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Sarah McLachlan on Her Influences and Inspirations

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These questions originally appeared on Quora.

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Answers by Sarah McLachlan, Singer/Songwriter

What are some of the most inspirational real-life stories that have influenced your songwriting?

"Hold On" was inspired by a real-life story; I saw a documentary on a woman who's husband contracted the HIV virus and it was a great and tragic love story. She took care of him up until he died and her passion, empathy and strength was inspirational. More recently, my father and his passing was the inspiration for "Song for my Father" and "Surrender and Certainty." The story of Malala was highly inspirational for "In Your Shoes."

I wrote "Angel" after being on the road for almost two years straight and was both mentally and physically drained. I went to a cottage north of Montreal to relax and write and read an article in Rolling Stone about the Smashing Pumpkins keyboard player who had OD'ed in a hotel room and the story shook me because though I have never done hard drugs like that, I felt a flood of empathy for him and that feeling of being lost an lonely an desperately searching for some kind of release. I wrote that song in two days.

"Vox" was on my first record "Touch" and as it was my first foray into songwriting, I was struggling to have something to say so I relied heavily on imagery, telling the story with strong visual references, I'm sure I had probably broken up with someone around the same time so that was probably part of it.

Where do songwriters get inspiration for chord progressions?

I can only speak from personal experience but for me, I think spending years listening to melodically driven folk and pop music and then learning how to play these songs informed me and what I'm instinctively drawn towards. There's no math to it, it's about what feels good and sounds good and creating tension when needed and ease elsewhere.

How has the city you live in inspired you during the songwriting process?

For me, living in and around nature is really important for my general well being. Nature provides space, quiet and calm which is what I need to be open to writing.

Stay tuned for more in-depth answers from Sarah McLachlan as she discusses her career, her new album, and more...

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