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Sarah McLachlan packs a punch 

If there's one thing Grammy-winning Canadian siren Sarah McLachlan has learned in her two-decade career, it's how to multitask. She's conducting an afternoon of phone interviews from her native Vancouver, where she's just spent the morning beachside, celebrating her daughter Taja's third birthday. The exhausted girl is currently asleep at her side, but her 8-year-old sister, India, is very much awake. "And you know those punching bags that you blow up into a guy that screams when you hit him?" she asks. "India is very physical, and she's just kicking the crap outta this guy right now, and it's sooo great! He keeps coming back up for more, but she's giving him what for, that's for sure."

And the guy probably deserves it. After all, says McLachlan, the supermarket tabloids are rife with endless male-star infidelities. "It's an epidemic these days — men behaving badly," sighs the now-single mother of two, who recently separated from her own husband of 11 years. "But you know, men have been behaving badly since the beginning of time. So it just amazes me that people are so shocked when they find out these things about guys, because guys who don't do that seem to be the exception."

McLachlan would rather skip her own gory details, thanks. But the breakup did lead to two career epiphanies – her elegiac new Laws of Illusion comeback, which documents her life-affirming emergence from the breakup; and the rejuvenation of Lilith Fair, her long-dormant all-female music festival, which is currently caravanning across the country.

"People just change," figures McLachlan, "and love changes, and the way you feel about people changes. And I'm very slow to process stuff, so it took me a while to realize that [the marriage] just wasn't working anymore."

The upside, to the extent there was one, is that the singer was able to utilize her music as a coping mechanism. "For me, songwriting is very cathartic," she says. "It was a way of being able to move through it a little more gracefully. And also, it's like putting forth a mantra. If you repeat something over and over to yourself, maybe you'll start to believe it."

The artist's pain and frustration comes through clearly in gently strummed dirges like "U Want Me 2" and "Don't Give Up On Us," as does the ensuing optimism in "Awakenings" and "Bring On the Wonder."

"Everything's just so much more disposable now," she says. "It's much more socially acceptable these days to separate and get divorced than to go through the ugliness and try to work it out. But when this happened to me, I was like, 'I'm 40 — I'm not dead yet! I've got a long life left to live, and I wanna be happy.'"

Relaunching Lilith was crucial to that vision, with this year's model boasting artists like Emmylou Harris, Ingrid Michaelson and Metric. The artist also recorded a two-minute PSA that raised over $30 million for the ASPCA, and she'll be bringing her cat Simba and chocolate lab Ripley on tour, as well as the offspring. And maybe an inflatable man to periodically punch.

"I'm a mom, first and foremost — that defines me more than anything else," she concludes as her birthday girl begins to wake up. "But I need to be a musician. I need to be a performer. And I'm back. I feel like I've got something to give the world."

scene@csindy.com

  • Lilith Fair founder returns with a new outlook, album and festival.

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