Crossing land and sea
Sarah Slean’s latest double album explores the many facets of human existence
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Most artists put their body and soul into their creations. Sarah Slean based her double album, Land & Sea, on the concept of what the body and soul creates: existence.
“[Land & Sea is] about the shocking wonders of existence, and when we really put our attention on it, [existence] is a really sparkling, mysterious, indescribable, improbable thing,” Slean said. “[Existence] is so utterly amazing, and yet we tune it out all day to get through our emails, to make meals, and look after our kids or whatever we’re doing, and yet it’s there all the time, this amazing thing called existence.”
A nominee of two Gemini and three Juno awards, Slean began her recording career in 1997 with her debut EP, Universe. She has since released nine solo albums while also collaborating with other artists across various disciplines, appearing in the Canadian noir film Black Widow in 2005, and releasing a companion book of poetry alongside her 2008 album The Baroness, Slean’s latest musical creation focuses on the concept of human existence, yet the release is comprised of two albums instead of one.
Slean said when working on the double album, she found the material she was writing was beginning to form two “hubs”, each focusing on a certain idea. The two ideas were reflecting the two parts of existence: the physical outer experience and the internal experience.
“Instead of trying to figure out which album should go out first, or save the other one for later, I thought these two perspectives, these two voices really enrich each other,” Slean said. “They give new deeper meaning in relation to each other … They made sense via each other. After that, there was no separating them or putting them on the same disk. They needed to be two separate albums.”
These two separate albums came together to form one complete work, and like the concept of existence they are based on, the two albums deal with markedly different aspects of the human condition.
“There’s a real immediacy to Land, a real energy and a driving rhythm to it. In Sea, it was almost like it feels as if it’s coming from your own mind. It’s really this self-generated, kind-of-almost-cinematic experience,” Slean said. “It doesn’t feel like you’re [hearing] an orchestral concert. It feels like an emotion. It feels like a really moving film.”
Land is more upbeat, the majority of songs being based on human interactions in the world. Slean recorded Land with a basic four-piece band, vocals, guitar, bass, and drums, produced by Joel Plaskett from the band Joel Plaskett Emergency. Songs such as “Everybody’s On TV” and “The Day We Saved The World” are based on observations and experiences in the real world. Other songs on the album such as “I Am A Light” and “Girls Hating Girls” describe interactions between people, both the good and the bad.
“Land is about how great it is to be a particular person. I look a certain way and I have this body. I live in a certain place in time,” Slean said. “[Life] is very particular, finite.”
Sea, however, was recorded with a 21-piece orchestra that made the album have an entirely different theme compared to its companion. The album is a bit slower, its songs reflective of the internal human experience, touching on concepts such as consciousness while also “looking at the planet and the bigger picture”.
“Sea is about something in us that feels and intuitively knows that, one, we are all the same and, two, we go on and on and on,” Slean said. “You know, I still feel like I’m 20 [years old] and also part of me still feels like I’m eight. There’s this thing in us that is using the body, or wearing the body for a certain period of time. Then where do we go? Who knows.”
Slean shared producing and arrangement responsibilities with composer Jonathan Goldsmith in Sea. During the first day of the two-day recording session, Slean discovered that the song “The One True Love” was not sounding quite right. She said that Goldsmith suggested she “might have to just leave one on the roadside” and leave the song the way it was.
Instead, Slean rewrote the arrangement to the piece that night so it was ready for the final day of recording the next day.
“The first day I was a complete wreck,” she said. “On the second day, there was this calm over me. It’s really out-of-worldy when you get into that zone.”
Despite the challenges this double album offered, Slean followed through with the project, giving her the opportunity to tour the songs all across Canada. She said she will mainly be playing songs from Land at the concerts simply because it is difficult to perform a song that requires an orchestra.
“There’s all kinds of experiences within the human palate that are portals to infinity,” she said. “That’s what this project’s all about. [It’s] about being in the world, they’re about this space time, reality. And all the tangles we’re in and what we’re witnessing in this era of humanity.”