If you got the chance to ask your favourite musician one question, what would it be? We asked our Twitter followers what they would ask Canadian songstress Sarah Slean. up! talked to Slean from her home in Toronto to ask her your burning questions on everything from the silly (@HULKSLEANFAN wanted to know why she doesn’t wear green—she just laughed) to the philosophy behind some of her most popular songs.
Check out the December 2012 issue when Slean answers our questions about her upcoming musical, her new tour and her love for Halifax.
@TrulyJo wants to know: what is your favourite song?
That’s an impossible question because you love songs for different reasons. I’d say the best song the entire world has come up with so far is probably “Imagine” by John Lennon.
“Lucky Me” is borderline intellectual. I was interested in the intersection of science and religion during that time around 2004, how repellent they were to each other and yet how much they need each other. A perspective of the world without aspects of both was a very incomplete picture. So I turned science and religion into these characters. Science was this man that was paralyzed, so he could not ascend the staircase. He was just very bound to the facts at hand. “I’d be more inclined to help him, if he could remember my name,” meaning he’s so literally about the data that he doesn’t see the human behind the name. Then the character Faith was this airy-fairy beauty that couldn’t descend to earth. “Light light, Easter white, when it comes time for kneeling, she’ll say ‘you go first,’” meaning she’s so esoteric and ephemeral she won’t even come to Earth and get into the dirt of what it means to be human and to be flawed. So basically, I was turning those two ideas into characters and show tension between those two ways of thinking.
@EttieKit wanted to know if you ever dream about songs. You mentioned when you were writing Land & Sea that a lot of them came to you in dreams. Is it you or is it divine?
Oh, that’s a very interesting question. I think about this a lot because I am really interested in cognitive science. What is consciousness? What does that mean? I’ve been woken up by music before; it’s in my head and I go and write it all down. If you think about the experience of your own, consciousness and thoughts do the same thing. They come into your head without you willing them to come. And half the time we can’t explain why we thought of a certain thing. It seems so utterly random but so fascinating because we experience something similar, all of us, in the way that our thoughts can come to us and the way that music comes to musicians. I wouldn’t say that it’s divine because I don’t really want to go down that road but I wouldn’t say it’s me either.
[Ludwig] Wittgenstein, the philosopher said that the problem with all modern philosophy is this idea of I. It’s really an abstract concept that doesn’t even exist. Your body is doing things right now that you have no control over: your heart’s beating, you’re digesting food. There’s so much intelligence going on in your body, and yet we call the voice in our heads I. It’s really just a conceptual idea. You can’t locate it in the brain. It’s just really a phenomenon so when we get to the bottom of that question, where does it come from? I have to say whatever is authoring my experience of consciousness in the first place. I certainly can’t say that’s me. I can’t say it’s God. I could maybe get closer to it by saying it’s nature or life itself. Who knows? That’s what I get in the first song from Land called “Life:” “this fire that created universe,” and that’s what I really think is the source, or the author, of my consciousness. It’s this inexplicable energy, but I don’t distinguish that from whatever is making the tree grow outside my house right now.
I am listening to this amazing new British artist by the name of Lianne La Havas. I love Jesca Hoop, and I just met an amazing singer/song writer in Rufus Wainwright’s band by the name of Krystle Warre. Her voice is just unbelievable. She’s kind of like Nina Simone meets Aretha Franklin.
I just finished a book that really changed my view of this country. It’s called A Fair Country by John Ralston Saul. His argument is that Canada is what it is because of the Aboriginal/Native influence. I think this book should be a required reading in every history class in Canada, and it’s not because I think our Prime Minister is determined to make us America-light.
I’m reading this fascinating book by Joseph Campbell, who is one of my favourite writers, that’s called The Inner Reaches of Outer Space. It’s more fodder for epic music about the universe.