks her identity from within and without looking to the media for the standard.
"I ultimately have to be comfortable with myself. There are double standards which exist, I mean there's emphasis on women to be beautiful creatures and attention is placed on the physical beauty. There is the expectation to be more ornamental and we have to change that."
For Harmer, the change comes by not giving into the pressures of succumbing to these stereotypes. Those who do feel it, she postulates, are more swayed by the glare of the media. "Ultimately you have to decide how much success means to you. There's a whole marketing side of stuff like make-up and costuming, but what the decision comes down to is doing things because they're you."
The lead singer of Weeping Tile has fittingly decided to take her talents and find inspiration in a different outlet and touring with Sarah Slean and Oh Suzanna has given her this chance. "I love rock shows, I love travelling around and setting up and playing for lots of people. And by playing on my own I get to slow down the songs, change the line-up and consult myself," she says.
Harmer has now hooked onto the appeal of independence as she propels herself in the direction of an independent release, which she anticipates will be released this spring. "I'm not sure what kind of album it's going to be. I've been working on rock songs for now, but ultimately what I want to do with it is take it with me across the world."
Wherever this female artist will be, she says she's sure to be playing summer folk festivals and "jammin' up the blue grass."
Copyright © The Gazette 1999