By Kate Marlow
Thrice Juno-nominated Sarah Slean has just been crowned superwoman. Well, not quite, but her list of accomplishments for the past 10 years is staggering: she’s released and co-produced six albums and two EPs, published two books of original poetry, established herself as a painter and acted in David Mortin’s award-winning film noir, Black Widow. She’s toured Europe, America and Canada, broke from her label to become an independent artist, became a recluse in Paris and then burst from self-imposed exile with her most incredible album to date, The Baroness.
Her latest accomplishment? Graduating with an undergraduate degree in music and philosophy from the University of Toronto, a feat that — given all her other projects — took 10 years and deserves the superwoman crown all on its own. She has some words of hope for those of us working at a degree.
“The joy and relief [upon graduating] will be beyond your imagining. And I know right now you’re thinking, ‘Oh my god, that’s going to be so great,’ but you have no idea how great.”
Philosophy may seem like a bizarre area of study for a pop musician, but listening to her music it’s clearly a natural fit. Her arrangements are rooted in the classical realm and her lyrics reference literary greats. Her work paints a picture of a woman trying to find her place in the world, asking the big questions that may only be answered by the philosophers.
“It’s not knowledge that you can grasp. You can’t surround it and hold on to it,” says Slean. “If you let it, it can surge up within you and you can feel it . . . I would never try to claim that in lyrics. But I do feel that music, like any other art, is close to that same thing.”
Slean will be at the University of Calgary’s Rozsa Centre May 30 as a part of her Recession-ista tour. This will be the final tour supporting The Baroness and she’s going out with an environmentally-conscious bang.
Battling the typical environmental lessons that we are constantly barraged with — “don’t do this . . . and you shouldn’t do this anymore,” she says — Slean is looking to spread the green love in a more positive way.
“The only way that this message was really going to enliven us, including me, was if it can engage our imagination; if it can engage our creativity,” says Slean. “If it can delight us in the way creativity does delight us.”
At each stop on her tour, Slean will be wearing a different gown created by eco-friendly Canadian designers, each fashioned entirely from repurposed material. Once the tour is finished the gowns will be auctioned on EBay, the proceeds going to the David Suzuki Foundation.
With the name of her tour reflecting the hard times, she ruminates on the current economic climate.
“This recession is a moment of pause and thinking, you know, the way we were living before is not going to work. It’s not sustainable, we’re wrecking the planet, it’s not economically just and people are suffering. This consumption race is ridicu- lous . . . and it doesn’t make any sense when we have a garbage problem.”
So, what’s the next adventure for the Baroness?
“It’s a secret,” she reveals in a hushed, anticipatory tone. “Perhaps origami?”